Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wisdom in Our Calling and Vocation

Do you ever find yourself asking God, "What is it exactly I'm called to do?  Or maybe you've asked, "What is the goal of my vocation?" I spent my summer chasing a writing deadline with a very clear goal at the end: a book.  All my closest people heard about this goal, whether they wanted to or not, because finishing the book was constantly on my mind.  In fact, my husband and girls were super supportive throughout the eight and ten hour writing days until the very end when each one said, "Isn't that book done yet?"  Reaching that goal, finishing the book felt so good.  You might read this and think, "She's fortunate to know her vocation, her calling."

Well, here's the backstory.  For almost ten years, when my daughters went through preschool and elementary school, I asked myself the questions above.  I wanted to write a second book not only for the subject but also for my vocation, my work, my calling. And it took ten years until it finally happened.  Year after year it seemed every door would close and every answer was "no."  In dark moments, I let the closed doors and the confusion of hearing, "no" serve to distract me from doing what my Heavenly Father wanted.  Ironically, as the ten-year-story of my life unfolded, I did walk in my calling and vocation but not the way I thought I would hear it and live it.

Here's Five Nuggets of Wisdom I learned in the Past Ten Years:  (I have more but five is a good start)
  1. Our calling can come from a revelation, an invitation, or an employment situation.  I may not have said "Yes" to every invitation or job opportunity but I embraced certain ones with my whole heart.  I do not regret taking jobs or projects that seemed out of the box.
  2. What brings us deep satisfaction tells us something about our calling.  On the Friday after I finished the book, I felt joy--a full and filling happiness that caused me to laugh.  The days and weeks that followed were not filled with more writing but with extended time with friends and family I had missed while I was writing.  The satisfaction I experienced from spending time with them is also a part of my calling; satisfaction has a way of leading us.
  3. The "seasons" of our lives don't need to frighten us.  I wanted to do everything at once.  I have women friends who do this beautifully.  I wasn't one of those.  When the fruits of the Spirit started rotting in my heart because I was stressed, I knew it was God's way of letting me know I walked away from my calling.  I'm so thankful for a season of writing: it had a beginning and an end. Before that season, I had a season of no writing; I felt like Habakkuk in chapter three.  Looking back, that season had a beginning and end, too.  Don't let the word "seasons" frighten you.
  4. Marriage and Parenting are part of our vocation. Building meaningful relationships with my husband and daughters required me to slow the pace of my life down significantly. I made a costly choice to work with more flexible hours. 
  5. The burdens and pains I feel are an indication of my vocation and calling.  The very things that broke my heart and seared it with sadness were gifts God gave me to follow my call.  I learned to pay careful attention to them so I wouldn't lose the gifts I was born to embrace and hold dear to my chest.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

After a few months' break from blog-writing, I'm starting today to write about a new topic: Goals and A Woman's Vocation.  While I was finishing my book this summer, I had the sense that the chapter on vocation was calling for more attention.  As Christian women, we don't always have safe places to talk about our vocation and ask our deepest questions in fear of being misunderstood or judged.  Yet Scripture has much to say about our calling, our work, and our vocation.  Whether your work is full-time, part-time, volunteer, inside the home, around the world or caring for your closest people, I hope and pray there will something in these real-life writings that will speak to you or create good questions for you.  

Feeling Like We've Missed Something

The moment I realized something in our communication went wrong, I became livid.  I was angry that my daughter had not arrived at the meeting place we agreed upon.  Checking my phone to see if I missed her texts, it was as if I could hear the minutes counting loudly, "Five, six, ten, twenty."  Questions raged and flared within me, "How could she be so disrespectful?"  "Why am I living my life for everyone else?" In the half-hour I waited for the car to pull up, I decided I would take her phone away for a week, I would not be so available to take her or her sisters places, and I decided it was time for me to take on a full-time job an hour away so my family would appreciate me more!

