Stop the One-Up Game

Comparison demolishes. Why can’t we encourage each other where we are instead of trying to validate ourselves by proving ourselves as more as another’s expense?

Work-from-home moms versus corporate moms. moms

Single women versus married women.

Women who have children, struggle to have children, or choose not to have children.

Women who earn six figures versus women on government aid.

Women who regularly work out versus those who don’t.

Women who cook their own meals versus those who eat out most of the time.

Women who eat organically or are vegetarians or cut carbs or drink caffeinated drinks or…any other food choice.

Women who cut coupons versus those who focus on things other than getting the best deal.

Women who organize well versus those who live in an “organized” mess.”

Women who live in a city, small town, abroad, or in the country.

Women who go to a community college, university, trade school, or other option.

Women who have work through baggage and are moving on versus those who seem stuck.

Women who make friends easily versus those are more comfortable keeping to themselves.

Women who serve in the limelight throughout the community versus those who serve in the quiet, unnoticed places.

The list could go on and on.

I’m not saying there are no standards toward which we need to encourage each other. There are. They are God’s. But we so often misrepresent God’s standards by emphasizing what we most want to emphasize. We get culturally-stunted, filtering everything through our own communities and personal experiences, so if someone chooses to do something outside what we think is the norm, we get defensive or offended. I’m not talking about right and wrong. I’m talking about the personal freedoms God gives us. Personal freedoms that really aren’t ours; because they come from God, they are God’s gifts, which means we need to use them within His will. And God’s will always, always includes other people. We don’t get to do what we want to do because of our own preference. We choose differences because God made us different. We’re unique, yet we’re connected…to God as well as to others.

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (1 Corinthians 9:19-23)

We have a responsibility to honor God in our own lives as well as in our relationships. Comparison isn’t part of that responsibility. God is just, and He will take care of all the comparing that needs to get done, and it will be comparisons to who He intends us to be, not who we expect ourselves or others to be.

Stop the one-up game. No one wins.

Change the Topic

topicchangeThe sign on the table said “Ministry to Women.” It was one of many tables from which people attending the networking breakfast could choose. Seats were first-come, first-served, so those who didn’t arrive early took the risk of having to sit at a table that was less than an ideal fit for them. And that’s what happened at the Ministry to Women table. Just as the program was beginning, a man slipped into the room, looked around urgently, then slipped into one of the chairs at the table with us.

As the facilitator, I wanted to be sure he felt as welcome as everyone else, but I was concerned about his comfort level…and the comfort levels of the women at the table. Everyone one seemed fine, and as we began introducing ourselves and sharing why we chose to sit at the Ministry to Women table, he confessed, “I really wanted to sit at the Elders table, but it was already full. But this table interests me, too. I thought that it said Ministry of Women, not Ministry to Women, and I’m curious to find out what you think about women in various ministry positions and roles.”

I was faced with a choice: (1) Stick to the plan of covering topics under the umbrella of Ministry to Women, which would meet the needs of the majority at the table. (2) Explore the Ministry of Women topic, which would meet the curiosity of one person. Majority rules, right?

Not necessarily.

I knew if I tried to control the conversation, push an agenda, or meet everyone’s needs, I’d fail as a facilitator. So I took a deep breath, set aside all my preparations and expectations, and guided the next forty-five minutes’ discussion by asking thought-provoking questions, acknowledging and affirming each person, and most important, trusting God to guide.

And we had a great conversation. As unexpected as it was and as controversial as it could have been, our discussion was filled with respect, inquisitiveness, and investment. Everyone had something to say and took his or her focus off personal experiences and onto ways to invite conversations and investment in the process, including ideas for moving forward in personal circles and ministries.

We can often get a little off-balanced when things don’t go the way we expect them to go, and that unbalance can make us just edgy enough to get defensive or take control. We can begin to push our own agendas, try to prove others wrong…and forget that settling the controversy isn’t about the topic itself as much as it’s about the relationships we’re establishing along the way. When we’re sitting on the edge of our seats, waiting to respond in order to prove our points or tear someone else’s apart, we miss the process. We miss the opportunity to meet others where we share common ground instead of stopping short because we’ve built a stubborn wall we’re unwilling to cross. Then we call it “establishing healthy boundaries” and rationalize why we can’t move. Supporting a person through listening doesn’t assume you support the idea or viewpoint. But it shows respect.

We miss out on a lot of opportunities to learn from others and about ourselves when we choose to sacrifice the process because it isn’t what we expect or isn’t comfortable. When God brings people into our lives so that what we discuss will sharpen everyone involved, we need to be willing to be involved in the process. We need to trust him to work instead of withdrawing or getting uptight about taking control of the situation. God knows what he’s doing.

