Clawing Our Way to the Top: Why We Must Stop Using Other People For Our Personal Gain

Recently a woman, who shares mutual friends with me, wrote a nice message introducing herself. After the normal pleasantries, she went straight to the point, “I sell ___________ products and would love to meet up to explore which one would suit your needs.” My reply was genuine, yet honest, “I think it’s a great item, but I am not interested in becoming a customer right now. I do love meeting new friends, so if you’d like to get acquainted outside of a business endeavor, I’d love to get together.” I am still waiting on that coffee date to be scheduled…

Whether selling products, writing a book, or running a ministry, we all have dreams of expansion. When we believe in something, our hearts grow invested, and it’s natural to want the world to buy in. Our products and ideas get shared with people in our neighborhoods, at our kid’s sporting events, maybe even in the checkout line at the grocery store.

Most predominately it gets marketed online.

Starting to blog a couple years ago, I became more ingrained in the online culture, thus noticing a fascinating trend. From beauty specialists to florists, photographers to wedding planners, small business owners to entrepreneurs, and writers to speakers of various topics, the trend to push other people around in the process of growing a platform is pervasive.

Follow someone online to unfollow them later

Like people’s posts to gain exposure

Comment only when it benefits the brand

Cheer someone on to gain something in return

And so on…

What happens when, as self-proclaimed Christian leaders, we buy into this mentality, when we see a goal and employ whatever strategy it takes to get to the top? What impact does it have on those around us, and do our ministries, our hearts, become affected by these practices? When we see other people, not for how we can serve them, but how they can serve us, the consequences devastate the over-arching commandment we have as believers in Jesus Christ.

We are commanded to…

“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” (Romans 12:10)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-45)

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39)

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I might have 383 followers on Instagram for the rest of my blogging career.  I might only get a few comments, a couple dozen likes, and maybe one or two shares per post. Quite possibly that could keep me from ever receiving a book deal, speaking at high-profile events, or making a public name for myself. But if that is the sphere of influence God has assigned me, then THAT SHOULD BE ENOUGH.

This doesn’t mean we can’t advertise our products or posts. It doesn’t imply that we should stop working hard to make connections or forgo joining communities with other like-minded people. It certainly shouldn’t stop us from praying for God to open doors, asking Him to expand our message or help us reach our goals. And, for heaven’s sake, we don’t have to follow every person online who first follows us.

It all comes down to the motivations and intentions of our heart.

What it means is that WHEN we set the goals, make the introductions, put our best-executed foot forward, we release our grip on the outcome and trust God to bring who needs to hear it most. It’s not about the money. It’s not about the fame. It’s not about the numbers.

It’s about Christ’s message for His world.

So I have decided to let God grow my sphere of influence instead of playing the game. I will fight the temptation to show interest in other people for the purpose of furthering my agenda. I will not speak of Christ’s love and then turn around and use people for my gain. If you feel like I have already done this to you, please message me so I can ask for your forgiveness.

I will let God determine my influence as He sees fit and for His purpose alone. And I will choose to elevate Christ over my goals. His will over mine. His plans over my platform.

Our calling as Christians to love others above ourselves is worth the trade.

The temptations and insecurities are real, so we need to band together in this surrender. Holding each other accountable, we can spur one another on to say “yes” to God’s assignments, regardless of the worldly outcome. After all, if one person’s life is encouraged or changed by our words, our ministries, or our service, than it is worth it all.

Who’s with me?

The Day I Lost My Baby Weight & My Friends: The Comparison Killer

Cradling an infant at 23 years old, we were new to town,  and I needed friends. BAD. While most of our college buddies were starting careers, getting married, and traveling to fun places, we were knee-deep in caring for a colicky, beautiful, little girl who never slept.

Longing for a place to belong, we settled into a new church community, and within those walls, we found everything we needed – solid preaching, great music, a good children’s program, and lots and lots of newborn babies.

At first our Sunday morning conversations felt awkward, shallow, and forced. Content to just “press through”, we kept attending and trying to reach out. Making friends with a few people, we started to feel more comfortable, but overall, there was an invisible wall between me and some women in the class.

