The Gift of an Open-Handed Life
Rooted & Ready
“Even if I lose it all.”
That was the message etched deeply into my heart as I sat in the backseat of the pickup, holding in the nausea as we winded our way through the roads from Mirebalais to Port-au-Prince.
I was six weeks pregnant when I left my home and my husband behind to help the poor and vulnerable in Haiti. It was only a ten-day trip, but each of those days carried with them a weight that I could not carry on my own. There are risks to traveling to a foreign country. As my doctor keenly pointed out to me before I left, there are significant risks to both a mother and her unborn child.
The risks could have made me stay home. They could have made me worry myself sick each day. They could have made me ineffective for God’s work. Yet I experienced freedom from all concern, even in my vulnerabilities—trusting that God would care for me “even if.”
Even if I lose my unborn baby.
Even if I lose my husband.
Even if I lose everything.
There would be great mourning in my soul for those losses, but God taught me during my ten days in Haiti that he alone sustains me. He alone is my strength. He alone is all that I need to survive the worst life throws at me.
When Hard Questions Have Eternal Answers
Autumn seems to be a favourite season for many women. The dip in temperature, rich colours, cozy sweaters, conversations by firelight all point to the beauty of a changing season. Autumn is a time for preserving and preparing. It’s true for nature and it’s true for us.
The beauty of autumn is preparation for the slumber of winter.
While it may look like the trees are falling asleep, dropping their leaves as they nod off for winter, there is work happening beneath the ground. The trees have one final chance to push their roots deeper before the cold of winter comes. The growth is hidden where our eyes cannot see it, yet it’s essential for the trees’ lives.
Are You Serving for the Wrong Reasons?
“But He knows the way I take; When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Job 23:10
My father was a humble, quiet man, strong and principled. He was a good father who deeply loved my mother and their four children. He was not an outwardly religious man. He did what was expected of men in his generation: he took his kids to church every Sunday and he said the blessing at meals.
One summer my father was diagnosed with a cancer so rare that none of his doctors had ever treated it. His condition deteriorated rapidly, requiring hospitalization. Nothing was effective against the cancer’s rapid progression. But even as his overall condition worsened, my father’s spirit amazed everyone. He was his wonderful self, joking with the nurses even when he could barely breathe.
Once we realized that my father’s condition was terminal, I prayed that God would open up an opportunity to speak openly about faith and the salvation of Jesus Christ. I knew that I might be the only person who would ask the hard question: “Dad, do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”
Perfectionism Separates Us From God & Kills Our Growth
As Christian women, there's a particularly strong pull towards serving. We feel this pull from our own expectations and from the expectations of people around us. We are expected to serve our families, our churches, our communities, our neighbors, and our friends. We are expected to be "servant-hearted" and willing to give of ourselves sacrificially to all needs and causes.
Sometimes we focus so much on those expectations that we run ourselves ragged and end up feeling bitter and exhausted.
Isn't it good to serve? Aren't we called to love others well? Absolutely. But problems arise when we serve for the wrong reasons. We need to serve and love and take action, but all of the "doing" in our lives should flow from the "being" a daughter of God. Too often our identity is insecure and clouds our ability to serve selflessly.
When Self-Help Isn't Helpful
If there's one thing that can derail me faster than any other it's my fear of not being able to do something perfectly. This desire for perfection has impacted my relationships, my health, my education, and many other opportunities I gave up without even trying. But the one area that I see the most damage is in my spiritual life.
Maybe you can relate. Christianity holds pretty high standards. If we're supposed to be "little Christs" and Jesus Christ himself lived a perfect life, well that's a weighty responsibility.
But the truth is, God knows we are imperfect, sinful people and he never tells us we must reach perfection in our lives. That's the very reason he sent his son to die on a cross and be resurrected. He did that for us--so that we wouldn't need to live with the heavy burden of sin and imperfection. He knows that when we see perfection as our standard, we become frozen in fear and unable to move forward.
Instead of calling us to perfection, God calls us to righteousness. It is still a high standard, but one with a heavy measure of grace rather than condemnation. Righteousness is falling down and getting back up. It's realizing we messed up and choosing to lift up our chins and walk back towards God.
