Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Let them eat cake!

By Carolyn Custis James What sounds like an unimaginative idea for a birthday party or a standard option for a wedding reception is actually the appallingly insensitive remark historically attributed to Marie Antoinette on hearing that the poor in France were without bread. The princess’ inability to think beyond her own lavish lifestyle and abundant resources to contemplate the realities of famine and the resultant suffering of her people boggle the mind. History has given us distance from the dire conditions plaguing France during her time, and we make light of her heartless remark without realizing we have detected a speck in someone else’s eye, when we are guilty of a similar blindness. It wasn’t until 9/11 tore apart a curtain that comfortably sealed us off from the rest of the world and we began to see the images of women concealed by sky-blue burkas, that I began to realize our localized discussion (and sometimes heated debates) over God’s calling on the lives of his daughters is taking place in isolation from the rest of the world and depriving countless women and girls of meaning and purpose no matter where or how their lives are playing out. What is worse, our isolation is causing us to set in stone a theology of women that doesn’t hold up in the lives of many women here and is irrelevant elsewhere in the world where situations aren’t as favorable as those we enjoy. The difference between prosperity and deprivation is one thing. The desperate plight of women and girls in the world opens up a whole new dimension of existence that is wholly missing from this discussion. Read Half the Church, if you wonder what I mean. When we ask what is the Bible’s message for us, do we include the girl who has been trafficked, the widow who has been cast out by her family to beg for a living, or the woman who has been gang raped? Does the message we embrace offer them just as much hope, redemption and purpose as we seek for ourselves? Or are they too broken, too damaged to enjoy the blessings we savor or to answer the calling God places on the lives of all his daughters? Are we settling for a prosperity gospel for women, when the gospel offers all women so much more? What may surprise you is that by opening our discussion of the Bible’s message for women and girls to include every woman and girl, bar none, we will discover that the Bible’s message is richer, stronger, and more empowering for all of us than what we’ve been willing to accept. No matter how well life is going for us at the moment, none of us can count on answers for ourselves that collapse under the weight of other women’s lives or of an unexpected change in our own circumstances. We need a whole lot more than cake to live with hope in a fallen world. Carolyn is president of WhitbyForum, a ministry dedicated to helping women pursue a deeper relationship with God and serve Him alongside their Christian brothers. She is also founder and president of the Synergy Women's Network, Inc.-a national organization for women emerging or engaged in vocational ministry.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Taking the Guilt Out of "No"

By Mary Byers

Leaders who are good at what they do, and do what they say they'll do (which is likely you since you're reading this blog), are going to be asked to do a lot of things. As a result, they are going to have to say no more often than the average woman.

Think about it. When a task needs to be done, we don't ask a lazy person to do it. And we certainly don't ask an incompetent person to do it. We ask competent, reliable and gifted people to tackle the task. That's also likely you.

Because of your competence and reliability, you are likely very busy. And because of your talents and skill, you'll be asked to do more than the average person. Both of which mean you'll have to turn down more opportunities. There's a potential guilt trap here. Chances are the more you say no, the guiltier you'll feel. This is the challenge of leaders: they'll be asked to do more, and therefore, they have to say no more.

Acknowledging this is freeing.

I was in my laundry room, feeling guilty for saying no when I realized the value of fully grasping this paradox: busy people are not just busy about things, they also must be busy saying no simply because they are busy. I now realize that the busier the season of life I am in, the more I'll have to say no. But saying no doesn't seem like something to feel guilty about anymore. Instead, it feels like exercising wisdom so that I'm sure not to neglect the things that are making me busy in the first place. This is a complicated but important concept for leaders.

Busyness breeds more busyness. The busier you are, the more you'll be asked to do. And the more you're asked to do, the more you'll have to say no. This may be the biggest challenge for competent and reliable people: understanding that being busy requires more "no" saying than other women have to do. Accepting this fact makes it easier to say no without guilt.

If you routinely say "Sure, I'd be happy to!" before you consider your schedule or even ask yourself if you're interested in what you've been asked to do, use this two-step sanity saver to transform your life. Ask:

1. What does it entail?
2. When do you need to know by?

Rather than saying yes without thinking, this mindful approach to measuring opportunities gives you the time and space to pray about the opportunity; time to check your calendar to see how it will affect other areas of your life; and time to talk to your family if the commitment will pull you away from them more than usual. And, if you have to turn down the activity, it gives you the time and distance necessary to decide how best to do so.

This two-step sanity saver is a simple process but it will have a powerful effect on your leadership. You are assuring that your decision-making is more mindful and deliberate and you'll consistently make better decisions as a result.

Mary Byers is author of How to Say No...And Live to Tell About It and the managing editor of FullFill™.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lowering My Fist

By Karen Booker Schelhaas

I have spent the majority of my adult life learning how to yank my fist down out of its lofty perch. I don’t lower my fist well, nor do I do it without a fight. You’d think the deeper damage to my heart, or even the sheer exhaustion from so much conflict, would make me evaluate this struggle with God, but I think I must enjoy being bull-headed.

