Monday, December 27, 2010

An Invitation to Rest

by Tracey Bianchi

Christmas has passed, but many of us are still cleaning up packages, running to stores to return gifts that didn’t quite fit and hosting company who well, let’s face it, still need to eat. Before we crash into another year, let’s take one more moment to reflect on the lessons we can learn from a teenage girl on a cold winter night.

The Christmas Story is dripping with estrogen. There is perhaps no other time of year when we camp out for an entire month on the adventures God placed inside the heart of a woman. And as Christmas gives way to our ordinary time we would be wise to linger a bit and consider two life and leadership lessons we can glean from Mary during Advent.

First, according to the angel who visited her, Mary “was highly favored.” In a moment of awe and splendor, overcome by the sheer exhilaration, terror and mystery of the angel’s visit, Mary was told that she had found great favor with God.

What would your reaction be if an angel stopped by to present God’s call on your life and proclaim God’s favor? Shock and disbelief would be my first thoughts, but if I consider this a bit longer, I find myself overwhelmed by an unsettling fear. A fear that I may not even recognize that angel or understand God’s favor. A fear that if an angel stopped to visit me I’d most likely consider it an imposition on my day, a wrinkle in my smooth schedule; an idea that haunts me as I recall that the book of Hebrews makes it clear we can entertain angels unaware.

My pace of my life is such that I am afraid I’d miss the divine moment.

So how did Mary live that she would have found enough favor with God to carry divinity in her womb? My hunch is that she was not one to crash through life with reckless speed, a Blackberry and enough caffeine to keep her talking from sunrise to sunset. Instead, she lived in such a way that she sensed poignant moments and stopped to take notice.

In Mary we find an invitation to slow down and rest, to fully listen, to engage every moment and to consider what sort of life-pace invites God to visit us. We also see that this woman had partners for the journey. Carolyn Custis James once noted that Joseph lined up behind Mary’s calling. His devotion to her and his desire to take on a social and economic struggle on her behalf was a powerful reminder of our invitation to support one another.

To fully live into God’s callings we must have friends, partners, supporters. Our lives, fully alive in Christ, will bring us to be these support systems for others as well as asking others for this same structure in our lives. Sometimes this means slowing down long enough to recognize when we need help and being wise enough to get over ourselves and ask for it.

As women and leaders we need to pause the multi-tasking, go-it-alone machines that many of us have become in order to tap into the divine, holy moments of our days where God whispers a call in our ear. As we enter this new year let us consider how to live extraordinary lives in our ordinary time.

Tracey Bianchi is a freelance writer, Women’s Pastor and speaker. Her book “Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet” (Zondervan) is available on Amazon.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

My Cup Runneth Amok

By Deborah Layman

Is anyone here old enough to remember the Ed Sullivan Show? It was the first variety show on TV. One of my favorite acts was the Plate-Spinner – the guy who would start a plate spinning on a tall, slender pole, and then add more and more plates spinning on poles – running back and forth to keep all the plates spinning. Can you relate?

What if I told you that I'm convinced there's a way to keep your plates spinning – to do everything you want and need and ought to do, while walking in peace – not stress – through your days? What if I told you that the first step to getting out from under your life and getting on top of it is not about time management or prioritizing or hiring a nanny, but is a physical fix?

The answer: Build Stamina. Literally.

To tackle your “to do” list with grace and efficiency, functioning at full capacity and giving 100% in all arenas, you have to strengthen your body, fuel it properly, and treat it right. It's the vehicle that carries you through the day from carpool to laundry to office to classroom to church to kitchen to bedroom and back again.

It's simple – Make up your mind and do what you know is good for you: Exercise and Eat Healthy Food.

Need to lose ten pounds? Twenty-five? Fifty? Lose them. If you're carrying around extra weight, it’s no wonder you feel tired and strung out! Start eating sensibly – any healthy diet plan will do – and stick to it.

If you have trouble kicking off an exercise program, start walking. It's the easiest way for a busy woman to exercise because you can do it wherever you are – in a neighborhood, around an office park, on a country road, on city streets. Start slow if you need to and work towards walking farther and faster. Your body will be capable of more as you build your stamina.

I reclaimed my body a few years ago, and I won't let it go again. I wish I had started years earlier, but I was, I thought, too busy to exercise and, goodness, I had to eat that piece of pie because I needed fuel just to make it through the day! Thirty pounds later, I was not feeling my prettiest or healthiest. I made up my mind one day when I looked in the mirror and heard myself whine, “I want my body back!”

Now I've learned that exercise builds energy and fresh air clears my mind. I feel healthy and I accomplish more with less angst and more satisfaction.

I realize it’s less than a week before Christmas, and not necessarily the most ideal time to start a new regimen, but it's a good time to think ahead to the new year. So get ready to shine up those vessels, sisters, and be mindful of what you put in them. A strong, healthy woman serving the Lord can do a lot of good.

Deborah R. Layman, a native New Yorker, is a writer, producer and marketing consultant based near Birmingham, Alabama. She is the mother of three grown sons and has a reputation for being opinionated and bossy, but it’s for your own good. Read her blog at

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Truth About Busyness

By Suanne Camfield

We’re just so busy.

In all the years I had known her, the answer was always the same.

“Why don’t you guys take some time out, just for the two of you?”

We’re just so busy.

One day it dawned on me that we’d been having the same conversation for eight years. The ugly truth was that there was always going to be another project to tackle, another sports team to coach, another ministry to lead, another box to check off the infinite to-do list.

At the time, accepting this truth: how we lived a perpetually busy life was what mattered—and preaching it to my friend wasn’t that difficult because my own life wasn’t moving at such a lightening-quick pace.

But, as you know, leaders get antsy when they’re not in the throes. Over the years, my pace has continued to swell. This fall it turned into a full-on sprint when I went back to work for the first time in almost nine years. Always running a step behind, I feel like I never give my full attention to any one thing. Paradoxically, I’ve never been more energized by my God-given calling. The ping-pong match between passions—family and living out my influence—is maddening.

So I’ve been searching (somewhat desperately, borderline neurotically) for someone a few stages ahead to flip me the magic pill. I grab women’s hands across dinner tables, I plead with them on the phone, I stare them down in church hallways and I beg them to tell me they’ve figured out how to make it all work.

And, more directly, to tell me that I will too.

But none of them will say the words, because they know the truth I spewed at my friend years ago: There will never come a day, no matter how old or seasoned we get, when our boxes are checked, when our kids don’t need us, when we are void of God’s passion to make a difference; when we kick up our feet and finally declare, “Whew, I just can’t quite find enough things to do.”

Strangely, the non-answers have been reassuring. They teach me that God transforms our hearts in spite of the chaos, maybe even because of it. I’m clutching the wisdom of those who have gone before me, like soaking in Nancy Ortberg’s acumen of cultivating a well-ordered heart; like learning from a Thai missionary (via blogger Helen Lee) that balance can be viewed over a lifetime, not days; like shifting perspective by ingesting Mary Byers’ epiphany of rejecting balance and instead holistically integrating the people and passion in our lives. If you haven’t yet read this issue of FullFill™ on Balance (because you’re so busy), can I encourage you to click through right now and take a peek? ADD LINK TO MAG HERE.

Don’t get me wrong, given the choice, I’d still pop the magic pill. But rather than striving to perfect that which is elusive, I’ll instead choose to engage the process, accepting the messiness that is life, asking questions of those who know better, making corrections when I fail and doing my best to honor God and the people in my life along the way.

So tell me friend, what are you learning about juggling life?

Suanne Camfield is a writer, speaker and manager of the FullFill Blog. She is also a member of and blog editor for the Redbud Writer’s Guild ( You can read her musings about faith, life and writing at her blog

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pros and Cons of Empathy

By Mary DeMuth

I had the privilege of taking the Strengths Finder when we were church planters in France. I remember three of my strengths today:

1. Achiever. (Oh how this makes sense! Those of you who have read my writing or heard me speak know I tend to equate my worth with what I produce.

2. Communicator. (Yep, this makes sense. I'm almost a hyper-communicator, written and spoken.)

3. Empathy. (I actually think this one was #2, something that surprised the person who administered the test. "You don't see a lot of achieving empathizers," he said.)

Empathy is where I get in trouble. While I love that God has made me empathetic, it does have its negatives.

Positive: I can meet someone and almost always assess their emotional state.Negative: If someone is distraught, it's hard for me to get beyond that. I tend to take in their pain, feel it, and then never let go.Positive: I listen well and help people feel understood.

Negative: I can't get a person's sad story out of my head. It replays. It affects my mood.

Positive: I can see potential problems and discern people's hearts in a few meetings.

Negative: This can make me overly cautious around people, or I can enmesh myself.

Here's the odd part of empathy for me. Although it endears me to folks, and folks to me, it can be isolating. And it can break my heart. Proverbs 4:23 says: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

When I receive people's family secrets for My Family Secret, I cringe. For the moment, I am with the person, feeling the pain, dying inside, wishing and praying for healing. It's hard for me to shrug the pain off. Yesterday when I was a guest on Moody Midday Connection, we received three calls, all very, very hard to hear. Tales of abuse. Unmentionable pain. Broken lives. In the aftermath of the interview, I received several emails of folks sharing their broken hearts, their fractured stories. I couldn't shake the sadness. I kept it to myself. And I felt alone, carrying a burden way too heavy.I need to guard my empathetic heart. (And please hear me when I say I'm not 100% empathetic. I fail in this area also).

