Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Eve Annual Interview with Jackson

With Jackson being old enough to really begin reflecting on his year and looking forward to the days ahead, I wanted to start a new tradition this year: annual New Year's Eve interviews. He knows how much I love this stuff and did pretty well answering the questions this year. Praying this will be a good way for him to reflect on his years as he grows.

What is your happiest memory from this past year?
Going to Disney World.

What is the best part about being your age?
Watching TV.

Describe yourself in one word:

What advice would you give your parents?
I'd say thank you for food and our house.

If you could be any animal which one and why?
A tiger because they have sharp teeth.

Describe the funniest thing you saw this past year.

Who is your favorite person and why?
Sullee because she let's me do a lot of things.

What is the nicest thing you did for someone this year?

What is the nicest thing someone did for you this year?

What were some of the best places you traveled to this year?
Disney World. Nashville.

What was the hardest part about this year?
Starting a new school.

What do you want to learn in 2017?
How to grow vegetables. How to start a garden.

What do you want to become better at in 2017?
Playing Pokemon

Where do you want to travel in 2017?
Disney World. Chuck E. Cheese, the beach

How can you serve God in 2017?
Give more grace to people. 

2016 Word of the Year Reflections

So much of me wants to skip past this post. To just start documenting all the things God is working for the year ahead, but the Spirit is telling me to slow down. Savor the good works of the year. So that's just what I'll do.

2016 was my year of Wholeheartedness. It only felt natural after a year of Surrender (2015's word). And as I partnered with the Spirit to mind the gap of a divided heart God showed me the abundant life of John 10:10 right here in the meaningful mundane.

We had just one big plan, one big milestone at the outset of 2016: Jackson would celebrate his 5th birthday in March and start Kindergarten in the Fall. I knew everything else in this year would pale in comparison in stewarding these milestones well.

But God.

He kept showing up in the margin. He kept pursuing us in the unexpected. He kept bringing us into ordinary, hard moments of doing life and asking us to choose obedience instead of complacency.

Blessed are those who keep His statutes and seek him with all their heart. Psalm 119:2

My goals for 2016 were simple. Mainly they each stemmed from wanting to grow in my own obedient response to the Gospel. To know Him more. To deepen my joy in marriage and motherhood. To plant the seeds of deeply rooted friendships. To steward our finances well. To simplify our home and my perspective of remaining in our first home longer than planned. To loosely hold out the small business God called me to back in 2014. For my life to become Christ in action. 

God revealed Himself to me little by little as I pressed into Him and abided in Him all the more. Never have I heard the voice of the Holy Spirit so clearly as I have in 2016. Never have I also sat in such deafening silence of the Lord and learned that in his quietness there is room for good growth for His glory.

In this year of Wholehearted pursuit, God gently guided me into the margins of my own story. He pointed me away from the worldy expectations and deep into the opportunities He'd already given me to steward well.

The unexpected happened all in hand with the expected:
We went to Disney World to celebrate the 5th Birthday of our wild child, our wild miracle. And it was pure heaven. The sweetest of trips that would not have been possible without the offerings and presence of my mom.

I pushed back against the enemy's lies of not-enough and began leading a women's Bible study at our local church. This was a turning point of hearing and responding to the Spirit. This beckoning to brave obedience is not something I will soon forget. And the fruit of this obedience? The Spirit in me grew so much good fruit in response to this step of obedience: joy, peace, faithfulness.

This step of obedience opened the door to an opportunity to be apart of planting the women's ministry at our local church. I have prayed for years that our church would have an active women's ministry. Never did I think I'd have a hand in our women's ministry taking root and in just six months seeing God move mightily through our community of women. Never did I think God would so sovereignly place me with a team of women who are so different in this life but so similar in our burdens for the women of our church and reflecting Christ well.

When we least expected it God made a way for Brandon to be promoted within his company. Promoted! When we least expected it God was on the move. Exactly one year after he pursued this same position and had been turned down, God reopened the door. I could not be more encouraged by the way Brandon responded to this opportunity. The way he sought the position with grace and then transitioned into his new role with humbleness and hope.

