Monday, December 28, 2009

Home as Spa

By Mary Beth Lagerborg

I don’t suppose you think of your home as a spa. But then your spa-thoughts probably run toward the fluffy bathrobe, ice water with a floating lemon slice, and that Enya-esk music. But on this week after Christmas, when the chaos of a holiday season can leave us longing for some peace, your home as a spa could be the perfect thought.

Your home is a spa – it needs to be – if you think about it. When I think of my home as a spa I’m thinking about eating a couple of chocolate chip cookies (plus any broken ones in the jar) when I get home, pouring a glass of iced tea topped off with cranberry juice, and slipping on my jogging pants, a sweatshirt and slippers. Then I’m comfy and I can best relax. I shed stress with my heels and binding clothes.

We all need home to be a place where we can let down, rest, be accepted, go without make-up, and wear the really old sweats. Because home is where we refuel, so that we can make a difference outside its walls day after day.

It doesn’t really matter how large or small our home is, or how nice our stuff is. Because home as spa looks different for each of us, and is a matter of making the most of our resources, whatever these may be.

Granted, the concept is complicated because generally other people live in our homes too. And they each want home to be their spa. And they have different ideas of what home as spa looks like. But taking this all into consideration, how to we maximize our home as spa?
  • Recognize the home as spa needs of each family member, and give room for them. Give thought to how each family member likes to rest and to play at home, and mentally “give them permission” as much as possible.
  • Think about how you use the spaces in your home, and purposely create spaces for play – like with a game table or craft supplies – and places to rest, like with comfy throws. Lighting can make a big difference in creating a playful or a restful space.
  • Create your own “away space,” even if it’s a favorite chair in the corner of your bedroom.
  • Identify the times and places at home where you feel most energized, and capitalize on those. For me, that would be taking a shower or a long, hot bubble bath. Inevitably that hot water releases my best ideas and solutions to vexing problems. So I try not to have to shower too quickly in the morning.
  • Create some oases of beauty in your home, because beauty is restorative. When our three sons were young, we had what I call two pretty rooms: the living room and the master bedroom. These were the only two rooms with “good” furniture, and I tried to keep the bed made and these two rooms picked up. No matter how chaotic the rest of the house sounded and felt, I knew I could step into either of these and experience some order and peace. I could take a deep breath.
We have great adventures ahead outside the walls of our home. So I figure it’s a good investment of my time and my thought, to make the best of my home as spa.

Mary Beth Lagerborg is co-author of Once-A-Month Cooking Family Favorites, the ultimate do-ahead dinner technique, and eight other books including Dwelling: Living Fully from the Space You Call Home. She is former Publishing Manager at MOPS International (Mothers of Preschoolers), and writes and speaks on topics related to creating the well-lived home. Find her online at and

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mary and Minute Rice

By Jonalyn Grace Fincher

I've been identifying with Mary lately, pregnant with a firstborn son, experiencing the inconvenience of travel in my 7th month.

In modern terms Mary's journey to Bethlehem would be tantamount to my husband and I flying stand-by to Alaska for tax registration a week before my due date. The kicker-- there's no room in any inn, so I’d have to give birth in the janitor closet of a Motel Six.

If that was what God had in store I'd wonder, "Couldn't you, the Maker of all things, orchestrate the arrival of your Son a little more majestically?"

Mary got one dream from the angel Gabriel explaining this Holy-Spirit-produced baby in her body. Joseph got at least three dreams, explaining where to move, when to leave, how to find safety and what God was up to. I think I would have felt a little gypped, but Mary didn't.

How did she do it?

How did Mary have the strength to bear the Son of God and the serenity to respond to Gabriel's shocker of a newsflash with, "I am the Lord's servant, may it be to me according to your word"? (Luke 1:38).

Mary was not just a teenage woman pregnant outside of marriage. She was a Jewish woman who knew the God of Israel.

Mary’s serenity came from a relationship few of us tap today.

Around Christmas time, I notice women running around with lists of things to do. Minute Rice put together an advertisement in 2008 that summed up the way we often feel around the holidays. Surrounding a package of Minute Rice with a Santa Hat are hundreds of things we try to get done.

get decorations out of the attic
write annual holiday letter and try to sounds modest while bragging about the kids
drop off food at church
hang candy canes
try not to eat candy canes
clean house
keep tinsel away from cat
shop online during lunch hour
drive around and look at lights
plan menu for Christmas Eve
have patience when visiting in-laws
read "Night Before Christmas" out loud
attend candlelight service with family
remember reason for the season
pray for peace on earth.

That last item on the list makes me stop and wonder, "How can you pray for peace when peace is an afterthought?”

Can I recommend another to-do list, one that I imagine Mary relied on as she awaited the birth of Immanuel?

Micah 6:8
"He has shown all you people what is good. What does the LORD require of you?
To act justly
to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God."

What would it look like if we acted with justice, loved mercy and walked humbly with our God this Christmas? Would there be more peace on earth?

Let me unpack the first item.

Even though I'm a fan of the work for justice and social equality for others, one way I see women refusing to act justly is in the manner in which we make time for ourselves. Women are perhaps the worst at taking a day off, of honoring the Jewish law of the Sabbath. We do not treat ourselves with justice.

When Jesus says, "Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:33), we don’t know what he means. How can we love ourselves? There’s just no time, have you seen how much we have to get done today?!

We do not let God love us one day of the week so we can love others the other six.

I don't think Mary had this problem. If Mary had a Minute Rice list, she scrapped it so she could make time to process the reality that the Son of God was going to enter her life.

As soon as Mary found out she was pregnant, she took a retreat. Not for a weekend or even a week, but for three months. She spent this time with her cousin Elizabeth. I'm sure they cried and talked and grieved and laughed together. I imagine Mary did a lot of processing.

One thing is certain, after her time away, resting and thinking, Mary sings a song that has gone down in history as Mary's Magnificat--a testimony to Mary's experience with the God of Israel (read it in Luke 1:46-55). It seems likely to me that Mary's time of rest provided the margin for something like the Magnificant to bubble out of her.