The second my daughter climbed into the car she heard and she saw how unsatisfied I was and she was prepared for this as she apologized.  She knew I was dissatisfied with her not calling, with the position she put me in--inconvenienced and uncomfortable.  By this time, both of us were in tears and unable to to have good communication.  As I drove home, skewed images and dark fascinations began to form in my mind as I willed myself not to speed:   These are the moments my daughter will remember when she's 25, her mom being mad at her; I've sacrificed my job skills to build a family and I've failed. And then the darkest downward spiraling thought came: I'm done! Why do I try so hard when things don't go my way?!

At the heart of our vocation and calling, we hear voices tempting us to imagine that there's a better life for us.  The tempting voices are from our enemy who wants to trip us up into feeling we've missed something bigger and better and more important than what we've done or what we're doing right now.  Our calling is to be fully human Christian women who bring Light into the world.  My flesh was crying out for satisfaction when things didn't turn out the way I planned with my daughter.  But couldn't that happen with my colleague? My boss? My employee? My friend? Finding satisfaction in our vocation and calling happens when we realize the voice of the enemy is trying to distract us.  At the end of the day when I realized I had been distracted, I was in a better place to accept my daughter's apology and to simply explain my expectations of her.  What brings you dissatisfaction in your calling, vocation, your life?  Can you identify the voices and see them as distractions?

Psalm 90:14 "Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad  all our days."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The "Must-Know" Prayer for Women Leaders

The “Must-Know” Prayer for Women Leaders  
MaryKate Morse, Guest Blogger 

A little while ago during a meeting, I had pressed a point that I thought was important. I came back to it a couple of times because I could see that my colleagues did not get it. Others were angry that I had brought it up, so I thought they didn’t understand. After the meeting I received an email from my boss taking me to task for causing problems. He put me in my “place.”  As I sat at my desk reading the email a deep sigh escaped me. I was and am weary of my contributions as a leader being perceived as “inappropriate.” I am a wife, mother, grandmother, and a woman who has leadership gifts. How do I lead as a woman called and released by God even when resistance is common?

Social research has shown that women’s identity gets constructed through relationships while men’s identity comes through accomplishments. So, people want women to be nice and play nice. If they are accomplished or show strength, their femininity is questioned.  If men speak up about an issue, they are “passionate.” When a woman speaks up she is often labeled a “control freak.” People are uncomfortable when a woman is strong. What bothered me most about my situation wasn’t the email censure, but rather knowing that men in these meetings who act passionately about a point and press it did not get emails from the boss putting them in their place.

So, what do I do? Women leaders face unique challenges throughout their lives as wives, mothers, aunts and sisters. Not just here in the United States but around the world. Women are 70 percent of the poorest and most vulnerable people on earth. One in three women suffers some form of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse by men during her lifetime. And yet we lead. We want to make a difference for Christ. We want to be obedient to God’s mission to go and make disciples. So how do persevere emotionally and spiritually?  What do we do as women who love Jesus and lead?

We begin with prayer, and I have found one that helps me a lot. When Jesus was facing his greatest challenge – his betrayal, torture, and crucifixion – he went to his Father in prayer. Jesus suffered injustice and pain, yet he prayed. He was misunderstood, ridiculed, de-valued, yet he prayed. In the Garden with even his closest friends unable to be present with him, he poured out his heart to his Father who loved him completely. Jesus prayed for himself with intensity and deep emotion. His prayer was raw and honest. He prayed three times for God to take this cup from him. Three times is a Biblical literary device to mean completeness. In other words, Jesus prayed his way through from his despair to fully entrusting himself to God. He said each time, “Your will be done,” until it was deeply settled in his heart. Jesus modeled for us the first steps on a difficult journey.

So, I do what my Lord did. When I feel misunderstood, frustrated, and weary on this leadership journey as a woman, I tell my Father all about it. I bring a vulnerable honest self to God. I tell God what I want and what I’m feeling, but then I give it all back to God. I pray, “Your will be done.” I do this over and over again until I am back settled in my Father’s arms and released from my weariness and sadness. I entrust myself to God who loves me completely and who watches over me.