Jackson finished pre-school and began Kindergarten at a new school. This is where our refining both individually and as a family has become a turning point in the year. God prepared my heart all year for this transition and honestly I didn't understand why until we were in the thick of it. The transition to Kindergarten has been one of our most trying moments yet. Through partnership with our pediatrician, our counselor and our family and church communities we've made progress. Two steps forward, ten steps backward some weeks, but at the very least we have made progress in knowing who Jackson is as a child of God and releasing him over to God. I will steward Him well, I pray to disciple him well, I will be his advocate as fiercely as I am able, but ultimately I have released the grips of control to God and told Him that this is His child and I trust Him. Motherhood continues to be the hardest, most refining gift I never knew I needed in this life.

I decided to close the doors to the shop God called me to open two and a half years ago. I surrendered myself over and over this year asking God to guide me, and for most of the year I sat in silence to counsel on how to move forward with our small business. Gently, over many month, God has shown me that with everything there is a season and now in this season I am being called to disciple well in my home and my local church. So, with the close of 2016, we'll close our first small business venture. As my husband said, it will likely not be our last. In the eyes of the world, our business was not a success, but in the eyes of my Father I know the fruit born from this step of obedience will multiply in my story for years to come.

This year the mundane became meaningful. We pursued gratitude and joy in the little things. In worship while doing dishes. In praying through never-ending laundry. In trusting that this messy, beautiful life right where we are is God's will for us in Christ Jesus. There in the mundane God showed off His glory, and I now savor the meaningful margin buried in moments I once counted as unremarkable.

I've seen first-hand that my life truly can be Christ in action. When I know Him and who I am in Him and when I'm brave enough to lean in, get vulnerable and live wholeheartedly my life can be a light for the Kingdom in the meaningful mundane. My every day becomes an opportunity to live on mission right where I am in the beautiful ordinary mess because Jesus is always good news.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lessons from Influence Conference April 2016

When the Influence Network announced their first 1-day conference would be in Charlotte, almost local to me, I jumped at the opportunity. For four years I've watched #InfluenceConf be shared wishing we could've afforded the opportunity for me to join this community at the conference to celebrate and grow in their God-given influence. It was an answered prayer!  
For friends not familiar with the Influence Network, it's a membership community exploring God-given influence right where we are. You can follow along for free with their social media as a point of encouragement, but I highly recommend becoming a member (more on this in a future post!). 
Today I'm sharing my personal takeaway from the overall conference message along with quotes and scripture references. I'm getting vulnerable with my reflections in this post for a few reasons. First, the message is one we all need. Second, I always wanted in on more details of the conference. So, this is for the sister who wanted to be there but couldn't! Last, I want to open the conversation on these topics for our #heartinthehustle community. 
Speaker topics and scripture focus varied throughout the 1-day conference, but sweetly woven into the fabric of the day was the message of God's rich grace and power in these areas: our vulnerability, our influence and our testimonies. 
I'm excited to continue to the conversation post-conference! Now onto conference lessons!

Vulnerability is the new black. 

If you’re looking for 2016's buzz word this is it: vulnerability. I’ve never delighted and feared a word so much! For months I’ve been peeling back what it means to get vulnerable in our stories and our daily routines through Brene Brown’s Living Brave Semester, and the Influence ladies brought a good word and affirmed what I've uncovered on the topic.
Vulnerability is not weakness, it's courage. It's free-falling into the arms of our Savior trusting that as we show up only armed in His truth goodness will flow and Kingdom seeds will be planted. We delete the lie of the enemy with the truth of the Gospel as we show up and allow ourselves to be seen as daughters of the King: chosen, redeemed, remembered, and able. 
Scripture References: 2 Chronicles 20, Deuteronomy 6:10-15, Psalm 23, Romans 11:36
“The way that He made you is already good.”
— Jess Connolly
“God will give us more than we can handle, and that’s where we can see Jesus.”
— Ashlee Proffitt
“God’s word shows us we already have what it takes.”
— Renee Swope

Your story matters, and so does hers.

Our influence is void of impact without our testimony. It’s going to take vulnerability to show up with our messy hearts and let our testimony influence others. The pretty stories and styled squares of social media are only surface level. If we’re going to know the joy of the Lord deep in our bones we need to step out of the shadow of doubt into the light of love with all of our mess.

Vulnerability +  Wolehearted testimonies = Influence for the glory of the Lord

I think it’s that simple. Jesus finished the work and that changes everything. When we look to Jesus’ life we see him fully embrace his purpose, and little by little it influenced others and ultimately pointed back to the Father. Isn’t that what want? Time and time again Jesus emptied himself for others in humbleness with great empathy towards their stories.