I need to throw my burdens at Jesus' feet. And I need to learn how to cast others' burdens there as well. Only then will my load lighten.

But even as I type this, I wonder. How must Jesus feel? He possesses the most empathy on earth and heaven. Hebrews 4:15 says, “This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.” He understands. He shoulders. He knows. He’s been here. What must it be like to be Jesus? He knows EVERY painful story of every single human being. Even the secret stories. And he graciously bears them all.

My own inability to bear the weight just makes me love him more.

Mary DeMuth is an author and speaker who loves to help people turn trials to triumphs. She lives in Texas with her husband and three kids. Find out more at Twitter: @MaryDeMuth, Facebook: You can find the My Family Secrets blog referenced in this article at

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Elegance is Overrated

By Helen Lee

I am quite possibly the clumsiest person on the planet. The first time I tried to park our family’s car in the garage, I drove it into the side of the house instead. (And then I proceeded to do it AGAIN when I backed up and started over.) I had to walk out on an ice rink to give flowers to the winners of a hockey tournament and even though I told myself every step of the way, “Don’t fall. Don’t fall. DON’T FALL!”—well, you can guess what happened.

No, the words “graceful” and “balance” do not fit me well, whether it applies to physical coordination or “life” coordination. My life would likely qualify as being as unbalanced as you could imagine. For starters, I am a stay-at-home mom of three little boys. On top of that, I’m a homeschooling mom. I spend long days running a household while acting as my children’s teacher/music coach/cafeteria worker/janitorial staff. My life is entirely imbalanced…from a certain point of view.

In years past, this type of home-based weightiness stressed me out. I’d watch friends who were doing exciting things in their careers and lives, and I couldn’t help but be envious. Yes, I’d chosen the life I was leading, but I still longed to experience more of and do more for the world beyond the walls of my house. The possibility of balancing my life seemed as elusive and impossible as my being able to gracefully descend a flight of stairs in a glittering gown and 3-inch heels.

Then one day, I had a conversation with a wise friend, Grace Shim, who serves with the Evangelical Covenant Church in Thailand. As I recounted my feelings about the imbalance of my life, she made a comment I will never forget: “Helen, you don’t have to achieve balance every day or even every week. Think about achieving balance over the whole course of your life.”

That comment has helped me rethink my former notion of balance; that it’s not necessarily about having a 24-hour period neatly divided between God, home, work, church and other important areas. By necessity, some seasons of life will be more home-focused, or more church or work-focused, but there will indeed come a season that I will have freedom to engage in a broader range of activities.

In the meantime, I need to embrace the commitments I have made with an attitude of joy and gratitude. If I am staying true to the callings God has given me—and letting go of the rest—I can trust that he will bring all of those things I can’t do in my current stage of life to completion through his other servants in the world.

This, by the way, does not mean that I will never trip up in my efforts to maintain the particular weights in the balance of my own life. Nor does it mean that I will never feel out-of-sorts with the way my life is going at any particular time. But if I am striving to follow the Lord of the universe in my life choices, then I do not need to fear my inevitable stumbles along the way. And God knows with my proneness to ungraceful elegance, that is a very good thing.

Helen Lee is the author of The Missional Mom (Moody Publishers, January 2011). She and her family reside in Chicagoland. You can find out more about Helen and her book at

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Running the Race

By: Lisa Littlewood

“Just put one foot in front of the other and you’ll make it to the end,” I told myself at mile 11.
It was my first half marathon and while I had felt surprisingly strong for most of the race, the last couple of miles left my mind taunting me with doubts, “Was all the training enough? Do you really have it in you?”

But then I sensed another voice, God’s Spirit, speaking back; “The God who created you has placed within you the strength finish this race. Things are not always easy but in him ALL things are possible.”

Earlier this year when my younger sister, three months post-partum, challenged me to join her and several other mom friends in training for this race, I found pride kicking in. “If they can do it, so can I,” I decided. I mean, after all, I had always been the distance runner in the family.

What started as a pride thing quickly turned personal. I realized my reasons for committing to the race ran much deeper. As a young mother I was feeling overwhelmed by the day-to-day life of raising two small children. It felt like many of my own goals— professional, physical, emotional and spiritual— had drifted out of sight. So much sat undone: devotional books unread, essays unwritten, extra weight unshed and a house, on most days, unclean. I desired to invest more in ministry, but it all seemed unattainable and overwhelming.

I committed to the race because I wanted to finish something. I wanted a tangible challenge that I could complete—a challenge that when complete would potentially offer encouragement in the other areas of my life.

The author of Hebrews offers a picture of how we are to approach our lives-- a picture of a runner as a matter of fact. “Let us throw off everything that hinders,” the author says, “and the sin that so easily entangles. Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”
Hebrews is reminding us that whatever it is that is holding us back or wearing us down, it is our responsibility to ‘throw it off’ and fully embrace the race we are running, to throw these insecurities away and embrace God’s intentions for us.

God spoke to me quite a bit during my training. He showed me that where my strength may falter, his never does. He showed me that when I am tired I need to cling to him and he will provide the extra measure of endurance to finish the tasks before me.

Sometimes things get hardest towards the end, like for me at mile 11. We get tired, we lose perspective; we let our emotions take over. It is in these moments that we need to remind ourselves that he who started a good work in us WILL be faithful to complete it (Phil. 1:6).

By the time I got to mile 12 I had a renewed sense of hope and realized I was going to finish. In retrospect it was a good race. I’m thankful for the experience, for the ability, and for a God who provides endurance when we think ours is gone.

Lisa Littlewood is the busy mother of two pre-school age children who loves to run, write and read. Her active pursuits to blend her God-given passions (namely writing and encouraging other women) into her messy mothering days inspire many of her blog entries at

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Led By the Spirit or Driven By Need?

By Arloa Sutter

I have been leading Breakthrough Urban Ministries in Chicago for eighteen years. We care for people who have become crippled by unemployment, homelessness and addiction in a neighborhood where poverty and crime make life stressful. Overwhelming brokenness and need carries with it the reality that there is always more I could do. People often ask what keeps me going. What keeps me from experiencing burnout?

Well, I have experienced burnout and it’s not pretty. When I was in my twenties I worked with kids who were referred to me by juvenile justice officers and school social workers. I met with groups of young girls who were in crisis. I loved taking them hiking, cross-country skiing and spelunking, but I was unaware of my own codependency tendencies. It felt good to be needed and I found myself pulled into the drama of their lives. I would get calls in the middle of the night to pick up a girl who had passed out drunk in an alley or to negotiate a family dispute. I once called 911 in desperation as a young woman overdosed on my living room floor. My work was compelling: girls in need, in pain, and in trouble, and they were looking for me to rescue them. But by the end of four years I was exhausted. I cringed every time the phone rang for fear of hearing about another suicide attempt.

I know now that much of my early energetic zeal was rooted in my own pride. I had entered ministry recognizing my need for a Savior, but then had begun to attempt to rescue and save others in my own strength on behalf of the Savior. The burnout I experienced as a result would forever change me as I learned the importance of waiting on God in contemplation before rushing in with my own agenda. I learned to be led by the Spirit instead of being driven by need.

Today I start each day in prayer. I ask God to orchestrate my day, to guide and direct me. I ask for Divine connections, for wisdom to know what to do and what not to do. I have learned there is always enough time to do what God wants me to do.

I also listen to my body. I have learned to recognize the difference between good stress that pushes me to my best, and bad stress that means I’m attempting to do something that is not mine to do. When my shoulders tense and my stomach knots, I do a “gut check” and ask myself if this really is my responsibility.

To be led by the Spirit rather than driven by need. That’s my goal. When the chaos mounts, I take a break. Even an hour of contemplation clears my mind and tells me which tasks need to be tossed to someone else and which are mine to juggle.

Arloa Sutter is the founder and Executive Director of Breakthrough Urban Ministries which provide services to homeless adults and runs a community youth program in an impoverished community on the west side of Chicago. She is the author of The Invisible: How the Church Can Find and Serve the Least of These.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sharing your Faith Part 2: Conversation Stoppers

by Jonalyn Fincher

When stumped by a difficult question about Christianity, have you ever been tempted to say, “I just take it by faith”? A simple, religious sounding response that keeps our faith safe and often deflects the anxiety we feel.

But it also stops the conversation.

Not because God doesn’t care about faith; He does. But because “take it by faith” in today’s culture sounds like we’re saying, “I have no idea; I just believe blindly.”

In Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, she writes, “If faith were rational, it wouldn’t be—by definition—faith. Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark . . . a leap of faith” (P 195). Gilbert, like many secular people, thinks religious faith means doing scary, often silly, things.

Haven’t you heard phrases like “blind faith” or “leap of faith”? Atheists and skeptics use their secular definition of “faith” as one more reason to mock Christians as blind and irrational. The skeptic’s dictionary defines faith as “a non-rational belief in some proposition.”

As an apologist this concerns me because God talks about “faith” differently. God wants people’s faith to grow out of knowledge (Search with the words “know the Lord”). God cares about his reputation among all peoples (Isaiah 45:5). He came to earth as a human because he wants to be known, loved and trusted.

In Scripture “faith” is synonymous with trust; we have faith or trust in the faithfulness of God. Faith or trust requires good reasons. Nowhere does God advocate “blind faith” or taking a “leap of faith.” These very words or concepts are never found in Scripture.

The more we know and can share about who God is, the more our faith and our friend’s faith grows. Faith and reason work together.

Imagine yourself praying for a friend’s healing. Will your faith be increased or decreased if God heals your friend?

