Expectations Holidays Perspective

Holiday Blessings

Today marks the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend in the United States. In a world that has experienced the challenges of a pandemic this year, words like thankful, grateful, and blessed may seen foreign. Holidays are filled with traditions and expectations, but no one year tells the story of a holiday celebration.

Similarly, no one year tells the story of a person’s life. Write a book and you will realize that some people have been in your life for many chapters, while others were only present for a few pages. Your life is greater than any one chapter, whether blessed with abundance or filled with sorrow. Thanksgiving is greater than the meal of any one day. I hope you had a safe and wonderful time these last few days, and found reasons to be grateful this year and across the years. For those who expected more from 2020, remember the blessings of the past and reach with hope towards the future. The very existence of a future is the greatest blessing of all.

Confidence Influence Leadership

In good hands

Confidence is a necessary item, especially in young people. Looking over a few of the press clippings from when I was an undergraduate at Penn State University, I found my response to a newspaper editorial when I was only twenty years old and freshly appointed by the Governor of Pennsylvania to serve on a University Board of Trustees with 31 Trustees who were highly successful adults in their fifties and sixties – CEOs of banks and pharmaceutical companies, politicians, and leaders of labor unions.

Newspaper clipping of letter to the editor

My response to an editorial addressing whether or not I was ready for such a position included the following phrase, “The question is not whether I am ready for the “big wigs” mentioned in the editorial, but rather are they ready for me.” Pure confidence that I find myself admiring as a person now approaching the age of some of those other 31 Trustees.

What our world needs now, and what the church world needs as well, is young people with confidence. Sure, they have a lot to learn, as I did (and still do). However, our world is not going to get better without confident young people in every field of endeavor. Confidence is no sin. Of course, our confidence must go beyond the limits of our human abilities, to a faith beyond ourselves (Hebrews 11:1).

However, my concern is that young people would not lose hope, would not turn away from the desire to take the reins of leadership and create a better world than the generation who came before them. I remain grateful for the 31 older, wiser adults that created a genuine seat at the table of leadership for a young woman and taught her how to think through issues, formulate workable solutions, and create policies that result in lasting organizational change.

When young people aspire to lead and believe in a better tomorrow, we are all in good hands.

Community Holidays Perspective

Happy Mother’s Day

Happy Mother’s Day 2020! I hope all women who are moms can relate to Proverbs 31:25 today. I know women experience this holiday differently, as I have myself during different seasons of my life.

In my early twenties, married and working long hours as a cancer researcher at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and leading a youth group at my local church as a volunteer, the holiday was a day to stand out as different in my church community. The majority of the women in my church were young mothers who did not understand a woman studying to be a scientist. Some looked for every opportunity to belittle my decision to pursue an advanced degree instead of starting a family. I knew at the time that their behavior was a means of making them feel better about themselves at my expense. However, interactions with them were never pleasant. When my mother died of cancer, Mother’s Day was a reminder of loss and a day of longing for a future when I would have children of my own.

Of course, today I enjoy celebrating Mother’s Day with my own beautiful daughters and remember my own mother, dead for more than twenty-four years, with fond memories but no lingering sadness. Thus, I encourage all women to celebrate Mother’s Day today. Celebrate the gift of life given to you by your Mother, whether she is still here to celebrate with you or has gone to her heavenly home. Celebrate the women around you who are mothers, for they give all of us the gift of new life in our society. If your own day is still one of longing or of grief, please remember that there will be different seasons of this holiday for you. For now, celebrate for others. For the women who will remain childless, celebrate how you “mother” the generation to come, either in your profession or as a volunteer. You are valuable and loved. Blessings to all!

Reader Questions

The Value of a Sparrow

Someone visited my blog and asked: “Who set the market value of sparrows in Jesus’s time? What where sparrows used for? Modern farmers see them as a liability to be exterminated to control over population. From a supply and demand analysis, sparrows would be worthless. Why would a market exist in the first place? Therefore my question is why were they given monetary value at all?”

Blair, apologies for taking a while to reply to you, but here goes: Sparrows were indeed of very little value (Luke 12:6). People at the poverty line in Biblical times who could not afford to buy a lamb or a goat could buy sparrows to offer as sacrifices at the temple. Sparrows could also be used as a very inexpensive food source. Thus, sparrows had some monetary value in the markets. However, God does not forget the sparrow. So, if God takes notice of a sparrow, how much more will He care for you?

Expectations Journey

Reflections on Publishing

Five years ago, InterVarsity Press published my book, “Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith”. I hope the book has been a blessing to its readers and will continue to bless new readers in 2020 and beyond. Since writing the book, I have had the opportunity to travel across the country and speak with individuals who have read the book and know a little of my life story from the illustrations the book contains. Many of these people have become my friends. These people remind me why writing is worth the time and effort.

