Your Dream. Your Anointing.

 
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Dreams. Goals. Whether big or small, we all have them. We dream of financial freedom, breaking professional records, and traveling the globe to see some of the world’s many wonders. Some give their lives to fight for their dream of social justice, whilst some dream of marriage, children, and enough money to buy a house one day. We need our dreams to keep us motivated. We need our goals to give us direction. We need our dreams to focus us in times of adversity.

And whilst I am an advocate for dreaming, we also need to consider how our dreams can become our own worst enemy. We can get so obsessed with our dreams that we can easily miss out on the bigger picture. 

Unbeknownst to us, our dreams can become our identity. And when faced with letting our dreams go, it seems too hard to let go of all that we have invested and all that we have worked towards. In some ways, our Christian experience has not helped. Many of us have been taught that the spiritual life is instantaneous. Many of us learned to, “name it and claim it” and that we, “possess what we confess”. So we fixate on our dreams. We pray for our dreams. We ask God to give us all we need to make our dreams come true. We assume that the things we pray for, the goals we have set for our lives, are going to be given to us miraculously and quickly. And when our dreams don’t come to pass in the expected timing, we shut down and allow disappointment to drown us.

But there is weight given in the wait. There is wisdom, hope, and truth found as we embrace the process.

Look at Joseph. He may have been one of his dad’s favorite kids, but he was pretty much the runt of the family. In an age where the first-born son was given rank and honor, he was son number eleven, and far from the head of the pecking order. So who could blame him for lauding it over his brothers when he had a dream that he would rule over them? And while he had a dream to rule over his brothers, God had actually anointed him to lead, manage, and administrate a nation.

The road to this God-dream was tough. He was betrayed, sold into slavery, falsely accused of rape, and pretty much left to die in prison. But this was not the end for Joseph. When his brothers journeyed to Egypt during the famine, when Joseph’s dream of ruling over his brothers had come to pass, Joseph said to them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” Genesis 50:20 (NLT) 

Back home in Canaan, I don’t think it ever entered Joseph’s thinking that his dream actually meant that thousands of lives would be spared from famine. I don’t think it had occurred to Joseph that there was a bigger dream, a God-given anointing on his life. And like Joseph, our dreams are never as big as our God-given anointing. Just like Paul wrote in Ephesians 3:20, God is able, “to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” It’s so hard to comprehend, but God can take a slave with a criminal record and turn him into second in command of a powerful nation.

But when a dream has been our motivation, our focus, and our inspiration, it can be too hard to it let go. We have made life-altering decisions for those dreams. For me, I gave up my home country and moved to the USA (a country I had not even visited) for my dream of being a TV and film producer. I removed myself from a career in the PR industry to start at the bottom in the TV industry. So when the time came for me to loosen my grip on my dreams, I fought back HARD. Producing was who I was. Producing was all I had sacrificed and worked for. My ability to shape a story, administrate a video shoot, and lead others was my identity.

I read in Chip and Joanna Gaines’ “The Magnolia Story” that Joanna knows what it is to let go of a dream. Before HGTV’s “Fixer Upper”, before creating a home design empire, before becoming one of America’s most famous interior designers, she owned a small home décor store called, “Magnolia”. She loved her little store and found a way to juggle motherhood and her dreams. But after had her first two children, she felt a nudge from God to shut her store to focus on her family. At first she resisted, but it wasn’t long until she relented and she loosened her grip on her company, “Magnolia”.  

Her story whispers hope to me. The once small store owner now owns one of the biggest home design brands in the USA. Their “Magnolia” empire attracts hundreds and thousands of visitors to Waco, TX and creates millions of dollars. Their show, “Fixer Upper” was one of the most successful on HGTV. And now they are launching their own channel! They’ve published multiple books, opened a big store, managed a successful real estate company, the list goes on and on because Magnolia is HUGE! 

