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October 2016

Love In the Weeds – Finding Hope in the Seasons of Marriage

We were there to photograph my daughter and her friend, wanting to bless the friend with lovely images of herself. We wanted to capture a budding friendship, and create images for each girl to shine a light on her inner (and outer) beauty, and we brought our family so we could enjoy a sunflower field at the same time. It was unseasonably warm, and ever-the-over-planner-optimist, I’d hoped to capture some family images and a new headshot all on the same day.  But sweating while I carried gear (with plenty of help), and lacking artistic focus except for in the favor of the girls, I was giving up hope of the second goal I had.  Busy appreciating their youthful beauty, I self-criticized.  I didn’t feel pretty, and being in front of the camera did NOT sound fun.  I’m not gonna lie: I was having one of those self-centered, pouty moments, when hope in marriage seems fragile and elusive.

 

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“Go stand over there, mama,” my girl said. She instructed her dad to join me.  May I add that sweating profusely while standing among fields of sunflowers (mixed, surely, with the inevitable weeds) does NOT make me feel romantic, either?

 

She wouldn’t budge, though.  She took a moment and knotted my hair into some bohemian on-the-fly up-do, and she touched up my lipstick.  She used her shirt sleeve to dab the “glisten” on my nose.  And then she told me to snuggle with her dad.

 

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For just a few minutes, I forgot that I was hot and bothered, feeling chubby and disheveled, and let myself relax into my husband’s arms.  I let myself feel the way I’ve always wanted my photography clients to feel: free from the “weeds” of the everyday, and in love with the guy who won my heart all those years ago.  I felt like “his girl,” and I felt pretty in his eyes.

 

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For just a few minutes, while our youngest kiddos and my daughter’s teenage friend tried to ignore our “mush,” I melted into the moment, and I let our daughter remind me of one of the things in this life that really matters: the commitment of two people to “make it work” over decades, despite our individual and mutual brokenness, for a bigger purpose than ourselves.

 

By pushing me to get outside myself, my daughter reminded me that the fragile gift of hope in marriage is worth nurturing.  It sets an example for the generation to come.

 

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We’re in a season of transition as a family. My oldest two are exploring their next steps in growing and pursuing their calling. They’re primarily living in other states, thankfully close together and pursuing relationship with each other. I’ve never been the mom who couldn’t wait for them all to leave, and I’d be lying if I said their leaving didn’t leave a hole in my heart and in our home and rhythm as a family.  (Ask me sometime about the big, wretched ugly-cry that shocked me when my second headed off to hike the Appalachian Trail).  But something really cool has happened along the way.

 

I’ve been “surprised by joy,” as C.S. Lewis would say, in the changing rhythms of our family.

 

There’s a new type of interaction happening, between us as parents and our children, and between our kids, themselves. It wouldn’t be hard, though, for me to fall into a type of mourning, a grey-state, that shadowed the sunlight of what’s happening in our home. The ones still living and studying daily with us, their parents with a new type of attention to give, are both grieving with us at the parting of their siblings, and reveling in the sweetness of our ever-changing daily life.  Stopping to melt into that is a gift, for me and for them.

 

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Heaven knows, life is full of fields of weeds.  From our inner mess to the mess in our world, it would be so easy to lose ourselves in a cloud of resigned survival.  But I’m so thankful that my Papa uses my family to make me stop and melt into the moment.  I’m praying that with or without a sunflower field, I will remember to seek the heart of my husband with tenderness and grace, to find the romance in the everyday.

 

How do you stop and melt into the moments, finding hope in marriage and love in the weeds?

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The Queen of Katwe | Book Review

There are moments when God breaks into the comparative peace of our days, and reminds us that others struggle, desperate for their very bread.  Others coming from very little give all that they have, in order to share love with those even more destitute.  They bring hope through practical means, they meet physical needs to open the door for spiritual fulfillment, and they give great glory to the One who sent them.

 

Reading The Queen of Katwe, by Tim Crothers, brought me to one of those moments.  “One Girl’s Triumphant Path to Becoming a Chess Champion” is a story of quiet hope, of realistic darkness, that felt starkly unrealistic, and challenged me to pray more deeply, to listen more intently, and to engage in any opportunity God give me, with others who walk a different journey.