Why? Because when we see God at work we have more reasons to trust him, and our faith grows. In fact, given how our own ears have grown accustomed to thinking of “faith” in non-biblical ways, practice replacing “faith” with the word “trust” as you read Scripture. You’ll get closer to the heart of the Bible’s meaning.
When sharing our love for Jesus, we need to be sensitive to the ways Biblical words are heard in our friend’s ears. Faith is a good word, but its meaning has been held hostage.

If we are going to share the good news of Jesus with others, we need to make a point to avoid the phrase, “Just take it by faith.” It does not help anyone step closer to who Jesus really is. It demotes Jesus into an item on the buffet of religion. By using this phrase we inadvertently tell our friends that Jesus is not real enough to know and we have no good reason to believe in him.

Jonalyn enjoys baby-wearing her new son, Finn, into coffee shops and striking up meaningful spiritual conversation. Pick up her and her husband's latest book Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk for more about sharing your faith. For more check out her blog ( or her first book, Ruby Slippers. Jonalyn is 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.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Embracing Our Limits

By Adele Calhoun

Do you ever feel bombarded by a noisy, harried, do-more-get more-have-more sort of life? Life is good; but the balls you are juggling get going so fast that you can’t focus even when the moment overflows with delight? I want to be present to my life. I don’t want to be so distracted that the goodness of morning coffee and the springy glory of a toddler’s curls never show up on my radar screen. But the truth is I can be so restless and busy that I fail to notice all the things I am failing to notice.

What we notice or fail to notice shapes our lives. If I fail to notice how scattered, un-centered and out of touch I am with friends or family or my own soul, I have missed both my life and my limits. Life and limits may seem like contradictory things. After all we like to push the limits because we think we get more living in that way. But the fact of the matter is that honoring limits, rather than denying them, is one way we remind ourselves that we aren’t God.

Human beings are finite. Every one of us lives with limits. And it is the ones who recognize and embrace their limits that become free. Limits convey the truth of God and the reality of me:
· Every “yes” is a “no” to something. So I don’t say “yes” to everything. I weigh which “yes” will be the most life-giving.
· I can’t do everything. I need other people to help me. But they can’t help me if I don’t know what I need and ask them for it.
· Life is not meant to be lived at break-neck speed. That’s why it comes with day and night. The rhythm of rest is built into everything. Without rest I will become depleted and less aware of the very things that bring me joy.

Limits reveal my need and heighten my awareness of God. When I live with limits I am more likely to recognize peaks of joy as well as valleys of sadness. When I am able to recognize the peaks and valleys, I realize that the abundant life isn’t about success or comfort or control. It’s about living with the awareness that in limits God invites us to be free. And when we embrace this freedom, we can savor the moments that come laden with the presence and love of God. Because, after all, God’s love is the only thing in this world that doesn’t depend on our schedule or circumstances. It is limitless.

Adele Calhoun is the author of "The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us" and the forthcoming title "Invitations from God" (InterVarsity Press, July 2011). She co-pastors Redeemer Community Church in Needham, Massachusetts, with her husband Doug.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Evangelistic Tagging: Part One

By Jonalyn Grace Fincher

I recently unearthed my major difficulty in sharing my faith: I assumed that people who think differently about Jesus were dangerous. I felt afraid of them, and it showed.

At a book convention, I stood beside two Christian women as they responded to a secular book seller. He had just recommended a book that suggested all people go to heaven. I reacted inwardly much like the Christian women reacted outwardly.

“That’s not what the Bible teaches!” they retorted.

“The author makes some good points from the Bible . . .” the bookseller began.

“Well, if you read the Bible you’d know!” both were giving him a severe stare before they walked away.
When you hear someone distorting the gospel how do you feel? Do you ever think, “What can I say to this person in one minute—the only minute I have for them—that would convince them to repent and turn to Jesus?”

We burden ourselves with responsibility to convert someone or get out of there. We have no idea what it must be like to walk in their shoes, what help or solace their current beliefs give them. We only need to ask to find out, but maybe instead we’re just relieved that we brought God up in conversation. We call it spreading seed, but to our unbelieving friends our witnessing might feel more like the quick, cold-hearted work of a graffiti artist, “tagging” an area for dominance.

Tagging is a term I learned when I lived in Los Angeles. Gang members would spray-paint a wall of a building or underpass to claim their ownership. Friends I shared my faith with in high school later confessed to feeling cornered. They felt tagged as my projects.

When we moved to Colorado, my husband taught me another meaning of tagging. He purchased a hunting tag, which meant some elk had a death warrant on its head.

To those who don’t know Jesus our church culture can appear to be issuing hunting tags for their souls. We can even wield church sanctioned disciplines like apologetics or theology as weapons. In the process, we become more hunter and gang member than neighbor, failing to look into our neighbor’s eyes and notice they are people, not prey.

As a trained theologian and apologist, I find it too easy to judge people by their ideas before seeing the human that the Bible tells me is made in his image. But that has changed.

I’m learning to notice people’s eyes before I notice their words. I, like all of us, need to pause and ask myself better questions of those before me. What do they need? Are they friend or prey? How do I tell a friend about Jesus’ good news for them, with their pain, their needs, their questions?

In the process sharing our faith will look more like God’s unrushed, fearless love for this world and less like a hunter taking aim.

Adapted from Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk (Zondervan 2010).

Jonalyn enjoys baby-wearing her new son, Finn, into coffee shops and striking up meaningful spiritual conversation. Pick up her and her husband's latest book Coffee Shop Conversations: Making the Most of Spiritual Small Talk for more about sharing your faith. For more check out her blog ( or her first book, Ruby Slippers. Jonalyn is 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.

Monday, October 4, 2010

No Small Thing

By Shayne Moore

“What are you an authority on?” she almost sneered.

It was a sunny day and I was innocently walking down the sidewalk of my hometown on the way to get a cappuccino when I ran into the mother of a childhood friend. We stopped to visit and exchange what I thought were pleasantries.

She asked about the kids and my husband Johnny. We played catch up about this and that and then I shared the news that I had just received a book contract.

“A book? Really? What are you an authority on?”

I felt the sting of her comment. Either I was in shock and too slow to come up with a witty response, or simply too afraid of conflict. So I laughed and stammered something about how I am not an expert on anything.

I had never written a book before and I was full of self-doubt as it was. Her comment slogged around inside of me for a long time. The book I was starting to write was based on the concept that as regular women – for me a mom – we can really change our world with our efforts.
In the end, her comment helped to form and shape the book because I had to wrestle with what makes someone worthy of writing a book. I’m not an international policy expert; I do not have a degree in humanitarian or community development. I have only traveled to the developing world a handful of times. Who did I think I was?

As I wrestled and wrote, who I was became apparent. I was simply a woman with a story to tell. Global Soccer Mom: Changing the World is Easier Than You Think is a book about how I woke up to the reality that I could engage issues of human need on a global level. It is a story of my heart being broken by the things that break the heart of God - like extreme poverty and disease. A story about how I began to educate myself and, in the process, became passionate about educating others, particularly women just like me: busy soccer moms going a million directions yet who still wished to engage these issues in a meaningful way.

I learned that my voice matters and I got more and more involved with the grassroots advocacy group The ONE Campaign, now simply called ONE. I traveled to Africa and Honduras to see the HIV/AIDS pandemic first-hand. I was invited to attend G8 Summits in Europe to talk to press and put pressure on world leaders to keep their promises to the world’s poorest people.
The book comes out January 2011 and as I have journeyed my confidence has grown. I have come to believe I am an authority. I’m an expert on my story and on my heart. And that is no small thing.

I now write a column for FullFill™ called Worldly Women. I relish this opportunity as it gives me a space to do what I love the most: talk about what breaks the heart of God on a global level, educate others, and inspire everyday women like myself to real action. I believe as we live out our collective influence, and as we engage our stories with the stories of need in the world, we can and will make a difference.

Shayne Moore is the author of Global Soccer Mom: Changing the World is Easier Than You Think (Zondervan 2011), an original member of the ONE Campaign and an outspoken advocate in the fight against extreme poverty and Global AIDS. Her website is

Sunday, September 26, 2010



She looked across the table as she confided in me. “I feel like I’m not enough,” she whispered.

“Not enough what?” I asked.

“Just not enough,” she answered.

I exhaled slowly. This accomplished woman felt like she was not enough? I couldn’t believe it. I had harbored the same feelings myself. But she was the only other person who had ever admitted her self-doubt to me. Because of her honesty, together we deconstructed where the feelings came from and how they hindered us. And we resolved to change the phrase from “not enough” to “enough” since the Bible clearly tells us that we are made in God’s image and that what he makes is plenty.

Why is it we doubt this so? Our “enoughness?” Is it the voice of a never-satisfied parent, a push-till-you-get-it-right teacher, a preacher who slipped into the severe too many times?

I’ve thought of that conversation many times since, usually when I’m experiencing fear or self-doubt. Leadership has its challenges and one of them is having the confidence to forge ahead even when we are uncertain. And believe me, I’ve been uncertain a lot! It’s comforting to know that others I admire experience the same feelings.

I heard a statement that addresses this very issue: God does not call the equipped. He equips the called. You may have heard this saying too. But just for a moment, let the words go beyond your ears into your being. If he thinks enough of you to set you in a certain spot of leadership, then he knows what you need to accomplish what he has in mind. Really.