If we want the serenity Mary had, we must begin to take time to do justice to ourselves by accepting God's gift of rest.

Open the present marked out for you to relax. Like Mary, let the God of Israel bring you peace on this earth. Invite him in with this simple prayer at the beginning of your day off, “Jesus, I receive your peace.”

He does a better job than Minute Rice!

Jonalyn Grace Fincher is a female apologist and co-founder of Soulation (, a non-profit dedicated to helping others become more appropriately human. From their home in the Rocky Mountains, she and her husband, Dale, work as a national speaking/writing team. Jonalyn’s first book, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home (Zondervan, 2007) uses her M.A. in Philosophy (Talbot School of Theology) as well as her degrees in English and History (University of Virginia) to delve into the woman’s soul. She is joining forces with her husband for their second book Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk (Zondervan, 2010) on how to share your faith in a post-Christian culture. For Jonalyn’s ongoing musings visit her blog at After long days behind her laptop Jonalyn loves snowshoeing with her husband or curling up with her three corgis and watching re-runs of The Office.

Monday, December 14, 2009

HERstory: Jennifer Grant

By Jennifer Grant

In her book Dangerous Surrender: What Happens When You Say Yes to God, Kay Warren tells the story of how she became an advocate for people affected by poverty and HIV/AIDS. As you probably know, Warren is the wife of Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in California. And, for years, Kay Warren felt that her gifts were overlooked while her husband was ever in the spotlight. But, ultimately, she found her calling.

Warren writes,

“…I’ve found that discovering God’s will often resembles looking at an undeveloped Polaroid photograph. When the camera spits out the picture, the images are gray and shapeless, but the longer you look at the picture, the clearer it becomes.”

After I read those sentences, I laid Warren’s book down in my lap and let the words sink in. A fuzzy Polaroid picture – Warren so precisely put words to the moment I’m in.

I’m 42 and I’m in transition. After 13 ½ years of full-time motherhood, my four children spend their days in school, and my life has freed up a bit. New opportunities are opening up to me as a writer and recently I’ve had the privilege to cover stories I care deeply about. From a young age, I witnessed what life is like for people in some of the world’s most resource-poor settings and now my imagination is stretching its legs a bit, restless to find what is next for me, and how I can make a difference in this world.

A few shapes and colors started to emerge from my blurry Polaroid picture on a recent trip to New York City. The trip was a homecoming of sorts. Although I’ve lived most of my life in Wheaton, IL, my husband and I lived in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn for several years before moving “back home” to start our family. I still miss my Brooklyn neighborhood: the Farmer’s Market at Grand Army Plaza, Lime Rickeys at Tom’s Diner, letting my dog off the leash in Prospect Park, street fairs, the West Indian Carnival, and the Mermaid Parade in Coney Island. It didn’t wear off for me, the novelty of it all.

And there was something else about my recent trip that felt like a homecoming: I spent my days there immersed in conversations about HIV, about cultural practices in Africa, and about how best to empower women. My job, pre-motherhood, was with The Population Council, a non-profit health organization with headquarters in Manhattan. My years there educated me about HIV, female genital mutilation, and gender-based violence. Like Warren, I sometimes held my fingers over my eyes as I looked at photographs or read reports at my desk. I was, as she aptly puts it, “ruined for life.”

Warren writes that on her first two trips to Africa, she encountered a reality she could barely reconcile with her life in Orange County. Warren encourages her readers to be “seriously disturbed and gloriously ruined” as we learn how “the least among us” live in so much of the world – whether the person is dying of AIDS in rural Africa, lies forgotten in a nursing home in Wheaton, IL, or is a child whose promise goes unseen in a ravaged urban neighborhood.

So last week, I attended the 5th Annual World AIDS Day prayer breakfast, hosted by World Vision. I met with advocates for those affected by AIDS in the organization’s New York offices. I was introduced to the work of Golf Fore Africa and World Bicycle Relief. I was inspired by World Vision’s multi-faceted humanitarian programs.

Before working at The Population Council, I’d already been spoiled for life, if not ruined. My parents traveled extensively when I was young. My mother was a college professor and writer; my dad, among other things, an independent filmmaker whose work included making promotional films for organizations such as Compassion International. We traveled to Africa, to Latin America, to Eastern Europe, to southeast Asia.

As a young girl, I remember the sensation of sitting on a plane, secretly wondering where it was we were off to this time. These trips afforded me the chance to see firsthand the contrast between people in some of the world’s most resource-poor settings and my family with our big split level house, our cupboards stocked with food, and our closets full of clothes and toys. We weren’t wealthy by Wheaton standards, but I knew we were rich.

That travel also injected me with a lifelong case of wanderlust. Volcanoes and lush forests in Quito, Ecuador. Spirit houses and ornate shrines in Bangkok. Mist coming off of Victoria Falls. Is the afternoon I spent playing with kids in a dusty yard outside of their orphanage in South America somehow related to the adoption of my daughter, born 30 years later in Guatemala? I don’t know.

Now, with older children, I give more time to my writing. I have the chance to hear women’s health advocates make innovative plans to improve the lives of families around the globe, and I wonder…what is the work I should do? The picture is blurry and I’m waiting for it to come clear. Waiting is hard - as a culture, we quickly dispensed of those old Polaroid cameras when One Hour photo booths began popping up in parking lots and, later, when the little screens on the back of our digital cameras gave us immediate gratification after we clicked the shutter.

But, this Advent, that is just what I’m doing. Waiting. Waiting for the image to develop. Walking forward with faith, giving that blurry image a shake, tentatively entering what feels like a new part of my life. God knows what awaits me there.

Jennifer Grant is a journalist and mother of four who writes for the Chicago Tribune Find her online at

Other website's Jennifer recommends: (, World Bicycle Relief, (, World Vision (, Kay Warren (, The Population Council (

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Human Advantage

By Sally Morgenthaller

What are your advantages?