Jesus knew our stories would be just as influential for the Kingdom as his.  Let's take off the fleshly armor of worry and comparison to speak eternal truths over one another. My story matters for the Kingdom, and so does yours. Let’s link arms, enter into the mess together and build for the Kingdom.

Scripture Reference: Philippians 2, Luke 7, 2 Corinthians 8:12, 2 Timothy 1:12, Revelation 12:11
“You have life-changing glory stuck in your story.”
— Jess Connolly
“Jesus constantly emptied himself of his privilege to make room for others.”
— Christina Cleveland
“We must be willing to bring the works of our hands, the worship of our hearts, and the words of our testimony. ”
— Renee Swope
“You were born into your story for a reason. Your story is part of your purpose for His influence.”
— Jess Connolly

Your have influence right where you are.

We can shift the focus off of potential future influence and onto our surroundings right where we stand. Influence happens here in our everyday hustle. Instead of harping on interruptions we must simply open our eyes to God's opportunities. Our hearts become enabled to see God and to share our testimony of His grace as we allow others to interrupt our agendas. Let's inspect our hearts, what opportunities have we brushed off as interruptions? 
Gretchen sweetly reminded us there’s no measuring stick in the Kingdom. This message was layered throughout the conference. Whatever your season it is good and it is for His glory that we lean into our God-given influence. Tending to littles with piles of laundry, car-pool lines and time-outs. Launching a business, blog or book. Showing up to your 9-5. Serving at your local church. Getting your mail. Going to class. Swinging by the supermarket. We have influence right where we are in Jesus name.
Scripture Reference: Matthew 27:51, 1 Corinthians 3:16, Hebrews 10: 19-25
“It’s not about who you lead, but who you follow.”
— Gretchen Saffles
“The enemy would have you believe only the big things matter, but to God the little things are just as impactful for the Kingdom.”
— Gretchen Saffles
“Defeat should be a short-term destination. ”
— Jess Connolly
“Let your life be interrupted for others.”
— Ashley Brooke
“Worship prepares our hearts for battle as it shifts the focus off of us and onto Christ. ”
— Ashlee Proffitt
It has taken me over a week to process the message from the 1-day Influence Conference, and I'm sure to reference this post frequently in the coming weeks. The 1-day event was special time of fellowship, and the overflow of community can be felt so sweetly. If you attended the conference I’d love for you to chime in below, or if you missed out let’s keep the conference conversation going here!
For more information on the Influence Network, visit their website and Instagram.

Monday, April 11, 2016

3 Ways To Turn Your Inner-Critic Into An Encourager

Tests bring out the critic in each of us. I would categorize myself as an awful test taker. Words were always my strength, choosing the right bubble not so much.
My inner-critic came out most during Art History exams in college. For these exams we were required to know the name of the artwork, the artist, and date of creation for hundreds of pieces per test. Hundreds - this is not an exaggeration! In preparation I'd hole up in the library for an 8 hour study binge leading up to the 3 p.m. exams. 
Building up to and following those exams my inner-critic ran rampant with my emotions. So you can imagine how my inner-critic made himself known when I failed a test recently. In my Living Brave class with Brene Brown, she challenged us to take a self-compassion test from Kristin Neff. And I failed. I failed the self-compassion test.

Pretty quickly the warm wash of worry overcame me and that inner-critic started stomping on my joy. The truth of it is, years after overcoming my war with depression, I still battle self-compassion on a daily basis. More than not, my worst critic is myself.

I think it's time we open the conversation on self-compassion within the Christian community. Certainly we can’t expect to serve well in any capacity if we’re not first tending to ourselves. Hear me out: it's okay for us to need to work on us.

A heart deficient of self-compassion breeds shame, anxiety and overwhelm. Let's make intentional effort to increase self-compassion to turn our inner-critic into an encourager of Wholehearted joy.

So what exactly is self-compassion? It’s speaking to ourselves with empathy rather than anger, and choosing grace in place of judgment. Self-compassion is not a permission slip to continue in sin or complacency, but an opportunity to live the life of grace and growth God calls us to. Through self-compassion we sideline overwhelm, calm anxiety, and deepen healthy relationships with ourselves and others.

We may battle with self-compassion on a daily basis, but there are simple action steps we can make to overcome the fight for simply being kind to ourself.

