Friday, May 30, 2014

You Are Already Enough: Tearing Down Your #LoveIdol

"What does it mean to know that I am preapproved? What does such truth hold for my life? It could seriously change everything." -Jennifer Dukes Lee 

I'd been doing it almost every day. As soon as my husband came home I'd wait for him to notice. Waiting isn't completely accurate. I'd give him mere seconds before I asked if he liked the home. Or take him on a field trip to see how sparkling the surfaces were or how neatly folded the laundry that sat on the couch was. I may have slayed dragons in a virtual board room that day or written something of beauty that directly connected with people's lives, but where I wanted his check mark of approval first was on our little home.

I'm not sure when exactly I started trying to earn the favor of others but I know it's been going on way to long. I was so sly in my efforts however that I kept my "work hard, get rewarded" strategy a secret from even myself for years.  As I have gained an accurate perspective of this mentality these last few years the  secret has started to unravel. 

And the more I learn the more I find that I'm not the only one. This is true for most of us and especially true for women. Our God-shaped hole that is made to be filled by the King of the Universe often finds us trying to fill it with anything but the only One that satisfies. 

 "The enemy prowls around like a lion stalking people on Wall Street, fashion runways, suburban cul-de-sacs, Facebook walls, and even gravel roads in rural Iowa...Our culture is hawking approval and it's a multibillion-dollar business." (Page 54)
It was months ago that I saw Jennifer Dukes Lee across the room at Allume. At conferences you tend to make assumptions about the people you're attending with. You decided who has it most together, who is most confident, and who is most accomplished in their writing achievements. I placed Jennifer fairly high on my list after over hearing she had a book deal. Little did I know her book would be about her struggle to stop making lists herself. To let go of her own need for approval and crush the Love Idol.

In Love Idol, Jennifer speaks as a fellow sister on the journey. She confronts the kind of topics that can make you squirm without sounding preachy. Time and time again she makes it clear that even as she learns more and more how to crush the Love Idol she will forever continue to be "in process."

That is great news for all of us that we can be "in process" and wildly adored. It blows mind mind that I can look for approval in all the wrong places on any given day and I am still 100% approved by God. 

If "you want to unchain yourself from your approval rating. You want to find deep contentment in who you are in Christ, not in what you do. You crave authentic joy in your life, based not on your gold-star performances, people's opinions of you, or the American Dream with its temporary trappings, but on an identity secured for you through a loving Savior." Then get your copy of Love Idol and join the movement of women smashing their Love Idols.

For some great free printables to remind you of your Preapproved status visit here.
Tyndale House Publishers provided me with a complimentary copy of this book but all opinions are my own.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Why You Need to Say "Yes, I'd Love Your Help," More Often (@MissionalWomen)

Original Image

It keeps happening. The people I regularly invite into my home keep asking me if they can help clean up after a big meal. Most typically they want to help with the dishes. As the consummate hostess it is within me to decline their help. I love to open my home, serve people, and cook for them. I've learned to embrace the realities of that: an overflowing sink, messy counter tops, and a dining table littered with reminders of time well spent.

I don't expect much when I welcome guests into my home. An invitation to dinner at my home is really an invitation to share stories. That's the best part of the meal. I take the full responsibility of cleaning up upon myself. It's a worthy trade-off to gather around the table with people and make memories. Lately however I've noticed a pattern in my guests. They don't want the night to end. But specifically there's more of their story they want to share, often privately. So the request to help wash my dishes is a façade. What they're really asking for is an invitation to linger...

Keep reading over at Missional Women >>>

Friday, May 23, 2014

Close: #FiveMinuteFriday

Close is weird. It's this thing where I know you and you know me. Like, really know each other. How we talk about the real things going on in our hearts and lives. Layers and layers below the surface. I've helped you clean up your baby's puke before and you've held my hair back while I writhed on the bathroom floor.

Close is a man and wife in all their glory. Ideally knowing the most intimate parts of each other. All the most intimate parts.

But what happens when the closeness changes? If one of us pulls back? Or if someone moves deeper still and the other stays put? How do you fix relationships with history that should have never needed fixing?

This Life? Relationships? They're hard and messy. When to stay? When to go? And what I really want from my friendships are ladies who are willing to keep moving forward. Closer. Even when it gets messy. And it will get messy. And you will fail and be failed.

