Growth Charts and Grieving Hearts

The woman was determined to repurchase the home where she had raised her kids. The minute the realtor let her in she went immediately to a closet and opened the door to find the pencil-mark timeline still there. Each mark a memory- dates and ages chronicled on the frame.

The scene in the television show struck a familiar cord with me. My daughter just turned 28 and I had been going through photo albums pulling out pictures of her at different ages.  When I saw her as a toddler with her “Shirley Temple curls” and roly-poly legs I remember thinking, “ I wish she could stay this age forever.”

Which is, of course, a crazy thought. What parent in their right mind would want to halt their child’s growth? And then it occurred to me how each stage of growth was accompanied by a corresponding loss- the loss of security blankets-the loss of friends-of innocence. Maybe we would halt their growth if we could spare them some pain. Maybe we halt our own growth as adults to spare ourselves some pain.

But what if our long-term growth actually depends on winning seasons of short-term grief?

Growing by definition means you’re moving past- leaving something behind. Sometimes that leaving comes with grieving. The key, however, is not to stop in the loss.  After all if you’re not leaving something behind, you’re not moving. And it’s possible if you’re not moving, you’re not making progress and you are at risk of stalling.

Sometimes I think it would be great if we could have a pencil mark growth chart for our spiritual development. A timeline of marking moments accompanied by the age we crashed through a growth gate.

My journal has become my timeline. I’ve kept one now for more than 5 years and I’ve found it invaluable for tracking my highs and lows- my wins and losses- my joys and pains-my growing and my grieving. Each time God has prepared me for the next season, I have had to leave something behind- things like rhythms, relationships, comforts, and even flawed beliefs. In fact, He wouldn’t let me go to the next season without separating myself from things that had marked my past but could not make my future.

So think about starting your growth chart today. Begin by asking yourself a few questions:

What’s the last thing God told you to leave behind? Move beyond?

Have you done it?

What could be waiting on you if you would grow past the grief?

Remember, you really don’t want to stay this age forever!

Millstones to Milestones

A year ago I celebrated a milestone. I wrote and published my first book: “Pocket Full of Questions.”  The writing wasn’t the significant part. I’ve written stories, plays, videos for years. The publishing wasn’t the significant part. I self-published the book for time sake as the project is a fund- raiser for a missionary friend. It was the following through that was significant. And this little lesson in weights and measurements made all the difference.

A “milestone” is a significant point in development.                                                                           A “millstone” is something that grinds and crushes.                                                                         One pushes you forward and one weighs you down.                                                                       The difference between the two? Just a “little e”.

By little “e”, I’m certainly referring to lower case because there is nothing little about the difference between millstones and milestones. And I had to learn that to ever reach a milestone, I would have to ditch the millstones. In essence, conduct a little “exchange.” Exchange what weighs me down for what will push me forward.

Exchange limits for a little exposure. You never know what you’re capable of as long as you buy into the lie of “I can’t.” The truth is in the garden we were given way more freedom than limitations. And what did we do? Focus on the limits with the whole world at our feet. So go ahead… step out. Expose yourself to scary possibilities!

Exchange lethargy for a little effort. When you do nothing, nothing gets done. Simple but profound. I know how easy it is to finish the workday and want to “veg out.” But once I devoted a little time and effort, the jotting turned into scribbling and the scribbling turned into writing. Wonderful momentum took over and words and ideas started to flow. So start small, but start. Watch effort give way to results!

Go on… get the “L” outta here! (and exchange them for Es, I mean) Because your song, your book, your business venture, your milestone is waiting for YOU!

"Don't leave home without it!"

“Don’t leave home without it.”

If you’re a child of the 70’s, the first thought that comes to mind is Karl Malden and the American Express card.  If you’re a child of the 90’s, your first thought may be your debit card. There are few things as frustrating as ending up at the cash register with nothing to offer. Your testimony is like your debit card.

The dictionary says, “Currency is something in circulation as a medium of exchange.” Likewise our story, our experiences are a type of currency. As we circulate through our daily routines, we have the opportunity- perhaps even the responsibility to make an exchange.

