June 26, 2008

“Finding Contentment in Our Little and Our Lot”

This morning in my quiet time with God, one of the talks from the She Speaks conference leapt to the forefront of my mind. It’s a message I so urgently need to be reminded of today. Maybe it’s something you need to hear too.

But first, I need to be honest.

As I’ve written, I loved the She Speaks conference. But something else is festering in my mind that doesn’t resemble sweet spiritual fruit like love...or joy...or even peace. In fact, I think these fruits are their rotten cousins, cast out of the bushel basket—discontentment, jealously and doubt. Yuck!

I would have been perfectly pleased with my conference experience if I hadn’t done one thing: compared it to others. With each blog I read, I compared my experience to the writer’s: “She made more friends.” “She had the life-changing experience I was hoping for.” “She befriended one of the ministry leaders.” “They’ve gotten more comments on their blog.” “Out of the crowd of hundreds, she was noticed.”

Those rotten fruits are overtaking the fruit salad and it stinks in here!

On Saturday morning, Karen Ehman spoke about this very thing: experiencing Godly contentment. Contentment like Paul wrote about in Philippians: “I have learned the secret of being content in any and EVERY situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” (4:12b, emphasis mine)

But we’re not content in ALL situations, are we? We’re content UNTIL. We’re content with our marriage, UNTIL our sister gushes about her thoughtful husband. We’re content with our children, UNTIL we observe our neighbor’s “perfect” kids. We’re content with our homes, UNTIL we see our friend’s professionally-designed kitchen. We’re content with our job UNTIL we get passed over for a promotion. We're content with our faith UNTIL someone gets the God experience we wanted. We’re content, UNTIL… Yuck!

It doesn’t take a theologian to see that our version of contentment and Paul’s don’t line up.

We set ourselves up for failure when, through our own sin-filled eyes, we rank and compare and judge. We pat ourselves on the back if we measure up. Or struggle with rejection and doubt if we don’t. We strive for the kudos of man instead of the accolades of heaven.

We forget that before the foundations of the earth were set in place, God made us. He chose us. And He set a purpose for our lives. It’s not a one size fits all plan, but one crafted just for YOU.

As believers, each of us is part of the body of Christ, not one more important than the other. (Read 1 Corinthians 12.) Some have been called to the limelight; others to remain behind the scenes. Some to feed thousands; others to nourish just a few. Some to be bold and gregarious. Others to be quiet and reflective. Some will be entrusted with a lot; others with a little. It doesn’t matter WHAT we do, it matters THAT we do.

So what was Paul’s secret to being content in any and every situation? Trust. He said, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:13) Even though his flesh probably had other ideas, deep in his heart he trusted and followed God’s plan for HIS life—not Peter's life or Timothy's or Luke's.

Thank you Karen, for showing us truth. (I’ve personalized your message, so forgive me if I’ve misrepresented you.) Judging by the response of the audience, it’s not just me who struggles with being content with my little and my lot. Why, oh why do I find this so hard?!

What about you? Do feel that God has forgotten you because He’s too busy crafting big plans for others? Do you struggle to even know what His plans are for your life? Do you feel overwhelmed by your circumstances? Is your basket filled with more rotten fruit than spiritual fruit?

June 23, 2008

The Wind in My Hair (A Look Back at She Speaks)

We’re back from down South y’all. My friend Deb and I made it home last night from an amazing weekend at She Speaks.

As you know from my last post, I left with much anticipation and nervousness. Thankfully, most of my fears turned out to be unwarranted. And my outfits and shoes were more than acceptable. With 560+ women in attendance, it was a potpourri of ages, personalities and styles.

Did She Speaks meet my expectations?

As a first-time attendee I didn’t really know what to expect. But deep down, I had two hopes: one, that God would unleash my writing in a HUGE way. And two, that one of the published authors or editors would see the name on my name tag and exclaim, “Oh, I can’t believe it’s you—I’ve read your blog! You’re a great writer with such wise spiritual insight. We simply MUST publish your work!”

Perhaps I set my sights a bit high.

So, what was She Speaks to me? Most of all, it was a chance to live in the beauty of God’s truth for three days. We heard some absolutely amazing women of faith paint personal portraits of a God who’s real. A God who’s faithful. A God who works. And a God who PASSIONATELY loves each of us.