But if you want something real, something lasting then you have to keep pursuing closeness. Keep running hard. Keep going deeper.

Keep on moving close.

On Fridays I join a community of writers that encourages one another. You can join us here.

Five Minute Friday

Thursday, May 22, 2014

In Which I Tell the Truth: More of My Infertility Story

My interview starts at 17:06 but Sara McNutt's great too.

I mentioned on Monday that God had been telling me to share my infertility story in this space since the beginning of the year. And honestly? I wanted to tell Him "no." There are a lot of reasons for this but mainly the fact that Christians have been unusually lacking in grace and empathy throughout this journey. And if people in my real life that supposedly loved Jesus and me could be so uncaring and insensitive, then why would the people here be any different? (Thanks for proving me wrong so far.)

I do intend to write a follow-up to this that includes thoughts on developing a theology of suffering as well as what not to say to people going through pain, loss, and tragedy. But for now you can listen to part of my story in my own words as told at the Missional Women Conference (my interview lasts less than 5 minutes).

I'd love to hear what parts of your story have been difficult for you to share openly in the comments below. You're not alone in your struggle.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Wishful Father’s Pain on Mother's Day

Pendant by Lisa Leonard Designs

(At the beginning of this year God made it very clear that I was to share the part of my story that I had kept secret from this online space. I wasn't sure how that would come about but I was surprised that one way was through my husband, Jason. I'm so glad. Today he shares more beautifully and bravely than I ever could.)

Every year as we move near Mother’s Day I anticipate sadness, pain and heartache. I see the woman I love reminded yet again that her desire to be a mother is an as-yet-to-be fulfilled reality that is instead filled with raised hopes and dashed dreams. That she feels like an outsider in the Church where being a mother is held in such high esteem and yet she is unable to check that box to fit in with everyone else. And where all the well-intentioned words fall flat on a heart that is overflowing with grief and despair.

And yet, as this Mother’s Day has now come and gone, I see a woman who has given her grief over to her Savior and exchanged it for a hopeful mourning that does not exchange the real feelings of sadness for a fake show of happiness but instead places her trust and dreams in the hands of a God who loves her more deeply than we can even know. I rejoice as the healing love of Christ rests on my wife and sanctifies her life even more through the trials and tribulations of this life.

But even as I see her being transformed through this all I feel my own pain growing through the most unexpected events. You see, in our five plus years of marriage we have struggled through infertility, two miscarriages and a failed adoption of two little boys that already had my heart, but it is the bright spot in all of this that has caused my desire to be a daddy to sting all the more.

Two years ago, we hosted an eleven year old international orphan for three weeks over the Christmas season in the hopes of finding him a forever home. Those three weeks were an amazing time of seeing a little boy blossom from a shy kid who seemed more at home in his quiet shell into a kid who won the hearts of everyone he came into contact with. Those weeks were filled with laughter, memories and prayers that this beautiful kid would find a family who would love him as we had grown to love him.

When he left, our hearts were saddened because he was gone and we weren’t sure if we would ever see him again. But through God’s amazing plan he has a family who is in the process of adopting him into their family to reflect the beauty of God’s own adoption of us as His children. And in an even more amazing turn of events, my wife was able to meet and spend time with the family who is adopting him.

After that visit, the mother sent us an email recounting another beautiful part of this story. As a part of his adoption, the boy went through a series of interviews with his government to make sure he was ready to be adopted. At one of those conversations he mentioned that it was during his three weeks with us where he learned how to love and be loved. My heart leapt for joy when I read those words and I know that feeling will never leave me as long as my heart beats.

But the odd tension I experience is that now that I have seen what the unconditional love of a father figure can do in the life of a child it makes me ache for that even more with my own children. I feel as though God has affirmed the desire in my heart to be a father while still reminding me that His timing is perfect and I must find peace in the not yet.

If I am honest, I hate that answer, and I hate the feelings I get when I find myself not trusting the very God who gave His own son so that I might call him Daddy. So, I cling to the “yes” that comes when I ask God if He loves me. And I cling to the hope of what may come in the future, always trusting that the sovereign God of the universe does everything for my good and His glory even if that means heartache, pain and unmet desires in the present.

Dedicated to Benjamin & June (our babies in Heaven), William & Hunter (the boys we loved but were not able to bring home) and JC (the orphan who came into our home and forever changed our lives).

