What do you do when you’ve tried everything?

Have you ever had a dream that you try to make happen on your own but it just won’t work? You try everything you know to do: you apply, you work-work-work, you pray, you talk to people who have done it, you cry yourself to sleep and shout at the ceiling, you give up and try to stop caring.

But no matter what you try or don’t try, the dream feels impossible, elusive, and sometimes, it even feels like it’s taunting you.

What do you do when that happens? Most of us shift between working really hard to make a dream happen and then giving up and getting apathetic and cynical. But there’s a better – more challenging but also more honest – way to handle these dreams that are beyond our control.

Here’s the thing: the dreams that are beyond our control are usually connected to our deepest longings and our truest selves. This is why we work so hard and feel so much pain when they don’t happen. We need to pay attention to these big desires because they are telling you about WHO you are and WHY you are here on the earth. It’s a Big Deal.

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I did a short video training on how to respond to these dreams that are so core to who we are, and yet no matter what we do, we can’t seem to get them to materialize. It’s a painful moment, but it’s almost universal to us as humans. You catch my training here.

Are you stuck in this work hard – give up – work hard – give up cycle? I’m offering my community the opportunity to get unstuck and shift into a more peaceful and liberated state of mind and heart with the freedom to desire without . It’s a short-term coaching package called The Breakthrough Sessions, which is 3 coaching sessions PLUS one strategy sessions for only $217, normally $450. I LOVE being part of someone’s breakthrough, and I’d love to do this with you. I only have three packages available because my schedule is almost full so message me at sarahsidersconsulting(at)gmail.com or comment below to get started.

I also want to share this with you, a poem I wrote 8 years ago when we were trying to conceive our first child. I was exhausted from holding the dream out and “trying” to have a baby when there was almost nothing – aside from the obvious 😉 – that I could do to make it happen. This poem has encouraged others who have felt the tension of longing, and I hope it encourages you too.

 

Hope, the Foolish Child

The child, Hope, is unrelenting in optimism;

Wakes up and says, “Today’s the day”, every day,

Even though It hasn’t happened yet.

With odds against the whole thing,

Hope seems blind to reality.

A starving Pollyanna,

Hope is a survivalist.

In a concentration camp of pain,

Hope is a finger of grass, poking through the asphalt.

Sometimes you want to strangle her neck,

Silence this thing that seems only to bring disappointment.

But she walks blindly, dodging death and famine,

Evading what seems to be true,

Believing in something that is nowhere in sight.

What shall I do with Hope, this child I can’t stop feeding?

I want to kill her, but she says the sweetest things.

She knows my desire,

Keeps telling me it’s coming, it’s coming.

I start to think she might be a liar.

And just when I’m about to stop standing there like a fool,

Hand over my eyes,

Staring into that thin horizon line,

Just then she points, shouts,

“Here It comes!”

I squint into the light and sure enough,

Here comes my Longing.

I reach over to hug Hope, that bouncing child.

But she’s gone,

Gone to lay claim to a new desire.

I wonder,

What if I’d given her up?

What if I’d sold her for a clever book title,

Something for the cynics’ best seller list?
What if I’d held her down and shut her up,

Put my hand over her mouth and made her quiet for good?

Disappointment would have moved in.

Skepticism would have been my neighbor,

Resentment shacked up on the couch.

I wouldn’t have been at the end of the drive that day.

I would have missed my Longing as It rode by.

My Cynicism proven right,

I would have looked haughtily from my balcony,

Confident my Self-Righteousness saved me much wasted time.

I would never have known.

I would’ve been right, sort of, but I would have never held Joy.

I thought of all these things.

And then I stood there one more day,

Stood waiting with Hope, holding her tiny hand.

I was there when the Longing came by.

I welcomed the Longing, gladly,

Snatched It up and planted It in the yard:

A Tree of Life for all to see.

A Tree of Life to remind me.

For those who will wait,

Who believe enough to stand out in all that weather:

She does not lie.

No, and Hope does not disappoint.

[by Sarah Siders. Written August 2009]

Good Guys, Bad Guys and A Long-Overdue Apology

{A little over a year ago, I organized a #BlackLivesMatter protest in my city and preached a message on racial equality in my church. Some of what I said alienated my white friends, which I have been reluctant to address. I cannot back down on my position defending racial equality, but I see now that my tone lacked humility, and that was wrong. I hope I can be forgiven. I wrote this immediately following my sermon last year. Please read these words with this in mind.} 

“There’s a police man, Dad,” John observed aloud as we rounded the corner out of town.

