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Everything I Needed to Know About Myself I Learned at the Mexi-Teria (Or, Announcing an Unexpected Hiatus)

Posted by on Oct 30, 2012 | 0 comments

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The world’s greatest Mexican food–at least north of the border–was located in a nondescript building off College Avenue in Levelland, Texas. Courtesy of chef Cruz Tienda, the Mexi-Teria served up mouth-watering chili rellenos, crispy chalupas with beans or guacamole, and cheese enchiladas drenched in a spicy chili con carne sauce. Like Subway or Chipotle, you made your selections cafeteria-style, moving through the line past a smorgasbord of delicious dishes. At my request, my grandparents would take me there several times throughout the summer, forever setting an impossibly high bar for what I think can rightfully be called “Mexican food”.

In a study of 2400 individuals in 2010, researchers at UC Riverside and University Oregon found that we remain recognizably the same person throughout our lives from childhood on. Biological anthropologists believe that personality is composed of two parts: character and temperament. Character is the mental and moral or ethical values distinctive of an individual. Character is adaptable, meaning we can change that aspect over time through the practice of certain habits or disciplines. Temperament are personality features, like introversion or extroversion, that are present at birth. Unlike character, temperament is considered innate, and thus fundamentally unable to change.

When I meditate on the memories of my family’s visits to the Mexi-Teria, at least three aspects of my temperament shine out like harbingers of the person I would become, or really, the person I already was and always will be:

1. Voracity. From the Latin word vorare, which means “to devour”, to be voracious means having or being marked by an insatiable appetite for food or an activity or pursuit. Upon entering the Mexi-Teria, my Papa would hand me a plastic tray, which I would subsequently fill with goodies of all kinds: cheese enchiladas, rice, beans, chalupas, and sugary sopapillas. Papa would always look dubiously at my tray and say, “Halee, you’re never gonna eat all that. Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.” I’d just smile and instantly dismiss what he said, thinking to myself “Of course I’ll finish this! I’m STARVING! Besides, what do the size of my eyes and stomach have to do with it anyway?” Predictably, I’d always eat less than a third of what I’d selected.

Today, though I’m a little better at gauging what I can and can’t eat or do, I’m still voracious. I have a voracious appetite for almost everything, whether it’s learning, books, or exercise. “Moderation” is not really part of my vocab. Ask my parents or my husband–they’ll tell you.

2. Improvisation. I keep a cool head when confronted with calamity or unexpected situations. One night at the Mexi-Teria, we’d just sat down to eat our meal when my little brother started screaming about needing to go to “the potty”. Meanly, my parents ask me to leave my hot food and take him to the restroom. I begrudgingly took him and waited impatiently for him. Just as he announced he was done, I noticed there wasn’t any toilet paper. I tried to talk him into just pulling up his pants and dealing with the damage later, but he refused and started to cry. At this point, I’m not sure why I didn’t just go get my parents or the manager. Instead, I stood him up on the sink and yes, wiped his little heiney with the cloth roll towel dispenser. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I snickered a bit at my own ingenuity and the little “surprise” we were leaving for the next guest. I know. I’m terrible. But at least I’m honest.

The ability to improvise has gotten me through a lot of sticky situations–like the time the undertow sucked me out a mile off the Florida coast. Though I knew the tide was strong and I was too tired to swim all the way back to the shore, I didn’t panic; I completely relaxed. This put me above the undertow and I safely rode the tide all the way in.

3. Persistent High-energy. Ben Franklin said that “Energy and persistence alter all things.” I’ve always had a lot of energy, which I sometimes confused for strength. Another time at the Mexi-Teria, I, as usual, loaded up my tray with far more than I could ever eat and insisted on carrying it to our table. Papa protested, “There’s no way you’ll be able to carry that tray.” But I felt so strong, so sure of myself. So I again instantly dismissed his warning and grabbed the tray. I took less than two steps when the tray slipped out of my grasp, spilling the contents all over the industrial white tile floor. I was too embarrassed to even look at Papa.

The fusion of voracity and persistent high energy can be a volatile mix. I get so enthusiastic about what I can accomplish in a single day that I often overload my tray to a point it’s impossible for me to carry and remain a semi-decent person, much less a good wife, mother, or friend.