 

The Queen of Katwe is the story of a community of people, with central characters Robert Katende and Phiona Mutesi, whose lives paint a picture of Grace in the midst of darkness.  It follows Katende, a young missionary, who begins a project in the Katwe slum in Uganda, using soccer as a vehicle to engage youth.  As the children, who were lucky to get a bite to eat on a given day, kicked the ball in a dirty field with Katende, they came to know a man who would offer them porridge, and conversation, and hope.

 

Robert Katende, who served with Sports Outreach, soon found that soccer didn’t open the door to conversation for all the Katwe slum children, because not all connected with the sport.  On a hunch, he decided to introduce the game of chess, and as he faithfully followed a path of teaching and engaging, personal sacrifice and creative outreach, he found a connector for the children he served, that opened their hearts and minds to Truth and Love.

 

As I read The Queen of Katwe, I alternated between awe at the faithfulness of God and this man, the stark contrast between what we often think of as struggle, and what struggle really means, and the glimmer of HOPE that waves its light in the darkest of places.

 

 

I fell in love with a young woman named Phiona, whose sad plight broke my heart, and whose courage and humble determination challenged me to live bigger, to work harder, and to courageously pursue LIFE where I am, while looking harder for how I can serve creatively to meet the needs of others, bringing salt and light from wherever and to wherever, God might lead.

 

What are you reading lately, and how has it challenged/encouraged you?

 

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What Are We Selling? | Christians in Direct Sales

I’m afraid I may ruffle some feathers here.  If I do, that’s ok with me.  I hope it will start a conversation, and we can agree, or disagree, but either way, we’ll all be challenged.  I’ve been wrestling with thoughts on this issue for a while, and to be honest, I’m still wrestling.  But I can’t not talk about it any longer, because I think it’s an issue that really needs to be discussed: the issue of Christians in direct sales.

 

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It’s a fine line.  We want to be women of purpose, and we want to accomplish.  We want to help provide for our families, and we want to impact our world.  If you’re a Christian, you may also be challenging yourself with the description of the Proverbs 31 woman, who ran her business and her household with equal success and drive.  There’s so much pressure on women to do it all and be “it” all.  And there’s beauty excitement in being able to bring income into our homes, and in doing and sharing something we love while we’re at it.

 

But I’m seeing a disturbing trend, and it concerns me.  It’s a confusing trend of selling ourselves to make a profit.

 

By that, I mean that often, mamas I know discover the “magic” of direct sales, through multi-level companies.  Sometimes these opportunities are a blessing because they allow flexibility and the opportunity to work from home.  But what seems to happen is that building those businesses on the fast-growing-pace often advertised, relies largely on “selling” the seller.  That means, in some cases, lots of before-and-after pics of thinning bodies.  It means zealous promotion of the product, the program, the lifestyle.  Soon, they’re adding me as a friend and offering me discounted product to review.  They’re posting scripture and they’re posting links to group info calls.  I’m never sure whether I’m reading a devotional thought, or a promo for a new shake deal.  And that’s where, for me, the confusion comes in.

First of all, is the product and/or lifestyle we sell really what God promised, or desires for His followers?  Of course, He may choose to lavish us with worldly riches.  But more often than not, biblical examples and real-world stories show us that He may just as well allow us to suffer physical poverty, struggle, or brokenness, for our good and for His glory.  So if we use His name to promise, with the purchase of our product, that buyers will get worldly wealth, we aren’t being truthful.

 

One of the biggest concerns I have in this is the area of selling self-help programs and products, and using our bodies to do it.  Photo after photo pops up in my stream of sexy abs and plump cleavage, of bikini bottom before-and-afters, and the complements and “likes” build to a frenzy as we imagine the perfection we think we can achieve. But aren’t we just using a way-scaled-back form of selling our bodies when we have to show parts of us we wouldn’t want our sons staring at to show off the power of a smoothie?  And is it possible there’s a way we can advocate for health and wellness without baring our bikini lines for the internet to appreciate?  Even further, are we advocating a double standard when we teach our daughters modesty, but then bare our bodies (or someone else’s) on our Facebook page?