The table discussion wasn’t what I expected, yet we weren’t read to end our discussion at the end of the networking breakfast. We exchanged contact information and enjoyed seeing each other throughout the conference in the following days. We didn’t get stuck in the differences; we moved forward in the possibilities. We encouraged each other and invited each person to share, question, and advice. We walked away feeling respected and appreciative that God gave us a tangible reminder of the value of the friendships he brings into our lives every day.

Look around you today. Even when you have a common purpose with someone, you might find you’re very different. Invite the opportunity to explore the differences while you’re standing on the common ground of respect.

To those who are without the law I became like a person who is without the law. I did this to win those people who are without the law. (But really, I am not without God’s law—I am ruled by Christ’s law.) To those who are weak, I became weak so I could win the weak. I have become all things to all people so I could save some of them in any way possible. I do all this because of the Good News and so I can share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:21-23)

Guy Chat

I’m a girl, and I understand girl chat a lot better than guy chat.

I had a short layover in Kansas City and was sitting in a quiet corner enjoying a Starbucks drink. At the small round table not far away from me were two men. They were definitely in their stride of conversation when I slipped into the booth near them. They seemed to be a bit familiar with each other but as they shared about their kids, it was apparent they hadn’t known each other for too long. They were talking sports. Because I’m a college football fan, I quickly recognized some of the teams and terms they mentioned. They started talking about different divisions, especially referring to the schools where one of the men’s sons was playing and all the schools that scouted him. It sounds like he’s quite an athlete.

As one man commented on the apparent athleticism of the other dad’s son, the dad’s voice changed a bit as he said, “Yeah, he’s a good athlete. I’m proud of him. But it was really my younger son who was the great athlete. He was going to be something. There wasn’t much he couldn’t do.”

There was an awkward moment before the other man asked the dad, “How old is he?”

“Well, he was fifteen when we lost him. He would have really been something.”

There was a catch in his voice and a long pause before the other man quietly stated, “Sounds like you have reason to be a proud dad.” Then the conversation quickly returned to football and got animated again.

What just happened? If two women would have been sitting at the booth, that awkward moment would have been immediately filled with questions and consolation. There would have been an invitation to share as much as possible about the tragedy and healing process. There likely would have been tears from both women. And the conversation would probably have not returned to the former topic. They probably wouldn’t even remember what the previous topic had been! They’d part ways with a big hug as new friends, promising to keep in touch and check in with each other.

The way the guys handled it wasn’t wrong. I would have been shocked for them to respond in a girl-chat manner. Yet I felt a bit sad for them. I wondered if the dad needed to be able to process aloud for a moment. Maybe not. Perhaps he just needed a moment to be flooded with memories and to share that he has those memories even if he didn’t share the specifics.

It’s not really fair for me to draw a line between girl chat and guy chat. I know many guys that can talk a lot—in person and on the phone. I know some women who sit back and take in a situation before getting involved and sharing. Sharing isn’t always safe. Women benefit from pouring into others and being poured into, but they also get hurt more frequently. Some have learned that lesson and decided not to invest quickly or deeply.

Don’t rely on your default setting. You need to be investing in others’ lives (and them in yours). Consider there are better ways to share, whether that’s withholding or releasing. Either way makes you vulnerable. Vulnerability isn’t a bad thing as long as you’re discerning through the process.

Invite God to guide, revealing to you when and what you need to share and when and to whom you need to listen. When you’re vulnerable in God’s will, you will always heal, learn, and grow.

Morning Stress

We needed something to share as we introduced ourselves. There were about a dozen women gathered around the table, ready to share several days of ministry networking and training. Many of us had travelled and didn’t know each other, but we didn’t want to robotically recite our names. We wanted to share. We wanted to learn. We wanted to relate.

We looked blankly at it other, considering a great question we could answer and share.

“Well, I’d like to hear what stress each of you experienced in preparation to get here this morning!”

The suggestion came from the woman who had just arrived, sliding into the room a few minutes late but before we’d started anything formal. It sounded like a good idea even though nothing too stressful had happened to me. If nothing else, this woman sounded like she’d have a great story to share!

Mine was simple. My hotel roommate and had worked out. She took off running in one direction. I walked in the other direction. She planned to return to the room before me and get her shower. I’d get mine when I got back a bit later. That plan worked with only one glitch: my key didn’t work when I got to the room. I knocked several times, but she couldn’t hear me over the hair dryer. I gave in and went to the front desk for a new key. (I later learned her key had blown into the dumpster by the high winds when she set it down to pull back her hair. When she got a new key, apparently our room had a new code, and my key no longer matched.)

