So Many Sisters: And the Opportunity to “Do Good” to One Another

emma anna 1

I once heard it said that “sisters are the perfect best friend”.

And as the oldest of 3 sisters, my heart cried: Yes! to this sentiment.

My sisters and I are loyal, long-suffering.  We are unconditional in our love.  And we are unbreakable in a bond held together by genetics and history.

Anyone with a sister understands the near- mysterious bond of two women joined by the parents – and in many ways, the same life.

It is moving and it is beautiful.

 

emma finger

In a similar manner, as Christian women, we are called into a Family of another kind.  One that dates back to the beginning of time and will persevere to its End.

Regardless of our families of origin, in God’s great Family we inherit countless new relationships.  And included in this collaboration, are dozens of sisters.

emma josh anna1

Sisters in the Lord- What Does that Mean?

As North Americans, we are highly autonomous people, aren’t we?  We raised the flag of freedom back in 1864, and we have been fighting to remain independent of authority ever since.

But is this fierce independence a help to our relationships as women in our churches?

Galatians 6:7-10 advises us that God desires our accountability to one another: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers”.  In other words, God wants the first-fruits of our kindness and compassion and time to be given to those within His Body, the Church.

Our sisters should come at the front of the line-up of our priorities, and not in the back.

Hard to wrap our minds around, right?

emma 1

 

Why might it matter to God, that believing women “do good” to one another, ahead of all other loyalties?

Well, the single greatest reason is this:  Church is the place where God’s power and glory are most on display.  It is in the healthy functioning of the Church, and the love of its people toward one another, that God Himself is made to look beautiful!

And we, as hard-working hands and feet, are necessary components to creating that beauty.

Doing Good – But I am Tired!

School, sports, doctor’s appointments, a house to clean.  We are busy people, not looking for any more ways in which to be tired.

Doesn’t doing good look like just more work?  Well, yes.  Which is why Paul encourages the Galatian church: “Do not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up”.

Doing good will be work, and will inevitably make us weary.

But the confidence of a harvest is our focus, not the labor of our sowing.

emma following

 

Doing Good – What Does it Look Like Practically?

The “going good” that Galatians references, will have varying faces.

Doing good might look like picking up an extra nursery shift, so an over-extended Mom can take a week off.  Or Baby-sitting children not your own, so a friend is freed up for an hour.  Doing good might look like encouragement when a marriage is facing difficulty.  Or it might appear as a note in the mail or a mid-day phone to call that friend who has been on your heart all week.

Doing good might mean serving when there are no other hands to serve, and the Church is tired.

And in our tithe of “doing good”, rather than being emptied, we are filled.

Rather than remaining independent, we instead become inter-dependent.

And the vulnerability of needing that frightens, gives way to the most precious love – because we see that we can need, we can rely.   And out of that willingness and love, emerges something breath-taking: The visible Church.

emmajosh1

So for those of us struggling with commitment to our friends at church, let’s continue on and not give up.

It is hard work to give and to love.  But, let’s do it.  Let’s give of ourselves and place one another in high priority.

Let’s make Him look beautiful by our love.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


Lizzie Valasquez, the “Ugliest Woman in the World”: A TRUE Beauty Hero

ugliest woman

While Kim Kardashian is hard at work building her empire- including her {nearly} one million-dollar make-up room –  there are women embracing a much different approach to beauty.

And Lizzie Valasquez is one of them.  Lizzie’s story is remarkable – both for its unimaginable pain, but equally for her courageous response to that pain.

Yesterday, we met Kim.  But today, let’s meet Lizzie.

*****

Imagine it is an ordinary afternoon.  You are 11 years old and just home from school.  Finishing up a snack, you sit down at the computer and begin visiting your regular sites.  And you click over to YouTube.  YouTube is a favorite, and there is always something entertaining to be found.

And then you see it.   A video with your name on it.  How strange.  You cannot recall posting anything.

Curious, you click on the video.  And there, an 8-second clip without sound.  Just a still-shot of your face.

A single image.  And underneath your photo, the caption:

“Ugliest Woman in the World”.

ugliest woman2

You reel in shock.  In horror.  Your mind cannot process what you are seeing.

Is this a hoax?

You scroll down a little bit more, and glance to the right of the video clip.  And there you see it:

4 million views.

4 million people have found a YouTube site in your name, entitled world’s ugliest woman.

You scroll the comments for clarity.  You are confused.  Surely this is a terrible, cruel joke.