Like Joseph, Joanna Gaines let go. She discovered that God’s dreams, God’s anointing for her was so much bigger than she could have asked or imagined. But the only way to get there was to loosen her grip and trust that as she obeyed God, everything would be OK. 

Sometimes we are holding on so tight that we are choking our destiny. Sometimes we have to get out of the way of ourselves. Sometimes we have to let go of our expectations, hard work, and dreams in order to move forward. My prayer today is that we follow Joseph and Joanna Gaines’ example. May we have the strength to lay down our dreams, to let go of the trajectory of our goals, and follow the One who wants to give us more than we ask or imagine.

Quiet, Trust, and Strength

 
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Happy New Year! I know I am 30 days late, but I’ve not really been online much. January is often a month of fasting or abstaining. Some people cut out meat, some hit the Keto train, while others stop drinking alcohol. As a pregnant woman who is juggling a couple of autoimmune issues, my diet is already all over the place. And so I chose a fast of a different kind. I realized my heart was all over the place. I needed to tune out the loud noises of expectations, false responsibilities, and external pressures. 

 So I decided to cut out social media. No Instagram. No Facebook. No Twitter. Nothing. I needed to quiet my heart, focus on my family, and let go. I can spend hours hooked to my iPhone, starring into an abyss of other people’s profiles, posts, and photographs. I may say I am trying to connect with people, but the truth is that I look at people’s lives and I am often left feeling pretty inadequate. The whispers of insecurity turn into raging screams and let’s be real – I am not alone. Social media is a fantastic way to connect and communicate. But it can also be something that leads to very loud noises of rejection, comparison, and insecurity. 

Within our culture, we find it easier to keep up with the Jones’ than to stop, breathe, and be quiet. Many of us find ourselves on a hamster wheel of family, career, and spirituality, and before we know it, we are caught in a trap of exhaustion. We become burned out and we are left feeling disappointed and discouraged. 

 Isaiah 30:15 says, “in quietness and trust is your strength”. Quiet. According to the Bible, strength can be found, not in ramping up your to-do list, but in quiet. And in our culture, where we’re told that we can have it all, and comparison has become the norm, it takes an active decision and a strong will to find ‘quiet’. 

And so January was a month of quiet for me. Instead of monotonous Facebook scrolling, it was a month of playing with my kids and only surfing the Internet for baby names for our son. It was a month of searching Pinterest for new recipes for my family (gluten-free, dairy-free, and toddler-friendly is not the easiest food category) and calling or texting my loved ones directly. And my heart was stilled. I didn’t miss out on much. I didn’t see the party I wasn’t invited to, or the new car that I couldn’t afford. My heart was focused on the good in my life and I found quiet.  

And what about you? What’s happening in your heart? What will help you silence the loud noises of external pressures, false responsibilities, and insecure comparisons?  

It’s good to stop and be quiet. It’s healthy to listen. I was nervous about losing contact with some people, but it was actually encouraging to unplug and focus. And without realizing it, contentment and trust came to me, and the loud noises of lack, inadequacy, and insecurity faded away. 

My New Year wish for you all is that your 2019 may be filled with peace, joy, and your heart’s desires. May this be a year where we listen to what Henri Nouwen called “the inner voice of Love”. May our confidence increase and our love for others grow.

Mess, Dirt, and Finding Beauty

 
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As Andy Williams once sang, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! Our homes are decorated, there are gifts under the tree, our kids are wearing cute outfits, families are coming together, feasts are being prepared, cookies are being baked, and festive drinks are flowing. We spend hours, days, weeks, and even months planning and prepping to make this season the best it can be. We create family traditions and soak up every moment of festive joy. 

But in the beauty of this season, it's all too easy to get caught up in the culture of “perfect”. Or maybe it’s just me, but as I strive to carve out unforgettable family memories, I easily stress over the smallest oversight I may have made. I chastise myself for blemishes in my flawless plans and panic if Christmas doesn’t look like what I want or expected.  

And can’t help feel that I am alone in this. When I talk to friends, when I look on Instagram, everyone seems to be swept up in the festivities. Instead of the season of peace and goodwill it seems like the season of stress, anxiety, and striving.

