My 40th: Day 3 of 365

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My friend Jenny took this picture just a few days ago, when she posted it to Facebook, she added the scripture.   I could say so much about what this picture means to me, and how it has been a reflection of the last year.

Two years ago, the Lord brought these three hands together in only such as way as He can.  I don’t live in the same city as these ladies, not even in the same county, or even the neighboring county.  I didn’t share any mutual friends with them (at the time).  But through a ministry connection, this friendship was born.

We have served alongside in ministry together, as Jenny and Aimee have both spoken at Women’s Ministry Council meetings.  We even jumped into the fray, and tacked a big topic… Diversity and Unity in the church.  We were cautious, nervous, maybe even a little afraid.  But the burden to push forward could not be pushed away.  We know that the Lord isn’t done with us in that capacity either, He is working things out and paving a way for a larger conversation.

Outside of the diversity our skin color and life experiences bring to the table, there is a commitment to God that intertwines our hearts together.  There is also something there which isn’t as easy to see… honesty.  You can’t have a conversation about race in the church, race in the community, etc without baring your souls to one another.  Being open about what you didn’t understand, having your heart broken over the experiences that your friends have lived through.  But, that isn’t the only honesty between us.

We have hard conversations.  We speak truth to each other.  We have conversations that are tense.  However, we choose to push through the awkwardness because our friendship and commitment to serving together is so much more important.  Not even two weeks before this picture was taken, Jenny and I had a really hard conversation.  Only speaking for myself, I walked away from that conversation a bit wounded and confused.  But, Jenny knew this.  Instead of burying my feelings, in the course of the conversation I told her “this hurts a little”.

In the days after, I needed to get my head straight.  Who is Jenny?  She is my friend, not my enemy.  Why was I feeling hurt?  Did I even need to be hurt?  The more I thought about these questions and more, I could only land on what I know of Jenny.   What I know of her is that she is a woman who pursues Christ, and she is responsible for the calling the Lord put on her life.  I know that she is wise, trustworthy, and kind.  I know that she is honest, direct, and she has good intentions.  She is a Kingdom server, loyal, and just like the rest of us she is not perfect.

The more I pondered about the Jenny I knew, my heart felt less of a sting.  I recognized that I really had no reason to feel hurt.

There are three things that I have taken away from this, that I am holding onto as I venture in the 40s.

  1.  It is far better to recognize the hurt in the moment, than to stuff it and let it stew.  It is not only healthier for me, but it is good for the other person to know as well.  Should there be actual fault, a person can not apologize for something they are unaware of.  If there is no fault, it allows the person to know that you are in a tender place and may need some space to heal.
  2. I need to surround myself with people whom I can be this honest with.  I knew I could be honest with Jenny.  Reflecting on my past, I can think of people who were in my inner circle and I couldn’t be that honest with.  This tells me that I either didn’t really know them in the first place, or that I knew and disregarded the fact that they were not people I could be honest with for the sake of having a friend.  Usually these are the people who will be direct and honest with you about your sins, but Lord help us all if anyone were to actually call them out.
  3. I need to evaluate who is in my circle, it may be time to prune… create boundaries. I want the friendships that I have, moving forward, to be built on good foundation.  It is quality over quantity.  Reciprocal relationships where we are each a blessing to each other, iron sharpening iron.  I want to walk away from phone calls, lunch dates, ministry work, etc feeling joy, peace, and even a belly hurt from laughter.  I can no longer afford to walk away and feel emotionally exhausted, beat up, pressed down, and overwhelmed.

There is a woman that I have been friends with for a very long time, and I thought it was a healthy friendship.  Now, I am not quite so sure.  I never set boundaries, nor stood up for myself in our friendship.  She has a very strong personality and frankly, I am intimidated by her at times.  I thought I could overlook that strong personality, especially since I have one myself.  However, in the last few days I have realized that while I enjoy most of our time together, it’s not always pleasant.

