Ordinary Influence: Advancing the Kingdom Without Being an Evangelical Celebrity

Blank stares. A cleared throat. Some “hmmming” and legs being crossed, then uncrossed. You can always tell when women feel uncomfortable answering a question in a group discussion. In this case, the group was discussing the speeches we’d just heard during a conference video streamed at our church women’s retreat. The conversation had been moving steadily until we reached a stumper: “Who in your sphere of influence could you disciple to follow Christ?”

It’s an intimidating question to pose to a crowd of teachers, office professionals, and stay-at-home moms and grandmas right after listening to powerhouse Christian speakers deliver rousing messages.

Many of us who occupy “ordinary” roles find it difficult to acknowledge our impact on other people. We underestimate the effect we have on others, not necessarily because we’re humble, but because we doubt the actual merit of our oftentimes mundane work.

This is an easy lie to believe, especially in today’s culture. It takes a quick scroll through Instagram and some simple math to compare our number of followers to a peer’s and conclude we’re not as popular, and thus, not all that influential.

Read full post at Morning by Morning.

God Never Wastes the Space Between

“I’m sorry to tell you it didn’t work,” the doctor said gently, then exhaled: “We didn’t get any embryos.”

And with her sigh, my dream of motherhood disintegrated.

It had been a long haul to reach this point. Tests, medications, surgeries. Unsure diagnoses, ineffective treatments, bills upon bills. And all for what? One tiny, pink, glaring negative line, month after month, year after year.

So much invested in fulfilling this deeply rooted longing, only to produce nothing but tears and prolonged ache.

What a waste.

God led me through this place of defeat so that I had nowhere else to turn but to Him.

Read full post at incourage.

Why I Identify with Michael W. Smith, Kevin from ‘This Is Us,’ and the Hulk

Long before the Chris Tomlin Takeover of modern Christian radio, those of us church youth groupies jammed to the kickin’ beats of Amy Grant, Petra, Steven Curtis Chapman, and everyone’s favorite “friend forever,” Michael W. Smith.

A pop music crush for my sister and thousands of other WWJD bracelet-wearing teenyboppers, Michael W. Smith released one of the greatest hits to emerge from this period, “Place in This World.” The tune was catchy, the singer captivating, the lyrics sufficiently ambiguous to interest a mainstream audience and attract a direction-seeking generation of youth:

A heart that’s hopeful
A head that’s full of dreams
But this becoming
Is harder than it seems
Feels like I’m
Looking for a reason
Roaming through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world 

Smitty’s angsty song might as well be my vocational anthem.

Since those elementary school days of learning penmanship and diagramming sentences, I’ve been trying to find my place in the writing world.

Am I a reporter, blogger, or aspiring author?

Should I write fiction or nonfiction? Satire or analysis? Memoir or devotional?

Do I use a formal or informal voice? Emotional or straight-laced? Witty or heart-rending?

What message am I trying to convey, to what audience?

Just why exactly am I writing?

Through trial, error, disappointment, and a few mid-shower epiphanies, these gray areas are beginning to clear. I can see direction, though not destination.

It has been a process. And God has been leading me the whole way through it, uncertainty notwithstanding.

The topic dilemma
As a grade schooler, I launched my career authoring a saga about kittens. I don’t recall the plot, but my grandma reassured me it was riveting.

After graduating college with a degree in journalism, I bounced around jobs at a daily newspaper, business journal, community newsletter company, and technical magazine publisher. While these gigs helped pay the bills and expand my abilities, the topics they entailed didn’t typically excite me. I was invested for the sake of completing my work well, not because I cared deeply about the subject matter.

Then something changed. Longing to become a mother and struggling to fulfill that desire drove me to the computer to type – furiously, comprehensively – so that I could process my emotions. I didn’t write because I had to, for work. I wrote because I had to, to think, understand, and exhale.

Blogging my way through infertility became an instrument of healing in my life.

And God’s grace extended beyond this therapeutic gift. In writing about a personal and rarely discussed life crisis, I could invite others into a place of vulnerable disclosure and, through the faithfulness of the Lord and not myself, point to the redeeming hope of a risen Savior.