(I am in awe of the Proverbs 31 team and their deep, active love for Jesus. I had the opportunity to meet a few of them and they were just as lovely and sincere in person as they were on stage.)

She Speaks was a time to meet fellow aspiring writers, bloggers, ministry leaders and speakers. And, each was driven by the same passion: to share the amazing truth of this guy named Jesus. In their stories of personal victory, hope and abiding faith I saw not just the Creator of the universe, but a God who uses ordinary women to reveal His extraordinary glory.

She Speaks was a place to learn from seasoned professionals not only how to write better and navigate the ultra-competitive world of publishing, but also to focus on the reason we write: for His glory, not ours.

She Speaks was a chance for my dear friend and I to deepen a friendship born out of a shared love of the Lord. We drove our rented convertible with the wind in our hair, enjoyed late night conversations and shared experiences that are already cherished memories. Best of all, after spending almost 72 hours together non-stop, we’re still friends!

And She Speaks was a place where this reserved girl watched from afar the big experiences, big personalities and big plans it seemed God had in store for so many of the ladies. “But,” I wondered, “What about me?” And then, through Marybeth Whalen's session on Saturday, the Spirit touched my heart and God whispered, “I haven’t forgotten about you. Keep writing. Be patient. I have a plan for you.”

While I wanted the confernce to be a sprint to the finish, I see it was a mile in a marathon. In the end I learned three things. One: I don’t know where God's taking me. Two: I’m OK with that. And, three: the journey’s a lot more fun in a convertible!

June 18, 2008

The Journey of 552 Miles...

After months of waiting, it’s finally here! Tomorrow my friend, Deb, and I journey to Charlotte, North Carolina for our first writers’ conference. Hosted by Proverbs 31 Ministries, She Speaks is geared toward Christian women who want to pursue God’s call in their lives to speak, write and lead.

This is the first big stepping stone in my journey as a writer. I’m excited to see what God has planned, but as each day passes I get more nervous. Did I make the right decision to go? Are my writing samples good enough? Will anyone even like what I’ve written? Did I chose the right workshops? Do I know how to network? Will I miss publishing opportunities?

All big questions, to be sure. But do you know what I’m most anxious about? The clothes. The dress for the conference is “business casual.” I work at home, so to me business casual is a matching pair of PJs. So I’ve got some catching up to do—fast!

Luckily the lovely women at Proverbs 31 are looking out for those of us who don’t get out much. One of them wrote a blog that detailed the dress code complete with outfit suggestions and links to catalogs. As I perused the site I quickly realized there is a ginormous difference between my idea of business casual and a Southern woman’s idea of business casual. This wash ‘n wear gal was out of her league with these stylish ladies! They recommended clothes I didn’t know existed—like trouser jeans. Have I been living under a rock?!

Not only was I sweating the writing and networking side of the conference, now I was worried about being Sporty Spice in a sea of Poshes. An emergency shopping trip was definitely in order. (Thanks, Mom for being my fashion EMT.) Now I can proudly say I’ve got my fashion training wheels with my very own pair of trouser jeans (who knew!) and a cute skirt. I won’t win any fashion awards, but at least I’ll blend in.

Whew! Crisis averted. Until I realized what I forgot.

The shoes.

Evidently fashionable women take their shoes VERY seriously. The blogosphere was filled with chat about what shoes to wear at the conference. I got the feeling my home office flip flops weren’t exactly what they had in mind! So, last night I was off on another emergency shopping trip—this time with my 13-year-old daughter. Some help she turned out to be (note: sarcasm). Here are some of the shoes she adored:

You gotta’ love her sense of style…and humor. (I sometimes wonder if she was switched at birth because she’s VERY stylish and shoes are VERY important to her!) Eventually we agreed on a (moderately) stylish and much more comfortable choice. Now, except for some last minute primping and preparing I’m ready to go!

This time tomorrow I’ll begin not only a journey of 552 miles to Charlotte, but my first step toward professional writing. Please pray we travel safely. And pray that God blesses this experience and uses it to take me to the next step. And the next. And the next...no matter what shoes I’m wearing.

