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?

Hope & Encouragement in the Waiting

The close of 2017 might have left you wanting. Perhaps you have a dream yet to be realized, and you look to the new year with expectation, yearning, longing, and hope. Maybe it’s for a new desire, fresh vision invigorating your heart, or, on the other hand, maybe you have been waiting on the Lord’s movement for weeks, months, or even years.

For our family, the past five years has been filled with waiting of different kinds. Being in a long, arduous, international adoption process, we have prayed each year would bring us closer to bringing home a little girl from Bulgaria (you can read more of our story here: Our Adoption Journey). At other times, we have waited for God to bring healing in relationships, our loved one’s bodies, and for family who are hurting and broken.

For you, maybe you desperately desire to have a biological child of your own. Perhaps your season of waiting is for a spouse, a new job opportunity, a relationship restoration, or for your illness to be cured. For others it might be waiting to see how God will work things out for good, when your circumstances seem hard, isolating, and unchanging.

Whatever your wait, In Due Time might be the book for you.

Continue reading “Hope & Encouragement in the Waiting”

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…

“Sarah, do you want to know why some of us don’t like you in this class?”

Me: (awkward, long pause)…um, yes, I guess I do. *Gulp.*

“Well, it is because you had a baby three months ago and have already lost your baby weight [Side note: I hadn’t]. Some of us in here are still struggling after 9 months, and we don’t like you for it.”

She got up and walked away.

Why do we hurt one another so much? Why do we let petty, insignificant things keep us from experiencing true community? Why do we make judgements, instead of celebrating who God made each of us to be? Why do we use the measuring stick of comparison on those we are called to love most?

Using other people to determine our worth is killing our communities, restricting our impact, stripping us of joy, and, most of all, causing us to forget who we are in Christ.

 

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We are loved (Romans 5:8), chosen (John 15:16), and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14). We are forgiven (Hebrews 14:16), justified (Romans 3:24), righteous and redeemed (Colossians 1:22). We are the aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:15), and are uniquely designed (Isaiah 64:8). And we are FULLY QUALIFIED (2 Corinthians 3:5).

Our worth is not measured by the size of our clothes, the number of kids in our minivan, how much money we make, or the applause we get online. It isn’t about our ministry numbers exploding, our marital status, or the color of our skin. It isn’t about the spiritual gifts we have received or the number of people we’ve led to Christ.

Our worth lies solely in our citizenship in heaven. In Christ WE ARE ENOUGH.

So let’s make a deal. As a generation of Christians, let’s fight the temptation to compare our bodies, our families, our vocations, our ministries, and our assignments. Instead, let’s make church a safe place, a resting spot, where joys are celebrated and struggles cradled; a place where we call out the gifts and talents in one another, celebrating the obedience and Kingdom-building impact happening in our midst.

Through that edification, our communities will see an unleashing of men and women who know who they are in Christ, and behind them will be an army of believers who remind them when they forget. And the world will be changed for today, tomorrow, and for eternity to come.

And that, my friends, will be a beautiful sight to see.

What is one way your community supports and encourages each other well?

Finding Joy in a Sorrow-filled Christmas

Maybe your Christmas season is filled with illness, divorce, conflict, or death? Perhaps, like many others, you find the cheery “Merry Christmas” greeting hard to return, as you fight the unforgiving lump growing in your throat? For lots of people, the months have been hard and the year is ending with disappointment, betrayal, or sorrow. The holiday season dawns difficult and joy is hard to find.

How can Christmas be joy-filled when grief is real and ever-present?

Back when our girls were little, the pleasures of Christmas were found within the stockings under the tree, in the delightful squeals of children unwrapping presents, and tucked inside the delectable treats and goodies scattered around the kitchen. Christmas meant family and family meant peace, happiness, and unity.

Scattered in those years, life happened and heartache entered the picture. Divorce, dysfunction, disease, and death crept in and Christmas became a juggle of emotions; reality of loss overlaid our day of happiness. Yearning for the past, it became easy to wish for simpler years, for holidays that felt alive with anticipation and wonder; when Christmas was truly the most wonderful time of the year, and all felt right in the world.