Recently, I signed a contract with Zondervan, and because the content on Christian women leaders is so timely, we set an ambitious deadline for the completion of the manuscript–about five months. Of equal importance to me is telling women’s stories through this blog, so I’ve been trying over the last month or so to divide my time equally between the two projects. If this were a normal blog or if I didn’t have babies at home, there might have been no conflict. However, this blog isn’t usual. Between locating and contacting women leaders, interviewing them, transcribing the interviews, locating photographs, and writing intro’s each post represents at least three hours of work. I’m passionate about both the book and this blog, but it’s clear that trying to do both overloads my tray. In order to do both well, I’ll have to do them consecutively, not simultaneously. Therefore, I’m taking a hiatus from posting on this blog until early March, after the manuscript of my book has been submitted. I look forward to having you back at that time!

In the meantime, I’m still doing interviews. If you know of someone who would be great for the project, just let me know. TTFN.

How to Gain Confidence as a Communicator

Posted by on Oct 25, 2012 | 0 comments

Christianity Today was founded in 1956 by the Reverend Billy Graham, who sought to ”plant the evangelical flag in the middle-of-the-road, taking the conservative theological position but a definite liberal approach to social problems”. Seeking to be “more than a magazine”, CT hopes to “shape the evangelical conversation” by bringing “important issues to the forefront” and by providing “practical solutions for church leaders”. This week, Katelyn Beaty was promoted from associate editor to managing editor for the magazine. In this role, she oversees all of the print magazine content, especially the major reports and essays. In addition, she’s working closely with the advertising and marketing departments on branding CT and seek ways to make CT more attractive to younger audiences. A final aspect of her role is writing more editorials as well as the “Inside CT” column.

When I spoke with her recently about her previous role at CT, she shared several insightful comments about the unique challenges in her role as well as important tips to help emerging writers and journalists gain confidence in their abilities as a communicator.

What have been the challenges in your role [as associate editor]?

The culture [at CT] is very established—many people have been there for 20-30 years. Also, CT is very much [entrenched] in the evangelical culture networks, and for the first year it was difficult entering into that world. No one was interested in helping me understand that world. Most of the staff is overworked and no one really had time to invest in staff development. It wasn’t until my second year that I felt like I actually had something to contribute—I wasn’t just there to [fill an empty] position.

The main challenge was that there were no female mentors at the magazine. In my prior position, my [female] boss actually took me aside on a regular basis to check in and see how things were going and it really meant a lot. At the magazine, there weren’t any females to mentor me, so I had a lot of fear about boundaries. I’d wonder, “Does what I’m doing look appropriate? Could it become inappropriate?”

Are there any areas you need to grow in?

I’m trying to increase my trust in my own abilities and not need external affirmation.

Do you have trouble balancing work and family life?

CT is what I go home to. For a single woman, the temptation is to overwork. It’s very easy to devote more time to work than what’s required.

Do you have any recommendations for women thinking of pursuing a position in media?

Well, if there’s a particular publication they’re interested in working for, I’d recommend them to be a student of that publication—get to know the audience. Sending a pitch to an audience you don’t know isn’t going to help you. You need to write a pitch in a way that shows you understand the audience.

It’s also helpful to be part of a writing community. You need to get in the habit of publishing, and being part of a community helps you do that. Everyone shares “Here is who I know that is looking for content.”[Being part of a community] strengthens your writing and gets you connected to the right networks. It encourages your own voice while knowing you’re not doing it alone.

Look for opportunities to stretch yourself—read good material, familiarize yourself with important books—the best and the brightest within and without the church. You can’t become a good writer until you read good writers.

What are some resources that have helped you grow as a leader?

—who preached at an Episcopal Church but was strongly gospel-centered—came to speak at Calvin my junior year. I interviewed her for the student newspaper and we had a one and a half hour conversation. She’s married and has three or four grown children.  She carries herself with a sense of gravitas—a seriousness and warmth.

When I left, what I came away with was the impression that this is what I want to do. Here is a woman who could articulate the gospel so powerfully to men and woman. She was able to make the Christian faith connect to the reigning ideas and intellectual trends of the day in a way that did not compromise the identity of the gospel. She had the ability to communicate the gospel in a way that engages with the issues of the day.