As a Christian, I believe that this is a time to celebrate the birth of Christ. In the middle of a broken world, the Son of God came to earth as a baby. Majesty, beauty and perfection left the heavens and became Man. 

 And His birth was far from what we would ever have expected.  Luke 2:11-12 says, “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” 

Christ the Lord, the Savior, would be found in a manger. A manger is not a crib or a snazzy baby swing, but a structure used to feed animals. It’s something that you add to your Target or Pottery Barn baby registry, lest give to the Son of God!!! But that is where you would have found Jesus. Beauty, Majesty, and Perfection was inside a dark, dirty, messy animal shelter, not a palace or fancy birthing center. 

This blows my mind and challenges the heck out of me, because I don’t want my life to be messy. I want the perfect Christmas with the clean house, the well-behaved kids, and a plethora of presents. I want a home where people come and there’s always food and laughter. I want my life to look like a Hallmark movie, not like the nativity! I don't want to be surrounded by lack. I want beauty. I want plenty. I want perfection. 

Most people would have missed the birth of Jesus. Most people would have expected a palace, top physicians, and most definitely a clean nursery for the newborn king. But the magi and shepherds were looking for something different. They saw through the mess, the dirt, and the mundane.

I want to be like the magi and shepherds. I want to find something Divine even in the imperfections of life. I want to look past what I expect so I can encounter something priceless.

And maybe something so profound is actually happening, but we are fixated on our own version of the palace that we miss it. Maybe we can find beauty in our hearts and homes, no matter how hard we have planned, scrimped, and saved. Maybe we can embrace a glorious reality despite our expectations not being met. 

So this Christmas, let us remember that the King of kings, the ultimate power, authority, and Creator was found in mess. And if that’s good enough for God, perhaps it should be good enough for us too? 

Hospitality or Entertainment?

 
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Don’t you just love it when you find a book that seems to be written just for you? Well, I’ve found MY book. Shauna Niequest’s, “Bread and Wine” literally changed my life. No lie! In 2013, when the book was newly released, I read the words Niequest penned and I felt like someone had finally put language to my love of food and people. She described how hospitality is not simply filling peoples bellies but also filling their souls, and that when we gather around a table, we are truly encountering a Divine exchange. I am definitely a “table person”. At the table we take some of my greatest loves - food, wine, and people. Sharing a dinner in a restaurant is lovely, but nothing beats a home cooked meal, shared over a family dinner table. There’s just something so rich, so loving, so intimate about the whole experience.

But I have been recently thinking about the difference between opening my home to entertain others, and opening my home to offer hospitality. I must confess, as much as I love to welcome people around my table, it’s all too easy to fall into entertainment. Dictionary.com defines entertainment as, “an act, production, that entertains; a diversion; an amusement”. You see, entertainment implies that we are putting on a performance for others. Sure, as you entertain, your guests may laugh, they might forget their troubles for a few hours, but the whole experience is something different when we practice hospitality. Hospitality makes space for people. Hospitality does not offer perfection. Hospitality is not about impressing people with your beautiful house, Top Chef culinary skills, or witty conversation, and I think that can be a major hurdle for us to overcome.

In life, it’s more convenient to entertain people rather than invite them into your home and heart. It’s much easier to perform a role, fulfill a function, and put on a mask than it is to let people see your imperfections, weaknesses, or struggles. As much as a lifestyle of vulnerability and authenticity seems appealing, the reality is that letting people close to seeing the real you is daunting.

And I am not implying that hospitality looks like a perpetual episode of Dr. Phil where we all spill our guts. Brene Brown writes in Daring Greatly (another GREAT book) that, “…over sharing is not vulnerability. In fact, it often results in disconnection, distrust, and disengagement.” (Pg 159). Hospitality is about creating space for people’s hearts, as well as their bellies. It’s about giving space for connection and cultivating trust.