Several months into our daughter’s life, the sleep deprivation gave way to postpartum depression. Feeling like a caged animal in our tiny apartment, I desperately needed some outings, some companionship, and some authentic community. With my husband’s urging, I stepped outside my comfort zone and attended a women’s event one evening.

Walking into the chatter-filled room, I scanned to see if any of my friends were there. Finding a familiar face, I took the seat beside another new mom, eager to share stories about life with little ones. A few sentences into the conversation, she said something I will never forget…

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How To Be Less Afraid In A Very Scary World

The mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs. An evening shopping trip turned deadly at a neighborhood Walmart. A routine meeting at the UPS office leaving people dead and in shock. Las Vegas, New York City and countless others just this year.

Where are we protected? Where can we shop, work, seek entertainment, or go to school without the threat of unexplained violence? Can we freely walk through our neighborhoods, travel cross-country, or have an adventure without running the risk of death. Are we safe anywhere?

And if not, how do we be less afraid in a world full of scary things?

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My Year of Rest – Finding Healing in a Hard Surrender

Loss has piled up on me and the heartbreak has been great. Over the past several years I have been hammered by the reality of this fallen world and the messiness life can bring. Pummeled with trials, we have had little rest in between; few seasons of calm. Desperate to find joy in the sorrow and beauty in the ashes, my husband and kids have been the best life-givers and smile-bringers this world could provide. With them, I have also had my youth group.

For seven years I have served in the best youth program this side of heaven (at least in my humble opinion). The students I first mentored have now graduated high school, bright futures awaiting them on the other side of teenage life. My first year serving, I was scared and timid, doubts running rampant through my head. Would the kids like me? Would I mesh with the team? Would I even enjoy the activities and the retreats away? Would I know what to say and how to lead?

And most of all, would I have impact?

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Does Time Really Heal All Wounds?

“Time heals all wounds.”

“This year of firsts is always the hardest.”

“Hang in there, it will only get easier.”

“At least this isn’t your first holiday without her.”

People mean well. We really do. Desiring to offer comfort, we oftentimes reach into our pocket of go-to phrases. Bits of advice that feel like a reassuring pat on the back. A slick balm to hopefully ease a stab of pain. We want to make it better. We yearn to help each other move to a brighter side of life. Let’s face it – grief is a downer! For the past couple of years I have often felt like the sad one. The downtrodden sour puss. The weary raindrop among the happy parade. There have been times I believed I should not be THIS sad anymore.

Does grief really get easier with time?

Today marks two solid years since I held my mom, witnessing her say goodbye to this world and hello to heaven. 730 days since I saw her face, whispered encouragement into her ear, prayed for her healing. The first year was a blur in some respects. Cleaning out her house was arduous, but occupied my mind. Putting her affairs in order was taxing, but a distraction. Through the busyness, holidays came and went. Her void was palpable. Her lack of presence a sharp pang of reality. Among the demands jockeying for my time, I forced myself to feel the emotions. I gave myself space to mourn her loss. Denial frequently looked like a better companion, but reality made its way into the depths of my heart. Year one was hard. Really hard.

After honoring her first anniversary, I believed the second year would dawn brighter. At least that is what I had told myself, along with dozens of other hurting people before me. Believing that, like my pocket-full-of-wisdom, time could soften my pain. Years gone by would become less intense. Even that the passage of time could heal my brokenness.

But the truth is…

No amount of time can heal my heart. Only Jesus can.

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The Impact of Christian Teachers Who Don’t Talk About Their Faith

Coach P. and Dr. B. Two Names. Two men who taught me. Two teachers who believed the best in me. Both of these educators modeled kindness and what it meant to be a team player. They challenged me, desiring to see my potential met. Even-tempered and filled with love, they rallied students together to reach goals, to impact others, and to leave a legacy of hard work and love wherever we went.

I don’t ever recall hearing them talk about God.

Growing up in a suburb of Dallas, Texas, my upper-middle class high school oftentimes felt like a private school. We had over a dozen National Merit Scholars, a majority of our graduates went on to attend four-year university, and we produced leaders in all areas of sports, music, and extracurricular activities. Our band performed on an episode of Barney my junior year, and Jessica Simpson sang in our choir. I loved this school and my not-so typical years there.