I know. It’s hard to think about our good sides. Our best moments. Let’s face it. It’s just not “Christian” to pat ourselves on the back. But let’s not just target religion. In this perfection-crazed, ”you’re never enough” culture, we’re literally propagandized into low self- esteem. Forced to zoom in on our deficits. It’s like using the 10x macro function on facial pores.

It’s ridiculous. But it’s what we do. You don’t think so? Remember that talk show you almost never watch? “Apply these five interpersonal skills and you’ll be making six figures in three months.” That magazine cover at the check-out stand, the one you almost never read? “You’ll find true love and eternal bliss if you lose fifteen pounds.” And that online pop-up you almost never look at? “Learn how to Twitter like Ashton Kutcher and you, too, can build an empire in eight short weeks.”

In truth, self-improvement is generally a good thing. But, just for the next sixty seconds, imagine that you are enough. No. More than enough. Imagine that you have qualities – whether intellectual, emotional, physical, or spiritual - that other people would give their back molars to have. Qualities you’ve developed over (gulp) decades of conscious (well, mostly) life in this world.

Next, engage your memory. Remember something you did that you’re still over-the-moon thrilled about. The project you and your team-mate helped save from the depths of disaster. The time you facilitated a routine committee meeting and instead of the usual monotone “get through the list” experience, it was two hours of amazing, collective innovation. Think of the day you spent an entire afternoon strategizing next-steps with your depressed, unemployed friend (yes the same friend who is now a corporate executive. Now, where did you put that strategy list?? The red-letter day your middle-schooler came home and, without hesitation (because he trusts you), spilled the beans about what his best friend was involved in at the park down the street. Two hours before the police showed up at his best friend’s house.

I realize that this little, “I’m more than enough” exercise might have been a stretch for some of you. But you did it, and I hope you made at least a mental list of your (ok, admit it) stunning qualities and accomplishments. If you can take a couple of minutes right now, write that list down and tape it to your bathroom mirror. (If you’re hesitant, just look at it this way. Better to zoom in on your list than your facial flaws.)

Now that you have your list, it’s time to get real about a third-source of self-doubt and self-denigration. As Christian women, we not only deal with the false religious message, “It’s not Christ-like to love yourself.” We not only struggle with the pop-cultural propaganda blasted out to every single human being regardless of age, ethnicity, or gender: “You’re not enough as you are.” We deal with a third and exponentially more defeating message: “As a woman, you’re limited. You’re only a shadow of the default human prototype: male.” This view of women may be on the wane. But if we’re honest, many of us still believe this old message, somewhere deep down in our core. And if it’s true that actions follow belief, we advance that view of ourselves wherever we are: in our jobs, in ministry, in our networks and families.

There’s an old adage, “We’re our own worst enemies.” If that’s true of you, I’d like to propose one more statement for the list on your mirror. It’s a Jesus-quote from Luke 1:37: “Nothing is impossible with God.“ Did you get that? Nothing! Which means, there are no limitations on what you can accomplish. There is no such thing as “lesser than.” With God, there is no boundary to what you can learn, the talents you can develop, what you can imagine, what you can offer the kingdom.

If we are victims, ultimately, we are victims to our own disbelief. We don’t believe who God has made us to be. And we certainly don’t believe Jesus’ words in Luke.

Perhaps today is the day you can start looking at your biggest advantage: you are a child of God, created in God’s image. God expects great things of you, because that’s the way God wired you. Imago Dei…which is really the human advantage: the ability (and calling) to do the impossible, regardless of what erroneous mp3s play in our heads: false religious humility, pop-cultural self-hatred, or inherited views of gender limitation.

Right now, you have the opportunity to live your life faithfully, and by Luke 1:37 standards, outrageously. To make the most of having been fashioned in the image of God.

The human advantage. Sure beats macro lenses, navel gazing, or whining.

Monday, November 30, 2009


By Tracey Bianchi

I scored a new handbag earlier this year. Or purse I guess you would call it. Somehow typing "I have a new purse" sounded more like something my late grandmother would say, great as she was. "I have a new handbag" sounds very Soho to me. So, I have a new handbag. It's made from cotton and jute, and it has been fun to tote it around these past few months. But this handbag, great as it is for carrying lip gloss, sparked a few thoughts in me that may intersect all of our holiday stories this time of year.

As we all know, and much to my chagrin, this time of year is known for sales and shopping as much as it is known for thoughtful reflection on Jesus. In this season of consumption, I thought I might offer a few thoughts that I gleaned from the bottom of my purse.

It is sort of ironic to be blogging about a handbag since part of my personal story is to become less of a consumer. But I like handbags. I normally wear the same black faded yoga pants with a hoodie and running shoes and I decided long ago that a girl has to have style somewhere. And since my clothing will not reveal that I have even an ounce of chic residing in my little heart, handbags are it for me.

This past March I was on vacation with my sister and we sauntered into a store in downtown Jackson, Wyoming. Staring at me from the shelf was my little purse. At first I scoffed at it. I was not about to fall prey to a cute little purple bag, trimmed in green. Not me. I am curbing my consumption. But I still had to look. I slid it over my shoulder. It matched the horrible lime green fleece I have been wearing for the better part of 8 years. Nothing matches that jacket.
I grabbed that little tote and raced for the counter. Ring me up Sir!

Now of course I did not need a new handbag but I was on vacation. I was wearing a lime green coat. What else could I do? Say no I suppose. This was one of those moments when the question “what would Jesus buy” popped into my head.

The answer to this query is almost always “nothing.”

When I stare at all the options for gift giving this time of year, I am reminded anew of the fact that I don’t really need anything, and most people on my gift list do not need much either. Our stories intersect because we are friends or co-workers, family members or neighbors. Our lives mesh together in a web of memories and photographs, e-mails or funny facebook stories.