If you’ve been called to an assignment that feels overwhelming, know that God will equip you. And because that equipping may come through the hands or skills of other people, be sure to look around you and reach out to those who may help you realize your vision or calling. Pride often keeps us from doing so. Leadership doesn’t require us to go it alone.

And when you still have days when you feel like you are not enough, remember that God is more than enough. Always.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A Foot in the Door

By Elisa Morgan

I was one of six women in my seminary program. Even thirty years ago, God was clear to me: My job is to open the door. Yours is to go through it and once on the other side, to put your foot in the doorway to hold it open for the next woman coming after you.

Today that's it - my job description and calling: go through the door and keep my foot in the doorway for the next woman.

Are you that woman? I'm betting that you are.

"Who me?" comes your squeaky reply. Yep - you. For various reasons, we women pull back from open doors. Some suffer from a case of the "Not Me" syndrome. Not important. Not platform-gifted. Not experienced. Not educated. Not official. So when we see the door opening in front of us, we look around and over our shoulders assuming that the entrance couldn't possibly be intended for us.

Then there are those diagnosed with a "Really? Me?" condition. We believe we hold influence - even leadership skills - but we draw back at the timing, at the conditions, at the position involved in moving through an open door.

Others suffer from an "Only Me" posture. We've been all alone slugging out the "woman in leadership" battle and we're just plain tired. We don't want to go through one more door. We forget that sometimes that's the only thing required of us: entry. Entry so that others can follow.

Wherever you are on the pathway to leadership, (Do you suspect you have gifts that aren't being used or do you know you have influence but need a push to live it out?) There's a doorway in front of you. Everyone of us has influence that God intends we invest for his kingdom purposes.

Guess what? (This is a REALLY BIG DEAL!) God has opened a new door for us. I'm heading through and I want to invite you with me!

For a zillion years, CLA (Christian Leadership Alliance) has offered training in Christian nonprofit and church ministry management. (You know - teaching stuff like how to read a balance sheet, how to take care of yourself while leading others, how to stay relevant in order to connect with your audience.) New this year: an alliance with CLA and FullFill™! We take all the great CLA teachings and bring them home for women. Finally - training in a woman's first language, in our voice and from our unique instinctive perspective!

Paying attention? Chuck Swindoll, Crawford Lorritts, Andy Crouch AND Priscilla Shirer, Carolyn Custis James and myself. Deep and enriching teachings from amazing men as well as uniquely qualified women. Tailor-made offerings like Healing Waters' CFO Beth Flambures on "Changing Women's Seat at the Table: Moving from Bookkeeper to CFO" and Awana's Marie Guthrie on "Marketing Messages that Motivate Women" and Care Net's President Melinda Delahoyde on "Engaging Women as Executives and Board Members."

Seriously. For the first time ever, here is a conference that uniquely equips us to invest all of who we are as women - alongside our brothers in Christ. Here is a time to connect with other women like us - some just starting out on their journey, others seasoned and prepared to guide. Networking. Connecting. Challenging. Caring. Growing. Questioning. Hoping. Voicing.

God has opened a doorway for us - and after us, it's intended for us to stick our foot in the space and to prop it open for the women coming behind us.

You coming?

Click here for more information on the 2011 CLA - FullFill™ Conference. As a special offer to FF Fans, use the code: FFCLA11 when registering and you'll receive a copy of Elisa Morgan's best-selling book, She Did What She Could AND the Study Guide! Click here to access the complete syllabus of workshop offerings and look for the logo!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Other People's Gardens

By Suanne Camfield

I was flipping through this quarter’s issue of FullFill Magazine and was struck by the diversity of the author’s passions-justice, mentoring, spiritual formation, motherhood-and momentarily wondered why such worthwhile callings didn’t making my blood pump a little faster. Why my own passion meter didn’t skyrocket on issues I believe to be invaluable to the shaping of God’s kingdom. And then I figured out why. It’s because I hate to garden.

Honestly, I wish I didn’t because I like the idea of gardening (and I think gardeners have an artistic flair and whimsical charm that makes me want to be just like them). But each spring I trudge through Home Depot with a flat-bed cart optimistic that this will be the year I fall in love with shady groundcover, hearty annuals and organic fertilizer. And every year, without fail, I leave overwhelmed and frustrated, because the truth is, I just don’t like to garden.

Willing ourselves to be passionate about something doesn’t really work, does it? Mustering desire for work that doesn’t bring us joy or that we’re not inherently good at can leave us feeling inadequate and unfulfilled-no matter how much we want to like it. But rather than questioning why we don’t feel motivated to serve in specific areas, maybe we need to embrace the fact that our pulse doesn’t quicken-not because the work isn’t worthwhile-but because it’s not the work that God has uniquely equipped us to do.

Even though I don’t enjoy the intricacies of gardening, do you know what I do love? Other people’s gardens. By definition, I relish them. I have a “pleasurable appreciation” for them. And when I relish other people’s gardens-the kind of relishing that’s free from jealousy, comparison and self-doubt-I experience freedom in my passion because I finally accept that the work God has prepared in advance for someone else to do is not the same (exact) work he has prepared for me to do.

There are some areas in our lives that God gives us permission to stand back and nod in appreciation over the beautiful landscape someone has created. Cut yourself some slack and take in the view. But in those moments when something is different, when you read an article on HIV/AIDS orphans and your heart slams in your chest, or your church asks for volunteers to lead the next small group and your palms start to sweat, pay attention. After all, we don’t serve a God who asks us to--appreciate him. We serve a God who asks us to recognize our influence, be confident in who he’s created us to be, and then get on our hands and knees and start digging in the dirt.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Just Share It

by Wendy Hagen

Elisa Morgan recently spoke to the women's leadership team at my church. She posed these questions: "What keeps you from sharing your faith? How do you fill in the blank: I can't share my faith because ____________?" I came up blank on the blank. Not because my "I've had four babies in five years" postpartum brain had malfunctioned again, but because I genuinely love to share my faith. I don't have all the answers, I am no bible scholar, and I can hardly win an argument with my strong-willed four-year-old. But I love Jesus and I know what He has done in my life. I can share that. No problem. How about you?

Ever since I began my relationship with Jesus when I was in 6th grade I have been excited to tell the world about Him. And as I have grown and matured in my faith and experienced different seasons in my life, the way I have shared my faith has evolved. But there are a few things that I have realized about evangelism that will never change:

1. We are all called to share our faith.
I know that not everyone has the gift of evangelism and I know a lot of people have a hard time talking to others about Jesus. I understand that not everyone is a faith-sharing spaz like me who prays to sit next to a non-believer on an airplane. But whether it our spiritual gift or not, we are all called to share our faith.

I Timothy 4:2, I Peter 3:15, Matthew 28:19, 20
When is the last time you shared your faith with someone?

2. There are many different ways to share our faith.
We don't always have to be the person who prays with someone to become a Christian. Sharing your faith doesn't always mean breaking down the "Romans Road." Your role in someone's faith journey might be inviting to someone to church, telling a fellow mom about vacation bible school, telling a co-worker or employee about the marriage retreat you just attended, or giving someone a Christian book.

I love the quote by St. Francis of Assisi: "Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary use words." We must preach the gospel with the way we live our lives.
And then there are times we must speak up.

How are you sharing your faith with people? Is your life preaching the gospel? Do you ever speak up?

3. Relationships matter. A lot.
Yes, there is a place for drive-by evangelism. One can hear about Christ from a one-time encounter, an event, a book, a retreat, a crusade. God's word is powerful and effective whenever it is heard. However, I believe that nothing changes lives like God working through His people in relationships. God uses us to share the good news with people we know.
Are you building friendships with people who don't know Jesus? Are you loving them, serving them, and looking for opportunities to tell them about Jesus?

Now go and live out your influence. Share your faith.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Communicating God’s Grace With Our Bodies!

by Margot Starbuck

In the recent Tina Fey and Steve Carrell movie, Date Night, the married couple discretely peeks over their menus, eyeballing other couples in a fancy restaurant. Nodding toward a couple at the next table, one spouse asking the other, “What’s the story?” With only the information that could be gleaned from a glance, one partner playfully creates a fictional story about those dining.

We glean information about others, about who they are, with a single glance.

My husband and I played a similar game when we were dating. If a couple at the next table looked distracted or bored, we’d jump to the conclusion, “They’re married.” Yet if a couple appeared to be completely enamored with one another, if their faces communicated an entirely unconditional love and acceptance of the other, we figured, “Not married.” We began to call that starry-eyed gaze, the one that says, “There is not one single thing I’d change about who you are,” The Look of Unconditional Love and Acceptance, or more simply, the Loulaa.

This fun party trick is not just for romantic situations. I suspect you’ve seen that look of delight on the face of a giddy grandparent, or a proud aunt, or—I am assured by animal lovers—on the sloppy face of your crazed dog when you walk in the front door after a long day. The Loulaa simply communicates to another that she or he is entirely beloved and accepted as they are.

We give information to others, about who they are, with a single glance.

Saturated with the conviction that another has been entirely loved by God in Jesus Christ—regardless of how she looks, how she performs, or who she knows–the Loulaa communicates that she is entirely precious.

Sisters, this is something that we do with our bodies! With our eyes and mouths and faces we communicate to another that she is altogether beloved by God. When we walk by an immigrant on the sidewalk, our faces communicate, “You belong.” When we interact with others who serve our food, our eyes communicate, “You are entirely accepted.” When we encounter someone whose race or religion is different than our own, our faces reflect, “You are beloved.”