Another thing that has helped in the This is Our City Project. Recently, I began traveling with the project by myself. I set up appointments, and flights. Doing that by myself has given me confidence. Hopefully, this is not an individualistic sort of confidence, but confidence that I can actually be a journalist—going out into the field, meeting with new people, and taking that and weaving it into a story of how God is working. It’s expanded my vision of what I’m capable of doing.


One of the more difficult tasks in leadership is gaining confidence in our own abilities to lead and to communicate. Katelyn points out six things to grow and gain confidence as a leader and a communicator:

1.) Increase trust in your own abilities rather than depending too heavily on the opinions of others. Most of us have a problem with giving more credence to what others think of us than we ought to. It’s a very normal struggle–so normal, in fact, that there’s a clinical, psychological problem with those who don’t care at all. The task of the leader is to find an appropriate balance between caring too much and caring too little by demonstrating a knowing sensitivity  to what other people think.

2.) Familiarize yourself with your audience/followers. The rock band Beck noted a critical principle for both writers and leaders in their song, loser: You can’t write if you can’t relate. In order to have influence as a writer or a leader, you need to know your audience and know how to relate to them.

3.) Engage in a community. Getting involved in a community helps writers and leaders in several ways. As Katelyn noted, you get networked in important ways, but you also get a vision of how the lifestyle of a writer or a leader works in practice. Further, you get involved with people of a similar calling or interest for accountability or encouragement.

4.) Write/communicate regularly. Writing or communicating in other ways–such as public speaking–on a regular basis keeps you from getting rusty and acquaints you with your own voice.

5.) Steep yourself in good literature. I make a habit of reading most of the popular books in contemporary culture as well as the popular ones of the past–which has led me to read everything from Harry Potter to 50 Shades of Grey to The Brothers Karamazov. Examine your reading habits, asking, “What are the big ideas being presented in the popular books today? Of yesterday?” Be conversant with these ideas so you know how to respond to them. Of you’re wondering how to fit reading into your schedule, it’s helpful to write up a realistic reading plan or just commit to reading for 20 minutes a day. John Piper writes, “One of the most helpful discoveries I have made is how much can be read in disciplined blocks of twenty minutes a day. Suppose that you read slowly, say about 250 words a minute (as I do). This means that in twenty minutes you can read about five thousand words. An average book has about four hundred words to a page. So you could read about twelve-and-a-half pages in twenty minutes. Suppose you discipline yourself to read a certain author or topic twenty minutes a day, six days a week, for a year. That would be 312 times 12.5 pages for a total of 3,900 pages. Assume that an average book is 250 pages long. This means you could read fifteen books like that in one year.”

6.) Get uncomfortable. Do things outside your comfort zone. Katelyn’s work with This is Our City took her identity as a journalist to a new level. The only way we can actually grow is to step out into opportunities too big for us because this forces us to grow into them.



The Power of Words: Bringing Faith to Bear on Contemporary Issues

Posted by on Oct 23, 2012 | 0 comments

Several years ago, I sent a letter to Christianity Today inquiring why I had to visit the men’s section of their website to find deep theological reflection and cultural analysis. As someone who wanted to understand cultural and topical issues from a unique Christian perspective, I often found myself on CT’s ‘s website because the women’s section simply offered perspectives on parenting and homemaking. Where were the women’s voices on the cultural and theological issues of our time?

Enter editors Katelyn Beaty and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, who launched Her.Meneutics, the Christianity Today blog for women. The Her.Meneutics writers and editors provide a “cultural exegesis” by analyzing how the Christian faith bears on contemporary issues. This year, Her.Meneutics has had on average 62,000 unique visitors to the site each month, with 96,000 unique views in the month of August, demonstrating a growth trend. To date in 2012, there have been more than 1.1 million unique page views. Each post alone garners 4,000-6,000 unique page views.

Earlier this year, I spoke with Katelyn Beaty, then an associate editor. This week, Katelyn was promoted to managing editor at Christianity Today, the first woman to hold a position of editorial leadership in the company’s 56 year history. In addition to that huge accomplishment, Katelyn has won three Evangelical Press Associate awards for her work in addition to an honor from the Humane Society.