 

Now let me make this clear, I know modesty is a very fine line and it varies greatly based on culture, and I (as a wife and a mother of four sons) am very passionate about men taking responsibility for their own eyes and minds.  So I’m not trying to heap on my sisters the sole responsibility for guarding men from what they see.  But, deep breath here… for anyone of us who’s starting from the assumption that our first priority is to honor our Creator by doing what He asks of us, we actually do have a responsibility to be concerned for them and to show it in how we dress.  Hear me clearly, sister.  What they do isn’t my responsibility, and I’m not saying it’s yours.  But whether I choose to help them, well, that is.  I just can’t escape it.  So it is important that I think about whether what I’m wearing (and posting) is for their good.  Will it help them think honoring thoughts about me and other women?  Or will it make it harder for them to honor their wives (or future wives, or others’ wives)?  Is what I share, in my sales and marketing, pointing to God, or is it pointing to a god?

 

Sometimes, when I look at the stream of a fellow entrepreneur, I wonder, is she promoting her God, or is she promoting (her), a god?

 

I ask this question with a humble heart, because it’s a question I ask myself often, and I’m ever-fearful of an answer that would hurt my Papa’s heart.  I have this blog and another, Sal et Lux, where I share home decor ideas, recipes, and DIY tips, with the hope to encourage gospel living through hospitality.  I often do public appearances in the food industry, and I LOVE being on camera.  I’m a professional photographer, and for ten years, I ran a business that grew to support my family (with the hard work of my husband when he joined and helped it take off).  I studied hard to learn the skills to be an artist, but also to be a good businesswoman.  I learned about creating a “tribe,” and making myself my own “mascot,” so that my clients would trust the brand, because they know and trust the woman behind the brand, and I ADORE the stuff!  I learned how important it is for people to see the best “me,” because then they believe I have something good to offer.

 

Currently, I’m in the process of writing my first book.  I’m writing it because I believe I have something to offer that others need.  I believe what I write will glorify God.  And I want to sell that book, because I believe I can add to our family’s provision.  To that end, I’m promoting myself in many areas, and I step back over and over and ask the hard question of what I’m promoting for.

 

For me, every step I take needs to lead back to the heart of my Savior.  I want to use the gifts He’s given me, and I do hope to contribute financially to my family.  But more important than any of that, I want to give Him glory.  I pray hard (and sometimes, with a lump in my throat, I’ve received the answer in the form of personal challenge from a friend who dared to say good-hard things) that I will be willingly accountable to make this my first goal, and the only one that really matters.

 

My life exists for one purpose: to glorify God and lead others to Him.

 

I want to run with joy in the experiences I’m given, but I always, always, want the path to Him to be clear and primary.  There’s a little restless feeling that grows, though, when the lines become blurred between my identity and my image.  I am in danger of being trapped behind that image, and I’m tempted to tweak that image, when I don’t think it will “win” those I want to “influence.”

If you are pursuing a business and promoting, I want to challenge you, especially if you are a Christian, to consider the message you’re sending, and the product you’re selling.

 

 

Is your product something that will truly benefit others, also pointing them directly to Him, or is there a muddle of confusion about what exactly is up for purchase?  If your customer buys what you’re selling, will it draw them closer to the call God has for them, or will it primarily add to your bottom line?

If you’re walking this path with intention and thought towards these questions, I want to hear your thoughts on how you keep “first things first.”  How do you make sure there’s no confusion in your message, and that all roads lead directly to the glory of God?

Disclaimer: This article is a daring one, and it’s written to sisters who want to be challenged to live more deeply, more bravely.  For me, bravely has meant, in part, learning to be willing to let go of some of my “rights,” for the sake of love.  It’s going to rub some people the wrong way and that’s ok… I want to open the door for purposeful conversation.  I know some who read don’t begin with the same assumptions I do that God authored our lives and that His word is our guidebook, so if you’re there, it’s ok, too.  If you’re here though, and if you’re reading, comment below and let me know your thoughts.  It’s through thoughtful debate that we stretch and grow, and it’s the whole reason I write.

I’m asking myself these questions, too, so I’m still thinking on this one with you…

 

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