I’m going to take a heavy dose of blame here because I didn’t handle things well from the start.  I didn’t set boundaries, and the friendship became overwhelming.  Instead of sitting her down and being honest, I just imposed distance.  In the moments where she was overstepping her bounds, I didn’t speak up and tell her that she needed to back down.  Many years later, that resulted in a boundary-less friendship.

This came to a head recently, and when I recount our last interaction and how I felt when I left, I wondered if this friendship was really a blessing?  Not only was I asking if she was the the type of friend I needed… but also the reverse.  Am I the right friend for her?  Am I a blessing to her?  Is this a friendship that is salvageable?  Can we put in boundaries, or is it too late?

What to do with this revelation?

Before I do anything, I must take this to the throne.  As humans we are just fallible.  It is amazing what we can justify to keep in our lives, or to let go.  We allow the opinions of others to influence us.  We can have to soft of a heart, or a deep desire to be liked.  We can fear hurting even those who hurt us.

What does God’s Word say about what our relationships should look like?  What kind of character should we be looking for in those we pull into our inner circle?  Who should we avoid?

This doesn’t mean we isolate ourselves from the world at large, we can’t fulfill The Great Commission doing that.  I’m talking specifically about that inner circle, the closest friends, those we want to rely on for wise counsel and solid truth.  The ones we are going to give permission to speak into our lives.

I am going to trust the One who orders my steps.

Center Stage

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It was nearly twenty five years ago, that I walked into a new theatre class.  The instructor had everyone begin physical warm ups, followed by vocal warm ups.  He began an exercise where we were supposed to move around the room, walking … running… skipping… dancing… any movement we chose, and he would pop up from behind us and ask us questions about ourselves.

What is your favorite color? 

Who do you love more your mother, or your father?

Why are you in this class?

What kind of car do you drive?

All very random.  An exercise to help us feel the ease of answering some questions versus the difficulty of others.  How did answering change the way we moved across the room as we answered?  How did answering change our body mannerisms, our vocal tone?  Then he asked this poor girl…

Why do you want to be an actress?

She replied:  I want to be famous.  I want people to know who I am.

He told her to leave his classroom, this class was for serious actors only.

I thought her answer said so very much more.  It spoke to me of a girl with insecurities, looking for validation in success.  Famous would mean that her work was good.  Famous would mean she was known, respected, seen.  Famous would mean that she was not being looked over any longer.  She was fragile. And yet, she was brave.  I believe a lot can be said for her honest answer, even if the teacher didn’t see it.  I saw it.

I have loved the theatre and performing as far back as I can remember.  It all began in a Kindergarten Circus.  We built costumes, putting on a show for our family members and other students.  It was amazing.  I received such accolades for my lion costume, my teacher took me around to the other teachers to show off my curly mane constructed from several shades of brown construction paper.  I was an excellent lion.  Years later, I was an excellent snobby heiress.  Many years later, I received my first newspaper review for a stunning performance… followed by one that identified me as hilarious.

As much as I have loved the on stage aspects of theatre, I have always had a special affinity for the backstage happenings.  Planning, staging, building sets, lighting design, costume construction, special effects make up.  I’ve directed more shows than I have been cast in, received recognition and awards for my work.  Yet, one of the most valuable things I’ve taken away from all of these experiences came from the moment I understood what that teacher really meant when he sent that student out of his classroom.

I can tell immediately when someone “belongs on the stage”.  There is something about them that feels natural, at home, on the stage.  I can tell when someone doesn’t belong too.  Sometimes, they were cast because they looked the part but lacked the talent.  Other times they wanted to be in the show for the attention, but lacked the commitment to the part.  I’ve even seen incredibly talented actors look so out of place on the stage simply because their passion was something incredibly different.

You can be good at something, but that doesn’t mean it is your passion or calling.  You can be terrible at something, but forced into that position to fill a void or because someone else thinks you are perfect for the role.  You can even thrust yourself into the fray because you think it will give you what you are looking for, but your attempts are misguided.  This student was told to leave the class because she was looking for attention and validation, and the teacher knew it would never happen.  He knew that she was throwing herself into the shark infested waters, hoping that her talent would save her.  He knew that throngs of people, critics, and the industry would eat her alive.