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In seasons of hardship, our propensity can be to run and hide. Avoid the cheerfully decorated shopping malls. Skip the company Christmas party. Spend Christmas Eve at home instead of in a candle-laden church pew. Occasionally these practices are best. Honestly, sometimes we need to protect our hearts in these fragile moments. You may be in this fresh season of grief. Cut yourself some slack. It is okay. For a season.

For the rest of us, where can we find Christmas joy when our hearts hurt with the things of this world? How can we engage with the people around us and see the gladness of Jesus when our hearts don’t feel happy, our families have conflict, and our circumstances are complicated? Unlike a faucet, we can’t turn off our emotions at the leisure or convenience of others. We shouldn’t have to pretend, feel guilty, or ignore the pain within us. Acknowledging the hard, while still experiencing peace and joy, can be our anthem this year.

It comes down to seeing the gift of Jesus for who He really is in our life.

The Old Testament book of Isaiah was written over 700 years before the birth of Christ, yet it perfectly describes the coming of our Messiah. The following are just a few of the prophesies fulfilled:

He will be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14)

He will come from the line of King David (Isaiah 9:7)

He will be beaten and struck with a willing spirit (Isaiah 50:6)

He will make a blood sacrifice (Isaiah 53:5)

He will take our place (Isaiah 53:6)

He will heal our broken hearts (Isaiah 61:1-2)

“Instead if their shame, my people will receive a double portion, and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance; and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs.” (Isaiah 61:7)

Thankfully for us, Jesus didn’t stay a baby in that manger. Growing in God’s likeness – being fully man, yet fully divine – He lived a perfect, sinless life. Suffering on the cross, He bore the punishment for our sins, dying the criminals death that you, I, and the world deserve. Bursting from the grave three days later, He conquered death and ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of our Father. He made eternal life available to all who call on His name. Death, disease, heartache, conflict, and grief were conquered once and for all.

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Because of Jesus’ journey from manger to cross to heaven, our weary world can rejoice. Our hearts can feel heavy, yet hopeful; sorrow-filled, yet alive. We can grieve, yet be in gladness. Joy can still be found this Christmas season, no matter what our circumstances bring.

All because our true Hope was born this Christmas Day.

***

I’d love to hear what is hard for you this Christmas season and where you find joy in the midst of your current circumstances? And know, dear reader, I will be lifting you up as this season unfolds.

*For practical advice in how to best love someone who is hurting this Christmas season, I highly recommend reading this article by Desiring God. What Grieving People Wish You Knew at Christmas

 

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?

Continue reading “How To Be Less Afraid In A Very Scary World”

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?

Continue reading “My Year of Rest – Finding Healing in a Hard Surrender”

How a Prayer For North Korea Impacted My Faith and Possibly Changed the World

Tucking my daughter into bed, I asked the routine question, “Is there anything you want to pray about tonight?”. With the start of school on the horizon, I anticipated prayers like “for my electives schedule, “for my best friend to get my lunch period”, or “for so and so to be nicer this year”. Pondering for a minute, she answered instead…

“I want to pray for North Korea.”

Surprised at her request, I asked some follow-up questions, gaining a much deeper picture into the heart and mind of my child. As I listened to her concerns, not based out of fear but on knowledge of the situation, I realized why God deeply values the faith of a child. Bold, unwavering, and full of trust, she believed her prayers could make a difference. The cause wasn’t too hefty, too complicated, or too messed up for our all-powerful Creator.

My girl had just massively challenged my own prayer life. And possibly changed the world in the process.

Continue reading “How a Prayer For North Korea Impacted My Faith and Possibly Changed the World”

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?

Continue reading “The Impact of Christian Teachers Who Don’t Talk About Their Faith”

My Yes Doesn’t Mean God Says Yes Too: Loving and Losing a Little Girl We Never Knew

Flashback to 2009. Living in Austin, Texas, my husband was attending a rigourous, full-time MBA program. With little income for the next 20 months, we rented an old house as close to campus as we could afford. Selling a car, we paired down, content to wrestle through the next two years of whatever adventures lay ahead.

Two precious little girls filled our home, and dreams of a third were fresh on our hearts. We knew we wanted to try for another biological child, and weeks later the test came back with joyful news. Excited, we began to prepare for her arrival.