We have shared meals, tears, and tales of dieting gone wrong. So why do I feel the need to wrap all that history up in a package every December? Of course it is to give to those I love. But sometimes giving of ourselves is simply enough. Is it really possible to simply be happy with what we already have? The answer is of course, a resounding yes.

So as I look at my little bag I find myself sitting with two emotions. One comes with a smug little smile that says "hey, I am a woman with a stellar handbag, and all my friends need one for Christmas." The other comes with a bit more angst. It says "ugh, I just spent money and resources on one more thing I do not need."

If we were all simply a little bit happier with who we were, we would not need so many things to prove to the world that we are somebody indeed. Perhaps Christmas might be more about celebrating the person rather than the purchases. And then, with a heart like Jesus, we might sit back next to the fireplace with a cup of tea and let out a long sigh. "You have got to be kidding," we would say, "you went shopping?" "Now why would you bother to do that, we love you just the way you are."

Tracey Bianchi serves as the Coordinator of Women’s Ministries at Christ Church of Oak Brook, a congregation of 2000+ located in the suburbs of Chicago. Prior to serving women she spent over 10 years with High School students and young adults. In addition to her ministry at Christ Church she is an author and speaker for several nationally known organizations. Her first book titled Green Mama: The Guilt Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan) is due out in March of 2010. Tracey earned her BA from the University of Iowa and her MDIV from Denver Seminary.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Listening To My Life

By Sharon Swing

Experience turns belief into faith.

There is a difference between believing something to be true and knowing it to be true. I can believe the Bible, because it is the Word of God. I know certain passages are true, because my life experiences have afforded me the opportunity to experience them to the depths of my being. My life story offers me solid experience on which to base my faith in God for the present and for the future. ‘Listening’ to my life is a key source for my spiritual growth as I continue to learn who God is, and who I have been made to become.

But what if my life story goes unexamined? Am I missing out on opportunities to integrate God’s words, his truth, and his promises into life today and all my tomorrows? Is it possible to have a head-full of knowledge about God and still be blinded to his work in my life?

Unfortunately, yes. I confess I can lose the handle on my own story. When I do, I feel disconnected from God, from myself and from others. I get self-absorbed, instead of God-absorbed. I don’t receive and give love as freely. I go through days without feeling like I am experiencing ‘LIFE to the full’ that Jesus talks about. (John 10:10)

I don’t want to merely believe that Jesus came to give me ‘LIFE to the full,’ I want to experience it and know the truth of that scripture. When I follow the plot (God loving me into his likeness) and many supporting subplots of my life, I live LIFE in its fullness.

My past informs my present, and reminds me that trusting God and his ways brings me Life.

I have faith in the reality that the Holy Spirit intercedes with groaning deeper than words when my tears ran dry with sorrow from a broken relationship.

I have faith-filled confidence that God turns ‘mourning into dancing’ because God blessed my husband and me with a child against all odds. (Psalm 30:11)

My life would be impoverished if I did not notice the reality of God walking through the valley of the shadow of death with me as I heard him say, ‘healing will come’ as I awaited news on the status of my husband’s cancer. (Psalm 24)

Faith prompts me to anxiously await the sensation of the Holy Spirit’s presence creating holy ground when gathered in soul-bearing community. Jesus’ promise of “where two or three are gathered, I will be there,” is a fact known to me, because I have taken account of these experiences in my life. (Matthew 18:20)

I have suffered the embarrassing consequences of not heeding the wisdom contained in Proverbs. Like this one, for example: “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue.” (Proverbs 17:28)

As I read the account of the Israelites wandering in the dessert for 40 years, I can see myself following their cycles of turning away from God, and God’s faithfulness in helping them choose to turn back toward him. (Exodus)

When I look back on my story and see what has given me life and what has drained life from me, I gain clues to understand specifically how I was uniquely and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139) I was made for a purpose, (Jeremiah 29:11) and God intends to live through me, as he has made me to be. I can worship authentically when I sing songs like, “Great is Thy Faithfulness,” as I take account of just a few of the many blessings that have come from his hand.

My journey toward God is wrapped up in my story, and it is inseparable from it. In The Gift of Being Yourself, David Benner writes, “Christian Spirituality involves a transformation of the self that occurs only when God and self are both deeply known. Both, therefore, have an important place in Christian spirituality.”

God is inviting me to examine my story for evidence of his presence and activity every day. If I pay attention, I may just notice I am living a life that is full to overflowing – even in the valleys. This is what I know; I am most fully alive when I am recognizing and responding to God in the story of my life.

This is my prayer:

Father God,
Please continue to cause my belief be turned to faith as I experience the reality of your activity in my life. Grant me the desire and ability to notice how you are actively proving your Word to be true in the story of my life. Grow my faith and trust in you as my story unfolds. Let it be so.

Sharon Swing is a co-author of LISTEN TO MY LIFE: MAPS FOR RECOGNIZING AND RESPONDING TO GOD IN MY STORY, along with Sibyl Towner. Their book is available at This visual workbook is often used in small groups, between spiritual friends, with mentors, and as retreat and workshop curriculum. Their book is available at

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Obedience in the MESS

By Karen Booker Schelhaas

I have never been one to embrace a mess, diving head first in to it, ready for action. No, no. I have always preferred a laced-up, super-together, all-facing-the-same-direction kind of life. A life in which I can predict what tomorrow will look like, and can even say with some confidence how I’ll feel at day’s end. You know, days that sync like clockwork with a carefully organized calendar in my Blackberry, and a hip-looking outfit and rocking hair. THAT kind of life. I should’ve thought this through a bit more before I embraced marriage and five children. Smile. But still.

I got my first mess at the age of 23. It’s nothing short of divine protection that got me to that point in my life with virtually no messes to speak of, but in all fairness, I had no coping skills. Or, for that matter, any real need for get-up-and-have-your-life-changed obedience. And strangely enough, it never seemed to have a negative impact on my happiness.