The mystery of this prayer is the peace and resilience I have to go back and lead again. Instead of dreading the next time we had a meeting, I arrived feeling clear emotionally. Instead of avoiding my boss, I asked him about his family and day. I knew the struggle was not ultimately mine, but God’s. I felt God’s favor to be myself and trust the Spirit for the outcomes. Nothing really changed for this situation, but I was okay. Though a word of caution as one woman leader to another, sometimes after the prayer of relinquishment, the Holy Spirit will guide you to leave a toxic environment, or help you discern how to confront the person or issue, or help you mature into a better leader. The relinquishment prayer is a first step, not the next step. On our own we cannot change this world, but when we are fully submitted to God, God does watch over us and use us.   

MaryKate Morse
Author Making Room for Leadership: Power, Space, & Influence and A Guidebook to Prayer: 24 Ways to Walk with God

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Nothing Better: Eat, Drink and Be Satisfied

Nothing in our culture encourages us to enjoy God by loving the bodies He gave us.  Body care and weight management is an art and a skill that can be meaningful.  I was asked to speak about the spiritual aspects of weight management recently and I found myself remembering a very difficult season in my life when I was in a pit of unhealthy body issues.

It's not easy for me to reflect on that time but as God lifted me out of the slime, He demonstrated to me how my body was created in wonder--I was wonderfully and fearfully made.

Do you look at your body and believe it was created in wonder?

Glancing quickly at research on this issue, I discovered how 20 million women and 10 million men suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at sometime in their lives.  For many reasons, people struggle with body dissatisfaction.  By age six, girls can start to express concern about their bodies.  This breaks my heart.

Here's a brief story of how God rescued me.

When I was 21-years-old, a senior in college, I realized I had an issue with eating.  From all appearances, I was a successful student, I was in good physical shape (I even taught aerobics), my friendships were strong and I was working to help pay for school.  To deal with the stress, I started to restrict myself from certain foods.  Something was wrong, though, as I knew I was restricting myself from something deeper. But what?  I remember the day I was in our little apartment standing in the kitchen when I devoured a pan of cinnamon rolls in minutes.  It happened before I even knew it.  As I looked up from the dark pit, I asked God, "Why did I just do that?"  Soon after, I heard, "It's an intimacy issue. Your goal is to enjoy me forever and not fill up on anything else."  ( Don't think sexual intimacy here - think emotional connection).

It didn't take me long to let my women friends in on my struggle.  Just telling them, brought both my feet out of the pit.

 What was I so hungry for? 

The preacher in Ecclesiastes 2:11 says, "When I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless  . . ."  Several verses later he concludes that a woman or a man can do nothing better than "to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.  This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or drink or find enjoyment?" (24-25).

I was hungry for satisfaction and here's what I learned through the years about enjoying God through seeing my body as a wonder of His creation:

  • Body care or weight management is a daily craft: a little bit everyday is enough
  • Body care is not just physical: Psalm 139 says we were knit together and fearfully made
  • Body care is meaningful: it's wise to please God by feeding ourselves with plenty of healthy foods
  • Body care is not about being in control but practicing self-control
  • Body care is not about conforming but being transformed

How are you encouraging the younger women around you to see their bodies as a wonder of creation?  I'm asking myself this as I spend my hours with three teenage daughters.

Let's share our lessons with one another in transparency and awe of God's creation.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thoughts From Manhattan

Two weeks ago, I was in Manhattan sitting with 200 women inside the American Bible Society building.  Ten presenters, all assigned to a topic, spoke for 18 minutes at the first Q conference for women: vocation and calling.  With eager expectation, I listened as each woman (and one man) spoke from a place of vulnerability. Each one let me glimpse their precious relationship with God which renewed a vision for my own calling. 