I thought he was cruel that day.  Now, I see him as being merciful.  As I think about her now, I remember we shared another class a few years later.  She was different, more confident in herself.  I’m not sure what happened after she walked out of that first class… but this was not the same girl.  If I had to take an educated guess, it would be that her motives changed.

Now I am in a different “industry”, filled with writers, speakers, and ministry leaders.  In the last six months, I have had multiple people tell me they feel called to writing, public speaking, etc.   I often find myself asking (in my head) as similar questions as my old teacher.

Why do you want to write?  Why do you want to speak at events, conferences?

Why are you moving toward center stage?

We must examine our own motives and desires.

Are we putting Christ center stage, or ourselves?

Are we sharing our words, opinions, perspectives or God’s truth?

Do we want people to look at us, see us, validate us?  Or, are we giving God the spotlight acting as His humble messenger?

If we enter a public arena with faulty motives, we are throwing ourselves in among the shark hoping that our gifts will save us from the feeding frenzy.  However, when our motives are in line with God’s desires then He is given center stage.  We don’t have to rely on our gifts to save us, because we have already been saved.  Our joy comes in sharing not our own selves with the world, but instead sharing the life changing power of Jesus Christ.

You Can Not Hold Back the Dawn

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 “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may endure for a night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.”

Psalm 30:5 AMP 

From a 1959 sermon by Reverend Leslie D Weatherhead entitled: The Religion of the Dawn…

“There is a dawn answer for every situation we encounter.  We cannot pretend there is no night.  Nothing can be done to hasten the dawn.”  But, “you cannot hold back the dawn”

[Christianity] is a religion of unquenchable faith and hope and patience; unquenchable because it believes the permanent thing is light and the passing thing is darkness; that however long the night, whether it be in world affairs or the poignant private world of the human heart, the night will pass.  You can’t hold back the dawn.  All affairs, private and world-wide are in the hands of a God who is in complete and final control and who has decreed the entire conquest of all evil and the final emergence of indescribable good.

Reverend Leslie D Weatherhead

We may face the coming darkness, because we have the promise of a glorious dawn.

Feet Washing…

feetwashingJesus washed the feet of Judas, a few hours later Judas would betray him.

Foot washing displayed different significant things in Biblical times.

It put a person in a servant posture.  It was an act of humbleness and humility.  It was a necessary act.  A repetitive act, as well.

Something I read recently made a great observation about Jesus’ washing of the disciples feet.  First, it was pointed out that there was no servant there to do the job.  Second, they were already in the midst of the meal when Jesus’ took on the task.

When there was no servant there to handle the foot washing, it never dawned on the disciples to do it for each other.

Third, when Jesus began to wash Peter’s feet there was a protest by Peter.  He didn’t want Jesus to do something he felt was beneath the Messiah.  Jesus responded: “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8); to which Peter then asked for a complete cleaning.  Which is exactly what happens when are spiritually cleansed… when the blood of Christ washes away all of our iniquity.

When He was finished, Jesus said “I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:15).

Remember the earlier point about it never dawning on the men to wash each other’s feet?  We have been commanded to be Christlike, to posture ourselves a servant for others.  To wash the feet of those who we love, and even those who will betray us.

We may wash feet with bowls of water, expensive oils, and perfumes.  We may dry those feet with soft towels or strips of linen.  Or, we may wash their feet with our tears and dry them with our hair (Luke 7:44).  We wash their feet when we drop off meals while they recover, or mow the lawns of the elderly.  We wash their feet when we grasp their hands, and provide a shoulder to cry on.  We wash their feet when we speak blessings over the friend and the stranger.

We wash their feet when we posture ourselves to serve, not be served.