As the story goes, I met a nice guy, we fell in love, he hit his head after falling from a ladder, and wham, nice guy got really mean. I stayed in it for far too long, but literally heard the Lord tell me one day to get up from where I was sitting, pack my things, and head home. I stood up and found the bus stop, and within four days was at home with my parents in a different state – totally shell-shocked, with shattered dreams crackling underneath my tired, post-college feet.

But I learned something in that mess. Aside from the small tasks of needing to completely restructure my future and recreate my dreams (or so I thought), I learned that God is most visible in the heap. Stripped of the script I’d carefully written, He had my full attention, maybe for the first time.

Obedience never FELT right, though, if I’m honest, at least not in the beginning. The war within me fought it with a vengeance, and the desire for happiness taunted me. And of course, my deeply rooted feelings about the relationship (and the future I thought it held for me) walloped me from all sides, proving their shallow planting in my life. But the peace God provided was trustworthy and sure, unlike anything I’d ever experienced with him, and he helped me put one foot in front of the other to walk away. I knew I heard his voice, and I knew obedience was the only right response, even though my feelings shouted otherwise. His prompting resonated clear down in to my bones, and I absolutely could not shake it.

There have been other messes, to be sure. Bigger, scarier messes. The death of my beloved baby… flawed genetic maps… no paycheck for 17 months… four unexpected surgeries I almost didn’t survive… a 10-week relationship with an ileostomy bag… and an adoption story that took 8 years to evolve, one that is currently throwing curve balls I didn’t expect. Obedience is like a salve, though… it soothes the sores I can’t address through a deep satisfaction that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, cradled in my Maker’s arms, waiting for his direction, poised to act.

I noticed something unique in the most recent “mess” in my life – after throwing my usual fit (let’s hope these abate with age), I calmed down enough to find that one morning, not long after the difficulty started, I actually woke up ready to embrace it, secure that God was not surprised by any of it. It really startled me. Obedience has become a “get to” instead of a “have to”.

I now rest in the knowledge that he chooses situations that breed lavish intimacy between the two of us, often with little regard for my earthly happiness, and I am consistently sensing his strong hand pulling me along, in to deeper relationship with him. This breeds intense joy in my spirit, which is something I find hard to explain, and there’s no going back. I don’t want to miss an ounce of what he has for me. Not one ounce. No matter how dirty my fingernails get, or how deeply my heart aches.

So the 23-year-old girl who left her boyfriend because God told her to do it, despite the longings of her heart, was very surprised to find the real love of her life and the father of her five children a mere 8 months after returning home. A door closed doesn’t always mean a window opened, I know (as I’ve lived through many a sealed window), but this girl can tell you that she’s really glad she obeyed, for once. Really, really glad.

"Karen Booker Schelhaas is finding her way back to writing after many years of navigating through the incredible joys and certain miseries of parenting. A Wheaton grad who loves to jog, bike and cook with her kids, she lives in a sea of endless material, AKA her husband and five children, in Highlands Ranch, CO."

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Calling All Story-Tellers

By Nicole Unice

Last weekend my husband Dave and I took the final step in the complicated process of obtaining life insurance. Getting life insurance requires more of you than getting married, having a child, or borrowing money for a mini-mansion. The only experience that came close was the time we navigated customs in Mexico, having our bags poked to make sure we weren’t sneaking contraband cantaloupe across the border.

Our last step was a phone interview, reviewing interview questions and elaborating on bizarre queries about our chiropractic visits, plans to become pilots and capital gain history. Here’s my husband’s side of the conversation.

“No, no, yes…. Two. Speeding and failure to observe a traffic signal.”

I almost spit out my Diet Coke laughing.

I realized that those three little questions gave the woman on the other side of the phone an interesting perspective on my husband. The truth is, those two tickets are the only Dave has had in his 18 years of driving. He’s never had an accident, checks door locks every night, and goes by “Straight Arrow” in his father/son camping group. Yet those three little questions told a different story. To the woman on the other end of the phone, Dave was a speeding chiro-addict maniac.

It’s amazing how perspective changes a story.

I started to think about my own perspectives, on myself, on others, on God. I wondered what little pieces of information I learn and then use to write my own stories. Take pregnancy. Consider these words: Natural birth. Yoga. Epidural. Organic. Midwife. Elective C-section. Formula. Breastfeeding. Each word carries weight. They are heavy words, value words, words that tell stories.

Are you a natural birth touting, yoga practicing, attachment parenting breastfeeder? Or a formula-giving, C-section choosing, nanny-hiring career woman?

Even as I type I realize how ridiculous it sounds. Of course I wouldn’t judge others based on a few little words! Of course a woman is about more than just her choice of bottle or breast! Of course I wouldn’t write a story about myself or another based on just those things!

…or would I?

The truth is, I’ve been that woman. The one who judges. The one who takes just a little bit of information and then creates a whole story line about the person behind it. The one who also writes my own story based on the things I pride myself upon—and the things I hide.

As ridiculous as it is to determine a perception of Dave in three questions, I do the same thing all the time. Perspective truly changes a story.

My oldest child is turning seven this month. Seven years ago, I began to use those weighty pregnancy words. I began to attach value to a woman’s choices. I began to write mental stories about what made a “good” mother or a “godly” woman. Now, many mistakes later, I can see that my perspective was about as crazy as the insurance lady’s.

I get it wrong with other people. I get it wrong with myself. And I certainly get it wrong when it comes to what God has for me. Yet I find encouragement in God’s plans for women. Throughout scripture, God makes it clear that his perspective on women is much different from what their culture, their families, or even they think about themselves.

God uses women as leaders, and he uses them to empower male leaders. He uses them as mothers and wives, as encouragers and warriors. He gives them purpose in families, in relationships, and in the kingdom. His perspective is always bigger than ours. And His is right.

I recently spoke with a young woman struggling with anxiety. After a few minutes of explanation, she said, “I really want you to tell me what I need to work on. I need you to tell me what’s wrong.”