But it is not.  In those comments are remarks so vicious, you are knocked breathless.  There are suggestions as to how you can kill yourself.  Jokes about your abnormalities.  And offers to assist you in your suicide.  Because, you know, you are so ugly.

Not one comment has been made in your defense.

Photo courtesy of: {www.wonderfullymade.org}

Photo courtesy of: {www.wonderfullymade.org}

 What does an 11 year-old girl do with a cruelty imposed on her like this?

Well, at first you cry.  You cry for yourself, for your broken heart.  And you cry for your Mom, because when she finds you, her mother’s heart will split in impossible pain.  You weep for a cruelty you cannot comprehend.

But then, if you are Lizzie, you grow contemplative.  And you turn over in your mind what might be gained in an innocence that has been lost.

If you are Lizzie, you wipe your tears and then, you get to work.

Identifying an inner determination, you decide to channel it and raise a flag in honor of true beauty.

Ugliest Woman3

If you are Lizzie, you stand up in the face of cultural beauty-mandates, and you dare to re-define them.

You stand up for yourself, because in so doing you stand for others who have yet to find their voices.  And step by small step, you begin to change things.

You walk onto a stage in front of high-school students drowning in insecurity, and you show them that beauty is found in what God has made.  Nothing is without value that He has made, you say.

And people begin to see what God sees.  Their minds grow bigger.  Their hearts grow softer.

And you, the “ugliest woman in the world”, become a living illustration that He makes everything beautiful in its time.

In your determined, heroic beauty you show that sometimes it just takes people a little while to see it.

 

 

 

 


5 Excellent Summer Bible Studies For You and a Friend

let the word

Summer is fast approaching, and with it a change in scheduling.  Kids will be out of school, families will be traveling.  And in all of the fun disruption, devotional time will require its own flexibility.

The long and free weeks of Summer are a great opportunity to re-group and gain new direction. 

Why not consider a new personal Bible study or organize a book study for a group of friends?

Here are 5 books for personal and group study, that are appropriate in length and level of study for a Summer focus.

 

 1.  Disciplines of a Godly Woman

Don’t we assume a negative connotation of the word discipline?  Oh no, we think.  Legalism.

disciplines

Yet, Disciplines of a Godly Woman could not be further from rules-based approach.  Barbara Hughes has produced an excellent resource in her book.   Disciplines approaches various angles of Christian growth – church, Bible study,  marriage, contentment.  And she provides encouragement and guidance as to how to become more disciplined and committed within each of these realms.

I would easily recommend Disciplines of a Godly Woman for both personal and group study.

2.  Calm My Anxious Heart

 Though the title is a little misleading, Linda Dillow’s excellent book is more a study on contentment, than anxiety.   Having spent many years  raising a family as overseas missionaries, Dillow has a wealth of experience in learning contentment.

calm heart

 Within Calm My Anxious Heart, she asks questions such as:

Why are women prone to discontent?

What does God say about contentment?

How can we develop a renewed sense of contentment in our lives?

Linda Dillow has wrestled and attained a wisdom and beauty that comes from learning that Christ is enough.

 Calm My Anxious Heart is another book I would recommend as an excellent personal and group study.

 

 3.  The Friendships of Women

Dee Brestin’s book The Friendships of Women, is a book which is both useful and broad in scope.  After all, which woman does not relate to issues of friendship – the desires, the pain, the tensions, the inevitable conflicts?

 

friendships of women

Woven throughout Brestin’s book are personal accounts, helping to make the book identifiable.  And within each chapter are thoughtful questions, which allow for personal evaluation and reflection.

And it is especially helpful within a context of varying church backgrounds.  Because the book is topical in nature, it can be easily appreciated by anyone.  But as a leader, there is wide opportunity to insert extra biblical content, if desired.

The Friendships of Women is a book I would highly recommend for group study.

 

4.  Desperate

Who does not fell desperate sometimes?  Like life is full to the brim with tensions and burdens?  Desperate is a book which meets women in the feelings that can propel us into shame, and gives credence to why we feel overwhelmed.  Why we feel burned out.  Why we struggle at times to love our families.

desperate

Far from being a to-do-list book, Desperate is a walk through Sally Clarkson’s own experiences as a young Mom.  And with the amazing grace that is characteristic of Sally, Desperate guides and motivates.  Sally is a question-asker.  And she expects her reader to consider her questions and to do something with the resulting answers.