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

What I Gave Up (and Gained) to Live the Life of My Dreams

It was near the end of 2013, that I received an email from Starbucks stating that I had roughly 30 days to earn 30 stars or my Gold Status would be demoted to Green. (In case you don't know, you can earn a star each time you make a purchase. Which means I would have had to go to Starbucks every day for thirty days or visit Starbucks more than once a day. Ha!)

Just a few weeks later I received a similar notice from the Hyatt. They were downgrading my status from Platinum to Gold. I assume US Airways is not too happy with me either but they haven't been as forthright about it. Instead they send me numerous emails encouraging me to fly more. You know, the way I used to.

When I left my steady job at the end of August I realized it would mean my life would be significantly different. But I didn't necessarily think of it in terms of $4 lattes, hotel stays, and airline miles. But those are some tangible evidences of the way my life has changed since I started pursuing the kind of life I had only imagined.

Now hear me, the life of my dreams has never consisted of making a ton of money. I've chosen pursuits that are life-giving to me like ministry, writing, virtual assisting, and speaking. While I do realize some people are able to make good money doing some of those things I'm not willing to work as much as being "successful" in those fields requires. I want to make a living but not a fortune.

So what does it look like to transition to a life you love? Below are a few things I sacrificed to pursue my dreams:

  1. $4 Lattes: Fancy coffee drinks are a treat not a staple. 
  2. Travel: I've gotten on a plane three times since September. Previously that number during that time would have been 8-16 times.
  3. Commute: I don't have one!
  4. Anxiety: the anxiety problems I struggled with for years (that I feared were becoming a disorder I'd needed medication for) are virtually non-existent.
  5. Money: I can pay my bills and occasionally indulge but I have to live on a budget and every penny counts.

But what I've gained in exchange for those sacrifices? Well, the rewards have been priceless:
    1. Margin: One of my values in life is to have white space for serving others as needs come up and for doing things that are life giving to me.
    2. A fight against workaholism: This has never been a struggle in the past but between loving what I do and being the CFO, CEO, receptionist, and administrative assistant, this is a constant battle.
    3. Flexibility: I sleep in, work later, and work when other people are at the beach. But I also can work when I'm at my best and  tailor my schedule to match Jason's which is also differs from the standard 9 to 5.
    4. Health: Not only am I anxiety free but I also eat better because I'm home and have the extra time to prepare healthy food instead of grabbing the things that are most lunch box friendly or eating out. Plus I sleep better because I can listen to my body's own rhythms.
    5. Joy in waking up each morning: This does not mean everyday is wonderful and that there aren't mornings I would rather hide from the world. But It does mean I love what I do and enjoy my life for the first time in a long time.
    If I would have known the joys of this season of life I've would have started pursuing my dreams years ago. If you're in a position where you know you were made for more and are desiring a different kind of life I highly encourage you to pursue those dreams. You will work harder than you ever have before but you will also be happier than you've ever been as you embrace what you were made to do.

    What is the life you've always imagined? Are you pursuing it? Or has something stopped you? I'd love to hear your story in the comments below.

    Friday, May 9, 2014

    Grateful: #FiveMinuteFriday

    Photo Credit
    It's been a few long years since I first penned the words to page. This counting of gifts. A record of gratitude in all things. It was just a few weeks in, the first go round, that he said he could see a change. That I was different. That somehow the counting had changed me. I was better in attitude and heart. I laughed at the days to come.

    And then the page grew cold and I laid the pen down for a long season. I did not want to give thanks for the hard things. The bloody broken things. The death of dreams. Like a pig in slop I wanted to wallow in bitterness, anger, and despair.

    But sometime in the last nine months or so I picked up the pen again. I mark each day off in threes. Some days more. Some days my gifts flow like water from a heart that is truly grateful. And some days I stair out this same window forgetting that everything is a gift. But each day I write down something. Anything to remind me.

    From the extraordinary to the mundane:
    A promotion.
    Gas in the car.
    A change in the weather.
    Hard eucharisteo: a loss that hits too close to home.
    Dirty dishes showing a life well lived.
    And so I try to see each day in numbers. Gifts counted on the page and in the heart.

    On Fridays  I join a community of writers that encourage one another. You can join us here.