I smiled and thought about my little perspective, and then said, “I can tell you what I think based on my perspective. And you can tell me what you think based on yours. But neither of us has the full perspective. Maybe we should ask the guy who really knows. God.” She looked at me a bit sideways, but then slowly nodded. I encouraged her to spend time each day waiting for God. Asking for his perspective. Letting him take the lead.

As women leaders, we are often pioneers. We forge new paths. But we can trip on crazy questions and value words, forgetting that there is only one perspective that matters. When God writes our story, it is right, and it is true. We must allow ourselves the space to hear from him, and the grace to listen for his perspective on the people around us.

And that makes a great story.

Nicole Unice is a professional talker—counselor, writer, and teacher--and director of women’s ministries for Hope Church in Richmond, VA. She has three children and the stretch marks to prove it. Find her blogging about faith and life at

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Telling Our Leader Stories

Caryn Rivadeneira

Last month I attended a conference where author Shauna Niequist intermittently got up to give readings that ended each time with this directive: “Your story must be told.” It’s a powerful truth—one I’ve written and spoken about quite a bit myself. Although, I didn’t always agree with—or even understand—the importance of telling our own stories.

You see, I didn’t grow up in one of those story-telling families, the type that sits around the table sharing funny bits from their days or serendipitous occurrences. Neither were we the types to share stories of how God showed up, when all seemed lost (even though I’m sure this happened to each of us). Instead, we’d talk issues and current events, maybe share a bit of gossip or school news. We kept each other updated with the details of our lives with questions and answers—and certainly let each other know we loved one other—but we didn’t tell stories. At least not very often.

In fact, one of the bits of “wisdom” that was passed on through the generations in both sides my family was this: “It’s rude to talk about yourself. No one wants to hear it.” I was told this verbatim from my parents, and I was “told” it whenever I heard them mocking a person who’d go “on and on” with some story “about themselves.”

But the funny thing was, that I always loved hearing these people who went on and on, who told crazy stories of their lives, who shared the funny bits, the serendipities that make life amazing. I loved sitting around the tables of those families who talked incessantly about themselves. It was interesting and was my favorite way to get to know someone.

But even as I loved other people’s stories, I could never get over the nagging sense somewhere in my head that it was “rude” to tell my stories and that no one would care. So I didn’t. For most of my life.

And I seemed to get on fine. I went through my life with plenty of friends, with teachers who liked me, applauded my work and encouraged by gifts, and with colleagues and bosses who, well, tended to do the same. All along the way I felt known even though I didn’t share many stories.

Caryn is a well received author, speaker, and the managing editor for Christianity Today's Gifted for Leadership blog. She's the author of Mama's Got a Fake ID and is the mother of three children. You can catch her musings or find information on her book at

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

"I Have This Thing In My Gut"

By Suanne Camfield

I have this thing in my gut.

And, call me crazy, but for a long time, I swear it was taunting me.

Now, as the youngest of four, I readily acknowledge that I carry some baggage—baggage filled with twisted perceptions and unsolicited insecurities—when it comes to voices that taunt. As a child it came in many different forms, all of which left me feeling an inch too short, a step too slow, a few undeveloped brain cells behind. I was the pest who tried to keep up, the small frenetic footsteps that raced to be in the room only to be met by the slam of the door and the click of the lock.

Go ahead—roll your eyes, for this is the rite of passage which bonds “youngests” throughout time. I know, I really do, but knowing hasn’t left me unscarred. No matter how many birthdays I celebrate, no matter how many of life’s milestones I slip under my belt, I can’t shake the feeling that I’m the tagalong, the annoying little kid who’s not to be seen or heard.

And now I’m a writer and a speaker. Baggage compounded with irony.

So, it makes sense then, that this thing in my gut—this churning, burning, indescribable thing that compels me to use my gifts—would echo the voices I’ve believed most of my life. Only there’s no Thanksgiving dinner filled with convivial banter and back-slapping memories to reassure me that I am, in fact, loved. There’s just a dark, pernicious voice whose growing ego finds satisfaction in exploiting the chinks in my armor.

You’re not smart enough.
You’re not good enough.
You are not wanted here.
Go somewhere else.
And for crying out loud, shut up.
Slam. Click. Lock.

One sleepless night, I was wrestling with the voice. It was loud and belligerent and all I could think of was how it felt like the giant Philistine was yelling in my ear. And then I remembered. I remembered the story of another youngest. A runt of a boy who had seven brothers. A boy whose age and inexperience rendered him useless. A boy who was told to mind his own business. A boy who was almost forgotten. A boy who was used to having doors slammed in his face. A boy the voice mocked.

Yet he was the one.

And then it hit me with one abrupt slap. I couldn’t believe I had fallen for it. You see, I had forgotten the end of the story. I forgot that the boy doesn’t heed the voice. I forgot that the giant’s head gets served up on a platter. I forgot that the boy wins. The voice had it all wrong. And so did I. I had mistakenly thought that the thing in my gut and the voice that taunted were one in the same, when in reality, the voice hates the thing.

I’d guess that some of you have a thing in your gut too. An untamable force that compels you to be who God created you to be and to do that which he has gifted you to do. An indescribable passion to mark the eternity of the lives you brush. A thing that is, at its core, the power of God living in each one of us. Okay, more than that. It’s God himself. he is the thing in your gut.

And the voice? I’m pretty sure you’ve figured that out by now.

Look, I don’t know what baggage you carry. I don’t know what voice makes you toss and turn in the middle of the night. I don’t know what lies the ugly Philistine is whispering in your ear, but when you can’t get it out of your head, try taking a line from David’s script: “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty…This day the Lord will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head” (1 Samuel 17:45-46).

Slam. Click. Lock.

Then declare victory in the Name of the Lord God Almighty.

Suanne Camfield is a freelance writer, retreat speaker, and well-received teacher who lives in the Chicago area with her family.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Ancoro Imparo

By Carla Foote
Director of Communications, MOPS International and FullFill™ Advisor
Visit Carla’s Bio

Ancoro Imparo

Michaelango said that at age 87.