Righteousness always calls us closer to God, but when we strive for perfection, it drives us further away from him. When we attempt perfection in our spiritual lives, we cannot grow into the women God has made us to be.
The Future Won't Solve Present Problems
I have a love-hate relationship with self-help. I love the idea that I’m in control. I love the idea that I can take care of myself. I love the idea that if I just read the right book I can figure out my life. Yet, where it totally falls apart is when I realize that I don’t always have what it takes to be who I want to be--even with the right books and the right mindset.
Don’t get me wrong, I recognize that I have many strengths. But when I’m stuck, it’s because I’ve run face first into my weaknesses. How do I help myself when the very strengths I need are not what I have available?
We think of self-help as a solo act--a focusing inward towards ourselves to solve our problems. But what if self-help is not about focusing inward? What if we recognize that to get the help we need, we must look outward. To help myself, I need less of myself and more of God and others.
The Ache of Growth
As I sat in my favourite chair on my back deck, laptop open and ready to book our fall vacation, I marveled at the way time stood still that day. I remember looking at the clock several times throughout the day and each time I sighed with satisfaction that it was "only 1 o'clock" or "only 5 o'clock."
Because in this season of my life, in this culture of speed and productivity, time slips through my fingertips like sand in an hourglass. I can't hold onto time; it keeps moving without me whether I am ready or not.
I didn't always have this same appreciation for slowing down time.
Several years ago when we booked our first vacation for just the two of us, I remember counting the days. I looked forward into the future as a way to pull me forward through time faster. It seemed like November would never come. I fixed my eyes on a future escape to help me cope with my present.
The problem is, that thing we want, that thing we think will solve our problems, it never does. Not really. That raise doesn't make our financial stress disappear. That vacation doesn't make life's demands more manageable. That bigger house with more space doesn't make us more loving. That different church doesn't make all our questions and doubts disappear.
The future won't solve present problems.
Same God, Different Call
There is no growth without pain. From the achy legs of a childhood growth spurt, to the stiffness after a taxing workout, to the heartache of an emotional hardship. Growth almost always involves some level of pain. When it comes to our growth in spiritual maturity, it is no different.
Working the muscles of spiritual discipline and learning to live in the example of Jesus comes with discomfort. God even promises us that we will need to "take up our cross" and bear the weight of suffering at some point.
Pain is inevitable, but we can experience pain as a result of our detachment from our Heavenly Father or we can experience pain as a process for spiritual growth.
I can recall the frustration I felt several years ago when I was helping out a single mom and I could not get others around me to join my cause. The woman recently had cancer, had major surgery, had little support from anyone, and had to take care of herself and her son. I felt led to give her some financial assistance for her rent one month, help with cleaning, stocking her fridge and freezer with meals, and helping her move. This wasn’t something I did for everyone; actually, it was the first time I had ever felt God ask me to connect with a complete stranger in this way.
As a result of my passion, I asked the people in my small group to help her out too. Some did, some did not. I couldn’t understand all the varying degrees of interest in the woman and her situation. Why was everyone not as passionately generous as I was?
3 Questions to Ask Before Starting Something New
Even as babies, we quickly learn there are consequences to the things we do. Scratching your face or poking your eye sends signals to your brain that results in feeling pain. The pain is meant to teach us that we shouldn't do those things. Parents use similar techniques to continue to teach; a firm "no" or grabbing of a little hand quickly communicates danger. But what happens when we grow up and life gets more complicated?
When adult decisions and consequences become more complex, it is easy to lose sight of the truth: pain is unavoidable no matter how "good" we are at making wise choices. We understand this to some level as we make lists of "pros and cons" to our choices. We do our best to weigh the positives and negatives so we can choose the path with the least discomfort. Yet, we still often seem to be caught off guard when A + B does not equal C as we intended.
No Perfect Parent
I admit that I can be impatient and impulsive. When I get excited about something, I want to start right away. Whether it's business or ministry opportunities, vacation plans, or the newest health fad, I want to jump right in with both feet.
Other times, I immediately dismiss an opportunity in front of me because it doesn't excite me or maybe it even scares me. My default in this situation is to drag my feet, avoid thinking about it, and hope it goes away. (If I can't see you, you can't see me... right?)
Either way, I am excluding God from the decision-making process.