Jesus was the most hospitable of humans. He could often be found in people’s homes, eating food and connecting heart-to-heart. He loved a good party and happily turned water into wine. And like I mentioned recently, we only have to look at John 11 (when Jesus comes to comfort Mary and Martha after the death of their brother, Lazarus) to see how hearts are more important to Jesus than anything else. Before He performed a miracle, before He changed the situation, Jesus approached both Mary and Martha. He talked with them. He wept with them. Jesus made space in His heart to love people, not just entertain, pacify, or distract them. And like Jesus, our goal should be connecting with people’s hearts, not wowing them or impressing them.

In the season of life I am in, hospitality has been a struggle for me. I am a stay-at-home mum with two kids under two, a third on the way, and a household filled with two dogs and a ridiculous cat.  If I am inviting people in to my home for dinner, guests will be greeted by dog hair, a slew of toys, and a very basic Keurig k-cup coffee. And if I am inviting people into my heart, people will see an exhausted mother who is trying to manage a household on one income, and with very, very limited time to spare. 

But I am learning that my community is worth the real me. I am learning that they don’t need some plastic version of me. They don’t need a millionaire Sarah who has her house professionally cleaned on a daily basis, or who serves only fancy food and drink. My people need the real me as much as I need the real them. My heart yearns for true connection rather than being entertained or pacified. Like Mary and Martha, I am learning that it’s not about Jesus changing the situation, but it’s about letting my heart be heard as well as hearing the hearts of others.

So today, let’s practice hospitality, not entertainment. Let’s create space in our hearts and homes where we can truly connect, trust, and engage. Be vulnerable. Let’s not try to wow people with our skills, but love them with an open heart. Let’s welcome them, not perform for them. It’s not perfect but it’s beautiful! 

 

It's OK to not be OK

Unless I missed it, the song “Everything Is Awesome” from the LEGO movie is no where to be found in scripture. In fact, look at the Psalms and you will read the songs and prayers of a man who knew suffering. King David knew what it was to be misunderstood, betrayed, and left mentally exhausted. And yet, most of the time, put a Christian in a painful situation, and nine times out of ten they will slap a smile on their face and recite a ridiculous number of platitudes. “I’m too blessed to be stressed” or “God’s got me. I’ll be OK” to name but a few.

Funny thing is, nowhere in the bible do we see people speaking in such clichés. Jesus Himself demonstrated that when people were hurting, He hurt too. When Lazarus had died, He didn’t walk in and say, “Hey guys! I’m here. Put a smile on your face and be grateful. I’m about to do something awesome!” No. He talked with Martha and Mary. He heard their hearts. He wept. He felt the pain of those He loved and He grieved (John 11:35).

This has been a hard week. And whilst I seek to encourage people, I have to be honest. The trenches of life, motherhood, and everything in between have been overwhelming. We all have bad days. Sometimes there are bad weeks, months, and even years and it feels like a struggle to stay positive. There are times in our lives when we feel like we are fighting one bad situation after another. And if you are like me, we feel guilty that we are feeling sad, because as a Christian, we should be joyful at all times, right?

But in John 11, Jesus showed us that He prioritized a person’s heart over a result. Before He performed the miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead, He felt with, grieved with, and comforted those in pain.  In another passage of scripture, Jesus also said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4). How can you be comforted if you don’t mourn? How can you experience the true impact of the comfort of the Holy Spirit whilst you are masking your pain?

The western Church has become so very fixated with results. Some churches want results seen in healing miracles. Other churches want results in numbers of converts and church growth. And whilst it’s easy to criticize church leaders for thinking about the numbers, we all live our lives looking for results. We have specific ‘results’ that we are asking God for and we ask for them everyday. Have my prayers been answered yet? Do I have the promotion that I have been asking God for? Has that family drama been resolved? Do I have the money to buy a new car? Why am I not married yet? Is the doctor going to call me and tell me that I am healed? Please God, let me go full-term and not miscarry another baby.