As a teenager, I was already a Christian but didn’t care two hoots about God or my walk with Him. I was saved at age nine, on a hot, summer morning in central Texas. Standing on the wooden deck of my camp cabin, my counselor prayed with me to accept Jesus as my Savior. My sister was abroad with an international peace organization, and my parents were off on a two-week vacation, so I was sent to TBarM Sports Camp. Thrilled to specialize in gymnastics, I was hoping to learn how to land my back handspring on the beam. Swimming, games, campfires, and tower-repelling delighted my adventurous spirit as well. Being nine years old, sleeping away from home for two weeks should have been a terrifying experience, but me and fear weren’t well acquainted yet. Throughout those sticky, summer nights I heard the Bible stories, sang “Lean on Me” a dozen times, and decided that maybe God did love me after all. Minutes after praying with my counselor, I bolted off the deck to jump back into the pool. I was changed but didn’t know it yet.

Thinking back to my high school days, I can’t remember knowing any Christian teachers. Maybe it was because few existed. Perhaps it was because they didn’t talk about it. Quite possibly it was because I didn’t care. Whatever the reason, I didn’t hear people talk about God much. The only reference to Him that I recall is seeing the Young Life posters in the hallway on Monday afternoons.

Today there is a growing pressure on educators to tow the faith line. Praying on the field before games, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, or talking about your beliefs during a world religions unit, are frowned upon, if not forbidden. In a tight spot, you know that faith-based conversations and activities need to be student led and run, but you want to share the hope that you have. What can you do?

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“Alongside” Book Review and Give Away

Casserole makers. Card senders. Flower arrangers. Prayer warriors. When crisis strikes, we want to help. Deeply desiring to care for one another, we, oftentimes, come up short on appropriate words or actions. Having little idea of the person’s needs, we become frozen in our ability to help in a way that is a blessing, not a burden, to us or to them.

Deep down I believe we all have good intentions. We care. We empathize. We want to help. We just need to be taught how.

Mom was dying, and I was completely overwhelmed by the demands before me. Not having close family nearby, we were left to navigate this season on our own. Caring for our three young kids while being Mom’s primary care giver, I needed help. Honestly, I couldn’t survive without it. During this time of need, a core group of people stepped in to bless, serve, and encourage our family in ways I never could have imagined. Their selfless service to my family and Mom is a debt we can’t repay. Developing a bond that drew us together, this community took our burdens as their own, helping us focus on the path ahead. Their service modeled the love and nearness of Christ in a dark and desolate season. Not everyone played the same role; not everyone could. Depending on the closeness of our relationship and their own time and circumstance constraints, people used their gifts to serve us in a way that was a blessing, not a burden, on either party. There were others in our community who didn’t reach out at all. Deeply knowing and loving these people, I firmly believe is wasn’t due to lack of compassion, rather an inability to assess the needs and know what role they could play.

What is our role when we find someone in our community suffering? What is the appropriate way to reach out, to love, to care for them? Sarah Beckman has written a book that is a must read for anyone desiring to be a blessing during a difficult season.

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Our Terminal: A Community of Hope Facing Terminal Illness

Out of the pain of losing Mom, a web community has been born.

When Mom first got diagnosed with terminal cancer in February 2015, I searched far and wide for resources to help navigate the journey. I wanted to find stories of other people who had walked a similar journey, anyone who could provide me a window into the future. I desperately needed to find redemption and hope when the circumstances seemed void of it. My search came up very short. Feeling like I was in uncharted territory, I turned to a few friends who had walked this road before me, knowing not everyone has people who can support in this way.

After Mom’s death, a deep desire has been birthed in my heart. Knowing others were experiencing similar grief, I yearned to create a space where people can gather when a terminal illness enters their world. A central hub of resources and information. A place to share the ups and downs of our stories. Most of all a corner to experience HOPE.