Here’s Katelyn on her work at CT:

Katelyn, can you tell me a little about what led you to your position as an associate editor at Christianity Today?

Well, from an early age I enjoyed writing, enjoyed research and arguments. I find satisfaction in organizing thoughts and evidence. That [interest] continued through college—I actually enjoyed writing research papers. I wrote an about the Dance Guild [at Calvin College] that raised some questions about dance. The morning it published, it received responses saying, “I’m glad someone said this.”

I [started tuning in to] magazines like Christian Century, Relevant, Christianity Today—seeing how they were bringing faith to bear on contemporary issues. I read an interview with Bono in CT, and I actually thought they were way too conservative and too aligned with issues of gender and race. But Christianity Today is a respected voice with a long history and it was important to know what they were saying even if I didn’t agree.

How do you think your job fits in with your calling?

My calling is to work with words, knowing that my words have the capacity to shape hearts and minds. Being an editor at Christianity Today is the best way to exercise that calling.

What are your roles and responsibilities?

I started with copyediting—reading and editing for mistakes and errors—and working with designers to close issues on a daily basis. Two years in, Sarah and I launched Her.Meneutics. I’m also the editorial director for This is Our City, which examines how Christians are contributing to the flourishing of culture through the spheres of health, media, and public life for the common good. I wear a lot of hats, jumping from role to role.

In writing for This is Our City, I got my first taste of being a reporter—working through details, transcribing interviews, and piecing together a compelling story. I’m writing outside of what’s most comfortable to me.

How do you handle the large volume of ideas that come across your desk?

I set aside a particular time of day where I work on Her.Meneutics. I try to bring out the best of the writer’s ideas—the strength of their voice. [I love] being able to shepherd that, being able to make them better. There’s a temptation to just post, but I’d rather wait for the really good content rather than just publish whatever comes.

I’m learning that one of my constant internal dialogues is, “Am I being mean? Am I going to squash them?” [I look for ways] to offer criticism in a truly constructive way—in a way that still feels like she can get it and that I’m taking her ideas seriously.


Tomorrow, we’ll continue with our interview with Katelyn, sharing what she considers her greatest challenges and biggest victories.

Kit Danley’s Call to the Urban Poor

Posted by on Oct 22, 2012 | 0 comments

Kit Danley has demonstrated what some call longevity in leadership. For thirty years, she’s practiced a long obedience in the same direction–living out her calling byserving the poor and disenfranchised in Phoenix. Here’s what she has to say about her service as a leader in this community.

Can you describe a typical day in your life?

There’s not a typical day, but I can describe today and yesterday. My husband and I have adopted two daughters. The state took twelve children from a local family, and since our children have grown up, we decided to take some. So today I got up early at 5am and took one daughter to track practice. I walk everyday and then I start meeting with people.

Sometimes I’m meeting with staff or leaders here at Neighborhood, doing higher level administrative work. I’ve got my hands in a lot of community partnerships—I’m on the Dean’s board for a large university. I also counsel people. Today a young couple came into my office—she’s pregnant and was abused as a child. They’re both homeless and I’ve known them their whole life. I have to put on my pastor’s hat and start thinking through their options with them. Later, a donor stopped by and I Stopped everything to be with him.

That’s a little bit how it goes. I just finished a book and I teach at a local Christian college. I always remind people I’ve been doing this for 30 years. There’s a rhythm that comes from 30 years of being on the front line. Even though I’m high energy and ambitious, I’ve also been doing this for a long, long time. I’m this founder. I watched it grow.

What have been the main challenges?

I think there are different challenges in different seasons. Currently, one of the challenges is allowing the next generation leaders here at Neighborhood to really take authority and take the reigns and some elements of the work. The problem with being the founder and still being around is that some people only listen to me because I’m the only one they trust. People need to listen to the younger leaders—we’re a flat organization.

What is the victory you’re most proud of?

In my life, I’d say my greatest victory was that I haved loved the poor and I walk with real intention. This ministry has revealed a calling on my life that I barely understood [in the beginning]. I come from wealth, but it was dysfunctional. All these years to still be walking with Jesus in the midst of this beauty of a life.

