The Most Important Thing We Are Missing in Ministry

the most important thing we are missing in ministry

It was just a few words in a text, but it took my breath away. My friend wanted to thank me for praying.

I hadn’t told her I was praying for her. But she knew. A few weeks ago, she’d shared some vulnerable pieces of her life after a MOPS meeting. We’d fumbled through the awkwardness and hugged with tear-brimmed eyes.

Sometimes the awkward conversations are the most important ones we can have.

When we move past the “I’m fine” and the feigned smiles and get down to the insecurities keeping us up at night, real conversations begin. Real relationships begin. Instead of merely talking about the church and assembling in a building once or twice a week, we become the church.

But that’s also when the real work begins, and it often sends us running.

Weeks passed, and whenever she would come to mind, I’d say a prayer. Even when I wasn’t sure how to pray, I would stumble through the darkness to bring my friend before the One who is Light.

Our words are never as important as the One who hears them.

I received her text thanking me on a day when I was feeling discouraged. The kids were acting up, the laundry was piled high, and morale was low. And to top it off, I was mulling over the words of my latest rejection letter.

Her confidence that I would pray without being asked lit something inside of me and lifted a weight I’d been carrying all week. I thought, “This is what the body of Christ is about.”

We bare our scars and our weaknesses, but instead of turning away, we lift each other up. We take off the armor of feigned busyness and cell phones, we slow down, and we and listen.

We remember one person is as important as an entire congregation. We remember the angels rejoice in the heavens over one person who comes to Christ. One person equals a party complete with song.

When did I forget that? I can dream about books reaching thousands and words spanning oceans, but until I start with one person, all is lost.

If I forget the infinite worth of one soul, everything else is useless.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. 

Matthew 10:29 NIV

The person sitting next to you at church with the tattoos and the scars? You may be the friend she’s been waiting to say, “hello.” The reader who likes your post or comments on your blog? She may need prayer or a message of encouragement.

Let’s never forget this: Christ didn’t die for a congregation. He died for individuals with names, faces, and scars.

He bore the scars and sins of many so we could go and love many.

But we must always start with one.

 

Linking up with these communities: #LiveFreeThursday, Grace & Truth

Be a Light By Showing Up (Link-up)

be the light

A season of lit trees and celebration was closing and I heard excited talk about picking your “one word” for the New Year. Piqued by curiosity, I reasearched and loved the idea of such specific focus instead of forgotten resolutions, unrealistic expectations and lists.

It seemed doable. Everyone was jumping in. So I followed suit and picked a word God had laid on my heart for months: see.

I thought about the ways I would explore the opposition between the seen and unseen in scripture and committed to searching for God’s light in the everyday. Driven by a desire to reawaken the wonder and the awe of his creation, I took time to notice things I’d often overlooked.

The crisp skyline of winter against the white, barren landscape. A solitary tulip peeking out from the frozen ground during the first glimpses of spring.

It was beautiful. I saw God’s grace in new, unexpected ways. But then another winter swept in and God seemed to hide himself behind a veil.

Clamoring for the peace of his presence, I prayed he would reveal himself.

Where are you, God? Show me your glory. Let me know you are here.

I perused the internet and found stories of terror and finger pointing. Then other news much closer to home hit. A friend was going through a personal tragedy and needed the support of our community.

In shock and grief I continued searching for the light and became frustrated. Both kids were sick, adding to my tiredness and defeat and I wondered why his presence eluded me. During a brief moment of peace and quiet, it hit me.

Sometimes we have to stop searching for the light to be the light.

Often, I think it’s easier to minister to those who are hundreds and thousands of miles away than those in my own backyard. Social media and the internet have made it increasingly easy to do so. And it’s amazing. It’s a tremendous gift. But it also can remove us from being a light to those who are right there on our doorstep.

It is much easier for me to click “send” than to sit in awkward silence or search for words to comfort a grieving mother. It is easier for me to sit behind a computer screen than to feel real emotion as someone weeps on my shoulder.

If I’m honest with myself, I know God calls me to the awkward. He beckons me to those who are lost and hurting.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another.

Romans 12:15-16 NIV

Friends, God doesn’t call us to be perfect. He simply calls us to show up. And when we do, he meets us there.