If your Latin is a little rusty, this means, “I’m still learning.”

As I dropped my daughter off to college this fall, I was struck by how often I heard the deans, professors and administrators talk about their goal of inspiring lifelong learners. That the classroom “information” aspect of college was not the main emphasis. If the students nurtured a love of learning, a commitment to be engaged in their community and took personal responsibility for growing and developing, then their experience at college would be of value.

They also reminded us all that with the rapid pace of change, many of the issues of our day didn’t even exist when previous generations went off to college. So information becomes quickly outdated, but the ability to learn and grow will serve us throughout our lives.

I was inspired by the academic environment and the exhortation to keep learning. Even though my own college experience is several decades behind me, I considered ways that I could keep fresh and growing at every stage of my life. Here are a couple of ideas that I am trying to implement this year. Perhaps you will think of a few different ones that apply to you, so you can still be a lifelong learner.

Ways to keep learning:

  • Be intentional about reading or listening to viewpoints that I don’t necessarily agree with. While I have a certain economic, political and theological bent, it is good for me to know that other viewpoints exist. I need to keep listening even to those that sound out of tune to me, because otherwise I am in danger of becoming narrow or arrogant in my thinking.

  • Try some new technologies. The generational divide in technology adaptation is pronounced. I don’t want to try new technologies just to appear young or cool (because that would be a failure), but I do want to be able to embrace new technological avenues of communication so I can participate in the conversation.

  • Re-read some classics (or re-watch classic movies). The way I experienced certain influential books or movies in my teens and twenties might be very different from the lens I look through now that I’m fifty. Because I am bringing a different set of life experiences to the content, my whole perspective might be fresh and reveal new insight.

    How are you going to “Ancoro Imparo” – still learn … whether you are 20, 50 or 87?

Friday, October 16, 2009

"Who Am I To Make a Difference?" Part 2

By Shayne Moore

“I don’t think I ever want to travel to Africa,” my friend says while blowing into the foam on her cappuccino.

“Why not?” I ask, adding, “It is a big time commitment and airfare isn’t cheap, that’s for sure. “ Jackie and I are sitting on our local Starbucks’ taking a little friend-time in our busy full-time mother schedule.

“No, that’s not it. I just don’t think I could handle seeing all the suffering. When my husband goes on mission trips he always comes home so sad, disturbed even. It really affects him.”

“When you travel like that there are sometimes difficult things to come to terms with, but you also get to see the people and the land and appreciate cultures different from your own.” I try to meet her in the middle.

“Still. I just don’t want to see it, the suffering. It’s like that movie, Slumdog Millionaire, I just can’t watch that kind of stuff. I have no desire to see it.”

On my journey into waking up to the global realities of extreme poverty, pandemics of HIV and AIDS and malaria, and the mistreatment of women and girls worldwide, these kinds of conversations cause me to pause.

Why are we so hesitant to look into the pain and suffering of others? Why do we want so desperately to avoid their stories? Is it because these situations are hopeless? Do we feel they are far away and there is nothing we can do? I mean, we’re just ordinary Americans. Who are we to make a difference? Are we afraid we will be too disturbed? That seeing and experiencing and entering in to another’s real life of staggering poverty, abuse and disease will throw off our emotional and spiritual comfort?

I have come to believe we are supposed to be disturbed. We are supposed to be unsettled by their stories.

And I have come to believe that being disturbed by the global situation of poverty and disease is not the same as having no hope. In fact, so much has changed on the international scene when it comes to the fight against these things. There is much hope! It can end well.

In 2000, leaders from 189 countries signed on to the Millennium Development Goals (MDS’s), a set of eight ambitious targets designed to significantly reduce global poverty and disease by 2015. Today it is not just churches, mission organizations and thoughtful individuals in the fight against poverty, disease and universal education (especially for girls). Today governments all across the world understand something needs to be done.
With the world getting smaller thanks to the internet and 24 hours news on our TV’s, phones and computers our generation is the first generation in the history of the world to be so educated and informed about global situations. We are also the first generation to have the capacity to be connected to people so far away from us geographically. We are the first generation of people with such immediate access to one another’s stories.
Today we can join with world leaders and make our voices count. We can express that we are disturbed and we think things need to change. As a friend of mine says, “As women, we need to get thick skin yet keep our tender hearts, and be a voice for the voiceless.”
As I woke up to the global realities around me, I understood deeply that my story connects to the stories of suffering women and families worldwide. They are real people, in a real place, in real need. I found ways to connect with them and I believe we all can find that point of connection. Whether it be through your church, your favorite organization, or through advocacy. We all can make a difference.

Shayne Moore is an author, blogger, speaker, activist and mama of three. Look for her forthcoming book entitled Global Soccer Mom; One Woman’s Journey into Social Justice. Follow Shayne on twitter @TheologyMama.

Monday, October 5, 2009

"Who Am I To Make a Difference?" Part 1

By Shayne Moore
Visit Shayne's Bio

My average day involves throwing on my go-to pair of jeans and quickly pulling my hair up in a pony tail. My time revolves around my three children’s school schedule, sports practices and instrument lessons. You can find me hollering at the kids to gather their sports gear as I hastily transfer a load of laundry, leaving clothes unfolded on the table. It is my job to make sure everyone has clean clothes, food to eat, and is at their respective practices on time.
In short, I’m a soccer mom. Despite my best efforts, I am leaving an enormous carbon footprint as I live out my life in the suburbs. With my babies grown it seems I now spend most of my time in the car shuttling kiddos from one activity to the next. I help with homework, supervise computer sessions, and consider it pure joy when I have time to visit with a friend.
However, as with most women who find this is what the structure of their lives looks like, there is much more to me than that. To be honest, after about a decade of being a stay-at-home mom, I found a deep dissatisfaction lurking inside me. I started to want more.