“Those are good guys,” Josh informed him.

“So are we the bad guys?” John inquired.

“No, we’re good guys too,” Josh corrected him, likely befuddling the preschooler in the back seat.

Good guys and bad guys. When you’re four years old, that’s all there is. In my son’s world, it’s assumed if one person is good, the other must be bad.

But we know this is childish thinking, to only have two categories, to think in black and white. As we mature, we’re supposed to move beyond the lines and learn the art of nuance. To know that we ourselves, and everyone around us, is at once capable of great evil and great good.

Who are the bad guys? You and I.

Who are the good guys? You and I.

Yet we want so badly to categorize people, at least I do, to slide them into one column or another. Shoot, I have a Master’s degree in categorizing people: it’s called “diagnosing” in Social Work.

But outside of a medical setting, this is not merely childish thinking; it is lazy. It is a sign of an unwillingness to engage in the reality of pain in the world, and not just The World at large, but in the lives of our neighbors, friends and family.

This conversation between John and Josh struck a chord with me in light of the back and forth throughout the nation on the issue of racial politics. It seems everyone is choosing a side and villainizing the other. We feel in order to be loyal to one perspective or group of people, we must be aggressive and outspoken against the other.

In church two weeks ago, I preached on race relations and why white Christians may have missed this issue, and while many people appreciated the discussion, I offended some of my white friends in my community. At first I didn’t care because I thought, Who are you, white person, to tell me you are offended about hearing about race issues when it is your privilege that even allows you to ignore it in the first place? But after talking with one of my friends who found my direct approach distasteful, I realized my zeal to uplift the members of my community who are black unnecessarily undermined the white community members.  I apologize. That was not my intent.

I wanted to shout a wake-up call to the white community. I had part of the idea right, the longing for justice and respect. But where I missed it is that I, in humility, must remember the goal is empowerment of all parties involved. For example, if at the end of this conflict, we determine that justice for people of color means police officers are disrespected or white people lose rights or respect, then we have not won.

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I am still trying to figure out my role here. I don’t want to follow the path of the white-Savior complex. I don’t want to be so arrogant to assume that because I am white, I have the power to pull up or elevate African-Americans to “my level”. I have seen great power come from a simple conversation where I ask a friend who is black, “What is it like to be black in America? What is your experience?” I will be doing more of that.

I do know I don’t want to be on a side anymore. I want to be a listener to the white people and the black people and the police officers and encourage equality and unity through humility and love. I want to go on record as always pursuing the Third Way.

Can I say I respect police officers and also deeply respect my fellow African-Americans who are longing for justice? Well, I want to say both because both are true.

People on every side of this issue hold opinions that are both just and unjust, right and wrong, but to varying degrees. And who is the ultimate judge between us?

The precedent the Bible sets on issues of Justice leaves no room for interpretation. From reading Scripture, we see God fight racial inequality and defend the voiceless, like when he struck Moses’ brother and sister with leprosy for their discrimination against his Ethiopian wife. In Proverbs, Solomon warns against showing favoritism to some people over others. And in his letter to the Galatians, Paul’s exhorts the church that we are neither Jew nor Gentile, neither woman or man, but all are one in Christ.

What’s more, Jesus identifies with humanity so much that he tell us how we interact with and honor each other is how we interact with and honor – or dishonor – him. 

Clearly, God’s goal is unity and equality without discrimination.

God’s call to us is to put down the weapons of right and wrong and to listen to the side of the other. We must choose empathy. Think for a moment with me:

What must it be like to a police officer who daily faces hatred from simply doing his job? By putting on a uniform and showing up for work each day, the police officer faces kickback, anger and even hatred because of something they are required by law to enforce. If a person has a bad experience with one police officer, future members of law enforcement will not be given the benefit of the doubt. They are all bad guys, some have concluded. But this is lazy thinking.

What must it be like to be the object of profiling, surveillance or violence just because of the color of your skin? What would it be like to feel that if someone killed you, especially someone who is tasked with enforcing the laws that are intended to protect your life, that your life would not be defended or held in equal value? What would it be like to be told by your family as a child that you need to accept the fact that you can’t go into certain parts of town dressed “like that”, or you can’t keep your hands in your pockets in the grocery store, only because of the color of your skin?

In America, by and large, black people are still not given the benefit of the doubt in a situation where their character is in question. The main reason I know this is because some of my friends who are black told me their stories. Are all black people being wrongly stereotyped and profiled by all white people and all police officers? Of course not. That is lazy thinking. But this is part of the story, and if we don’t hear this, we aren’t listening.