The woman whose idea it was to share stresses told us the story of not being able to get out of her garage because the door wouldn’t move. Another just wanted her hair to look good for our photo shoot. (It did.) Another tried to get ready in the dark so as not to wake her husband. She wore her new red shoes around the house as she got ready, trying to make sure they’d be comfortable throughout the day. They weren’t, so she packed them back in the box and slipped into a faithful pair instead. Her disappointment was short-lived as she remembered a woman who said she just wasn’t brave enough to buy red shoes but wanted a pair – a woman who was sitting at the table. Those red shoes found a new pair of feet that day!

Another woman realized the night before that the bra she needed wasn’t clean, so she handwashed it and hung it to dry. Bras take a long time to air dry, and it was not surprisingly still wet the next morning. She did her best to dry it as she dried her hair but finally decided the dampness just might keep her cool through the day.

My favorite story came from my roommate. I had no idea the excitement I missed while I was walking! She pushed herself to multi-task, wondering if she could possibly combine breakfast and a shower. She fixed herself a bowl of Raisin Bran and try to gulp it quickly while getting her hair wet. However, when she tilted her head back to wet her hair, she didn’t keep the bowl level, and it spilled all over the shower. Time saved was then spent cleaning up the mess, which she did well, because I didn’t suspect a thing! The Raisin-Bran-in-the-Shower story will follow her for years to come.

Our team got to know each other much better as we shared, laughed and encouraged together. There were no pretenses – just a group of real women who looked photo-shoot-ready on the outside but were a bit frazzled on the inside.

What about you?

Take a look around you. Even those who look perfect to you have needs. What common ground will you find? You’ll have to start somewhere, but you can do it.

Take a look inside yourself. Do your insides match your outside? How can you be more authentic and share a bit of yourself with others? You’ll have to start somewhere, but you can do it.

Need some ideas? Try these conversation starters – or share your own!

  • If you could live in any other era, what would it be and why?
  • What’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve done to impress someone?
  • What was your biggest fashion faux paux or wardrobe malfunction?
  • What’s one technology trend you wish you’d had when you were younger?
  • If you could pick a theme song that would play every time you entered a room, what would it be?
  • If talent wasn’t an issue, what career would you choose and why?
  • What’s the oddest job you’ve ever had?
  • If you could eat anything in the world without gaining weight, what would it be?
  • What invention does the world need?
  • What’s your most compulsive daily ritual?

Two people are better than one, because they get more done by working together. If one falls down, the other can help him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

Finding Mercy

I was recently blessed with an opportunity to visit Mercy Ministries in St. Louis. To be honest, I didn’t know much about it. I Googled it to learn the basics, but I wasn’t prepared for the impact it would have on me.

I pulled into the parking lot in front of a beautiful building, and I was reminded…God surprises us with splendor around every turn of our lives. We have to be willing to follow the directions of his will to fully experience what he has for us. 

I was welcomed by warm, smiling faces of young women ready and willing to show me where to go next, and I was reminded…God has an open door policy. Anyone is welcome at anytime.

I walked through the lunch line and assembled a beautiful and healthy salad, and I was reminded…God nourishes us. We have choices of what we feed ourselves. We can choose healthy, sustaining nourishment of truth or temporarily filling of falsehoods.

I sat at a lunch table and talked with a couple young women who shared the basic details of their lives, and I was reminded…God creates each of us with uniqueness and pursues each of us with intense passion.

I heard the story of Mercy Ministries and Nancy Alcorn, and I was reminded…the potential impact we have for God when we simply serve him. God asks for obedience, and when we step out in faith, the ripples of our choices are carried far, deep and wide.

I listened to two young women share their specific stories, and I was reminded…God is merciful. God is present. God is active. God is.

I walked through the beautiful home, and I was reminded…God abundantly provides.

I saw the well-loved stuffed animals propped on the neatly-made beds. I thought of details of girls’ lives each of those stuffed animals had survived, and I was reminded…God gives us the support, encouragement, courage, and strength we need when we need it. We have to grab onto it.

I watched a girl’s eyes fill with tears while she expressed a struggle as well as hope, and I was reminded…there is no balance in life without God. Only God’s perspective can reveal the truth of ourselves, our experiences, and our futures.

I heard about a staff person’s journey to Mercy, and I was reminded…God is the best choreographer.

I saw passion, hurt, healing, hope, struggles, joy and hope at Mercy.

I saw myself in the young women at Mercy. I saw my daughters in the young women at Mercy.

Most important, I saw God.

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. Hebrews 4:16

 

Word!

Word = used casually for slang as affirmation, acknowledgement, agreement; and indication something has impressed you favorably.

At a recent women’s retreat, some of us stayed up way beyond our usual bedtimes. As we played Scattergories, we got sillier and sillier. Things that weren’t funny became hilarious. Several women ended up with stomach-aches and headaches from laughing so hard. At some point, the word word became the funniest word of the evening.