About five years ago Bono, the lead singer of the rock band U2, came through my town on the Heart of America tour educating churches and faith communities about global AIDS and extreme poverty. While it was undoubtedly Bono’s star power that drew me in that night, it was the presentations by the World Health Organization on the ravishing effects of extreme poverty and the future projections of the spread of HIV and AIDS which changed the trajectory of my life.

The next day I was sobered and even angered. Today, these issues have been pushed to the front, but when I heard Bono and The Heart of America tour it was the first time I had heard the extent of the AIDS crisis in sub-Saharan Africa. I could not help but wonder why aren’t we hearing about this every night on the news? Why aren’t our pastors talking about it every Sunday from the pulpit? After hearing the sobering realities of extreme poverty and HIV/AIDS, particularly the effect on women and children something happened to me.

While standing at the sink doing the breakfast dishes I woke up from my suburbia stupor. I woke up to realities that every three seconds a child dies from extreme poverty and that today one billion people live on less than two dollars a day. I woke up to the realities of gender-based violence against women and girls, that women and girls are marginalized and exploited in situations of extreme poverty. And I woke up to the reality that I can make a difference and I started educating myself and others.

My journey into understanding global social justice started in my own community, in my own kitchen. This journey has taken me to Africa and Honduras and to international G8 Summits. I have met high-profile people like Bono and George Clooney and I even filmed a commercial with Julia Roberts. On my journey I got involved with local grassroots advocacy groups, with my church, with large humanitarian organizations like World Vision, and I joined ONE.

My learning curve was huge and I was embarrassed at my ignorance on many of the global issues. Yet I decided to jump in despite feeling overwhelmed. I am not a policy expert nor do I ever expect to be one, but by jumping in exactly where I was I entered the conversation.

I believe today women are thoughtful and deeply concerned about issues of extreme poverty and preventable disease. The millions of AIDS orphans, and the children who needlessly die from lack of clean water and from malaria, tug at every woman’s heart. I also believe in today’s world with 24 hour news on our TV’s, computers and phones it can feel as if we have a front row seat to the world’s problems but do not know how to connect and get involved in a meaningful way.

I say, start right where you are. In your town, in your church, in your circle of friends. Maybe in addition to going to that umpteenth Bible study on that book you know by heart, or instead of going to a book club for a book you didn’t even like, gather with your friends once a month. Educate each other on the issues and decide together where and how you wish to get involved and make a difference for another woman somewhere and her family.

Can you envision with me a new kind of feminist movement? A modern Woman’s Movement made up of ordinary women being a voice for women and families worldwide in need.

Shayne Moore is an author, blogger, speaker, activist and mama of three. Look for her forthcoming book entitled Global Soccer Mom; One Woman’s Journey into Social Justice. Follow Shayne on twitter @TheologyMama.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

“Ooh, I Wanna Be Just Like That!”

By Tracey D. Bianchi
FullFill™ Advisor

I have this little thing that I do in my mind. It happens almost every day, sometimes multiple times a day. At work, on a plane, on a bus, at home, on a walk. It happens when I listen to good sermons, good music, while reading good books, or even simply having a good conversation.

Maybe you can relate to this little neurotic tick that I have. The one that makes your heart leap a little bit and say “ooh, I want to to that” or it’s sister statement “ooh, if only I could be like that.”

“I want to sing like that, look like that, pray like that, lead like that.”

It’s the part of me who is so motivated by the world-changing efforts of others that I suddenly find myself trampled with a desire to tweak my life, hoping that it will be launched on a similar trajectory as the accomplished person I’ve just encountered.

I’ve checked my heart. Honestly, it is not a jealous emotion (except when it has to do with a fabulous pair of boots). Here is how it happens, it starts as a bit of adrenaline when I discover something new. Take, for example, a powerful sermon. This sermon makes me want to think and pray and become somehow different than I was before.

Then it makes me want to change my life and my adrenaline starts pumping as I start to think about how I may agree with the message and want to use the thoughts in my life and then in the wider world. And then suddenly I start to wonder what it would be like to have a message that mattered.

And I start to wonder if my life matters and because God loves me and just happened to fashion me in His image, I know that, indeed, my life does matter.

So I start to ponder the myriad of ways I might make my little dent on this planet. The heart, the soul, the mind, the gifts, the talents, the call to leadership, and on it goes. And I start to talk too fast and drink more caffeine and I start to pray and type and dream.

And then SLAM sooner or later I hit some sort of bump in the proverbial road that sends me and my adrenaline-filled dream careening off a cliff. Maybe it is denial, doubt, lack of resources, distrust, redirection, or more importantly, God’s Spirit telling me “sweetie, that’s not what I meant for you.”

Whatever the cause, I flip off the road because it wasn’t the journey I was meant to be on anyway.

After standing up to wipe off the dust and clear my head a bit, I realize that God may have set that little snag in place because I was pursuing someone else’s dream. I found myself motivated to do big things for God in the way another person was led to do. It looked like it worked for them right?

Many of you are logging onto this blog because you’ve just discovered FullFill. Welcome! In the span of one week we are promoting this resource at both the Gifted to Lead event at Willow Creek (South Barrington, IL) and the MOPS International Convention (Nashville, TN).

Two Spirit-filled, God-oriented places where adrenaline, ideas, wisdom, and insight are flying high speed from all directions. Two places where God is nudging women into leadership roles and the temptation can easily be to say “ooh, I want to lead like that!”

So as you engage with what you may have gleaned from those places or from the leaders featured on this site, I encourage you to remember that God is calling you to lead like YOU. To reflect, engage with Him, and to ponder your own unique rhythm. So rather than making a statement about how we want to lead, we can instead ask God “Hey, how have you called me to lead?”

Peace to you on the journey!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Sweet Spot Edition

Welcome to the FullFill™ Magazine blog! Whether you are a current reader or thinking of becoming one... you'll be able to stay tuned on the latest news from Publisher Elisa Morgan and her team!

Check back each week to read about exciting news and events!