Here are some quotes from the day I want to pass along as you eagerly desire the one thing that is most needed:  A relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Calling is when talents and burdens collide.”
“What are your burdens?  Burdens makes you weep.”
“Vocation means ‘voice or vocal.’ Quite literally, caleo.”
“Vocation is complex, is present, rooted in our grief, friendships, hobbies, children.  It feels complex because it is!”
~Kate Harris

“Ambition is bigger and better than building a tower in our own name.”
“Ambition is knowing your focus.  Choose the better thing.”  (Speaker was referring to Mary/Martha)
“It is true.  God calls us to a work that heals our soul.”
~Kathy Khang

“Whatever you do, do it with valor.”
~Rachel Held Evans

“When women fail to take their lives seriously, nobody wins.”
“Logistical challenges of raising small children should not fall on one person.”
~Shauna Niequist

“The glory of God is a human fully alive.”
“Students have an appalling level of fear for their future.” (Important for us as we nurture the next generation)
Bobbette Buster

“If there’s a call, there must be a caller.”
“God’s call is a demand that I live by design.”  (Speaker was referring to God creating our gender)
“Our call has one elemental core—a reflection of the image of God in our engendered humanity.”
~Kathy Keller   (These quotes are some of my favorites)

“Rest! Be Whole! God is for you”
~Deidre Riggs

What quote speaks to you?

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dear Readers, last week I posted the following question from a younger woman friend:

What does it really mean to have an identity in Christ when everything around me wants to be my identity?

I decided to let your answers be the article for now.  May we just sit with these responses and soak them into our souls.

I believe identity in Christ is similar to being female: When God creates our gender in the womb, we spend the rest of our lives either enhancing that femininity or trying to change it.  When we are born again in Christ, our choice is to either enhance that new identity or continue doing things that don't allow it to blossom and grow.  No matter who or what pulls at us--being a woman, or being Christ's child, it is up to us to choose (and deny) things that prohibit the growth and full development of all God has planned for us.   ~ Toni

The only way for me to know my position in the battle is to know my identity in Christ.  ~ CS

I know to whom I belong and who's perspective of me matters most. It's none of my business what people think of me, but I am consumed in what God thinks of me.  ~ Vida

It means freedom.  Finding my identity in things outside of Christ (my accomplishments, my abilities, my kids, my appearance, my home, etc.) becomes slavery for me.  I have to meet a certain standard to feel good about myself, or I get down if i feel I am failing in an area.  That feels like slavery to me, and it's also very self-centered.  Finding my identity in Christ means my motives matter more than my accomplishments, and the way I make others feel matters more than how much I impress them.  

~ Susan 

When people who know you refrain from cursing and using God's name in vain, you have established an identity in Christ. All else about you becomes secondary.  ~ Sandy

The light of God shining in me ~ Melva

When we accept Christ in our heart, he becomes an important part of our everyday life thus like Jesus, we think of others, not just ME.  ~ Carlena

To me, having an identity in Christ means letting go of every ideal I see all around me and instead focusing on Jesus Christ and asking Him and trusting Him to define me, to affirm me, to love me, to make me into the person He had in mind when He created me.  This isn't easy because a lot of time I feel that I'm swimming upstream but the more I trust Him with who I am, then the stronger I become and the more I realize I really am His daughter.  ~ Beth

It requires spending regular time looking into my soul in the presence of God.  ~ Sheri

For me my identity is ALWAYS in something other than Christ it seems.  I'm The mom of my kids and to their friends; Mrs. Sheffield, I'm a doctor's wife . . . and this is somehow a comfort to friends who are sick. I'm a Bible study teacher and a great friend and a mentor. . . this summer I was a house building project manager and a wedding coordinator and even a moving company! But EVERY hour of every day I had to ask myself was I being a representative of Christ?  For ME...that's MY identity . . .not mom or Mrs., teacher, friend or mentor.  Frankly they all meant nothing if I was not being Christ's representative.  Because if I am being His representative then my words speak actions show would identify me as one of HIS!…not Mrs. Sheffield…not The Bible study teacher that you heard an awesome lecture from (or a sucky one from) last week…but someone who others say, "You look different than last time I saw you!" And your response could be, "Oh, this? It's just my identity in Christ spreading!" That is MY hope for what my identity in Christ really means. ~ Laurie Sheffield