When Jesus encountered a woman from Samaria who was the wrong religion, the wife of five husbands and mistress of one, I have to believe that what she saw on his face was the Loulaa. Nothing else makes sense. After encountering a stranger who called her out on her sin, she skips away to share the good news with others. I am convinced that—regardless of her virtue—she encountered a face that communicated her undeniable value and belovedness.

My husband and I just celebrated our fifteenth anniversary. Though the Loulaa has indeed given way to all sorts of other expressions, it remains the truest incarnation of God’s own face. It’s not one that denies sin, like a giddy infatuated lover, but rather, like Jesus, communicates a reality much more powerful than the hissing lies of the deceiver.

You do this, too. Do it wisely.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Leadership 101

by Angie Weszely

I’m almost embarrassed to share a key leadership lesson I’ve been learning recently. Embarrassed because it feels like something I should have learned well before my forties. But I didn’t. And just in case there is anyone else out there like me, and because this lesson has been so life-changing, I want to lay it out there.

“Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.” (John 15:4, The Message)

When I came into my current leadership position four years ago, I felt unprepared. No, actually clueless, about what I would need to do to lead an organization. Determined to learn the ropes before people found me out, I read every book, attended every conference, and asked advice from every leader I could find. I took frantic notes, had planning days to figure out how to implement new ideas, and did put a lot of great structure in place. But then something happened. My team asked me not to go to any more leadership conferences, because they were overwhelmed trying to implement all my new ideas!

After about two years of this, I was exhausted. One day, as I was trying to get even more leadership advice from a trusted friend, she began to ask me questions about my relationship with God. How were my times with him? (Um…listening to worship music during my commute?) What kind of space or margin was I making for spiritual refreshment? (Margin? With a full-time job and two kids?) I started squirming a bit, because I knew where she was headed.

So I started replacing my leadership books with Dallas Willard books. And my leadership conferences with spiritual formation retreats. And asking advice from other leaders with asking God to speak to me. Not because any the pursuit of leadership brilliance was wrong or unimportant, but because I had been neglecting the more essential leadership training – being a branch and drawing nourishment from the Vine.

And God met me. He didn’t scold me, he refreshed me and filled me up and spoke to me. And I was amazed to find that leading was much more enjoyable when I was drawing life from the Vine. Not only more enjoyable, but more wise. As I asked for wisdom he guided me into even better decisions. Once, at a brainstorming meeting for new wording for our messaging, we got stuck and ended with no resolution on one particular category. I left the meeting frustrated, shut the door to my office and said, “God, how do we say this?” Immediately a word popped into my mind and that word is still a key part of our messaging today. What we couldn’t solve in a two-hour meeting, God solved in two minutes!

I’m still on this journey, still learning these lessons two years later. I want to keep growing in my dependence on God; to pray instead of trying to control outcomes: to make space for God when things at work are the most hectic; to spend more time relishing the life that comes from sitting at the feet of the ultimate Leader.

How about you? I would love to hear ways you make space for God as a leader.

Angie Weszely is President of Caris Pregnancy Counseling and Resources, a Christian organization providing hope and support to women facing unplanned pregnancies. Angie is passionate about offering holistic and innovative solutions to the divisive issue of abortion, and about mobilizing Christians to be a compassionate voice for both women and children.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

What is Truly "Relevant" Anyway?

by Tracey Bianchi

Church attendance in the US is on a downslope. Researchers like George Barna point out that while growth happens, in most cases a booming new church on the corner means a congregation down the street is closing up shop. Leaders wonder what it will take to flip this trend, with many tossing around solutions that include words like relevant.

Webster defines relevant as “having significance to the matter at hand.” I know, still vague. For some this significance means adjusting music, wardrobe, sermon style or church location. When I lived in Colorado significance meant mid-week worship so outdoor enthusiasts could disappear into the backcountry for a whole weekend.

For others significance means candles or liturgy, homeless shelters or social justice. Or perhaps, videos, hair gel and Rob Bell glasses. But ultimately, each community must discover for itself what God has deemed relevant to the matters he has placed in its hands. I find my proverbial feathers ruffled when I hear leaders prescribe overarching fixes for the church universal; leaders who wax eloquent about how exactly we all should rise from our slumber.

Here’s the list I typically hear: stay fashionably detached, rally around flashy justice issues, wear vintage t-shirts highlighting those issues, hang out in local coffee shops, lament the church every chance you get and always vote in a particular direction.

Now I don’t have a problem with any of these issues. I support global micro-enterprise, advocate for those in need and drink plenty of local coffee. I even sport my own t-shirt or two on occasion and believe justice is a mandate from God, not an option.

What I am adamantly against is the prevailing ethos that says a thoughtful and relevant leader must be about these pursuits, especially since Jesus does not strike me as overly trendy. And while he prescribed universal fixes for our world (justice, love, mercy), the manner in which he carried these out varied depending on his context.

Back to Webster. To be relevant is to have significance to the matter at hand. Frankly, not every matter is as sexy to the world as the list above. When we pastor and lead the elderly, relevance may look different. The “matters at hand” are aging with grace and leaving a legacy. Relevance when my grandmother passed was sitting at her bedside listening to Benny Goodman. When the matter at hand is holding a dying infant or comforting a family who lost a child, no one really cares how you voted or if your coffee is Fair Trade Certified; they want to know that you will listen.

Relevance is a shifting notion that ebbs and flows with our lives and the people we walk alongside. No longer does it make sense to offer sweeping prescriptions for what makes a church relevant. Rather than chase the trends of national leaders perhaps we should simply engage with the matters at hand—the lives God places before us each day. And if we relish these lives, obsessing over their well-being rather than a trend, we may just find ourselves utterly and indescribably relevant indeed.

Tracey Bianchi is a freelance writer, Women’s Pastor and speaker. Her book “Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet” (Zondervan) is available on Amazon.

What is Truly "Relevant" Anyway?

by Tracey Bianchi

Church attendance in the US is on a downslope. Researchers like George Barna point out that while growth happens, in most cases a booming new church on the corner means a congregation down the street is closing up shop. Leaders wonder what it will take to flip this trend, with many tossing around solutions that include words like relevant.

Webster defines relevant as “having significance to the matter at hand.” I know, still vague. For some this significance means adjusting music, wardrobe, sermon style or church location. When I lived in Colorado significance meant mid-week worship so outdoor enthusiasts could disappear into the backcountry for a whole weekend.

For others significance means candles or liturgy, homeless shelters or social justice. Or perhaps, videos, hair gel and Rob Bell glasses. But ultimately, each community must discover for itself what God has deemed relevant to the matters he has placed in its hands. I find my proverbial feathers ruffled when I hear leaders prescribe overarching fixes for the church universal; leaders who wax eloquent about how exactly we all should rise from our slumber.

Here’s the list I typically hear: stay fashionably detached, rally around flashy justice issues, wear vintage t-shirts highlighting those issues, hang out in local coffee shops, lament the church every chance you get and always vote in a particular direction.

Now I don’t have a problem with any of these issues. I support global micro-enterprise, advocate for those in need and drink plenty of local coffee. I even sport my own t-shirt or two on occasion and believe justice is a mandate from God, not an option.

What I am adamantly against is the prevailing ethos that says a thoughtful and relevant leader must be about these pursuits, especially since Jesus does not strike me as overly trendy. And while he prescribed universal fixes for our world (justice, love, mercy), the manner in which he carried these out varied depending on his context.

Back to Webster. To be relevant is to have significance to the matter at hand. Frankly, not every matter is as sexy to the world as the list above. When we pastor and lead the elderly, relevance may look different. The “matters at hand” are aging with grace and leaving a legacy. Relevance when my grandmother passed was sitting at her bedside listening to Benny Goodman. When the matter at hand is holding a dying infant or comforting a family who lost a child, no one really cares how you voted or if your coffee is Fair Trade Certified; they want to know that you will listen.

Relevance is a shifting notion that ebbs and flows with our lives and the people we walk alongside. No longer does it make sense to offer sweeping prescriptions for what makes a church relevant. Rather than chase the trends of national leaders perhaps we should simply engage with the matters at hand—the lives God places before us each day. And if we relish these lives, obsessing over their well-being rather than a trend, we may just find ourselves utterly and indescribably relevant indeed.

Tracey Bianchi is a freelance writer, Women’s Pastor and speaker. Her book “Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet” (Zondervan) is available on Amazon.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


By Anita Lustrea

It’s amazing how a little shift in routine can change your routine for good. My husband and I were invited to go sailing on Lake Michigan after work one day. Instead of driving in to Chicago that morning, I took the train—my first professional commute.

I began to get excited about all of the things I could do on the train, all of the things commuting friends tell me they do with their extra time. I brought stationery to hand-write some notes to friends (yes, hand-write, not email); I brought books to read and my iPod. Honestly, it looked like I was prepping for a cross country flight, not a 40 minute train ride.

My husband Mike dropped me at the train station a little early. Always efficient with my time, I got to work right away.

First, a quick call to my producer at Midday Connection to tell her I was taking the train and would be a little later than usual. Then I’d check email and respond to anything urgent. Then I’d search my contacts to make sure I had the mailing addresses I would need for the notes I was going to write. I dug in my bag.

Cell phone, where’s my cell phone…..I never forget my cell phone…..I’ve never lost my cell phone! The thoughts were flying through my mind. Oh, I’ll just call Mike and ask him to check around the house. I think I left it on the arm of the chair…Oh, I can’t call Mike, I don’t have my phone.

The reality of being disconnected created a momentary panic, leaving me feeling vulnerable.