But what if I lowered my fist when adversity came, instead of rising up in a screaming match with God over the circumstances He allows? When the winds of life swirl around me in a direction I don’t approve of, or when the weight of the world wilts my shoulders, what if I lowered my fiery eyes and let tears fall as they may. What if I softened my grip and asked to receive from him, believing that he doesn’t waste an ounce of the pain that’s been picked out for me?

I’m not saying I demand a pleasant life, but at least a controllable, reasonable existence. One that involves having my feet firmly planted on the ground and my loved ones safely tucked in to my nest. Funny thing is, the longer I’m at this life thing, the less I seem to be scripting anything.

I watched as my husband gradually lowered his fist to unemployment that stretched on for more than a year. And in the new posture of humility he assumed, he found facets of God he’d never really understood before. Like Jehovah Jirah - God is my provider. Not my provider when my skills are utilized, or when paychecks are routinely showing up on our bank statements, but my Provider apart from anything I bring to the table.

Eleven years ago, I was told eight hours before I delivered that my son would die after his umbilical cord was cut. I watched it all in slow motion, holding my ears so I wouldn’t hear anything as though it might make the whole horrific situation disappear. I’d told God, fist held high, to never take one of my children. I demanded protection and I got death instead.

Death that eventually brought life like I’ve never known and independence from a comfortable script. It was the loss of my son that also brought life to two orphans. The beauty came when I started focusing on receiving from God all that he had for me. I would have been angry and hurt and depressed either way for a while, no matter what. That’s normal. But eventually, lowering my fist to unimaginable pain to peek underneath it - or perhaps above it-brought me out of the blurry mire and in to a place of real clarity, and then hope, and then a life of joy I never knew existed.

I never thought I’d use the word “gift” in conjunction with my greatest heartache, but it really fits. Took me a while to unwrap it, but now I can’t imagine my life without it. I’m asking God to get my fist out of the sky these days - to change my first response to whatever is in front of me. I am learning to stand with upturned, softened hands ready to receive. Even when I can’t see two inches in front of my face.

Karen Booker Schelhaas is a wife, a mom and a woman making her way in this world. She loves red lipstick, eating healthy and being stretched as God calls her up into all he has intended her to be.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

But I’ve Got That One . . . or Maybe Not.

By Caryn Rivadeneira

A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon this good old verse from Matthew 5:43 in a devotional:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

While I’ve read these words of Jesus a zillion times, since I’ve never been the sort to have “enemies” I never gave them much thought. This time, however, was a different story.

Last year my husband ran for public office. He lost—but did well enough that he gained a few enemies, people who view him as future threat to their power. And though it’s been over a year since that election, there are still people whose livelihood seems to be about smearing my husband’s name and preventing him from running again. (I live just outside Chicago—does that help explain things?)

So when I read these words, I went into my husband’s office to chat with him about this—wondering just what it looks like to love our new-found enemies. He and I agreed to start by doing what Jesus said: to pray for them. Amazing how it works. It’s very hard to hate or want to seek revenge on people you pray for.

I thought I’d arrived. Got it, Lord. Check this whole loving-my-enemies thing off my spiritual maturity to-do list. Done.

But then I wrote a little piece about co-ed wrestling. I didn’t think that my position—that Christian faith shouldn’t have prevented one high school boy from wrestling a girl competitor—was that big of a deal.

Apparently, it was. While this was an issue with plenty of room for disagreement, the back-lash from some camps was swift and cruel. My intelligence was questioned. My sexuality was questioned. My morality questioned. My faith was questioned—even denounced by some.

I joked with one friend that the only thing keeping certain people from calling me the Antichrist was that they probably didn’t believe a woman could be the Antichrist. Men only and all.

All this to say, I was gaining enemies of my own. And my first instinct was neither to love nor to pray for them.

I guess I wasn’t ready to check “loving and praying for my enemies” off my list after all.

But this is what I love about God: he gives us so many opportunities to stretch and to grow. Since it was pretty apparent at how I failed at loving my enemies, I’ve been working hard—again—to pray over each new word written against me (or women, in general). And I’m amazed at what God does when we pray for enemies. Makes our own hearts and souls much nicer places.

But more than that, I love how God does call us each to keep stretching. How being “arrived” is something God never wants us to settle for. We’ve always got more work. Always have room to reach higher.

How have you felt God stretching you beyond where you thought you’d “arrived”?

Caryn Rivadeneira is the author of Mama’s Got a Fake I.D.: How to Reveal the Real You Behind All That Mom and the forthcoming Grumble Hallelujah: Learning to Love Life Even When It Lets You Down. Caryn is a member of Redbud Writers Guild and lives with her family in the western suburbs of Chicago.