How would you encourage others who might be interested in pursuing a ministry similar to yours? Any tips or concrete guidelines?

I speak women like that all the time, people on my staff who look to Neighborhood as a template of things they’d like to do. One of the really important messages that comes out of my life is that God calls whom He will. He is indiscriminate. A calling to the poor can land on a woman … God picked me, I can’t tell you why, the gifts the calling, those originate with Him. If a young woman has a calling to the urban poor—when she lives out her calling she will have joy. Why? Because they are becoming more and more who God called them to be. Callings are not related to gender.

Second thing I say to women who are going to get married kids, “Okay, your life is going to get more complicated, but it’s not the end of the day.” You’re calling doesn’t stop [when you start a family]. And yet, used to play a game with myself. I played “Hide the Ministry” from my kids because I wanted them to have a normal life. Now we were raising our kids in inner city Phoenix where there were no white people—so the ministry was hard to hide. But I wanted to have normal mom time with no interruptions. If you asked my kids, “Did your mom hide the ministry?” They’d laugh. But they had a semi-normal childhood. My mom/wife side was definitely primary.


How to Lose an (Immigrant) Generation

Posted by on Oct 19, 2012 | 0 comments

In March of 2012, the Department of Homeland Security released a report in which it described a plunge in the population of undocumented persons living in Phoenix, largely due to the lack of jobs because of the recession, but also because of tighter border enforcement and tougher immigration laws. But early in Kit Danley’s ministry to the undocumented persons, the bulging population of immigrants caused several problems for the youth. While there was a need to help adults, there was growing need to address the crime and gang activity among the youth. Today, Kit talks about how this rise in crime changed how she ministered to this population.

How did these circumstances change what you were doing?

We started [more] kid’s work. It was either that or we were going to lose an entire generation. We still have a version of that program going on today to keep kids in school. So people are either high school graduates or they go back and get their GED. We also have a college scholarship. But all this grew out of our neighborhood relationships. People we loved pushed in on us and forced us to recognize the areas where there needed to be involvement. It forced us to hone our programs in such a way so they work and have some measurable elements.

How did you get involved in social justice and immigration reform?

The social justice work began because we knew real people and had known them forever. Real people we knew were suffering in the shadows—their fathers were deported, their mothers lost jobs, and teens were dropping out of school. They knew Jesus, but they were caught in a political storm with a great deal of misinformation. People were saying they were all criminals; that they were the force or source of all kinds of crime; they were part of drug trafficking. Lou Dobbs actually said that undocumented persons were the source of a leprosy outbreak—there was no connection between the two at all! That was misinformation that was allowed to be on the national news. It was really painful to know real people [and know] it wasn’t true.

What is the truth, then, about undocumented persons as you see it?

The truth is so available about immigrant productivity—which includes paying taxes and family stability! All of this information is available. In fact, the U.S. government published a fact sheet to clear it up—it’s on the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement site. The point is that good information is available and it’s available in the most common of places. The “Myths and Facts” sheet presents facts that are well-researched. Even though people clearly see immigrants in the U.S., we don’t have to take part in the rhetoric that takes place on certain news networks.

We’re working hard to debunk the myths by introducing real people. Christianity Today recently ran a story about Ricardo, who emigrated to Phoenix when he was 8 years old, and there are other stories. [It’s important] to refer to these people as “undocumented” because no human being is illegal. So we use the word “undocumented”.

How do you raise funds?

We have five businesses—a thrift shop, a workforce development department where we work to get people to the next level an match people with jobs, an urban garden, and an early education center. One day we’d like to say, “Yep, our businesses are so successful they run the ministry” but our primary cash flow is [what we receive from] donors and grants.


Come back Monday, when Kit talks about her major leadership challenges as well as her three pieces of wisdom for emerging leaders.