I looked around trying to decide if I was bold enough to ask someone in the train station if I could use their phone to call my husband and tell him to bring my phone to our sailing trip. The woman on the bench next to me was furiously working on email on her smart phone. I become fidgety and my eyes became glued to her phone. Then it hit me. You are an addict! You are addicted to this little piece of technology. So, what are you going to do about it?

I took a deep breath and started to feel a great release. Sure I couldn’t call or email anyone, but no one could reach me either. I could read a book in peace and write my notes without the little chime that sounds every time an email or text comes in distracting me. I began to feel free!

When my husband and I met up later in the day, I didn’t even ask for my phone. My unintentional cell phone fast was only for one day, but in the midst of the panic and the freedom I decided to institute a one day a week fast from my cell phone. With less than a month of summer left, I decided to start enjoying more of it!

Anita Lustrea is co-host of the award-winning Midday Connection radio broadcast and author of the upcoming book “What Women Tell Me: Finding freedom from the secrets we keep”. You can learn more about Anita, Midday Connection and her book at

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Relish This Day

By Caryn Rivadeneira

Last week a friend told me how happy he was to hear that “kids today” were being taught the classics—that is, the Sunday School classics. He reported that while the kids frequently sang contemporary worship songs, the “classics” like “Trust and Obey,” and “This Is the Day” live on.

The rest of the day, I hummed or sang these songs. I was so happy to have them back in my head. I drove my kids nuts with my attempts to get them to “echo” my lines in “This Is the Day.” They wouldn’t, but I kept singing it anyway. It was a great day—and the perfect song for it.

But then the next day happened. I awoke with a killer headache and three whiney kids complaining about the “nothing” we had to eat. When “This Is The Day” tried to revive itself in my brain, I grumbled at it: Oh, shut up.

As the day went on—and included writers block, a meeting I didn’t have the energy to attend, and a snippy fight with my husband—the song kept sneaking up on me. Each time, I nipped it in the bud with nasty thoughts: I’ve got nothing to be glad in right now. Just shush.

But the song proved persistent, popping up again and again throughout the day. Finally, in the early evening as I sat out on the front porch watching my kids wheel their bikes up and down the driveway, I let it play out in my head.

This is the day (This is the day)
That the Lord has made (That the Lord has made)
We will rejoice (We will rejoice)
And be glad in it (And be glad in it)

These words come straight from the Psalms (118:24, to be exact). While the Psalms contain plenty of praise, much of them were written with a backdrop of horrifying hardship.

As I sat on my porch I wondered why on these icky days (that paled in comparison to the stuff of the Old Testament) it was so hard to rejoice and be glad. Of course, I should rejoice and be glad in any kind of day, I thought. For one—pure and simple—because God made it. And for two, because God uses bad days. And bad weeks. And bad months. And years. He uses them to teach us, to fold us into his arms, and to learn of his goodness. So that we can come out of bad situations assured of God’s faithfulness and singing his praises. Like the Psalmist.

While this is important for me to remember in all areas of my life—as a writer, a mom, a wife, a friend—it rings particularly true when I think of my life as a leader. Because let’s face it, we leaders have plenty of junky days—when hard decisions have to be made. When we face criticism. When the right thing looks wrong to others. When we feel alone or burned out. When we wish we could delete the very day we were in—or fast-forward to a better one.

And yet, each of these bad days is a day that the Lord has made. What would it look like if we learned to relish these hard times—to rejoice and actually be glad in them? Once I recognized that even a headachy, crabby, annoyance-filled day was made my God—and allowed myself to rejoice in it—my perspective changed. It’s funny how that happens.

Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of Mama’s Got a Fake I.D.: How to Reveal The Real You Behind All That Mom (WaterBrook Press, 2009). She lives in the western suburbs of Chicago with her husband and three kids. You can find her book here:

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Living in Grace

by Keri Wyatt Kent

It’s been said that if we forget the past, we are destined to repeat its mistakes. So I wonder what will happen in a culture focused on the here and now, a culture that proclaims anything not the latest and greatest is “so five minutes ago.”

I do a lot of teaching and writing on the ancient practice of Sabbath, which God told us to observe and remember. It was an important enough directive that it is included in the Ten Commandments. I’ve had people argue with me that because of Jesus, we are set free from the law, so we don’t need to practice Sabbath. While it is true that we are saved by grace and not by keeping the law, that doesn’t necessarily “prove” that Sabbath keeping is irrelevant, any more than salvation by grace demonstrates that any of the other commandments are irrelevant. Even if we are trusting Jesus for redemption, we still believe “don’t lie” and “don’t murder” are good rules to live by, and act accordingly.

We won’t earn God’s favor through rule-keeping, which actually has exciting implications for those who want to practice Sabbath. It sets us free from legalism, and allows us to enter into the heart of Sabbath rest—which is a picture of communion with God. It allows us to experience grace. Sabbath began as a Jewish practice—and the roots of the Christian faith are firmly planted in Judaism. When we understand and appreciate the common past we have with Jewish people, we come to understand our faith, and indeed Jesus, in a new way. We must understand the context of our faith.

There are threads running through Sabbath that give it richer meaning. Just as the children of Israel kept Sabbath as a reminder of their being freed from slavery, we are freed from the slavery of sin. Just as Sabbath flattened social hierarchy, Jesus did as well. The two loaves of bread on the traditional Jewish Shabbat table represent the two portions of manna the Israelites would gather on the day before Sabbath. The practice reminds us of the past. But it also looks ahead. Our communion table, like the Sabbath table, is adorned with bread, candles and wine. The loaves also represent the ultimate sacrifice of the Lord of the Sabbath, who referred to himself as the bread of heaven. It’s also a prophetic picture of our ultimate spiritual rest in heaven, in perfect communion with Jesus.

It’s one thing to see and appreciate the connections between the Old Testament and the New Testament. But when we actually take a day of rest, we live in those connections. We experience physical rest, and it deepens our understanding of spiritual rest. To practice Sabbath is to live in grace.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


by Elisa Morgan

I didn’t used to like coffee. I was a “tea” girl instead. Coffee was – well – it left a “hmmmphghhhh” taste in the front of my mouth. Just behind my front teeth.

Throughout high school exams, college finals, even in the months of early motherhood where I blearily stared at the bundle God had entrusted to me wondering how I would ever manage to feed, bathe and clothe the thing, I didn’t drink coffee. I didn’t like the taste. To be honest, I was a little judgmental about friends and folks who did like coffee. After all, how could they?

And then, in my mid-thirties, it happened. I was minding my own business, seated at a round banquet table having just ingested the chicken dinner. I picked up my dessert fork to tine a bite of chocolate cake into my still-hungry mouth. And then, without really noticing, I reached for my coffee cup that was usually a teacup but had been filled with coffee by some thorough wait staff person. Without noticing its contents, I raised it to my lips.

I sipped. I slurped. I drew my head back and peered at the contents. Something was off. I stared at the espresso color. I swallowed again, ran my tongue against the back of my front teeth, puckered my lips and breathed out and in amazement. I took another sip. I liked it. I liked coffee.

This same stunning surprise has occurred over and over in my relationship with God. There are lots – oh so many things! – that I don’t particularly like at first.

Interruptions that draw my attention off the oh-so-very-important project I’m buried in and on to – get this – a human being. I raise my head from my task and squint at the person before me and am somehow strangely more gratified than I was just minutes before in my all-consumingly vital task.

Disobedient dogs who go running after balls in the middle of the dog park and don’t come back even when I scream their names so loudly my husband can hear me on the deck of our house a mile away. And then they come back so happy, and muddy, and slobbery and oblivious to their error and eager to love and be loved. And I laugh. A concrete illustration of all the very real issues I can’t control in life.

Yep. There are lots of things I don’t like. I honestly think I finally started to like coffee partly because I’d matured to the point that my mouth could take in its offering. But also because I let my guard down – the piece of me that had staked a side of my identity on not liking coffee.

Looking back at my dislike and then like of coffee has made me reconsider all the other things I haven’t liked, and why. Disobedient dogs. Interruptions. Middle of the night tug of wars. Perplexing unanswered prayers. Here’s what I’m discovering: after sitting with most “unliked” things and eventually inviting God to sit with me in them, I start to sip, slurp and eventually draw my head back in surprise deciding: I like it. Sometimes begrudgingly. Sometimes just sorta – but I like it more than I don’t.

Know why? I decide I like it because I like God. And if he’s allowed it and if he’s in it, well, then I guess I like it.

Today I like coffee. Who knows what I’ll like tomorrow?

Monday, July 5, 2010

When God Feels Far

by Nicole Unice

God disappeared last week. After months of new transitions, at last I had opportunities to do what I thought God wanted. And in the busyness, I paused long enough to take stock—and he was gone.

Of course, my mind retorted, God is not missing. God is the Great I AM; he is always personal, always present. One morning – far from home at a conference in Colorado - I stood and gazed at the Rocky Mountains on the horizon. They were about twenty miles away, but visible from every vantage point. But the reality of the mountain—the feeling of a climb beneath my feet, an opportunity to summit and take in the view, even one tree or blade of grass—was so distant, I couldn’t see it or feel it. Like the mountain, God was present, but felt distant.

As leaders in ministry, the feeling of God’s distance can be so unnerving – Bible studies go on, groups must be led, people need to be encouraged – and we wonder if we should even be doing ministry. So in that silence last week I grabbed my Bible and flopped under a tree. I flipped open to the gospels to ask: “What if I was an average girl, living in first century Judea? What would Jesus tell me to do when God feels far and I feel alone?”