The Apology I Didn’t Know That I Needed

TheapologyIdidntknowineededIn my previous two pieces, I shared about my experiences with this year’s Gospel Coalition Conference.  First, I shared my personal retreat reflections which helped me recognize that I had some issues where I was harboring some anger towards people that I needed to forgive.

Then, in the second piece, I shared how my mentoring session with Serge.org showed me other areas where anger had been rearing it’s ugly head in my life.  Anger is a sneaky sin, that can mask itself in many ways.  Some seeming obvious, others much more subtle.  I knew that I needed to address these issues.  There were people I needed to forgive, including myself.  I needed to preach the Gospel to myself every day, reminding myself how the Lord sees me vs. the lies I have been told.

The third reflection was the two moments in which someone who had never wronged me apologized for the wrongs others have committed.

This first time happened during my serge.org mentor session.  As you may recall in the session I shared about my ministry work, obstacles I was facing, and how I felt like a failure in certain aspects of the work.  While my mentor, Hunter, did shift the conversation to a more personal direction… the first thing he did before taking that turn was to apologize.  In fact, perhaps it was my response to the apology that confirmed for him that the personal direction was the path he needed to travel down.

He recognized that the obstacles I was facing were very wrong, and hurtful ones… and he apologized to me for it.  I have never expected an apology over any issue in my life.  Maybe I set my expectations too low, or experience has taught me that apologizes come less often than deserved.  Regardless, I have never expected a person who has never wronged me to apologize on behalf of others.  This apology was spoken directly to me, not in generalities and with complete sincerity.  It ushered in validation that I didn’t know I needed to hear, but clearly I did.  I needed to not only hear the words, but I needed to hear a man speak them.

His apology was still sinking in, when I attended a workshop on Pastors and Women in Ministry.  At the beginning of the session we were given instructions to put questions on cards for the panel and pass them forward.  In the latter half of the workshop, the panel members would try to get to as many questions as possible.  There was no way to get to them all and the moderator did a great job of trying to collate similar questions into one general concept.   One of the questions dealt with Women’s Ministry Leaders who didn’t feel supported by their church, another one came up about women who didn’t feel like their church valued their expertise or ministry skills, a third question about how to disagree with your Pastor respectfully when you are a woman with higher education in the field or expert on a subject, and some women just wanted to be trusted to lead well.

These questions were answered, but you could tell one of the panelists was uncomfortable by the similarities of the questions.  It was his turn to address the next question, but he paused with the need to address the questions of the hurt women in the group.  In a microphone, to a room filled with women and Pastors, at a workshop that would be recorded and listed on TGC’s media page for the conference for the world to hear… Pastor Sandy Willson spoke to the hurt women with a very simple, “I am so sorry.”

It was sweet, tender, and genuine.  It was spoken to the group at large, but in many ways I felt like it was directed right at my heart.  Tears filled my eyes.  Twice in one day, I would hear and receive an apology from a man who never wronged me.  And, twice it would impact me more than I expected and bring in a sense of peace.

In honesty, I suppose there are some people I wish would say they were sorry for treating me a particular way.  But, I believe pride has prevented that.  Which has allowed me to more forward knowing that until they deal with their pride, and apology will never happen.  I didn’t expect that I would need to hear from just anyone that they were sorry for the events that occurred.  I had no way of knowing how their apology could lighten my load and make my steps toward forgiveness come with such peace.

I find myself able to let go of it not only toward the specific people involved in those situations, but also realized that I had been projecting their behaviors on others.  I was lumping all the apples in to the bad pile, allowing one bad apple to spoil my feelings toward an entire group.  Instead of tossing the bad apples aside, and being thankful for the good ones.

And so, I want to pass this gift on to you.  Whomever you are.  I know that at some point someone treated you unfairly, spoke unkind words to you, broke your heart and your trust, and I know that sometimes these wounds are deep.

I am so, so, sorry.  I pray the Lord comforts you, that there will be people He will put in your path that will lift you up, and that you can forgive even those who don’t ask for it.