And when I leave the conference on Sunday, I pray they don’t remember my hairstyle or outfit, but instead the heart of an ordinary girl whose writing reveals just a glimpse of our awesome God.

"I guide you in the way of wisdom
and lead you along straight paths."
Proverbs 4:11

June 16, 2008

Clay Achin'


I have tennis elbow. If you’ve never had it, this means I have pain radiating out of my elbow into my forearm. It limits my ability to use my right arm, for tennis obviously, but also everyday activities like lifting coffee mugs, using a computer mouse and turning doorknobs. The weakness is a definite liability.

But I’m committed to getting better. Tennis is on hold. Rest, ice and ibuprofen are my new best friends. I even called in a professional. My friend highly recommended a doctor that had helped her and several of our other friends’ cases of tennis elbow. So, yesterday I paid him a visit.Immediately I felt I was in good hands. After we discussed my condition I waited for him to work his magic and make me better. He probed the tendons and muscles of my forearm to identify the injured areas. Once located, he said he’d work on these “speed bumps” to “flatten” them and I’d be on the road to recovery. Sounds easy enough, right?

Well, magic I did not experience. Pain I did. While he jammed his thumb into the anatomy of my forearm “flattening” these “speed bumps,” I wondered what I’d done to make my friend so angry she’d recommend this agony. “I’m helping you,” the doctor assured. “Really? It doesn’t feel like it,” I grimaced.

After fifteen minutes of sheer torture, I inexplicably made an appointment for more of the same next week, paid him for privilege and dragged my aching arm home. “Don’t forget to ice it,” he called out. “No kidding!” I retorted.

Today my arm feels like it was on the losing end of a schoolyard brawl. It’s even a little swollen. But, surprisingly the pain in my elbow seems lessened. And I have more strength in my grip. Is it possible all of that painful kneading is starting to work?

Life can leave us with hurts far more acute than tennis elbow. We struggle and suffer. Pain radiates, leaving us weakened:
“The test results are in…”
“Sorry, we’re reorganizing and your job has been eliminated.”
“There’s been an accident…”
“I think you have a drinking problem.”
“You’re not good enough.”
“Mom, I hate you!”
“You really disappointed me.”
“I don’t love you anymore.”


Yet, God assures us in Jeremiah, “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (29:11)

How can this be true when we experience such pain?

Earlier in Jeremiah we get an insight. At a potter’s house, the prophet observed, “… the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” (18:4). And Isaiah says:

We’re under construction. Like lumps of clay we’re useless until formed by the hands of the Master Potter. God uses every experience to make us. Every disappointment to shape us. And every hurt to mold us. Although it seems counter-intuitive and maybe even unfair, our greatest refinements often come from the most painful kneading.

It’s up to us to choose how we experience this process. We can run away clinging to our desire to control and demanding to understand why these things happen. Or we can remain pliable and submit to His loving hands.

God created us. He has plans for us. And He shapes us as He chooses.

Do we trust Him to craft us into His perfect plans…even when our clay is aching?

“Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Roman 5:3-5)

June 10, 2008

Lord, Give Me Patience!

It’s so hot here that the kids have had early dismissal from school the last two days. If this is a taste of what summer vacation will be like, pray for me.

My daughter, inspired by the movie 27 Dresses that she just finished watching, has decided to go through my closet. She’s trying on every dress I own, including all of the sentimental “garments” I’ve kept through the years. So far she’s come down modeling:

-- A new tennis dress (it’s actually hers although she doesn’t really play tennis.)

-- A gown from my high school prom (What was I thinking?!)

-- A bridesmaid dress from my friend’s wedding 18 years ago (Definitely NOT a dress to be shortened and worn again.)

-- A longish skirt belted to be a sleeveless dress (It's actually kind of cute on her.)

-- My high school letter jacket (Accompanied by both kids incredulously asking, “Mom! What is this?)

-- A slip dress that looks waaaaay different on her size 1 body than my not size 1 body (As it hangs limply on her slender frame she declares, “Mom, I hate to break it to you, but this isn’t a good look.”)

-- The “crown” part of my wedding veil along with a “1998” sash I made for her to wear as "baby New Year" for our Christmas card (Quite a combo!)