I scanned the first two chapters in Matthew while plucking grass…hmm, baby Jesus won’t do. Average Judean girl wouldn’t know about his birth. Chapters three and four-- I couldn’t help think about how I would teach about Jesus’ temptation, rather than what is there for me. My eyes scanned and stuck on Matthew 4:17: “Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”

Repent. I rolled over to stare at the sky and wonder. Who am I, really? Am I the composite of what others see – busy, bright, “gifted?” Am I the me I know—prideful, petulant, selfish? The truth probably lies in the middle, I thought, but either way, just one sentence from the mouth of Jesus reminded me how desperately I need God – Father, Lover, Healer, Savior.

I read on, into Matthew five and six, and I am that Judean girl on the mountainside, watching this wild and wonderful man tell me how to find God. I began to think about the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who are hungry and thirsty for righteousness. I realize that God feels far when I feel strong, because I don’t meet any of that criteria. And I begin to realize that to find God, I need to be where he hangs out. He’s with the downcast and the low. He’s present to the pure of heart.

As the sunlight flickered through the trees, I sensed his whisper again. I’ve been God’s fair-weather friend, available when I have time and it’s convenient. But that isn’t God. And he doesn’t wait on me. I wait on him. I hear him again in the pages of his Word and I feel peace. Perhaps I needed him to be distant, so that I am reminded how much I need him. Perhaps he “hid” so I could seek.

Nicole Unice is a counselor, women's ministry director and writer living in Richmond, VA.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A New Look

By Kristen Fenton

After years of long hair, I decided to be impulsive and get a short haircut. I began my tireless search for the perfect cut for my hair type and facial features. Finally, I found exactly what I wanted in a photo of Jessica Alba: long bangs sweeping across the forehead with gentle curls--full and falling—just past the shoulders.

I brought my picture to the salon and explained to the stylist—in animated detail—how my hair would be transformed into photo-perfect hair. After many gestures and several forms of explanation, I felt I’d said all I could. I took a look in the mirror, drew a deep breath, looked at my stylist and said: “Okay, let’s do this.” By this I meant cut my hair to the specifications I had described. Yet, by this she interpreted cutting several more inches than my plan.

When she finished, I reached back to run my fingers through my hair and was shocked to realize that this process now took a fraction of the time that it used to. My picture of Jessica Alba? Not what was facing me in the mirror.

Later (while internally cursing the stylist who had disregarded my instructions), it struck me that I’ve felt a similar kind of anger toward God lately. I’m in one of those “growth opportunity” seasons of life where I’m living a reality that I never would have planned--a transition period that has lasted far longer than my husband and I would have ever imagined; jobs, health, housing, medical insurance—all up in the air. There are times when I tell God, “This is not the life that I wanted” or “We were obedient to your calling; why is this happening? When are you going to provide?”

I realize that I treat God like I treat my hairstylist. I give God my picture and “dream life specifications” and expect Him to follow through like some sort of genie. Somehow I believe that this picture is what is best for me. In the midst of the waiting, the uncertainty, the “not yet” season of my life, I’m learning that I have a hard time trusting God. But I am seeking to be honest with him and let him into my anger, sadness, grief, and confusion. I’m practicing this honesty because I have a tendency to put on a happy face, search for the silver lining, and pretend that I am content even though my heart feels far from it. I grew up thinking that God liked me better if I was a good girl that followed all the rules. I’m realizing that he prefers that I bring my whole, real, broken self to him instead of my self-polished facade. I’m in process and thankful that God is making his presence and grace known to me in this season.

I’m not loving this haircut. I wouldn’t do it again. But, fortunately I’m starting to (literally and figuratively) grow into this new look.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Little Inspiration

By Debbie Johnson

Yesterday, I started reading Half the Sky - a book about women in developing countries who courageously face their persecutors or start businesses to lift their families out of poverty—inspiring.

This morning, I crept downstairs in the early dawn for a quiet cup of coffee. I watched twenty deer silently walking through fresh dew in the half-light—inspiring.

Today, I want to be inspired by God at every turn. More than that, I need to be inspired. As the leader of a ministry who serves the poor and desperate of India, I can’t go it alone. I need God’s inspiration, guidance and Spirit-breathed power to do my work. Perhaps my favorite definition of inspiration is “inhalation.” Breathing in God.

In India, street children scavenging for food in the garbage is a familiar sight. Many don’t go home in the evening; some due to fear of alcoholic fathers, others because they have no place to go. They survive by petty thievery or begging—or get pulled into drug cartels. They spend nights on sidewalks or in roadside construction pipes. They spend their lives fighting to survive.
In 1997, while traveling in India, our Founder heard the cries of young mothers begging him to take away their children. He later learned that a group was kidnapping these children to offer as sacrifices to an unknown goddess. This broke his heart, leading him to begin homes for orphaned and abandoned children across India.

But it didn’t stop with the children. We also serve the women of India, most of who have been abandoned by their husbands and left to beg. I could go on with grim statistics, but, as hard as it may be to imagine, there is much good news! Our work is making a difference in the lives of these women and children—orphans and widows—as we care for their needs and provide places to worship.

People helping each other - inspiring.

We so often dwell on the negative—worrying over our own children, having too much to do, dealing with disagreeable relationships, struggling with regret or fear. Don’t get me wrong, we need to deal with these realities, but might we be missing the inspiration? It’s easy to get into this “looking down” habit rather than a “looking around” habit—seeing God at every turn, celebrating answered prayers, breathing him in.

When the poor of India hear of Jesus, they are never the same. Millions have been raised to believe they are lower than animals, but hearing that they are made in God’s image and loved by him is transformational. You should see their beaming faces! Inspiration takes on new meaning when we are able to see things through their eyes.

I want that kind of inspiration. I want the “looking around” habit. I want to be inspired to love greatly, whether my tasks are big or small. And, truly, most of my tasks are small and invisible and surely not glamorous, but even so—I can still live an inspired life.

Today I will watch for God and breathe him in.

Debbie Johnson is the Executive Director of United Evangelical Mission International (UEMI). In India, UEMI has 15 children's homes, a school in Bangalore, women's programs, and a church planting division.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Commencing Now

By Carla Foote

It’s graduation season and you may have recently attended a commencement ceremony. I attended a college graduation this year and a high school graduation last year. Most graduation speeches follow a somewhat predictable formula of using a metaphor for this new beginning and then inspiring the graduates to go out and make a difference in the world. In the whirlwind of the celebration, I wonder if those speeches are a bit lost on the near-adults sitting in rows wearing caps and gowns. After their investment of time and energy in schooling and extra-curricular activities, are they focused on what the speaker is encouraging them to do? Or are they just so relieved to be done that the speech washes over them?

Personally, I am a complete sucker for the emotion and expectations of the graduation season, and I find myself inspired by the speeches, even though I’m not the one “commencing” a new season of life. Or am I?

Perhaps graduation speeches really are for those of us at different stages of life, commencing with each day. Often speakers emphasize that “real life” starts after graduation from school, but I think real life is every stage, every season, every phase.

As women who are influencers in our world – at work, community, church, home, family, school and more – we are cyclical, seasonal beings, in the real life of all our days. There is always a beginning and an ending, and since most of us carry many roles, the transitions overlap and interweave in a crazy-quilt of moments. Some are significant enough to warrant ceremonies – graduations, weddings, funerals, and birthdays – but others are the quiet realization of our own personal transitions and seasons of change.

Last week I tried to set aside a part of a day for reflection, for sitting on my porch and considering my season and call. Some of my thoughts shifted as a result of that day, qualifying it as what I will call a “commencement” – if only a commencement of new thinking. No “Pomp and Circumstance,” no speeches, just a few notes penned in my journal and revised for my blog. But I was open to thinking about my season of life in a new way.

For those of you who might not know anyone graduating right now, I’m sure you can find some inspiring (and probably less-than-inspiring) graduation speeches on YouTube, or you can hum “Pomp and Circumstance” as you take a walk around the block, and you can consider your own seasonality and circumstances. Where is your influence shifting? Where are you being called to step up and lead? It might be a large new season of commencement for you, or the daily commencement of celebrating the challenges of today and choosing to think differently about tomorrow, whatever it may bring.

Carla Foote is Director of Communications at MOPS International ( Outside of work, Carla enjoys time spent gardening, because it is good for her soul. Her garden blog is

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Pass it On

By Suanne Camfield

Last September, Tracey Bianchi launched the FullFill™ blog (Weekly ReFill) with a post titled: “Oooo, I wanna be just like that!”

Tracey and I are friends. We are ministry partners. We are writing cohorts. We share dreams, swap kids, groan when we hit marital and relational speed bumps, saddle up through personal and professional valleys and victoriously clink our glasses when we’ve clawed our way to the other side. And on more than one occasion, as I have watched this woman excel in her gifts, the title of that article has run through my mind, “Oooo, I wanna be just like that!”

I have a confession: My spiritual gift is comparison.

About two months ago, Tracey called me. Demands on her time as a women’s pastor, author, speaker and mom had been steadily increasing, forcing her to make some tough decisions about how to prioritize her influence. The result? A decision to step down as the manager of the FullFill™ blog. FullFill™ publisher Elisa Morgan applauded her decision and so did I.

Then Tracey asked if she could recommend me to take her place.

This inaugural post skated through my mind at the same time I was reminded of an email I sent her a few months earlier.