The Christian Word for Anger

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Anger is funny, funny thing.  It masks itself in many ways.  Some are more obvious (like withdrawal, sarcasm, and the like).  Others are a bit more subtle, which was revealed to me just after my Personal Retreat and during the course of The Gospel Coalition conference.

If you recall in my last piece, my twenty four hour Personal Retreat revealed that I was holding onto some anger that I didn’t realize was there.  People I needed to forgive was a priority on my list.  But the Lord wasn’t done revealing to me the ways in which anger had penetrated my life.

During the conference, I had an opportunity to sign up for bonus events being held alongside the conference.  One of which was an event put together by Serge.org, which not only had a two morning breakfast with speakers from their mentoring and leadership team but offered a one hour mentor session.  I jumped at the opportunity to speak with a veteran in the ministry field for advice/direction/suggestions for the ministry work I was involved in.

In my session with Hunter Dockery, I laid out exactly what my ministry work was about and where I saw it going.  Then I shared some obstacles I was facing in that process.  I thought that this was the place Hunter would be able to help me.  I wasn’t prepared for the fact that Hunter was less interested in the work, and more interested in me.  How was I personally being affected, how was my marriage, etc.  This was personal, and exactly what I needed to explore… I just didn’t know it.

I’m going to spend my time on this piece speaking to just one of the questions I was asked, but I’ll probably talk more about this in future blogs.

As I shared about some of my obstacles, and how I felt as if I was failing those I was serving… Hunter basically asked me how I felt about those who were impeding the work.  I said that I was frustrated, and that is when he laid it out there…

Frustrated is the Christian word for angry.

Well, crap.  If frustrated is the Christian word for angry, I may be angrier about more things than I realized.  Between my personal retreat and this moment, I was seeing things with more clarity.  I imagine it like a large room that is completely dark, without any single light source but multiple lamps scattered through the room.  The Lord was taking me one step at a time, turning on one lamp at a time.  Illuminating the room a little bit more versus flooding me with more light than my eyes could handle in one flip of a switch.

I was being put into a position where I would have to face and own these feelings, in order to correct them.  And the only one way that was going to happen, was to keep turning on more lights.

I’m thankful for my time with Hunter, not just because he helped me to see this underlying emotion but instead the greater gift came with the next question.

“When you imagine the Lord speaking directly to you, what does He say?”

I imagined a God who was frustrated with me.  Those were not my exact words to Hunter, but something that I understood later.

Well, if frustrated is the Christian word for angry… then I realized that I imagined that God was angry with me.  Let down.  Disappointed.   It was in a flash of clarity that I realized that while I believed God’s promises for others, truly and deeply… there was a part of me that saw myself still broken.  That my daily mistakes and failures were evidence that I still wasn’t living up to the par.

Hunter said words that will stick with me forever.

“You need to preach the Gospel to yourself, every morning.”

I’ve since thought about that, and made a choice that I need to shut down and replace the words that roll through my head.

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Chart based on a presentation by Lysa TerKeurst on Proverbs 31 Ministries First 5 App.

  I had listened to too many lines, believe the lies, labeled myself based on what others have said or done, and it became a liability that was holding me back from living in the freedom gifted by Jesus Christ.  The Gospel wasn’t just something to share with unbelievers but something that we believers need to be reminded of constantly.  The world tries to overwhelm our senses to the point we forget the promises that God has made to us.

This is an issue that I am still working through, with the Lord’s help.  Lamps are still being turned on.  However, I find myself already more at peace as I preach the Good News to myself, every morning.

And a few times throughout the day, as needed.

Because God so loved the world (and Gena) that He sent His only Son, and whoever (this means Gena too) believes in Him will have ever lasting life.

Jesus paid the wages of (Gena’s) sin.   You (and I) are new creations in Christ, washed clean by the blood of the lamb.  Sons and Daughters (including me) that were adopted into His family, where nothing can separate (even me) from Him.