Where is she finding this stuff? And what does my room look like?!

In the meantime my son, who seems to have received an extra shot of adrenaline has been literally bouncing off the walls. He’s “practicing” his drums banging his drumsticks on the walls, my desk, the counters, the doors…and even on his drum, LOUDLY. In between, for sport, he’s annoying his sister (who’s having a heck of a time fending him off in her various costumes). And he’s now demanding to be let into a locked room where she's practicing her violin because he HAS to use the bathroom—even though we have two other lovely bathrooms available.

Even the dog, already stressed out from the heat, senses chaos overload. She’s alternately panting and looking at me fretfully, and running upstairs to bark at the kids to voice her concern. And the cat, well you know where the cat is—nowhere to be seen!

In the midst of this all, I’m trying to remain calm, write and get some other work done. Lord, help me! It’s going to be a long, loud, messy summer!

I guess the silver lining is I’ll probably have more to write about.

Now, do I call it quits for the day and tackle the mess certainly waiting for me upstairs or do we pack up and head to the pool for some relief? Hmmm, what would you do?

“This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:24

June 6, 2008

What's In Your Garage?

Like most suburbanites, we’re a two car family. When we moved to our current home and upgraded from a no-garage to a two-car garage house, my hubby and I thought we died and went to heaven. I didn’t grow up with a garage so I saw it as a great big space to store lots of stuff! Dan, on the other hand, saw it as a great big place to store—cars! Can you imagine?! I stubbornly fought that idea all the way to closing.

Guess who won that argument? Yep, Dan. (Never get in the way of a man and his garage!) And from day one, except when our garage doors were broken or a home improvement project needed overflow space, we’ve parked our cars in the garage. Period.

And you know what? I love it! I never have to brush snow off my car, unload groceries in the rain or burn my hands on the steering wheel. We get into warmer cars in the winter and cooler cars in the summer. And they stay so much cleaner!

Incredibly, there’s still room for our stuff. Three trash cans, six bikes, one lawn mower, dozens of garden tools, home improvement supplies, a work bench, sports equipment and more hang on the walls, suspend from the ceiling and fill every available space. We certainly won’t win any organization awards, but all the “stuff” fits.

Eight years ago we made a commitment that’s now non-negotiable: we will park our cars in the garage—all the time. Everything else just has to fit around them. (Even if it means I have to navigate an obstacle course just to reach my car!) It it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t stay.

You know, God is like this.

In the garage of our lives, He wants to be parked right smack in the middle with the rest of our “stuff” fitting around Him. In Deuteronomy (6:5) God told the Israelites, and Jesus reiterated, His greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with ALL your heart and with ALL your soul and with ALL your mind.” (Mt 22:37)

Not when it’s convenient. Not when it makes sense. Not when we feel like it. Not when it’s popular. Not some of us, some of the time but ALL of us ALL of the time. “ALL” doesn’t leave wiggle room.

Even as I write this it’s sobering. Do I protect the space for God in my life as territorially as I protect the space for my car in my garage? Do I put God before ALL else, even my family…and myself? Is my commitment to Him non-negotiable?

Or do I give Him off-street parking while I…
…find plenty of time for my hobbies and little time to spend in the Word?
…use financial giving as a shield for going face to face with those in need?
…let the kids’ activities squeeze God out of the Sabbath?
…worry about our plans for the future instead of trusting God with His?
…choose “my will be done” over “Thy will be done?”
…intellectualize Scripture as if I’m trying to prove God wrong?
…give reluctantly instead of sacrificially?

Of course God wants us to have our families, relationships, jobs, hobbies, intellect and personalities, but we can’t fill up the garage of our lives with this stuff and say, “Sorry God, it’s a little crowded in here. Do mind waiting in the driveway?”

When we give God the primacy in our lives He asks for—that He created us for—we live as He intended. And life doesn’t become dull and dreary, it becomes satisfying and purposeful. We experience more joy not less. And we find room we never realized was there.

But sometimes it takes a garage sale to clear out the clutter.

Listen to Lincoln Brewster's song, "Love the Lord:" I will serve the Lord with all my heart with all my soul with all my mind and with all my strength..."