About halfway through this pregnancy, I began researching adoption agencies. Though a weird thing to do while carrying a child in utero, I filled out an online inquiry form and hit SEND. I wanted information on international adoption. God had lit a tiny spark of interest earlier in our marriage, and I desired to get a window into the future possibilities. Though the time wasn’t right to start the process, I knew at some point God would give the green light.

Holding this paperwork helped keep that desire alive.

Fast-forward a few years and life looked much different than that day I first held the adoption packet. Grad school graduation had happened, a cross-country move had taken place, and that sweet little baby was now two years old. After prayer and contemplation, God gave that steady green light. It was go-time. Pulling out those dusty papers from long ago, I emailed the agency, and set off on the adventure of international adoption. It was August 2012.

Like many things in life, adoption is hard. The process, the emotions, the financial requirement, the transition home, the healing. All of it. Walking beside several close friends who have adopted, we have cried over doors being closed, rejoiced when new ones opened, lamented as timelines got extended, and watched families lose hope only to gain it back on the other side. It isn’t for the faint of heart or the easily discouraged.

As of today, our family has been in process over four and a half years. We’ve dreamed, we’ve prayed, we’ve sometimes been low on hope and weary. After this many years, bumps in the road have oftentimes obstructed our view of the finish line, not sure if our family would ever see the day a referral would grace our kitchen table.

Two months ago it looked like that was all about to change…

Through certain events that can’t be shared here, we were made aware of a little girl that needed a new home. On paper, we were a perfect match. Pouring over her file, we prayed for her, as if she were our own. Having videos and pictures gave us a face to put with this long-hoped-for anticipation.  It brought hope in this journey, something we hadn’t experienced in a very long time. Bringing in our community, we needed their prayers. An urgency filled our bones. An assurance that we were meant to be part of her story. We truly thought she could be ours.

Last Friday the fateful email hit my inbox. This prayed-up, loved, and hoped-for girl was chosen for a different family. She was out of our life as quickly as she had entered (cue the tears.)

Y’all…Obedience hurts sometimes.

There are times where things just don’t  make sense. We hear God’s promptings, take a step forward in obedience, then feel like the rug gets pulled out from underneath us. Doubting whether it was God’s voice after all, we wonder if we made this up in our heads. Did we pray the wrong prayers? Did we take misguided steps? We can’t make sense of what He asked us to do, and we aren’t sure what plans He has for us. For her. For our future separated.

So, I have to go back to what I know…

I know that His plans are for me, not against me (Jeremiah 29:11)

I know that He loves this little girl more than I ever could (Psalm 139:16)

God makes everything beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

God’s ways are not mine, His thoughts not my own (Isaiah 55:8)

He will continue His good work in us until we see Him face to face (Philippians 1:6)

I know that His word (and voice) never returns void (Isaiah 55:11)

And I know that being obedient should be my goal, not getting my dream fulfilled.

Saying YES to God doesn’t mean that we will always get what we want. It doesn’t insure that our desire will be satiated. It certainly doesn’t guarantee a happy ending to every story.

Yet, my YES shouldn’t hinge on Him saying YES too.

Sometimes it is good that we don’t always know the outcomes of things. If we had known this little girl wouldn’t join our family, we would have not pursued her. Would we have avoided this loss? Sure. But I believe God is less concerned with us going through a trial, than He is with the sanctification of our hearts. His desire is to build His kingdom here –  in our hearts, in our cities, on this earth. His goals aren’t ours. We don’t see through the same lens. His purposes are often beyond our comprehension. But, I can still choose joy, knowing we stepped out and lavishly, without abandon, said “yes” to what He was calling us to do. And that was to love and pray for this girl without boundaries for two solid months, helping bring her into the forever family God had chosen before the foundations of this world were made. We got to play a part in a story that will last for eternity. And that should be enough for me.

It is hard. The future of our story is unknown. But I am choosing to trust Him in my YES today, no matter what the outcome will be. And my prayer is that we will continue to step into obedience, unafraid of the outcome, but rather consumed with the process of surrender.

I know we aren’t along in this. I’d love to hear how God has called you to obey. When has it been hard? When it has felt easy? What has He taught you through it all?