Know your worth.
According to Brene, wholehearted joy stems from engaging with the world from a place of worthiness. When we define our worth we begin the conversation of self-compassion. When we look to scripture it doesn't take long to learn our worth is found in Jesus. In Christ we are made new and can move boldly before the throne with confidence in our worth to God.
Truth: Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

Shift your perspective on self-talk.
There’s a fine line between giving yourself constructive criticism, and down right holding yourself in contempt. The joy in your life is a direct result of the quality of your thoughts.

Remember this, in Jesus, there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1). The Gospel is the permission slip of self-compassion we've been seeking! Of all the people who could point fingers and call out the ugliness of our sin, it should be God. Instead, He covers us with grace upon grace. Let’s take a lesson from Him on this one, shall we?
Truth: Whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Put self-compassion into practice.
Maybe you’re like me and have made great strides in self-compassion, but recently realized there’s still a ways to go before self-compassion dwells deep in your bones. Resilience in the daily routine will be built upon putting self-compassion into practice. It won't be perfect, but it will be progress. God enters into our mess and celebrates along side of us with each baby step of self-compassion. Every small step matters; If you fall, dust yourself off, practice self-compassion and keep going. 
Truth: But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9
Allow self-compassion to be a starting point of wholehearted joy in your story. The world has enough critics, let’s stop being our own worst critic.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How To Strengthen Wholehearted Foundations

I was too late. The bulldozers had already come. The walls which once held my life's memories had been shoved aside; now just an immense amount of rubble. It had been months since the fire, and still an oversized pile of ashes was all that was left of everything I once knew.

Rivers of tears flowed as I wrestled with the belief there was no where up from here. This valley was too low, the battles before us seemed too hard to take on. But God.

God’s story never ends with ashes.  Elisabeth Elliot

I was paralyzed by self-doubt, fear and worry. In that moment, I didn’t trust God was present. I couldn’t see Him through the soot-smudged lens of life, but deep below He was there, an unshakeable platform I’d uncover over the next five years. 

I may have been shaken, but He had not moved from my foundation. 

Life will have deep valleys. No person has a way out of struggle, but God stands ready as our strong foundation in every season. Five years in, I can tell you tales of God showing up in the dark, but when you're in the pit it's not always so easy to see the light. 

Wholehearted joy cannot be built on a shaky foundation, and God gives us opportunity in the hard seasons to rebuild on our Cornerstone, Jesus. Our hearts become equipped to rise with more joy when we take time to intentionally re-strengthen our foundation before framing up a new chapter.

So, how can we strengthen our foundation in Jesus?

Open the Bible. Our foundation is strengthened when we welcome God to dwell in us. It’s not just a Sunday thing. His word is an every day, every moment, every breathe kind of necessity. He calls us to abide in Him so that he may also abide in us. As much as I appreciate instant gratification, abiding is a discipline that takes intention. Open your Bible, see His character through His word, make a space for God to dwell in you. 

Partner with the Holy Spirit. It’s important to pray that goes without saying, right? God drives this home through scripture. But for us to strengthen our our foundation to see long-term support, I'd challenge us to take prayer one step further. Pray the Holy Spirit would awaken in your heart. God is comprised of the Trinity, and sometimes I feel like the Spirit gets the short stick. Despite his vital role, we bench him too often. Do not neglect the Holy Spirit in you! He’s our advocate and counselor. Scripture tells us the Spirit takes from Jesus and testifies directly to us. Who doesn’t want Jesus speaking straight to them through partnership with the Holy Spirit?! Amen?

Be vulnerable in community. When hard times hit, we like to retreat. We like to grab a pint of ice cream, binge watch Netflix and close out the world. Briefly, this may feel like sweet relief. But real, eternal, relief is found at the Cross. When we’ve opened our Bible and partnered with the Holy Spirit, the Cross is going to compel us to put down the ice cream, turn off the Netflix and take our mess out to our people and get vulnerable. Let’s be clear right now: vulnerability is not weakness, it is courage. Just as Jesus enters into our mess, we need a community of like-minded Christians to enter into our mess with us. You don’t have to share with the world, but seek trusted counsel and fellowship. God will grow you in your faith and foundation through fellowship.

When life looks like an oversized pile of ashes, we do not have to be afraid. Jesus is our cornerstone (Acts 4:11-12), and through Him we have the opportunity for abundant joy. 

Before you rebuild, strengthen your foundation, and prepare to see God make beauty from ashes.