Desperate is a wonderful personal study.  However, I think it would also be valuable in a group setting, in which friends want to support and keep one another accountable.

 

 5.  Treasuring God in Our Traditions

Why are family traditions important? 

Why does it matter that we cultivate and honor traditions within our homes? These are the questions Noel Piper asks in her inspiring book, Treasuring God in Our Traditions.  If you are seeking to establish traditions within your own home, and wonder how to make a rich memory-life possible, this is a helpful read.

traditions

Because Treasuring God is a book that inspires creative thought and interaction, I think it would be a fun book for group study.  There is much scope for comparing notes and sharing ideas.  And room for propelling one another along in establishing rich home-lives.

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Finally, if you are a note-taker or journaler.  If you feel like notepads might be helpful for your personal or group study, Dayspring sells 3-pack mini-notebooks for $2.47.  I have bought several of these- they are inexpensive and fun to look at.  These notebooks would be ideal hand-outs at the beginning of a study, so that participants have a place to jot down thoughts as you go.

dayspring journals

Enjoy growing in your walk with God.

And this Summer, consider asking others to join you!


When a Friend Moves Away: {It is beautiful}

friend move

It is the beauty of a history.  The shared memories that date back year after year, child after child.   It is the organic flow of relationships based on little ones running back and forth across lawns and driveways, calling to one another: Can we play?  It is the way which only children have of drawing the adults around them into relationships as well.  And then ensuring that we stay connected, because they are so uninhibited in their love for one another, that we cannot help but be drawn along.

Until one day, without really knowing how or when it happened, we emerge with something concrete: We are friends!

Undeniably.  Unalterably.  Friends.

Where there were once separate houses and driveways all their own, where there once existed individual lives and families, there is now a community. It has taken time, and it has happened so gradually as to sneak up on us.

But it is there now, and it is beautiful.

 

He has Been With Us

We become accustomed to the sameness- to the ease of the knocks on doors- and we do not stop for a moment to think that it will ever be anything different.  The days are ones of friends and grass and games.  And it feels as though life will continue on in a same direction, indefinitely.

friend

We talk middle school and graduations, never realizing that above us goes One whose Hand is redirecting our lives.

It is this Hand that now stretches out along the horizon, and whose lead we are wanting to follow.  But it is hard.  The gentle leading of a God who promises to do so, still leaves a path marked with pain.

There are days of confusion, and nights without rest.  And there are tears, as God begins to pry apart our hearts.  And we try valiantly to become accustomed to the ache inside.

To live well with the ache.

 

beautiful

 

He Will Be With Us

God soothes our hearts with His own words: He has made everything beautiful in its time.

Everything.   The birthdays shared.  The long afternoons sprinkled with laughter.  The anecdotes about kids, spoken and understood.  The years of helping and supporting.  The daily burdens made lighter, because we shared them.  The transition as our foundations change.  All of it is His.

There is the peace in the reminder that He goes with us into the unknown, because none of it is unknown to Him.  He is a God of the past, present and future who has ordained from all time, this time in our lives.  So when the shadows creep in, we know that He sees form.  When the darkness surrounds, we know that all is light to Him.

And we remind ourselves that we will look back and see in vivid shades what He has made.  And by His own decree, it will be something beautiful.  We hold fast to His promises, because they have always held true.  And even when His plans do not look like sunshine and rainbows, we know that He is working everything for our good.

And with that reminder, our hearts can be at peace.

He has us, and that is enough.

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For more on friendship, I wrote about the 5 top qualities I appreciate in my best friends, here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


5 Qualities I Appreciate in a “Best Friend”

friends always

“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

So Jim Rohn would say.

If you could stand back and take a quick analysis of your life, you are very much like the people whose voices most resonate in your ears, and whose thoughts most regularly traverse your mind.

So, who are the people you are allowing most to impact your world? 

Who are you being shaped by?

My best friendships are characterized by the following 5 qualities:

Integrity

{I Will Speak Truth to You}

In the Gospel accounts alone, there are over 70 instances of Jesus stating: I tell you the truth.

Truthfulness is intrinsic to Christ’s nature.   In fact Hebrews 6 states that truth is such an integral part of Christ’s character that it is impossible for God to lie.  We should find ourselves wanting to model this type of integrity.  And we should draw comfort from those who assess with honesty, while buffered by a filter of grace.  Friends willing to speak the truth will walk with you all the way.  They will not abandon you on the side of the road of conflict.  They know that honesty promotes clarity.  And clarity draws a friendship deeper and closer.