Sometimes, we have to step out in faith even when we don’t think we have the right tools. Those are the moments when the Spirit steps in, takes our hand, and reaches through us. He reveals the Light in us, which was there all along.

We don’t see him, but we hope in the unseen.

 

#RARALINKUP TIME!

Click the blue frog button below to be redirected to the linkup page.

When a Community Gives a Glimpse of Heaven (and an Opportunity to Help)

together as community

Every now and then, a community is given a chance to band together and support one of their own. They’re given a unique opportunity to be the hands and feet of Christ extended here on earth, to show glimpses of his love in a tangible way.

Over the past two weeks, my little town here in Western Maryland has done just that. I’ve been overwhelmed watching people work as one to carry the burden of a mama whose load became too much to bear alone. You see, a friend and member of our community received news every parent hopes they will never hear, and when it became public, there was a single common response: “How can we help?”

I sat in front of a computer screen and watched people who didn’t know this family give with no expectation of anything in return. I saw forces rise up in the midst of a darkness we can’t comprehend and put the needs of another person above their own.

It’s moments like these that I’m proud to be a part of such a beautiful place nestled in the mountains of Maryland. I consider it an honor to walk alongside those who turn something tragic into an opportunity to show compassion.

When we give with no strings attached, we shine little glimpses of heaven here on earth.

And this, my friends, is a display of God’s love in its purest, most beautiful form, because it is the way he loves us.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:35 NIV

You may not know Emma, but she is a little girl who loves to play and laugh just like millions of other girls who are home this Christmas season. This three-year-old isn’t just strong, she is Emma strong, and a few weeks ago she was diagnosed with DIPG (Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma), an inoperable brain tumor.

She is fighting. Her family is fighting with her and for her. But they can’t do it on their own.

If you feel led to give, this family could use every bit of support you have to offer. They are taking time off this holiday season to get their daughter the best care available, and to focus on what is most important: loving Emma.

May God bless you, keep you, and give you immeasurable peace and joy this Christmas as we celebrate the One who gave up everything so we could have the best gift of all: Him.

 

Click here to support Emma and her family:

emma

 

Uncovering the Lies of Postpartum {Part 3}

uncovering the lies of postpartum

Friends, we’ve reached our third and final part of this series on the lies we tell ourselves and hear from others as new moms. My prayer is that you’ve been encouraged or given a helpful word to share with another mom who is struggling. This journey is filled with so many highs and lows, but it is so much sweeter when we have a community to help us along the way and speak life into our dark places.

Today we will talk about the lie # 3: You have to mother like those who’ve gone before you.

uncovering the lies of postpartum-3

I did not purchase a copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. It wasn’t on my gift registry, and it never found a place on the bookshelves lining our family room.

Although I did buy a book outlining the various stages of pregnancy and postpartum, I soon realized there were no written words which could prepare me for this calling in life. During the first few weeks and even months, I floundered around searching for those maternal instincts I was supposed to have and they were nowhere to be found. It was as though the mothering gene had skipped my spot on the family tree.

My baby cried incessantly and everyone wanted to offer advice as to why. He was hungry. He was wet. He was teething, gassy or colicky. I didn’t know whose voice to listen to and the magnitude of all of them echoing in my ear sent me into a panic.

I was convinced a monkey could do a better job taking care of my child, and the recommendations of experts from books like Baby Wise left me feeling more dismal than equipped. As I dealt with the effects of PPD and tried to take care of my son, God sent a friend who kept reaching out and pursuing me even when I was a recluse who barely left the house.

She told me things would get easier. She gave me encouragement when I wondered if I was doing anything right. But most of all she was there. She was a steady calm in the chaos of this new season and didn’t retreat when I had nothing to offer her but my presence.

Eventually, my role as a mom began to feel less like a set of ill-fitting clothes and more like me. I still had good days and bad ones, but I was seasoned enough to realize the bad days didn’t define me. The more I forged ahead and continued waking up each morning, putting one foot in front of the other and loving my child, the more I realized something.

No one else can create your formula for motherhood. It is as unique as your DNA.

Sure, we can take sprinkles of this direction and that one, using the advice of others in a process of trial and error to figure out what works and what doesn’t. But in the end, if we trust the abilities God gave us and believe that ultimately, we know our child better than anyone else, we will find a rhythm that is completely our own.