  • “Word!” indicated someone came up with the same word for the same category (and therefore couldn’t be counted).
  • “Word!” emphasized a point, particularly when someone won a debate about whether or not a word counted.
  • “Word!” declared, “We haven’t laughed in two minutes, so let’s get it started again with our silly word of the night!”

We talked about songs the word word reminded us of, such as Birds the Word and Word Up. I began to wonder about the word word.  Apparently, we could all understand what it meant with little context. We spoke a simple word but communicated full phrases and sentences. What is so powerful about word?

I dug a bit to figure out where the slang usage originated. Obviously, we know what a word is, but what about the short expression, “Word!”, which seems to expand into many words when spoken? Apparently, it’s a shortened version of the phrase, “My word is my bond,” which originated by prison inmates.  It was shortened to “Word is bond” before being pared to “Word,” which is now the most commonly used. It basically means “truth,” or “to speak the truth.”

Hhmm. Sounds familiar.

In the beginning there was the Word. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were made by him, and nothing was made without him. In him there was life, and that life was the light of all people. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overpoweredit.

There was a man named John who was sent by God. He came to tell people the truth about the Light so that through him all people could hear about the Light and believe. John was not the Light, but he came to tell people the truth about the Light.The true Light that gives light to all was coming into the world!

The Word was in the world, and the world was made by him, but the world did not know him. John 1:1-10

The problem is we’ve come to believe our own words more than the Word. If we believe what we’re saying, we declare “Word” to emphasize truth. We say “Word” so the person listening to us believes our commitment or promise.  We say “Word” to convince someone of our truth. I wonder how often we’re trying to convince ourselves as well?

I’m painfully aware that not everyone claims God’s Word as absolute truth. In the short-run, it seems easier to set absolute truth aside. Seeking, finding and living by absolute truth takes effort, discipline and sacrifice. It’s easier to make up our own rules, so we can be comfortable. We can shift what we believe and how we live based on a whim. We can change as our life seasons change.

It might seem easier to live by word. It might seem more comfortable. Sacrificing our own word might seem like the most difficult thing in the world to do. Yielding isn’t easy. Submitting to authority – even recognizing authority – isn’t easy.

Yet in a twist of reality only God can explain and fully understand, living by the Word, God’s Word, is absolute whether we choose it or not. We’re given choice, and we fully embrace choice. We crave choice. We want rights. We fight for options. But our choices don’t negate absolutes. Our choices only acknowledge the reality of absolutes or not. There are consequences to every choice we make, including whether we accept the absolute truth of God’s Word – or not.

I haven’t always chosen it. I’ve declared my own word. I’ve looked within myself and searched for what was “right for me.” I’ve even thought I was comfortable with the process. The problem is something was missing even in the times I thought I had it all together. God created me in his image, which means there are gaps in me that can only be filled with God-shaped pieces, those characteristics of himself that he most wants me to reflect while I’m on this short journey called life.

I’m still learning. I’m still growing.

In the process, I’m replaced word with the Word. I’m declaring Truth. Because of it, I can grow with intentional direction. My growth isn’t depending on what I believe at the time. I don’t grow in one area to discover I no longer believe in what I was working toward. I’m taking intentional steps – wrong steps sometimes, but only on the journey to discovering the steps, the path, of Truth.

Lord, teach me what you want me to do,  and I will live by your truth.  Teach me to respect you completely. Psalm 86:11

 

 

Join the Online Pure Emotion Study!

I’m thrilled to be a part of Internet Cafe Devotion‘s first online Bible study, beginning this Fall! We’ll be digging into Pure Emotion together, meeting with women around the world. Perhaps you have difficulty joining a Bible study in your community. Perhaps you usually lead Bible studies, and you need some personal time to let God rejuvenate you. Perhaps you want to gather a few friends together to study but need the structure of someone else leading. Perhaps you’ve already studied Pure Emotion, but you’d like to work through it again for reminders.

Wherever you are, God will meet you!

God meets you just where you are – and loves you too much to leave you there. We’ll do the same for each other as we come together to encourage each other to study and live out God’s Word!

Here’s how it works:

  1. Register for the study and purchase your copy of Pure Emotion.
  2. Mark September 11 on your calendar. That’s when we’ll begin!
  3. Each Sunday night during the study, you’ll receive an email with a devotion specific to the upcoming week’s study topic.
  4. You’ll also receive emails on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday of each week. This is how we’ll stay in contact, ask questions, and share thoughts, challenges and insights. Tuesday will be a brief encouragement to insure you’re getting started with the week’s study. Thursday will be a short post or video to check in with you and challenge you to apply what you’re studying in daily life. Saturday will be a wrap-up before beginning the next week.
  5. Ask questions anytime in response to posts or by emailing biblestudycounter@internetcafedevotions.com.

I look forward to studying with you this Fall!

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)