    Five Minute Friday

    Wednesday, May 7, 2014

    On Being Brave, Going Sleeveless, and Punching Fear in the Face

    Photo by Chasen Grace Photography

    Since January 1, I have written more than one email that has said something to the affect of:
    "You should hire me." Or "you should let me speak at your event." Or "I can make you better; you need me on your team."
    Of course, as a writer, I word-smithed them to read more professionally. And because, by the grace of God, ALL of these emails have been received favorably I have become brave enough to write more emails, create more proposals, and contact more people in the same way.

    I'd love to tell you these moments of bravery come through my own strength. That I just reach down deep and find the part of me that is not afraid. But that would be a lie. The truth is, among other things, that I have a coach.


    It was about an hour before I went on stage at the Missional Women Conference for an interview that this Florida girl started feeling the affects of altitude in the Mile High City. I started getting very hot and a bit nauseous. I was sitting in a good friend's session and I started stripping away my carefully orchestrated "cute" outfit. The good news is I don't think anyone was paying much attention to the girl in the corner removing her cardigan and belt. The bad news was I was now forced to face the world in my sleeveless dress.


    I sat in at one of my favorite cafés on the patio in the Florida sun. She pointed out her "fat arms" as we perused through recent pictures of weekend exploits. She declared that those were the very reason she never went sleeveless. She was skinnier than me. By definition her arms were smaller than mine. So certainly if her arms were fat than mine must be really fat. Right? So I vowed that day that I too would refuse to go sleeveless. That was in 2009 and I can count on one hand the times I've been sleeveless in public since then. And by the way, did I mention that I live in Florida? The lies we listen to, tell ourselves, and believe, can make us crazy.


    As my mild altitude induced symptoms began to fade I rationalized that I could reassemble my cute outfit for my brief stage appearance and keep all of the internet world (via YouTube) from staring (because clearly that's the only thing worth noticing about what I had to say) at my "fat arms." But in a moment of unadulterated hatred toward being hot (clearly I live in the wrong state) and a spark of bravery, I decided that I didn't care any more. What I wanted most during a time of sharing a part of my story I had never before shared publicly was to be comfortable. And so I stashed the cardigan in my backpack took the plunge.

    Photo by Chasen Grace Photography
    Later that day twenty minutes before I was to lead my own session I sent a desperate text to my coach. I needed a pep talk and I wasn’t afraid to ask for it. Mere minutes before I was to begin he finally called. (I would have always considered a person leaving the room for a phone call at an important moment like this to be rude. Now I'll just assume they need a pep talk, too.) He asked me what I needed from him. I said,

    "Tell me to speak up. Tell me I have something valuable to say. That people need to hear from me."

    He let me ramble a bit more and then he simply prayed for me. As it turned out I didn't need him to give me a pep talk after all. Apparently when you punch fear in the face you can give yourself your own pep talk.


    I have a picture from my on-stage interview. And I love it, sleeveless dress and all. Sure the lighting and angles are perfect because the photographers are geniuses. And perhaps when someone on the outside looking in sees it they see a girl who is confident, articulate, beautiful even. I see those things too. But I also see a girl who has years of wearing full sleeves to make up for. After all it's been five years of not going sleeveless and I live in Florida.

    What are the lies you've believed? How can you punch fear in the face today? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

    Missional Women

    Monday, May 5, 2014

    Church Plant of the Month: Fellowship Bible Church Rocky Mount

    Photo by Lori Harris
    I "met" Lori via a post for the Bloom Book Club on (in)courage. Her comment led me to click on her profile...I was immediately captured by her beautiful writing, her incredible eye for beauty, and a heart that desperately wants to be used by God in spite of herself. I honestly hoped I could connect on a deeper level with her and that somehow God would allow our paths to intersect.

    I'm so honored to feature Lori's church plant this month. A portion of all sales in my shop will go to her ministry in Rocky Mount. Thanks to Lori for sharing this honest interview about the people and place God has called her to:

    Lori, tell us about you, your ministry, and your writing:

    I’m wife to Thad, a church planting/warehouse managing/sometimes guitar playing/always Jesus loving man.  I’m also Mama to our small tribe of 6.  I could write you a small book all about my little people, but I’ll spare you.  I love them like crazy, but Y’all, I’m tired.