A book has a life of its own and takes you on a journey beyond what you plan as an author. Many of the individuals who participated in the creation of the book (marketing, design, and original reviewers) have retired or moved on to new positions. I wish all of you well and want to thank you once more for your role in the publication of the book. You were an amazing team.

As for me, on occasion I have reread parts of my own book from the perspective of a reader. In its pages, I have found the courage to pursue goals, keep faith alive, and experience joyful laughter at God’s faithfulness beyond what humans can ever dream.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! – Christina M. H. Powell, PhD

Key Concepts to Tweet

  • A book has a life of its own and takes you on a journey beyond what you plan as an author.  Buffer
Community Expectations Leadership Perceptions

Tailoring Ministry to the Individual

In this day of megachurches and churches spread across multiple campuses, is it really possible or even practical to care about the individual? Yet ministry is based on the model of a shepherd  willing to leave a flock of ninety-nine sheep in an open field while searching for one lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7).

In Chapter 4 of my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, I share a philosophy of ministry based on a sensitivity to the needs of individuals that requires we avoid assumptions while remaining pragmatic.

The basics of this philosophy:

  1. Show people respect. Ask questions instead of jumping to conclusions. Trying to force a person into a certain ministry mold may not help a person although our intentions may be admirable. A widower may prefer joining the men’s ministry on a fishing trip to taking a class that requires him to discuss his grief in a small group. Let people select the ministry resources best suited to their needs and respect their choice.
  2. Do not project your needs onto someone else. What ministered to you in a particular circumstance in your life may not minister to your friend. Listen to what your friend is communicating to you instead of planning ministry based on your own preferences. For example, not all new mothers feel depressed after childbirth, so ministry in a mom’s group should validate different responses to a similar life event.
  3. Beware false assumptions. Not all childless young couples feel called to work in the children’s ministry in your church, no matter how badly you desire to staff the nursery and toddler room. Perhaps a woman with a career in finance would rather serve on a church committee that allows her to bless the church with her professionals skills instead of a more traditional role in a woman’s ministry. Simply asking people about their passions and interests can prevent misplaced and disheartened volunteers. The church will prosper when people find fulfilling ministry roles.

Large or small, a church can be sensitive to the needs of individuals while still meeting the goals of the group as a whole. Whether in your church life or in your friendships, what approaches do you take to tailor your response to the needs of the individual?

Influence Leadership

The Gift of Presence

Scroll through the newsfeed on any platform and you will find people sharing happy moments in their lives as well as people facing tragedies and loss. On any given day, a pastor may go from celebrating the birth of a new child in the congregation to visiting a church member in a hospice. Whether in ministry or in a friendship, how should you response when someone faces hardship?

In Chapter 6 of my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, I share some ideas on how to comfort a friend experiencing loss and tragedy. The thoughts are not my own, but wisdom gleaned from the story of Job in the Bible.

In the book of Job, we find a prosperous man who lived in ancient times. He had a large family, a vast number of livestock and many servants. In fact, he was described in the Bible as “the greatest man among all the people of the East” (Job 1:3).

Job was righteous as well as prosperous. He tried his best to follow all of God’s laws. However, a day came when Job’s faith was tested. He lost his possessions, his servants, and his seven sons and three daughters to multiple tragedies. Next, Job lost his good health, and his body was covered in painful sores.

Along came three friends to bring him comfort him in his troubles. Here is what we can learn from their responses to Job:

    1. Show up. Job’s three friends initially did what all good friends should do when someone is hurting. Be present. Care enough to join your friend in the difficult moments in life. You do not need to bring answers. Simply bring yourself.
    2. Listen. Job’s three friends sat in silence and gave him the gift of presence without the clamor of words. Do not force a conversation with a grieving friend. Provide company. When your friend is ready to talk, listen attentively without rushing to reply.
    3. Speak carefully and sparingly. Job’s friends were doing a great job providing comfort until they opened their mouths. They did what many of us have done in similar circumstances – offer advice where none was needed. Resist the urge to offer solutions to what you assume is someone’s problem. Eliphaz failed Job by providing unnecessary counsel that only caused Job more pain. Bildad failed Job by offering a simple answer to a complicated problem. Zophar failed Job by speaking without compassion. Do not feel that you have to fill silence with words. Better to say a few restrained and wise words than increase someone’s suffering through insensitive speech.

Be present in times of celebration as well as suffering. Do not feel that you must provide answers to the why questions, but help your friend explore the possibilities in the now-what questions. Move beyond seeking to explain the purpose of times of sorrow to bringing healing and compassion to your friend.

The story of Job also teaches us that God is faithful, and the future after sorrow can hold greater blessings than a person can imagine. However, life cannot be rushed from sorrow to happy ending, and a true friend respects the timetable in another person’s life.