And as we keep dancing and learning new steps as we go, the result will be nothing short of the beautiful.

Uncovering the Lies of Postpartum {Part 1}

uncovering the lies of postpartum

I don’t know when it was exactly, but several years into this journey called motherhood I realized there are lies we moms often believe after we have children. Some of them are lies we tell ourselves. Others we’ve heard from social media, family members who may mean well, and our peers.

No matter what the source, these fabrications can steal the joy of what can be one of the most meaningful journeys of our lives. Over the next week I will uncover a few of these with you and offer you truths to combat them. After battling postpartum depression and anxiety for over a year following the birth of my first child, God  gave me a heart for struggling moms.

I pray by sharing some of my experience, you will know that no matter what your struggle is, you are not alone.

Which brings us to lie #1: You have to do it alone.

ask for help

There is something paralyzing about knowing another human being’s life depends on you.

My five minutes of bonding time with my firstborn was followed by the announcement that my grandmother had died, days of crying (both from me and my baby) and an insatiable newborn appetite my petite frame couldn’t satisfy. Since my birth plan had followed the same path as all other mothering plans I’d made and ended in an emergency c-section, I grasped onto the one sacrament of motherhood I had left: breastfeeding.

But the more I looked at my son, the more the weight of responsibility crept into my body. One morning after returning home from the hospital, I sat in the rocker nursing and felt a tightness in my chest. I struggled to breathe.

The doctor’s office thought it was a pulmonary embolism, which, by the way, can kill you. No pressure to get to the ER. Just feed your baby and get there as soon as you can.

Thirty minutes later I laid in the Radiology Department and waited to be injected with dye which rendered my milk unsafe. “Failure,” played on repeat in my head. I couldn’t even give my child what he needed to survive.

Instead of feeling relief when my mother-in-law called to say my son had taken a bottle, the tightness in my chest turned to a deep ache. I was dismissed from the hospital with no diagnosis, an order to pump for 48 hours, and a pamphlet about obesity.

My insides had been cut open less than a week prior.

Over the next few months when the family was gone and my husband returned to work, a veil distorted my perception of reality. Although I was aware of it, I didn’t know how to get rid of it.

Rather than invite, the sunlight threatened. One day I remember looking out the window at the mountain peaks east of our home, convinced my spouse and child would be better off without me.

I counted the minutes until my other half walked through the door with pointed precision. Morning filled me with dread. Morning meant I’d be alone again.

Somewhere in the midst of my dark my husband saw me and knew I was still there. He encouraged me to seek help. But the darkness whispered lies, and for months I believed them.

“Seeking help is an admittance of inadequacy,” it said.

“Seeking help will make you one of “those people.”

But who were they? And more importantly, who was I?

There is no place darker than the soul who thinks she needs no one.

One night I laid in bed and cried the only prayer to God I could muster: “Help.”

There was no lightning bolt moment or sudden rescue from the pit I was in but I remember walking out of the OBGYN office a year after my surgery and a prescription for a second antidepressant.

I dreaded taking it. I dreaded the insomnia, the loss of appetite and zombie-like state I recalled from a previous medication.

As the western sun shined that evening and turned the Wasatch Front to an amber glow, I knew I had to make a phone call. I found a trusted counselor’s phone number on our church’s website.

Sometimes admitting you need help is the mightiest thing you can do.

And when I spoke the words out loud and voiced my need, I took a step toward something that had waited for me in the light. I moved toward hope.

 

Linking up with these beautiful communities: #LiveFreeThursday and Grace & Truth

Our Words Can Save a Life

life or death

On my two-year-old’s first day of preschool, he ran into the classroom without giving me a second glance. I stood there watching, my emotions swinging between relief and sadness.

He was going to be just fine.

His teachers welcomed him with warm smiles and words of encouragement. But their presence and tenderness spoke volumes their words couldn’t express. He was in a safe place.

When I arrived a couple of hours later he was playing with toys, unaware of my presence. Who was this child of mine? When did he grow up and become an independent toddler instead of the one-year-old who latched to my side, crying when I dropped him off in the church nursery?