The truth is, we are dealing with people here, people who are made to be villains and heroes when neither of these are true.

I want to be part of the solution, to see black people treated with the respect and equality white people have historically enjoyed and come to expect, not just from law enforcement, but to see people of color given equal opportunities in the work place, in places of worship, academic institutions and in their neighborhoods.

I want to see police officers respected by the citizens they serve and protect. I want to see all people hold an appropriate amount of fear of their position, not fear of abuses, but because of the law they uphold and seek to enforce with the blind eye of Justice. And I want to see police officers held to the same standard they enforce.

But even more than that, I want to move beyond “good” and “bad” guys. I want to get out behind the walls language has created for us, literally making this a “black and white” issue. The inevitable result of Us vs. Them, of Police Officers Vs. African-Americans or White People vs. Black People is that there are only winners and losers.

Equality becomes impossible when there is competition. When one side advances, the other side retreats. When one group gains rights, the perspective is, the opposing group loses them. This broken thing will always result in war.

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But I can’t encourage equality if I don’t live it. It will have to start with me.

So I’m sorry for the hammer I used to smash my white friends, which led them to believe I wanted them to be the losers. I am sorry for the ingratiating tone I used in my speech in which I hoped to uplift my black brothers and sisters, which implies that I believe pressing down one race will elevate another and perhaps level the so-called social playing field. I assume there are many who stopped listening to me because of my misguided approach.

Behaving this way says I missed it. This is not the way of heaven. If equality and unity are our goals, then we must move out from our stone-throwing positions. Instead we aim together for mutual empowerment, equality, which always means seeking the good of the other before oneself.

This is so hard to do, I know. I have been one of the worst offenders at side-picking and name-calling. I have felt a deep anger at whites who refuse to see their inherent privilege in a culture where nearly every stock photo in Google is someone who looks like them. And I have felt a great despair at the gap people of color feel is between “us and them”, that they don’t feel heard, that they might hate me for what I unknowingly do and don’t do.

But this is an internal battle first and foremost, and it is one worth fighting as equality of the oppressed will surely benefit not just those who are presently voiceless but those of us who have privilege and voice.

As Martin Luther King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” implying that victories of Justice here, no matter how small, are a threat to injustice everywhere. 

If you want more help thinking through the logistics of racial reconciliation and what this looks like for us in real life, check out this insightful TED talk by Vernā Myers on confronting our biases with honesty and generosity.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, having open conversations with your friends who are black will surprise you. You will learn things you never knew simply because you never asked. You can set your mind and heart to listen and not defend yourself, then ask, “What is it like to be black in America? What is your experience?” This has been immensely helpful to both me and my friends.

If you’re still trying to decide where you stand or how relevant this is for us in our culture or in the church, listen to my husband’s message on a similar issue the early church encountered 2000 years ago and how they responded.

If you have not read Martin Luther King Jr’s I Have A Dream speech in a while, refresh your memory here.

Finally, may we remember that our work is effective when we aren’t satisfied with a “losing side” and a “winning side”, but when we can say that winning means all people, arm in arm, welcoming ones who are the same and different, with the goal of unity, equality and life together. 

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When You’re Terrified of Not Having Enough {& A Different Kind of Giveaway}

I think I’ve always been anxious about money. At least I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t.

It started young, a fear that something would go wrong, fear that our old Buick station wagon would break down, fear that even what we had was not enough.

I made it through four years of college debt-free thanks to my parents, but when I needed a fifth year to finish, I took out a student loan. And then a credit card. For the first time in my life, I knew what it truly felt the enslaving weight of not-enough. To owe someone else.

This was also the first year I got a migraine. I doubt it was a coincidence. My first one was September 28, 2004, my 23rd birthday. It settled in while I was sitting in my social work class, the intense pain and pressure I’d never felt before. I made my way to the student clinic, and a doctor saw me and prescribed a medication that nearly knocked me out. At least the pain was gone. But I’ve had migraines ever since.

My first year out of college, I went into full-time ministry on a partially developed partnership team, the kind where people invest in you specifically to do your mission work. I hated asking people to support my work, partly because I didn’t believe in the work and partly because I didn’t believe in myself. So further into debt I went until I maxed out two credit cards and was literally penniless. I was eating oatmeal for several meals and couldn’t even afford to put gas in my car.