This compulsion to write lay dormant during the early parenthood years raising my two active boys. Disappointment over not having a third child reignited this drive, and then, perhaps as a way to take my mind off what my life was lacking, I tried my hand at other topics, specifically, humor, faith, and mommy blogging.

I’ve taken this eclectic approach for several reasons, including my resistance to being pigeonholed in one subject. In this sense, I can relate to Kevin Pearson.

In the TV show “This Is Us” (which I highly recommend viewing if you’re in an emotionally stable place right now), the character of Kevin Pearson starts out as an actor looking to land more serious work than the role he’s known for on a sitcom called “The Manny.” Even as he successfully branches out in his career, everywhere he goes, people recognize him and, to his dismay, blurt out his cheesy catchphrase from the show.

Like Kevin, I don’t want to be a Manny, typecast by one niche topic. I don’t even consider myself a blogger. A blogger writes short, casually worded posts. I’m far too verbose for that.

Also, I have to be honest and admit that writing exclusively about infertility reopens old wounds and creates a conflict of interests. Infertility-specific posts don’t always resonate with other readers, while posts on topics such as motherhood potentially alienate those aching for a child.

Yet writers must have a certain audience in mind. There’s no way to please all the people all the time. And before you can determine your audience, you need a specific message you want to communicate through your words.

So I’m a writer, looking for a place, an audience, and a clarified message.

The call to write
Two years ago I read a book that revolutionized my faith.

Women of the Word” provides guidelines for how to study the Bible first from the perspective of what it tells us about God, then what it tells us about how to live. Before explaining the steps of inductive study, author Jen Wilkin emphasizes one pivotal truth:

The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.

This is a Bible study game-changer. It helped me grasp the importance of building accurate knowledge of God to more fully and rightly grow in my affection for Him – not some weak and incomplete version I imagine Him to be.

Knowing the truth about God’s nature then helps transform how I see and respond to sin in my life, leading to a clean heart that loves and pleases God. Romans 12:2 confirms this:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Beyond these life applications, this mind and heart concept has influenced what I want to write about and why.

I realized this when I came across a piece on Desiring God discussing the question, “Has God Called Me to Write?” John Piper answered with this:

… my understanding of this kind of calling is that it is a work of God in our minds and hearts and abilities and relationships that results in a recurrent, not temporary; long-term, not short lived; compelling, not merely interesting; benevolent, not selfish; Christ-exalting, not self-exalting desire to write, which proves fruitful in the lives of others.

I read this, and my heart sang.

All those years of working, venting, experimenting, crafting – roaming through the night to find my place in this writing world – has been building momentum to realize this purpose:

I want to write about God, for God.

I’ve never thought of it this way before – writing as a calling, my calling – to serve a higher objective than self-expression or creativity.

Other topics I’ve written about are important and worthy of contemplation. I believe all edifying words can be expressed to glorify God, directly or indirectly.

Yet there’s a distinct quality about writing as a calling, and I think the Lord has shaped my experiences and changed my impulses in a way that resembles Piper’s description:

Then there is the impulse to write, not only to learn and not only to create something beautiful or interesting or compelling, but also the impulse to instruct and awaken and delight and transform people into obedient worshipers of Christ.

This is what and why I want to write: The gospel of Jesus confirmed by the truth of His Word and revealed in the reality of our lives.

The how I want to write is another place where mind and heart come into play.

The good news
I’ve been slowly working my way through a video workshop designed for moms who write. In one of the sessions, the instructor recommends fine-tuning your writing voice to attract and engage readers.

This spurred some second-guessing of my preferred styles, including ironic humor and sentimentality.

I wondered: Can someone who wants to publish books in the Christian nonfiction genre effectively balance two different styles, or do I have to pick a lane?

Though I didn’t determine a solid answer to that question, I stumbled onto a way to resolve this inner conflict at an unlikely moment – while watching “Thor Ragnarok.”

It’s not spoiling anything to say the Hulk plays a major role in the movie. Like many other superheroes, Hulk has a dual identity as placid, brilliant Dr. Bruce Banner who, triggered by emotional outburst, turns into a fierce green giant.

Surely, it’s a stretch to compare my writing with an Avenger, but for some strange reason, it clears things up for me.