I don’t remember ever being like my son. When I think back on my school days, I see a girl who longed for the familiar, who stayed inside her comfort zone and had a few close friends.

Change was the enemy. A roomful of strangers made me anxious and fearful, and throughout middle and high school I was dubbed, “the quiet one.”

So when my husband and I moved cross-country twice within the first five years of our marriage, I was forced to see change in a new light. Perhaps it wasn’t the enemy, but an integral part of life which could make me to grow and flourish or wither and hide.

I’d heard the old adage, “Bloom where you are planted,” and I wanted to. But I wasn’t sure I could.

One morning I sat in a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting indulging in a cream-filled donut and hoping to meet just one person. It was a year after our second cross-country move and community eluded me.

My ball cap covered my bed head but I knew it couldn’t cover the mixture of expectation and skepticism in my eyes.

As I tried to fix my attention on my donut, the MOPS coordinator stopped in front of me.

“You’re new here,” she said with a grin.

And I knew.

I knew she didn’t speak to me out of obligation but a genuine excitement that I was there. We chatted about how many kids we had, their ages, and the similarities between them.

A few days later, I note arrived in my mailbox. I opened it, half expecting to see a pre-printed greeting that was sent to all new MOPS attendees. Skimming the words, I saw I was wrong.

“It’s always nice to meet another “outsider.””

We’d talked about being from another town. A common bond instantly connected us, as we both knew how hard it was to be the “new girl,” the girl with no family, the girl with no friends.

In the few short minutes it took my new friend to write the words, she changed the outlook of my entire day.

And like my son on his first day at preschool, I felt welcome. I felt safe.

Never underestimate the power of your words.

Our words have the power to breathe life or stifle it.

With a simple “hello,” a smile, a conversation spent listening instead of simply waiting to speak, we breathe life into the bones of others. Others who are hurting, wanting, and needing our presence and affirmation.

All it takes is a simple decision. But that decision can make the difference between life and death.

With our words, we can speak hope.

 

*photo credit

*Linking up with these beautiful communities: #LiveFreeThursday

Finding Purpose in Unexpected Places

graphic for betsy

It was the season of slow.

I pushed my ever-cautious son to try a new activity and he resisted. With further coaxing he took a step forward only to take two steps back.

I submitted my writing to various publications and waited. Then, I waited some more. Weeks passed until finally received a “no” from one with still no response from the others.

Our church prepped for a new outreach geared toward local moms. Anticipation mounted as we discussed plans for our first meeting. Then, more waiting.

One evening as I minced garlic and boiled pasta for dinner I thought, “God, am I really making a difference? I longed to see tangible results, but in ministry and the tedious days of raising children some of our greatest impacts go unseen.

We pour love and life into others and hope it will produce fruit, but the real Life-Giver is not of this world.

Still, I needed a sign. I yearned for a little slice of encouragement.

I nearly missed it when it came.

Will you continue reading with me? Today I’m sharing at Faith Spilling Over in a series called “Finding God in Your Everyday.” I’d love for you to join us. You can read the rest of my post here.

 

*Linking up with Kelly Balarie and Jennifer Dukes Lee to encourage and be encouraged. Come join us.

When You Wonder Where You Belong

graphic for Tiffany

There is a vast difference between hearing words and actually believing them.

For most of my life, I did the former. To say I took things with a grain of salt was an understatement. I used the entire shaker.

My grandmother never missed an opportunity to tell me I was beautiful. I would give her an obligatory smile and think as her grandchild, she was required to say that.

I didn’t see what she saw. I measured my worth by my ability to perform and to please others. But beauty? It was too subjective. Too personal.

So when I heard pastors preach on grace and tell me God wanted a personal relationship with me, the concept felt foreign. The Creator of the Universe wanted to know me? What did I have to offer Him?

My unbelief led me down a road of poor decisions and an endless search for love in places that could never fill me. To say I was a mess would be an understatement.

I only shared the version of me I thought would be accepted and wondered why my life felt empty and aimless.

Will you continue reading with me? Today I’m honored to be sharing part of my story in my dear friend Tiffany Parry’s series, “Real Conversations with Women of God.” You can read the rest of my post here.