It was a Sunday afternoon. She had just preached a killer sermon. Her quick mind, skilled story-telling and easy banter with the crowd made me beam over the woman God had uniquely fashioned her to be. (Not to mention she looked amazing in dark denim pants and cute leather boots!) As the day went on, however, I unwillingly found my spiritual gift in full gear, creating an internal shrinking that left me completely annoyed with myself—I definitely knew better than this. Recognizing my erroneous (okay, immature) thoughts, I jotted an email telling her how proud I was of her gifts and confessing the impact I allowed her influence to have on my own soul. She graciously accepted my apology. It was an exchange that set me free from my comparison and deepened our friendship.

When I hung up the phone with her months later (and subsequently accepted Elisa’s offer to manage the FullFill™ blog), I felt God’s pleasure. Our simple exchange—the passing of this blog from one leader to another—reminded me of both the beauty and of the power of a community of impassioned women who are truly for one another. As leaders who desire growth, it’s essential to surround ourselves with others who challenge and inspire us. The irony of the beauty, however, is the greater the giftedness, the greater the temptation to compare. If we dwell in these moments of inadequacy, we can become paralyzed and defeated. But if we have the courage to be honest before God and one another—and use these moments to encourage and spur one another on—there is no stopping what God can do in and through us.

I’m grateful for this lesson in my life, and I celebrate all the women who have allowed it to be so. No one more than my friend Tracey.

This is definitely one to clink the glasses over.

Suanne Camfield is a writer, speaker, Bible teacher and FullFill™ Blog Manager. She lives with her family in Chicago, Illinois. Tracey Bianchi stepped aside as blog manager in May. You can learn about Tracey’s book and other musings at

Monday, May 31, 2010

Piece by Piece

By Jennifer Grant

Standing in the grocery store, comparing the prices of two boxes of cereal, I hit a snag. One is priced by the ounce and the other by the package. I look from one to the other. My mind wanders; math is not my strong suit. “What’s love got to do, got to do with it? Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?” Tina Turner bellows over the store’s sound system. I toss a box of cereal into my cart, aware that I am to be able to feed my children well with little effort.

Only last month, I was in Zambia with people for whom this grocery store might seem more like Willie Wonka’s chocolate factory—mind-blowingly strange and obscenely lavish.

I went to Zambia as a journalist, asking questions and jotting down ideas. And I wrote down numbers. Big numbers like 15-18 million, the number of children globally who have been orphaned by AIDS. And 9.5 million, those who live below the poverty line. I wrote down smaller numbers, too. Like 38, or how many years from birth the average Zambian will live.

Words are my thing. Words and stories. And even before I arrived, people started telling me stories about Chikumbuso Women and Orphans project, established in 2005 by Linda Wilkinson. Chikumbuso. It’s nice to say out loud. And when people talk about Linda and Chikumbuso, their eyes light up. I knew I had to go there.

Linda’s husband Bruce Wilkinson has worked with World Vision in Africa for decades. Bruce told me that before they relocated for his current job in Zambia, Linda just knew that there was work there for her to do. Although she didn’t know what it would be, she asked their network of friends and church supporters for donations for a new, as yet unidentified, ministry. They responded.

That work, of course, became Chikumbuso. When she started Chikumbuso, Linda hoped to help one widow and her seven children. Today, more than 300 children attend school there. More than 60 widows make and sell beautiful purses, jewelry, and other items. In a kitchen, women grind and press soybeans and make tofu and soymilk. Young men make bags and t-shirts with repurposed fabric.

Here’s another number for you: three. Three is the number of acres, surrounding Chikumbuso, on which the 9,000-10,000 residents of the Ng’ombe township live. Ng’ombe is what academics sometimes call a “self-help” or “settlement” housing area; others refer to it as a densely populated slum.

(For comparison, my hometown of Wheaton, Ill., has a population of 55,000 and we live on more than 7,000 acres. Even if—like me—you’re bad at math, you likely get a sense of the crowding and lack of material resources in Ng’ombe.)

Linda told me that some people assume that Chikumbuso’s tidy compound, with its water pump, large wooden play structure, school rooms, and the rest came into being all at once.

“When you see the project, you think that it has been a well thought-out and greatly organized, but the fact is that Jesus gave it to us piece by piece, knowing just how much we could handle,” Linda said. She asks for prayers for the children at Chikumbuso, “that they may feel the love of Jesus and the community center all around them so that their minds can rest.”

What’s love got to do with it?


When we believe this, we can draw courage from Linda’s story. We can have faith that when there is work to be done but we’re not certain where to start, we can trust Jesus to give it to us, piece by piece.

(Note: Linda Wilkinson will be in the U.S. this summer. If you would like to speak with her about the project, contact her at Chikumbuso is also on Facebook and is on the web at

Monday, May 24, 2010

Dixie Cup Gardens

By Elisa Morgan
My first garden was planted in a Dixie cup. My kindergarten teacher passed out Dixie cups and marigold seeds, and then troweled mounds of dark earth into each of our "flower pots". Tiny servings of water were added to our dirt to create what looked like mud to me. Finally she instructed us to gently punch the marigold seed down into the dirt.

I took my Dixie cup garden home, carefully carrying the cup in my chubby fingers until I safely arrived and lodged it on the kitchen windowsill - just above the sink. Each morning I sprang from my bed to check its progress. I'd race from my bedroom to the kitchen, drag a chair to the counter and clamber up to peer into my cup. It always looked the same to me: brown, muddy dirt in a cup. Faithfully, I watered the soil. Loyally, I turned the cup so that all sides experienced equal exposure to the sun and the view from the window.

But each day, the inspection of my Dixie cup garden revealed nothing. Zip. I remember one morning I was particularly impatient. I scrambled up on the chair and peered over its edge. Brown dirt in a cup. Bother! I ran to get my mom and begged her to let me dig up that stupid seed so that I could see what it was doing down there in the dark. My mother wisely explained to me that I could certainly dig up the seed but that if I did, I would interrupt its growth and it then might not grow at all.

So much of life is like this Dixie cup garden. We fill a cup with our best provisions and punch in the seeds of our dreams and desires and then sit-waiting-starring at the brown dirt in a cup, wondering when something will grow from our efforts. Gardens of dreams for this season and the next. For our leadership to yield fruit. For our marriage to be more meaningful. For our homes to reflect our values - and tastes. For our children to need us just a tiny bit less -so that we can breathe! We plant the seeds of our dearest dreams today...and wait for what the future will bring out of what looks like just brown dirt in a cup.

I supposed God must feel a bit like us as he waits for the seeds he's planted in the soil of our days to sprout. But unlike us, he knows what flowers he has planted. He understands the right circumstances (sun, water, manure) that will help us grow. Where we see brown dirt in a cup in our own lives, he sees beneath the soil to what is developing in us. He provides a model of how to wait for growth to occur.

Despite my doubts, that seed in the mud eventually sprouted and stuck its head up and over the edge of its Dixie cup container. Seeds grow in the dirt, in the dark, over a long period of time. They demand patience, persistence and a tremendous amount of faith. Help me - holy, heavenly Gardener, to resist the urge to dig them up.

Elisa Morgan is Publisher of FullFill™ ( and author of She Did What She Could ( For twenty years, she served as CEO of MOPS International ( and is now President Emerita.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The GIft of a Prodigal

By Judy Douglass

Eighteen years ago, God sent us a son. He was 9 years old when he came into our family. His first years had been very difficult and challenging. And he brought many challenges into our home.

We sought to love him, provide for him, accept him, encourage him—and we saw some good things happen in his life. But as he entered his teen years, he increasingly made choices that countered all our efforts and put him at great risk.

The years that followed were difficult and painful. Nothing we did seemed to convince him of our love and acceptance nor help him to make positive choices for his life. We were driven to our knees as the only help for our son.

Over the next years, as we spent many hours and days beseeching the Lord, God slowly brought changes in his life. He finally began to believe that we loved and accepted him. He began to make more responsible choices, to comprehend the serious consequences of the path he was on. He is still paying the price for some of those choices. He is not yet where we would like to see him, but he is moving in a good direction. We are grateful for the better path, though often impatient to see even greater transformation. We are eager to see all that God has in store for him.

But for me, as difficult as it has been, this journey has been an incredible gift. God has used our son to reveal weaknesses I didn’t know I had—and strengths I didn’t realize I possessed.

And God has used our son to show me so much more of Himself. I understand unconditional love at a much deeper level—and that unconditional love doesn’t demand love in return. In urging me many times not to give up on my son, God has reminded me that He has never given up on me. And certainly I have made many stupid and sinful choices that merit grave consequences, but His mercy has prevailed. When my feelings turned to anger, God reminded me that he has redeemed me with tender mercy and wooed me with lovingkindness.

In earlier days, in my thwarted desire for my son to love me and the pain that created, I got a glimpse of the pain I have often caused my Savior. When I have preferred someone or something else, when I have thought something else would satisfy my longings or when I have put another higher in my affections than Jesus, He has felt the rejection. Yet still He lovingly welcomes me back and delights in me.

One more gift: My prayer efforts for our son led to a Worldwide Day of Prayer for him every June 2. After several years of focused prayer from hundreds of friends, we began to see slow but real change. God said I should share the blessing and the Worldwide Day of Prayer for Prodigals was born. Every June 2 thousands come together virtually, or individually, or in small groups to pray for a list of hundreds of those needing a touch from God. We have an active website——that is full of resources and is an amazing prayer community.

Struggle and pain, for sure. But I wouldn’t trade them because of the gifts I have received through this prodigal are of far greater value. I am so grateful to God for him.