I can write with both voices because that’s who I am. Emotional, but not constantly sappy. Analytical, but not always serious.

This dual-sided approach to writing style corresponds with my newly defined writing emphasis.

I want to engage others’ minds and my own through studying Scripture and reliable source material so that we can know God better. I also desire to encourage our hearts to be real about and surrender our emotions, weaknesses, and affections so that we can love God better.

I suppose you could think of it as going Hulk on the gospel. Except that that sounds a little weird and a tad violent.

To this end, I’m shifting the bulk of my efforts from building a platform via social media to contributing articles for Christian blogs and websites. I’ll still participate in social networking – it’s mandatory in this day and age – but not pressure myself to produce content every day.

Regarding topics, I expect to continue writing about what’s dear to me – infertility, adoption, and motherhood – and intentionally draw out gospel implications in these areas. I also plan to write on the church, culture, and straight-up theology, while integrating witty comments on occasion to make my words creative and relatable.

Only God knows how this calling of writing will fully play out in my life, and only He can accomplish it. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

He is my “place in this world.” To Him be the glory.

Ain’t no shame in feeling a little mom guilt

I wasn’t a cheerleader, but I don’t have anything against them. I mean … I might find them a tad annoying, but just when they overdo their performance beyond the average person’s tolerance level for perkiness.

It only takes a quick scroll through any popular parenting blog site to find cheerleaders of another squad than your local high school baton-twirlers. Mommy bloggers ’round the Internet are stepping up to the social game, rooting for fellow beleaguered moms in the trenches with empowering posts that chant for us to bring on the solidarity, sister:

Good job, mama! Hang in there, mama! You’ve put up with your whiny, messy, unswervingly disobedient children all day, mama, so when bedtime rolls around, treat yourself to a glass or four of your best $7 Cabernet and binge watch the heck out of a season of “Gilmore Girls.”

One major impetus for this maternity pep rally is retaliation against those who shame other moms for any and all possible reasons, making them feel awful and look like sad sacks of child-rearing-failing crap.


Read full post at Her View From Home.

The one reminder we should set for life

remember to thank God phone reminder

It is a universally accepted fact that one of the primary jobs of a parent is to nag your kids ad nauseam about saying “please” and “thank you.” They demand a cookie; you reply sing-songingly “What’s the magic word?” They beg to open birthday gifts; you interject a rhythmic “Well, what do you say?” after each is torn into and tossed aside.

Given my constant chorus of sometimes gentle, more times exasperated reminders, it irks me that my boys still forget to utter these common courtesies on a daily basis. Why is it they can’t recall these simple phrases they learned and even signed with their cute, pudgy hands as infants?

The lack of thanks especially bothers me. How have they grown into such gimme gremlins who expect milk to be served on tap and my phone to be accessed anytime for whatever random, nonsensical questions they want to ask Siri? It’s not like we’ve raised them in a day spa equipped with silver spoons and bunk bedside service.

Amidst this aggravation, it hit me that my incredulity at my sons’ ingratitude should be tempered by the knowledge that a) they’re 6- and 4-years-old; b) all kids can act ill-mannered at times and are by nature whiners; c) I do my best to provide a wealth of love and meet their basic needs, so of course they’ve become accustomed to abundant care and can occasionally take it for granted; and, most strikingly, d) I’m much worse at giving thanks than they are.

This conviction recently latched onto me and pierced my heart down to its most prideful parts. A single, frank comment posed in response to a sarcastic statement I made on social media cut my tongue right through to the cheek: “You should count your blessings.”

Oof. That stings, and spins so many self-incriminating wheels turning: Am I truly ungrateful? Have I fallen into complacent indifference to this bountiful life God has given me? Do I frequently fail to praise Him for the grace upon grace He provides every day? Has my preoccupation with perceived shortfalls eclipsed my appreciation for tangible windfalls – my husband, my children, my friends, my home?

In deed and in word, I can be ungrateful at times, and far too often, my numerous blessings go uncounted. Even though my heart recognizes the need for and importance of giving thanks, my mind habitually forgets to express it, to my own detriment.

In her latest book, “The Broken Way,” Ann Voskamp conveys the risk we take maintaining this gaping mental lapse: “Whenever I forget, fear walks in … Forget to give thanks – and you forget who God is. Forget to break and give – and it’s your soul that gets broken.”