I have learned through experience that I can save myself from future frustration and disappointment by asking myself a few questions before I say "yes" or "no" to something new.
Unseen: The Quiet Honor of Humble Obedience
There are a lot of ways to be a good mom. It can be really confusing. No two women will live, act, dress, work the exact same way. No two moms will raise their kids in the exact same way. Unfortunately, in a woman's quest to try to find the "one true way" of motherhood, she often starts mentally sorting methods of parenting into "good" and "bad" categories.
Formula feed = Bad
Co-sleeping = Good
Working mom = Bad
Organic food = Good
Every woman will sort things differently and those choices will mold her method of parenting. She'll see other moms making different decisions and wonder "am I wrong or is she wrong?" So how do we know if we have chosen the correct method when everyone seems to be doing something different?
Embracing Death Brings Life
Motherhood is often a thankless job. We aren't thanked for sacrificing our bodies, our sleep, our desires, our dreams, our personal space. We don't receive awards for the record number of bums and noses we wipe in our lifetime. We'll likely never be publicly acknowledged for the time we mended a favorite teddy bear or prepared a healthy meal. Most of what we do as moms will go quietly unnoticed, our sacrifices unseen.
As I write this, I am stretched out on my living room couch with my oldest daughter in a feverish slumber on the couch adjacent to me. She'll never know the prayers of healing I prayed over her, the extra time I took to make her chicken soup just the way she likes it, or the care I took to tiptoe past her so as not to wake her.
Motherhood is a sacrifice, yet it is a holy sacrifice. To accept the sacrifice of motherhood is to accept that what we do will be mostly unseen.
We will feel unseen.
Focus on the Process, Not the Result
"Hopefully you don't miss the party," spoke the woman across the isle. I shifted nervously in my chair as I smiled and replied, "It's okay. It's my party so they can't start without me!" Sitting in the packed waiting room of a medical lab for the third time that month wasn't how I expected to spend my evening, right before heading to my own 30th birthday party. But nothing about this year has gone the way I expected. There have been more thoughts of death than I would have liked, but also way more opportunities to choose life than I would have imagined.
I had high expectations for turning thirty. I was ready for my twenties to be over and was looking forward to an amazing decade ahead. So when an alarming symptom appeared, just days before my birthday, I was shocked. After lab tests and doctor appointments with no answers, the shock turned to fear. What if this decade that brought me so much excitement was going to be ripped from me? What if all of the future plans and dreams I was anticipating were suddenly out of reach?
It took my husband and I several days before we could even speak out loud our greatest fear: this could be cancer.
Why Millennials are the Worst Generation
I recently finished reading the book The Miracle Morning for Network Marketers. I have the ebook so I highlighted digitally, took screenshots, and sent snippets to my team a few times. There are some nuggets of gold in that book. The interesting part about all those "nuggets" that stood out to me is that they are all solid pieces of wisdom that apply to more than just network marketing. The biggest piece of wisdom for me is this:
"The secret to success in network marketing is to be committed to my daily process without being emotionally attached to my results. I can't always control my daily results, but as long as I follow through with the process, the law of averages will always play out, and my results will take care of themselves."
Wow. "Be committed to my daily process" but not "emotionally attached to my results."
This can be applied to every area of my life. From running my business, to losing the baby weight, to growing spiritually, to raising up my kids to know and love God... I can get so focused (truthfully, worried) about the future result that it often takes over my ability to be committed to the process.
Millennials are the worst. We're lazy, entitled, selfish, and rude. We make terrible music, movies, and art. We're narcissistic and spend too much time taking selfies and posting on social media. The only people we care about is ourselves. We expect everything in life to come easy to us and we quit as soon as anything gets challenging. All of these things make millennials the worst generation of all time.
As a millennial, I see this issue through an autobiographical mindset. I understand the current worldview and challenges millennials face more than I can understand the worldview and challenges of past generations. But it makes sense logically, that every generation is faced with negative, stereotypical, and even demeaning judgement from the generation before it.
I can easily imagine my great-grandmother, born in the 1920's, being shocked--and even disgusted--at the younger generation of pot-smoking, bra-burning, hippy culture of the 60's. Every decade has its teenagers and young adults pushing the boundaries and doing things differently than their parents.