Loving the Sojourner

Posted by on Oct 18, 2012 | 0 comments

I met Jose Gutierrez on his wedding day. Paul and I had barely unpacked the rented Penske truck after our move from Texas back to Los Angeles. We made it just in time to see one of my closest friends, Janeen get married to a guy who met, courted, and proposed to her all within the nine months we lived in Texas. I was anxious to meet the person I’d heard so much about. Jose was kind, quiet, and looked at Janeen like he’d never seen anything more beautiful in all his life. For the next several years, we lived a couple of blocks over from them and got to know them well before we parted ways–they to Ecuador as missionaries and us to the blistering frigid outpost commonly known as “Michigan”.

Jose is a man of few words, the last to speak up in most rooms, but he’s a deep well of wisdom. He’s from El Llano, a small town in the state of El Llano, in the state of Michoacan, Mexico. His family was poor–so poor that he stole bread from a “rich” store owner–not out of greed, but hunger. Out of necessity, Jose reluctantly came to the U.S. as a migrant worker to send money back to his family in Mexico. Eventually, the rest of his family joined him and many of them received amnesty under the Reagan administration. Here, Jose earned a high school diploma, an A.A. from Rio Hondo Community College in drafting, and a B.A. in Organizational Leadership from Biola. To top it off, he’s run more than 70 marathons.

I can’t think of the issue of undocumented persons (what some call “illegal immigrants”) without thinking of Jose. The issue of undocumented persons has been a political talking point for some time, and for this project, I wanted to uncover the human life behind the headlines. That’s how I found Kit Danley, who’s been working the front lines of this issue in Phoenix, Arizona for more than 30 years through her ministry, Neighborhood Ministries.

Tell me a little about the people that Neighborhood Ministries serves. What are their needs? Where do they come from?

Phoenix is a different urban city than others in the U.S. Phoenix is a new city—a post World War II city, but really a post air-conditioning city in the 1950’s. We’re the sixth largest city in the nation, and not too long ago, we were nothing but a blip on the map. So it’s not a place you’d think of as poverty-stricken—you think of golf. But since the 70s and 80s the communities of poverty exploded.  Unlike Chicago, there was no infrastructure to care for a city with a lot of poor and the compassionate mentality was not in place. So in the 80s and 90s, we became the Mississippi of the West—48th in education. Many teens weren’t even in school.

What are some of the challenges emerging from that?

Well, since the legislature has not caught up—to this day—with the problems in our community, we have a lot of [incidents] with CPS and there’s a lot of domestic violence. Then, ten years ago, Arizona became ground zero for immigrant abuse. We have punitive laws, as well as SB1070 which [stalled] in the courts because of the civil rights issue. [These laws] forced immigrants who had been here for 20 years back into the shadows—there were kids who had been high achieving all through grade and high school who now had no access to college.

These “Dream Act Kids” have never lived in Mexico, and yet would have to pay out-of-state tuition that’s three times higher [than the cost of regular tuition]. Then we have a renegade sheriff who uses his department’s money to do immigration raids versus handling real crime. It’s racial profiling.

What does poverty look like in Phoenix?

It’s not predominately black—it doesn’t look like an African-American, eastern-seaboard community; it’s Hispanic. We have social conditions that are really, really complex. Lots of people are struggling with issues related to employment. There’s generational poverty. I can talk to almost anybody who has a family member in prison and it’s hard to match their sentence with their crime. Some say they are arrested because they are Mexican.

But not all [of the poor we serve] are undocumented. We serve the poor and we throw out a big net. Many folks will come and be part of our community because we really show [compassionate concern]. While many are undocumented, there are people who moved off [the Indian] reservation years ago, African American families, poor white families, some Asian families, and new immigrants from Africa and southeast Asia.

What was the first program you started to meet the needs in this community?

The progression started in the 80s when we started meeting our neighbors through a food bank on our church’s site. This led us into the community and we began to spend time with those friends in their own home. Then, we began our children’s outreach and began the Spanish outreach. In those days, there wasn’t a Protestant, Spanish-speaking ministry.  We talked about Jesus—things evangelicals do easy.

So we were involved with kids on one side, and adults on the other, but we started to notice some major gaps [in our outreach]. Kids were dropping out of school, children joining gangs in kindergarten, and the gang violence was so bad that almost all kids were at risk of going to prison for five years or dying.


Tomorrow, Kit talks about how Neighborhood Ministries started reach out to the younger generation in Phoenix.

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