When we forget to thank God, we lose our grip on the reality of our relationship – the essence of our lives’ dependence on Him – a kind of fatal spiritual amnesia.

How could we be so dense as to blank out on these truths? Perhaps we can blame our biology.

Thankfulness should theoretically be stored in long-term memory, which is permanent but requires conscious thought and is subject to weakening over time. Forgetting from long-term memory can be explained through retrieval failure – as one professor of psychiatry and aging described in an article on tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon (i.e., brain farts): “… if you don’t retrieve a memory often, it may be harder to remember. You know you have it somewhere, but you just haven’t used the information for a while. It gets a little a bit dusty.”

Lord knows how dusty-headed and absentminded His people can be, which could be why He repeats the concept of thanks more than 200 times throughout Scripture (according to KJV Hebrew and Greek concordances). In the Old Testament, “thank” appears most frequently as yahdah, which literally means to use the hand; to throw – think: hands extended in praise and confession. In the New Testament, it often shows up as eucharisteo, from the roots eu = good/well + charis = grace, as in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

In whatever we do, we must do whatever it takes to remember to thank God, to thank others, to live with hands outspread in thanksgiving for our redemption. Our Father has faithfully provided reminders throughout His Word to cue gratitude: through the aromas and rituals of thank offerings and Passover, through songs and hymns of praise, through the breaking of bread and pouring of wine in remembrance of the Cross.

As Voskamp intones, like a doxology, “the eucharisteo, then koinonia”: “Everything He embodied in the Last Supper – it is what would heal the body’s brokenness. Brokenness can be healed in re-membering. Remembering our union, our communion, our koinonia, with Christ.”

This is Truth worth committing to memory. It is a commitment, and because we’re human, requires reminders – whether that’s a note on the mirror, a notification on a phone, a song, a smell, a memento or alert of some kind – whatever signal or process that can help jog our memories of our undeserved grace and trigger the flow of our praise.

I’m still figuring out the best way to do this. Maybe I’ll recruit my boys to aid me in this effort and repay me for all the nagging I do to them. I can hear them now, chanting wholeheartedly: “Mom-my, you forgot to say thank-you.”

Nice reminder, kids. Irritating, but necessary, and vital for living life to the fullest.

When you can’t use a gift because you’re giving another

reading-kids-narnia-gifts

I have an unusual entry in my Top 10 list of favorite Christmas movies. Growing up, during the insufferably lengthy holiday break, my mom tried to snatch a moment of sanity by popping in a VHS of the luminous masterpiece that is the BBC’s version of “The Chronicles of Narnia.” My siblings and I merrily binged on the B- grade videos, captivated by the monstrously sized animal costumes and enthralled with the child actors’ British accents and whiny line reads.

One of the memorable scenes in the first movie, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” is when Father Christmas makes a surprise appearance and delivers gifts to the children – to Peter, a shield and sword; to Susan, a bow and horn; to Lucy, a dagger and bottle of healing cordial. The St. Nicholas doppelganger explains that the presents “… are tools not toys. The time to use them is perhaps near at hand. Bear them well.”

While Peter and Susan use their tools/weapons shortly afterwards, Lucy doesn’t implement her potion until much later in the storyline, right after the battle, when she dispenses the remedy to save her other brother, Edmund. The youngest character – and inarguably, most loyal believer in the Lion/Redeemer Aslan – has to wait through most of the plot to use her incredible gift of healing.

There’s a gift I had to wait many Christmases to impart. I knew it was an ability I possessed – a longing God placed in my heart – I just lacked the opportunity to carry it out because I could not conceive or carry a child.

God did what He does, in providing mercies beyond what we ask or deserve, and blessed me with two loud, energetic boys that allow me to fulfill the gift of motherhood and engage my skills of nurturing, teaching, and cleaning all manner of messes.

Now, the tension between which gifts I want to give and which gifts I can give is different. Being a mom is gratifying and challenging and joy-bringing and humbling, and it also takes a lot of time. Sometimes I wish I could do more, cultivate other talents – specifically, writing. But my parenting style and annoyance threshold are such that I can’t ignore the chaos long enough to concentrate at the computer. So I can’t do more; I can’t give more.