And whilst praying for these things is a good thing, becoming fixated on the ‘result’ can be so destructive to our hearts. When circumstances don’t change in accordance with our timeline, disappointment and resentment seeps into our hearts. Before we know it, we are mad at God for forgetting about us but we are simultaneously trying to keep a smile on our faces. 

But like we saw with Lazarus, He walked up to Mary and Martha and loved them BEFORE He gave them a ‘result’. He mourned with them, cried with them, and let them know that He was present. 

So today, whatever you are dealing with, whatever result you are not seeing, whatever grief is gripping your heart, put down the mask and let your heart be seen. Know that your God loves you more than your circumstance. As scripture shows, your pain matters. It’s OK to be in pain. It’s not a sin to grieve. But before He performs a miracle, maybe He wants to come close and comfort you? Maybe He wants to grieve with you and let you know that He is with you? 

It’s OK to not be OK, just keep your heart open to God and let Him come close to you.

The Real You

We live in a world where words like “authentic” and “transparent” have become oh, so popular. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, I remember power-suits, flashy cars, and huge mobile phones being the status symbols that demanded respect. But these have been traded in, and now we admire the celebrity who confesses weakness. We distrust politicians who have never shown their imperfections, and we value counselors and therapists as much as regular MDs.  

We are hungry for connection. We are crying out for real relationship where there is no transactional exchange, only heart-to-heart communication. We are aching to find a safe place to rest our souls where we are seen, heard, and known.

We are craving love. 

But despite craving love, despite craving authentic, transparent relationships, we still fear people seeing the real us.  And when I mean the real us, I am not just talking about our emotions or likes and dislikes. I am talking about the ‘us ‘that doesn’t quite have it all together. I am referring to the  ‘us’ that lives with older cars, ill-fitting clothes, or a home that is certainly not Pinteresty.

As I mentioned last week, Brene Brown talks about “scarcity” and how we are wired in our culture to be hyperaware of lack, rather than success or plenty. So we look at our homes, and we see what we need to buy in order to make our houses ‘perfect’. Then we look at our cars that don’t have a Bluetooth phone connection and we want to upgrade. Then we look in our closets and we decide to forsake our boots from last winter and buy the new sassy ones we saw in Nordstrom. 

But fixating on our material possessions means we are missing the mark. In our authentic and transparent world, we are truly hungering for something deeper than the latest farmhouse table or a 2019 Honda Odyssey (I am about to be a mum of 3. Yes. I dream of a mini-van!!!) 

And this is not just limited to our material possessions. We treat our own spiritual giftings and anointings in the same way. Instead of sharing honestly about our weaknesses, we like to show people that we are eloquent speakers, musicians, or leaders. We like to inform people that God has gifted us and therefore, they should listen. It’s as though our accomplishments, as well as our possessions, give us authority, worth, and significance.

But the Bible says something quite different. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul explains that, “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, NIV, emphasis mine)

So basically, no matter how talented you are, no matter how well you can hear God, or how amazingly you move in powerful miracles, IF YOU DO NOT LOVE, YOU ARE NOTHING. If you have a massive house, a brand-new car, and a closet full of gorgeous clothes, but you don’t love, you are nothing. If you have the ‘perfect’ life, but loving people is not your thing, you are nothing but a loud, annoying cymbal.

So what is love? Love is taking off the mask of perfection and inviting people to gather around your table. Love is letting go of your fixation with your lack and allowing people close, even if they see the dirt on your kitchen cabinets. Love is saying, “You are worth the real me, not the fake, plastic version of myself”. That is love. 

Just as Paul wrote, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.”. (1 Corinthians 13:4 NIV, emphasis mine) 

So today, embrace your life. Whether you are rich or poor, leading in your dream career or following a boss in a dead-end job, may you love those around you. Don’t boast, don’t be proud, don’t seek to look perfect - just love. Take off the mask, let people see your home with the broken chairs, let people come close. Because people don’t want plastic, they want you, the real you.