Grace

{I Will Give the Benefit of the Doubt to You}

A forum of writers I am part of, was recently discussing what it looks like to “give grace” to one another.  A simple definition of grace is unmerited favor.  When considered through the lens of the Gospel, we have been given more grace than we deserve, and more mercy than we can measure.

Christ has proclaimed us debt-free at the Cross.

Friends who dispense grace in the easy rhythm of give-and-take and do not collect relational debt, are the women I joyfully link arms with.  Grace makes a friendship safe.

friend loves

 

Belief

{I Will Be Your Cheer-Leader}

One of my best friends has the uncanny ability to call on the worst of days and say: I am proud of you.  Scripture applauds the practice of joyful belief in one another.  Hebrews urges us to spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Similarly, Susan Hunt in her book Spiritual Mothering,  has wisely noted that encouraging speech is often the means by which we are propelled into good deeds.

Simply put, encouragement motivates.  It makes us step up in confidence and attempt things we would not otherwise, because somebody believed we could.

Loyalty

{I Will Stick By You}

Conflict is inevitable.  Friendship is a choice to either stick in it, or to walk away when the going gets tough.  Best friends become “best” because they respond to conflict with understanding and forbearance.  They pull back from dispensing justice for an offense, and instead err on the side of mercy.  Best friendships are forged through the motion of always coming back.  They make it a practice to let love cover over a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8). 

Laughter

{I Will Laugh At, and With You}

Ecclesiastes 3:4 makes it clear that just as there is time to weep, there is also time to laugh.  Adult life is a serious business.  Best friends realize and respect the soberness of a disciplined life, but also have an ability to pull out of that place into an atmosphere of fun.  Laughter is good medicine, and best friends know when the time is ripe to feed a sense of humor.  Solid friendships are borne when there is an agreement on style of humor, and an ability to laugh at one another’s mishaps.

The Mayo Clinic actually lists lowered tension, boosted immunity and even relief from pain, as some of the benefits of breaking down and laughing.

laughter friends

Our friends are often-times the ones who buffer and insulate us from life’s difficulties.  So, we need to choose them well.  And  if we speak honestly and laugh openly together, we will likely even find ourselves with an overall higher life satisfaction.  

Win-win!

Who are the greatest influencers in your life?

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For more on friendship, I wrote about God’s faithfulness when friends move away, here.

 

 


Christian Character- Patience: I’m {Not} Done!

 

 

I’m Done, I told my husband, while sitting on our unmade bed, the sounds of Saturday noise echoing through the house.   The cause of emotion, a tense conversation with someone I love.  It was a spent moment, the kind that comes from days of climbing closer toward the tension, knowing there will be the inevitable snap.  And when the snap finally occurs, it is strong and it is fierce.

Fierce is how I felt as I laced up my tennis shoes, in preparation for a weekend run.  Angry.  Put out.

My feet hit the pavement, my face feeling the warmth of the sun, and I  began to review my words.  And as I climbed the first big hill, I began to pray.  To turn over in my mind the reasoning behind my anger.  And as I did so, the slow spread of conviction began.

What if God responded to me as I responded to others?

What if He had found the depth of our sin so offensive, that He had sat angry and sullen at the foot of the Cross?

What if He had withheld His perfect Son Jesus, because our waywardness was too great?

What if He had faltered before death, because it was an agony too great to bear for people undeserving?

What if He left us alone to wrestle through the days, because it was difficult to meet us in the mud?

What if our ugly days were the ones on which he turned His back, because He simply ran out of grace?

What if His heart mirrored mine?

But God.

In the greatest of mercies, God the Father never once uttered a declaration of limitation in the face of our sin.  Instead, the perfect sacrifice of His Son was met with the words It is Finished.  Bondage to sin, finished.  Enslavement to self, finished.  The penalty for sin was lifted at the Cross, and because of that we know mercy.  We have felt it, and we can give it.

I returned from my run that morning, convicted of the tendency to offer scant grace.  Shallow grace.  The kind of grace that really is not, because it has finely-constructed boundaries.  And when those boundaries are crossed, declarations of I’m Done!  echo through the halls of my home.

The beauty of being in Christ is that His work is never finished.  As Francis Schaeffer wrote, when we exist in Christ “there are endless new starts”.  And if He has not given up on me, though the stain of sin marks the every-day, neither will I give up on others.

Because in Him, they are granted endless new starts, too.