You can only spend what you have.  When I was in Colombia I was asked to preach a 40-minute sermon with only a couple of minutes notice. While I couldn’t whip up 3 clever, alliterative points, God had been speaking to me for a couple of months on the story of Peter walking on the water. I spoke out of that story. I shared my struggles.  I shared my challenges and challenged them too. How grateful I was when I stood before hungry people I had been seeking God’s voice!

Is there someone in your path who is waiting for you to exchange the currency of your authentic faith journey? How are you keeping your faith “in the black?” Are you making regular deposits of reading the Word? Worship? Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to deposit wisdom, encouragement and conviction?

Overdraft protection is available.  If by error or bad timing you find yourself in a deficit, all is not lost. Some banking institutions will cover you. Likewise you have the ability to dip into the savings account of faith deposited by the saints. If your account is low, borrow from the truth of the stories in Scripture. God is working in His people consistently and eternally. Be encouraged and challenged by how He has worked in others but rest confident that He desires to use your story to grow you and bless others.           

My husband, Michael and I were recently having dinner with friends; Dan and Karen. Dan had also just returned from a mission trip and had been asked to preach once he arrived. Fortunately for Dan, he had been told ahead of time, “Never leave the country without a sermon.” Of course I responded with the obligatory, “INFORMATION THAT WOULD’VE BEEN HELPFUL YESTERDAY!” But now I know. Now I know that wherever I go there may be someone waiting for me to exchange the currency of my faith, my knowledge, my hope or joy.  So let me encourage you as I encourage myself, with more than a checkout line embarrassment at risk, when it comes to your current, honest, unfolding faith story, don’t leave home without it.  

Highway to the Comfort Zone- Mission Trip Musings

So maybe it won’t be a blockbuster hit with Tom Cruise, it was MY blockbuster hit this summer: A supersonic journey disguised as a mission trip. The mission: redefine my comfort and joy. The method: musical chairs. Seriously…  Going on a mission trip is like playing musical chairs. God systematically removed all of my comforts until there is only one place I was comfortable: in His presence-desperate and dependent.  

Three chairs of comfort, God removed:

Familiarity – They say that “familiarity breeds contempt.” But it also breeds comfort. This trip proved that I am a creature of habit. Even with the occasional adventure or switch up in my routine, I usually go the same places, do the same things, hang with the same people. There was nothing familiar about Baranquilla. The schedule challenged me. The language challenged me. Going door-to-door evangelizing challenged me. Kicking familiarity out from under me was fertile soil for me to grow. What became more important to the mission was, “What are the people with whom I am sharing Christ familiar with?” What will help me reach them? What are the universal truths/experiences between all mankind that will open their heart to the gospel?

Vanity – When I get ready at home in the morning, I think: What will look good? What will hide my flaws? How do I cover that flat spot in the back of my hair? Do those shoes really match my skirt? When I was getting ready in Colombia, I asked just one question: What will be cool? (Temperature-wise not fashionable!) If it was cotton, I wore it.  If it took the hair off of my neck, I used it. If the shoes would keep my feet covered while walking through sewage, the cute sandals stayed at the hotel. And while I grimaced when I saw pictures of myself hot, sweaty and melting, the memories of the marking moments I experienced has hopefully put the death nail in my pride. The world opens up wide with potential when you don’t care how you look to others- a lesson deeper than cosmetics and clothing!

Clarity – “Go with the flow.” Josh Yarbrough from E3 had been telling us this for months. I think I had tuned it out. Yeah, Yeah, go with the flow, but what can we be working on? Preparing? The answer was, “nothing.” Okay, take away my routine, take away my make-up but don’t mess with my ability to plan! God must’ve really been laughing when Roberto asked me (under the opening worship on Sunday-our first day there) to preach a 40-minute sermon because an evangelist didn’t show up! It set the tone of the whole trip. Every morning we woke up not completely knowing what we would do that day. At lunch we would have to touch base to see if anything had changed. Whatever they needed us to do, we did.

When you’re on a mission trip, you just DO, you don’t CHOOSE. But if you are willing to submit to the process you will find the best place is not the place of choice but the place where His voice meets our reply; “Yes, Lord.”

To quote Jake and Ellwood, we’re all on a mission from God- every day- wherever we are. Which seats of comfort are keeping you from being in the perfect place of His presence? What could you accomplish for the Kingdom if God could move you anywhere?