For me, it meant that this morning, when my mind was whirling with all that needs to be accomplished in the next few days—the work assignments, the wedding to attend, the potluck dish to prepare, the schoolwork to track down, the friend I need to call—I could pause, take a deep breath, and pray, “You are God alone. Help me remember that everything does not depend on me. You are at work, even when I can’t see it. You have it all under control. You love me even when I fall short. And your kingdom is all that matters.”  ~ Laura

Romans 14:22 “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves.”
So far in my life, I have found that being able to say and do from a place of agreement with myself, and making my yes "yes" and my no "no," solidifies His identity in me more than an identity based on what others think.  That agreement comes most naturally when I am in a place of daily communion with Him.  ~ Angela

My identity is based on the fact that I am: deeply loved, completely forgiven, fully pleasing, powerfully equipped, totally accepted, and complete in Christ according to His Words. My responsibility is to meditate on this Truth; replace the lies/idols in my head with His Words; and let His character be my character. (Romans 8:38-39; Romans 8:1; Ephesians 1:5; II Timothy 1:7; I Peter 2:9; John 10:27-28) 
~ Morna Gilbert, author of Identity Theft: a Crises in Character

It is all about making choices between need and want. Sometimes we must be prepared to stand alone in our choices because they show our identities.  ~ Lynelle

I have always been intrigued by the word IN with the expression IN CHRIST used 22 times in Ephesians.  Greek dictionaries say IN means a FIXED POSITION.  Everything else that tries to define my identify MOVES. Nothing is as solid as Christ.  ~ Christie Miller

Freedom. Freedom to be me, not who others want me to be. Free to be my very best and that's what God has for me when I find my identity in Him.  ~ Joy Roberts

Your identity in Christ is like a HUGS candy!  The dark chocolate (you) swirled together with the white chocolate (Christ in God), cannot be separated no matter the knife or the teeth.  God's steadfast love in Christ bound you to him forever--nothing can break it, not even you!  The externals of life--your mind, your body, your clothes, your relationships and role(s), your job, your hobbies, your circumstances, etc.--do not define you.  Your identity is bound to his, and THAT is even sweeter than a HUGS!  (Psalms 36:5 and 86:5; Romans 8:38-39)  ~ Michelle

I was thinking that to have my identity truly be in Christ means that I am totally living in humility to Him.   I am not performing and doing my daily jobs to be noticed and seen and loved and appreciated by those around me, rather I am (trying) to do these daily tasks for the Lord.   When I truly try to do all things for the Lord then I find that my identity is in Him, and it is not in myself, and that is when I find true joy and ability to focus on those around me, and not my concern only being self.  ~ Amy

Our identity in Christ is inward, fixed, eternal and independent of circumstances.   Every other identity is more like a hat that may be worn for a season, but is subject to the fluctuations of time and situation.  Christ is central to our soul, everything else just explains outer experiences and actions.  As the branch cannot bear fruit apart from abiding in the vine, apart from Christ, we can do nothing.   ~ Melissa

I think truly what our heart desires is an identity that never changes--that is secure. When "everything around me" shifts and changes, knowing that my identity in Christ is secure and unchanging brings a peace that nothing else can.  ~ JS

When Jesus said that we are to "die to self", He meant that we are no longer alive with the world's 'draw': its passions and pleasures. We are alive in Christ, part of His family and new creations in Him. "The old has gone, the new has come!."
  Our identity becomes heirs with God and joint-heirs with Christ. We should have a family resemblance.
 On the" flip" side, when the world tries to seek, hurt, destroy us, we should not "feel" it if we are truly dead to the works and alive in Christ.

   ~ Diane

To have my identity in Jesus in the middle of so many temptations to place my identity and value in something or someone else is critical to the process of renewing my mind daily.  I cannot count how many times over the years I have had to remind myself, as a part of renewing my mind, by saying over and over again, “Abba, I belong to you!”  It’s like a reset button that helps me go back to my foundation and approach whatever is going on in my life from there.  Needless to say, I “renew my mind” frequently.  ~ Sally