And honestly, it can be frustrating. Buried talents bear no fruit.

Others might understand these feelings of gift neglect. I know individuals who are talented speakers, teachers, and medical professionals who cannot readily implement these skills because they’re caring for their families, and tending to sick loved ones, and guiding important ministries – doing hard and good things to serve others at the cost of letting certain gifts lie dormant.

This holding back can make you discouraged, upset that your current commitments are stifling your other abilities … making you ashamed for feeling discontent about your present acts of service … making you become disillusioned with the idea of who you thought God created you to be … making your work now seem labored, overwrought from all the overanalyzing you’ve done about this whole gift thing. Or maybe that’s just me.

Maybe God is simply stashing away our gifts to mature us, or to teach us some truth during our wait, or to preserve them until the exact moment someone needs saving, as in the case of Lucy and her cordial.

Regardless of the reasons for His timing, we know from God’s Word that gifts should be used for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7) and for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:12). Sure, we can find joy in our jam, but the main purpose for any special abilities God grants us isn’t our personal gratification. They’re for the edification of others and the exaltation of His name (1 Peter 4:10-11).

There’s encouragement to be gained when we recognize the ultimate goals for our gifts and focus on the truth about God’s character and our worth in Him.

Be patient. God is honing that beautiful bent of yours – the one He gave you through the overflow of His abundant goodness – and He will not fail His purposes for it, and for you.

Live now. Each day is full of new mercies and opportunities to draw on the Lord’s strength and diffuse His blessings to others through whatever services your hands find to supply.

Walk by faith. The Spirit gives gifts as He wills according to His manifold grace. We can live assured that His love poured out to us for others will not be wasted.

We can bear our gifts well regardless of whether or not we can yield them immediately. All we must do is trust God to let us use them when and how He wants and take the present step of obedience glorifying Him as the Giver of life everlasting.

Dear Church: Carry light in your lament for our nation

US flag candle light pray for America

Fury. Grief. An overwhelming number of sad and seething emojis.

If my social media feed is any indication of greater societal trends, people in the wake of the election are bursting with emotions – most of which are in some way negative – and are voicing them every whichway possible.

This has turned what is already a potentially insidious trap that has been shown to exacerbate depression into a stirring pot of criticism, vindictiveness, dejection, and impulsive outbursts of verbal bile. It only takes a quick swipe or scroll through to slip down into the sinkhole of despair.

Christians should absolutely be concerned over the fallout from this election regardless of whom they voted for. There are deeply rooted, abhorrent issues of hostility and cruelty in our country that are devastating lives, and for that, we should mourn.

Further complicating matters, the difficulty knowing how to address these issues and how to respond to Donald Trump’s appointment to the presidency has severely divided believers. Those who are called to bear with one another with love are instead lashing out in contempt and outright rejecting other viewpoints while seizing some self-appointed platform of righteous indignation. This dissension within the body of Christ is distressing, and for that, we should grieve.

In all these recent public expressions of empathy for and solidarity with those who may be frightened and disenfranchised by the results of the election, there’s a notable lack of gospel telling from those in the evangelical community. Many are willing if not eager to display their personal frustration and defend theirs and others’ rights to be upset, but the support ends there. They strive to offer consolation, or beg for it to be shown to them, yet fail to mention the ultimate Source of all comfort.

This unrest in our nation is granting us believers an opportunity to share not just our feelings, but our faith. We must not merely commiserate with those who are hurting, but also communicate the reason for our hope. The Good News that emboldened the early church to joyfully overcome political and religious persecution still prevails today over conflict, over hate, over a controversial President-Elect.

Jesus wept over Jerusalem. We can likewise weep over our broken world and point it toward its Savior.

I’m convinced that can best be accomplished through humility, gratitude, peace-championing, and most of all, prayer – seeking the wisdom that is above for healing the world that is below.

Let’s get on our knees, Church. We can feel all the feels, weep with those who weep, cry out for justice and compassion and grace while also desperately, wholeheartedly clutching the Truth and proclaiming that which sets us free, which shines light in dark places, which enables us to grieve with hope for redemption.