What lessons have you learned when responding to someone facing hardship?

Creativity Discovery Perceptions

Thinking about Faith

Some things become so much a part of our lives that we do not need to stop and actively think about them. When I ice skate, I no longer think about every little movement needed to maintain balance. I can safely plan next week’s schedule in my mind while gliding along.

digital illustration neurons

Of course, a person first learning to skate or returning to the ice after an injury might need to concentrate fully on the activity.

If your faith has been a part of your life since childhood, stopping to think about it may feel as unnatural as a hockey player hesitating to think about each movement on the ice while chasing down the puck. Faith becomes part of the fabric of your soul, influences your friendships, and guides your decisions. Dissecting it for analysis seems strange.

However, for those times when life events have shaken your faith to its core, thinking carefully about your faith may bring healing. Here are some thoughts on faith:

1. Faith is reasonable but not based solely on reason.

Genuine faith is more than wishful thinking with no basis in facts. If not, a person could have strong, hopeful emotions in just about anything and call it faith. Faith that pigs can fly will not send them soaring over the weathervane on the barn roof. Thus, reason plays a role in faith, and Christianity is rooted in historical events.

At times, faith in God’s provision calls a person to attempt to accomplish more than seems likely on reason alone. However, all lofty goals must be grounded in prayer and planning, with reason serving as an anchor that stabilizes and protects a person from drifting into dangerous waters.

2. Faith is based on relationship, not only ideas.

Knowledge without trust is meaningless for salvation, and facts without relationship falls short of meaningful faith. A well-known verse explains this concept succinctly:

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Belief in God is not just a line in a creed, but the basis for a relationship. Like all relationships, your faith in God may grow stronger with your investment of time or weaken through neglect. When you feel your faith faltering, you do not need to collect data to bolster your belief in an idea as much as you need to take actions to nurture a relationship. God is not pleased when He is ignored through a person’s season of doubts. The rewards of love, peace and joy come to those who actively pursue Him.

What role has thinking played in your faith?

Achievement Holidays Influence

With Thanks to My Friends

Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas from my family to yours!

The shorter, colder days that signal the beginning of the holiday season create a perfect time to gather with friends and family next to a warm fireplace and a glittering Christmas tree. The spicy aroma of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves from a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie baking in the oven, or the taste of peppermint flavoring a mug of hot cocoa provide comfort on snowy days.

Holiday celebrations also offer an opportunity to reflect on the events and accomplishments of the year drawing to a close and the people who have impacted our lives. In 2014, the publication of my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, gave me many reasons to express gratitude to friends who have been faithful over many years as well as new friends who have joined me on this journey.

The editors, publicists, and members of the marketing team at InterVarsity Press are relatively new friends who have taught me many things this year and brought joy into my life. Editors, leaders, and friends in the National Office of the Assemblies of God have been a source of ongoing encouragement. WordServe Literary Agency, and the staff at have provided first-rate support, and I appreciate the many new friendships I have formed with other authors represented by this same agency.

Recently, the opportunity to appear on several radio shows, including one broadcast from KDKA1020 in my native city of Pittsburgh (the world’s first commercial radio station) has connected me with readers of my book across the country. I am especially grateful for readers like Jason on Brave Reviews, who have taken the time to share their insights about my book.

Discovering my book on sale worldwide in bookstores and through online retailers, has enlarged my circle of friends. However, knowing that my own local church named my book as Book of the Month filled my heart with gratitude, for they have been with me since the beginning of my ordained ministry.

Many of you receiving this message by email also have been with me since my early days as a writer and as a scientist. Thank you for your friendship. Have a wonderful holiday season!



Achievement Expectations Process

The Book Release Banquet

After years of working on this project, I am excited that my book, Questioning Your Doubts: A Harvard PhD Explores Challenges to Faith, has been released! As the shipments arrive at the various bookstores and distributors, I feel like a host whose guests are streaming into a banquet hall for a feast to celebrate the harvest season.

Bountiful Harvest
Bountiful Harvest

The time of preparing for the banquet is over. The ink has dried on the pages of my book. Thanks to the work of many, the book, free of typos and beautifully designed, is available for readers to enjoy!

If you follow the link on this website to Bookstores, you will see that the book is available in many different places for the book was written for all the guests interested in attending the banquet. Like the host in the Parable of the Great Feast described in Luke 14:15-23, I am sending out the invitation to anyone who wants to come.

I hope to meet many of my readers through social media sites, such as Facebook (Page), Goodreads or Twitter, and at book signings, speaking events, or conferences. However, even if we never meet in person, know that this book was written for you. I hope you are entertained by my personal stories and find the encouragement or information you need in one of the chapters. Pick up a plate, walk along the buffet table, and then sit down and join me in the celebration!