Surrounding yourself with people more excellent than you!

Joy, (far left) as Miss Prism in The Importance of Being Ernest--a couple of years ago

Joy was born to be in front of people. Even as a little girl, she was fearless and opened our mom's conferences with a welcome for many years. Thousands of women in the audience didn't threaten her in the least--as a matter of fact, it seem to inspire her to do even better at inspiring the crowds.

About 5 years ago, Nathan and Joy and I attended a national actors, singers and dancers competition where the kids competed in a number of events. Joy did quite well in several areas.

One of the perks of the competition was that the kids got to meet with real Hollywood producers, agents, record companies and Directors and Marketers from Broadway.

Soft blonde curls encompassing large blue eyes and sophisticated clothing left quite an impression on us as we met with a lovely woman who was a Broadway producer, and  who wrote an evaluation for Joy in her performances. With a poised demeanor and gentle tone, the experienced and wise woman said,

"Joy, you are indeed quite naturally talented at acting and communicating in front of people. However, what you need the most is to be surrounded by people who are more talented, more experienced and who will challenge you to move further ahead in your skills. It is always wise to put yourself in the company of others who are more excellent than you."

What great advice and how needed in Joy's life at the time. I have adopted this principle in my own life for many years. When I read, "He who walks with the wise will be wise," in Proverbs, I began to look for those friendships and acquaintances of women who challenged me to be "more" than what I already was. I seek out excellence in most arenas in my life--not because I have it together, but because I always want to be growing.

Cultural voices tell us that we deserve a break, that it is ok to compromise and standards of life for most people are quite mediocre. These voices give us permission to rest on our laurels and to stay complacent and even to learn to whine about our difficulties.

Yet, I believe that if we understand that we have an amazing capacity to be excellent, hard working, bright, authoritative, influential--because we are crafted in the very image of God to be like Him, then we will always be straining, in a positive way, to become all that He created us to be, to fulfill our capacity in life.

And intentionally placing ourselves in the company of other excellent people; reading inspiring and challenging books, studying scripture in depth, practicing anything in which we would like to become more excellent, will expand our capacity to accomplish great works in our lifetime.

God even disciplines us, stretches us, trains us, that we might become more like Jesus--that our hearts might reflect more of His sacrificial life and love and that when someone sees us, they will be looking at the very character of Jesus.

But God delights in using normal, run-of-the-mill people, to do great things for His kingdom. Rarely  did He choose "important" people to be the ones who experienced a miraculous life.

Joy in her dramatic duo--a very humorous rendition of stories about Prince Charming and those women he chased

Recently, when Joy immersed herself in Speech and Debate for just 4 months, the value of the commitment expanded her borders and capacity greatly. She was in the company of hundreds of great youth who were all striving to become better communicators. Their very lives, hard work and integrity inspired and pushed her to become more excellent. It matters not what she accomplished and what status she achieved at the National Speech and Debate Tournament (I think she did well enough to be satisfied.)

But the real value was that she was in the company of hundreds of excellent youth who were wanting to become more excellent, who helped her to use her time in a productive way and who personally challenged her to become more astute and excellent in a skill that was already developing.

And so this summer, as I was pondering this, I gathered a few women around me to deeply challenge each other. Our goal is to walk with the Lord more deeply, to live by faith, to study the word in depth, to become more excellent. Together, we are lifting high the standard of His call on each of our lives because we do not want to just stay as we are--but we want to grow, and stretch---these women are creating in me a desire to grow, to become better, to stretch in God's ideals for me.

So, how about you? What kind of woman do you want to be when you grow up--a little more? What can you read this summer to better your mind? What can you do to shore up your weaknesses? How can you stretch yourself to become more of the woman Christ created you to be?

It is only in being intentional and purposeful about your life that you will grow. But in growing, your heart and soul will become more fulfilled, because God's will, which is to become more "holy"--set apart for His purposes--is indeed good and acceptable and perfect.

And no one can make you more excellent--you must want it and work for it yourself--that is a glory to our heavenly Father--when we choose to be more excellent, for His glory.

So, start a group, join a Bible study, make up a new exercise cycle, develop a skill, take some lessons--meet with a mentor--make this summer one of growth, stretching and inspiration and in a few months you will be amazed at the progress you have made, and in conquering one or two areas of growth, others will fall into place.