 

*Photo credit

When Raising Them is Hard and You Feel Alone

Derek + Diane Photography, LLC (65)

It was an ordinary Tuesday afternoon when I opened my email to find a Groupon ad for a cruise on the Caribbean. I desperately wanted to hit “buy” and wondered if it would be possible for my husband and I to leave the next day.

I imagined myself in my straw Panama Jack hat and my bermuda shorts, sailing off into the sunset with my camera in one hand and my other draped around my man. Certainly the grandparents could come up for a week to watch the kids, right?

Screams of, “I’m telling Mama!” echoed from the next room as I buried my face and tried to pretend I didn’t hear them. Then came the pitter patter of small feet looking for the referee who would surely give little brother a time-out for not playing nice.

“Mama, Gabe hit me on the head with the toy and I told him to say he was sorry but he did not.”

Nope. Of course he didn’t.

Two minutes. That was all the time it took after I left the room for brothers to go from getting along to bickering. I pulled myself away from my island fantasy to be peacemaker. My mind searched for a solution that would be permanent but couldn’t find one.

How many times would I have to punish him for the same actions? Everything I tried felt like putting a band-aid over the situation rather than fixing it.

Sometimes in the long road of parenting, it’s easy to wonder whether anything we do makes a difference.

I once heard a friend say she often felt like monkeys could do a better job of raising her children than she did, and sometimes I think the same thing.

We reiterate the same lessons over and over, but wonder whether our children really get it. We model the type of behavior we want them to practice, but there’s that one child who is violent in spite of it all.

So what do we do? Let the monkeys take over? No, friend. We turn to God and each other. 

Derek + Diane Photography, LLC (53)

When parenting gets hard, one of the worst things we can do is retreat.

For me, a hug often goes further than a round of advice. And a pumpkin spiced latte may not hold all of the answers to my problems, but it will give me the boost I need to go another round.

Friend, if you’re weary with the war wounds of mothering, can I encourage you to reach out to someone? You will be amazed at how much an adult conversation can revive a weary soul.

You may not leave the coffee shop or play date with a list of solutions, but you will know that you are not alone. 

Several days after my Caribbean daydream, I spent the morning recharging with some other moms and their kids. After my oldest came home from school, he and his brother played for an entire hour without any fighting. That is a new record. Somehow, even when I didn’t think all of my discipline and correction was making a difference, it did. Slow progress, but progress nonetheless.

Keep pressing on, dear one. You will see the fruits of your labor. Sometimes when you least expect it.

 

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Galatians 6:9

*Linking up with Suzie Eller’s #LiveFreeThursday. Come join us and be inspired.

*Pictures courtesy of Derek + Diane Photography, LLC.

The Power in the Words, “I’m Not Fine”

community

“It is never just your story.” The editor’s words cut through the classroom with razor-like precision. I ponder them and am ashamed to count the number of times I thought it was.

Weeks later, as I worship with my church family, I realize how thankful I am for the truth in her words. It’s not just me. No, there are others. There is an entire body to carry me when I am discouraged, offer an uplifting word when I need it, to push me to keep pressing toward my goals.

Where would I be without them? Where would I be without my husband, who, when I walk away, tells a friend that I need a word of encouragement?

Sometimes, the worst possible answer to the question, “How are you?” is “I’m fine.” And yet so often, that is my immediate response.

“I don’t want to burden them with my issues,” I think to myself.

“They wouldn’t understand,” the enemy lies.

“They’re too busy with their own problems.”

Getting me to admit to anything other than, “I’m fine,” is often like performing a root canal without an anesthetic. I hide behind my “I’m fine” cape with ferocious determination.

Today, God showed me power behind three simple words: I’m not fine. He showed me that when I am as transparent in person as I am on the page, community is born. And in the midst of community, we rejoice in each other’s successes and carry each other’s burdens.

But to do any of these things, we must be real.

Real community never happens without the element of vulnerability.

When we put up walls and never allow people to see our struggles, all they ever see is a facade. A fake smile to go with a fake response and we all go about with our day.

True bravery starts when we truest version of ourselves, even if it starts with just one person.

What would happen if we let people in? It starts with trust, but trust always begins with putting yourself out there. With letting someone see the real you, even if it’s just a piece.

As you go about your week, in the midst of your errands and to-do lists, remember that it is never just your story.

And then praise God that it’s not.