    We live smack dab in the middle of the Bible belt on a street called Avent, in Nowhere, North Carolina. We spend our days in a hundred year old house with drafty windows and patchy landscaping and a yard full of other people’s kids. We’re 2 years into planting a church while simultaneously navigating into the muddy waters of poverty and racism by living in a less than desirable neighborhood some would call the ‘hood.

    I call it home. 

    I write about all the ways that Jesus is jacking up my pretty little life by opening my eyes to my world on Avent street. For the last few months, I’ve felt a stirring in my soul that this move to Rocky Mount has nothing to do with our church plant and everything to do with how God is moving here in my place. And I’ve seen that God has been using my blog as a tool to open the eyes of other believers in my city and He’s given me a platform to gently preach the Gospel to the Church instead of simply writing about our church.

    Photo by Lori Harris

    What's your church planting story?

    My husband attended Dallas Theological Seminary and while we were in Dallas, my husband began to pray that God would burden our hearts for a people and place that needed the Gospel. We’d worked for a church planting agency when we were first married and the desire to plant a church never left our hearts. After a year of praying, we felt led to Rocky Mount, NC. We felt Rocky Mount needed a grace filled community of believers whose main desire was to make disciples who make disciples who make disciples. We also felt the need to reach a demographic that was not being reached. So we planted Fellowship Bible Church Rocky Mount in 2012 with the intent of always staying small through continually planting the Gospel in small communities throughout the city.

    We are a church plant of Fellowship Bible Church Dallas.

    Photo by Lori Harris

    Why Rocky Mount?

    We didn’t choose Rocky Mount. God did. Rocky Mount is my hometown and it’s the kind of place you escape from. I left home in 1996 and never had a desire to go back. But God is always working His plan and we’re not meant to understand it. We’re just meant to trust Him. So in 2011, we packed up our pretty little life in Dallas and set up camp in the ‘hood.

    Because God told us to. And that’s reason enough,

    There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding church budgets. How does stewardship work at Fellowship Bible Church Rocky Mount?

    Our church plant is unique in that my husband works full-time managing a warehouse and I work full-time from home providing child care. We don’t rely on the church for our livelihood and we never intend for that to be the case. We feel that the best way to know the lost is to work among them. And our church desires to truly be the Church, not just a building that bears the name Fellowship BibleChurch Rocky Mount.

    Photo by Lori Harris

    In church planting, finances are often a struggle. What does it mean for a church plant when people come around them and support them with something as simple as an Etsy store purchase?

    To answer your question, our small plant needs funds to simply love our community better. We need money to purchase groceries for our neighbors in need. We need money to fix leaky roofs and bicycle tires. We need money to buy diapers for new moms and new shoes for kids going back to school. We need money to host movie nights on our lawn and money to serve hot dogs and chips. We need money to bless the school we are moving into this summer.

    Our church doesn’t need thousands of dollars to make things happen each year. We just need small donations that make it possible for us to bless our community in practical ways.

    And by meeting their needs, we roll out a welcome mat to the Gospel.

    And Jesus is always the end goal. Not a church building.

    Read Lori's blog:
    Visit Loris on Facebook here
    Follow Lori on Twitter: @loribrownharris
    Contact Lori: 

    To support Lori's ministry and the work of Fellowship Bible Church in Rocky Mount simply make a purchase here during the month of April. A portion of all sales will be donated to spreading the Gospel in Rocky Mount.

    Friday, May 2, 2014

    Mess: #FiveMinuteFriday

    I keep thinking about him. The man who lives in the upstairs room of the church. Some would call him homeless. I would not. But I do know that a real home would make him remember Canada. And a wife, child, and love left behind. So he lives in a Sunday School room that goes unused.

    And I think of the boy a few doors down. With the pants that just fit wrong and no smile ever and hours of manual labor. I knew something wasn't quite right. And that was true. His mama was newly dead. And all little boys no matter their age need their mamas.

    And this is the thing I see in my life and all around me. That we're all a mess. Our homes, our hearts, our lives. That's why our relationships keep falling apart. Because if we come together with anything less than a big bold acknoledgement of our own junk? Well, then we're lying.

    And it's hard to put your mess out there. For people to see, and judge, and label and hashtag and put a big ol' scarlet letter on it. But that is the option. We either stand as boldly as possible saying "this is what I bring to the table." Hurting, bleeding, bruised.

    Or we never come to the table at all.

    Five Minute Friday

    On Fridays I join a community of writers that encourages one another. You can join us here.