After walking Mom through her final stage of life, I was able to see gifts, big and small, that were given to us during those months. The word “terminal” began to take on a new meaning to me…

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The Nuances of Being a Nice Girl

Imagine being an 11-year-old girl walking into her first day of middle school. The unfamiliar sites, sounds, and smells bring anxiety, excitement, and a healthy dose of fear. Will I be able to open my locker? Will I have a friend to sit with at lunch? Will I survive dressing down in PE? Will I be prey to the notorious middle school mean girls?

Being a middle schooler has never been harder than it is today.

During my junior high career, I managed life fairly well. Being both a cheerleader and band member, I straddled a wide divide of friend circles. To most, I was known as being a “nice girl”. Making good grades, kind friends, and staying above the fray. Do I have regret, sure. Do I wish I could redo some conversations, definitely. The most blaring injustice I committed was my keen ability to be silent.

One fateful week in early February, the student council was prowling the halls with Valegrams in hand. Being a gifted, cheesy poem writer, I had been asked to write a poem to be given to a certain boy from a particular girl. After writing this labor of love, I handed the masterpiece over to the proprietor, soon to realize the poem was going to be signed from someone else. A girl who had no idea she was sending this. Someone who often was the center of teasing. A person who needed to be defended.

And I let it slide. Not wanting to ruffle feathers, I stayed silent. Maybe she wouldn’t find out I was the one who penned the poem. Maybe she wouldn’t be upset after all. Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn’t really matter.

As I sat in math class, on Valentine’s Day,  I shifted nervously in my seat watching the Valegrams be passed out. To my horror, the boy receiving the card read it aloud in front of the class, sending the unsuspecting girl into a hysterical fit of sobs. In that moment reality hit like a dagger to my heart….My silence had made me a mean girl.

Our daughters don’t have to be silent. They can adopt the nuance of being nice.

Nuance = a subtle difference in or shade of meaning, expression, sound.

What if our daughters shifted the meanings of their words to bring life? What if their expressions reflected compassion, love, and friendship? What if the sounds coming from their mouth were joyful noises instead of  insecure jealousy? What if they gave voice to the bullied, included the outcast, showed compassion for the lonely? What would it look like if our teenage daughters embraced the nuances of being nice?

Change would begin to happen. The climate of our middle schools would shift. Students would start to believe they are good enough. Valuable. Loved. Cherished. No longer would the middle school years be clouded with a veil of insecurity and sadness. Our hallways would look different because nice is contagious and preciously rare.

In four days my oldest daughter will take her first steps into an unfamiliar middle school hallway. Some moms and daughters have collectively decided that this class of girls will CHOOSE NICE. When others slander, they will speak up. When others insult, they will encourage. When others isolate, they will include. This is a new class of girls who will commit to loving well, despite their own insecurity. Instead of waiting for others to set the tone, they will be the cultural trend setters. Will it be hard, yes. Will they be ostracized for it, maybe. Will it make a different, absolutely.

And we can’t challenge our girls to choose nice, if we don’t choose it first. Will you join us in this pledge to adopt the nuances of being nice? The return is well worth the things we have to lay aside.

 

 

 

“Give Your Child the World” Give Away

Growing up my parents sent me and my sister on trips across the world. Starting at the tender age of eleven, I began participating in international peace camps through an organization called Children’s International Summer Villages (CISV). My travels took me to far away places such as Brazil, Sweden, Belgium, and Slovakia. Living for a month at a time with children from around the globe, I fell in love with various cultures, people groups, and places. Beginning to see other cultures in light of my own, differences weren’t obstacles to our friendships. Skin color didn’t determine the depth of our relationship. Language barriers couldn’t stop lifelong bonds from forming.

Experiencing the world at a young age helped me to value all people. Most specifically those different from my mainstream, upper-middle class, white, American, Christian self.

Camps like these are rare and hard to come by. I don’t take it for granted that my parents sacrificed much to give us these opportunities. Besides a semester long stint in Switzerland, my kids haven’t grown up with the same opportunities I had. Longing for them to experience other cultures, we have had to actively seek ways to help them touch the world afar. It sounds like a great goal, but it is hard to know where to start. So the question becomes, “how can we spark a love for other cultures in the hearts of our children, when it is so far removed from our every day lives?”

Author, Jaime Martin, has found a way.

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