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I told no one of my financial woes until I was so stuck, I had run out of every option. Asking for help opened many doors and I felt like I could finally breathe again. But soon afterward, I decided to leave the ministry and look for work where I got a paycheck that was more stable and predictable.

I finally found a job, but I also discovered a new tendency I had to hang onto money. It wasn’t really building a savings though. I just wouldn’t pay my bills. The interest on my credit cards and student loans stacked up as my payments went delinquent. I felt sick about not paying them, but the thought of letting go of the money I might need later left me almost as ill.

Getting married and growing up meant more debt, from a Master’s degree and a home mortgage and a couple car loans. We paid off the car loans as soon as we could, but the giant debt still looms over our heads.

Money grew to be such an anxiety for me that literally spending all money triggered a feeling of fear in me. To this day, the purchase of a plane ticket or a coffee elicits a mixed feeling of doubt, guilt and fear.

I know that at the root, I am terrified to return to the year I had nothing. I always want to hang onto what I know I need to give away, whether in the form of generosity or simply money owed for fear, What if there is not enough? What if there is not enough? What if there is not enough?

I celebrated my birthday 11 years ago today newly in debt and afraid. Debt and fear have been no stranger to me since, but I want to quit them both. So first I’ll start with the fear. I want to get out from under the deception of not-enough and live with an attitude and lifestyle of abundance. The only way I know to do this is to be generous.

You only get to keep what you give away. Generosity renders poverty powerless. -Pastor Bill Johnson

Yesterday I started a small campaign to raise $3400 in 34 hours for my 34th birthday for The Lulu Tree, an organization that seeks to elevate African mothers beyond poverty and into a transformed future for themselves and their children through education and community. I am matching up to $1000 of these gifts, and as of 10:00pm on Sunday night, we are already at 30% of our goal.

This isn’t just an act of charity. This is an act at freedom, a shoving off of the fetters of fear that have held me tight for 11 years.

So here’s the truth: I’ve had this $1000 sitting here for a while now. Back in May, our Lulu Tree board planned a meeting in Canada where we would all get to meet for the first time, women from around the world who had been working together for months to elevate and equip African mothers. It was going to be such an important trip.

I gathered my courage and asked you to make the trip happen, and you did. It was incredible. I had all the money I needed almost immediately after I asked.

But then travel for our Ugandan staff fell through due to visa problems. The trip was on hold, but I still had the money. The individuals who sponsored my trip gave me freedom to do whatever I wanted with the money they gave me, and I had numerous ideas. I needed the money for travel. I could pay off debt with it.

But I didn’t do anything with the money. I held onto it. The fear again.

Then I got the idea to give it to The Lulu Tree to help our mothers rent a home together outside of the slum. The money would’ve paid at least two months’ rent. But I still held onto it. I wish I didn’t have to say that.

I wish I could say the fear had good boundaries and cared about other people, but it didn’t. 

I realized that for my birthday, I wanted freedom from fear of not-enough more than anything. So I am going to test out this whole “generosity displaces poverty” concept. I’m finally giving $1000 to the people I truly want to give it to, and I’m doing it, once again, with your help.

I want to invite you to join me.

I want to invite you to join me in not just changing the future and legacy of African mothers and their children through The Lulu Tree. I want you to join me in rendering poverty powerless in your life too. 

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Maybe you can relate to the fear of not-enough. Maybe you know what it feels like to hang onto money just in case, when you really wish you had the courage to give. If that’s you, let’s give big. Let’s give until the fear evaporates.

You can partner on a one-time basis right here, or if you want to make a habit of it, you can partner monthly right here.

Thank you in advance, for being here for this breakthrough moment with me. Thank you dreaming with me and walking this journey toward freedom and hope. 

Here’s to more dreams coming true, more fearlessness and more freedom in the coming year.

This Is Not How I Thought Life Would Go: A Letter to My 20 Year Old Self

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Dear Sarah, the 20 year old, the one who thinks she is going to marry her boyfriend and move to Mexico for missions work, yea, you were wrong. Very wrong. 

You’re 33 now, and you thought you would be further along. More accomplished. More successful. 

You thought there would be more in your bank account. You thought more people would call you boss, or at least supervisor. 

You thought you would have a title, respect, something to show for the hours you put into the degrees, the years you have in experience. 

You thought for sure you would’ve traveled the world, that your passport would be brimming with the ink of new places and stories. You thought you would live far away, move every so often, start over. 

You thought you’d find love in serendipitous ways, that there would be romance and wild stories to tell. You hoped you’d never have to wonder how he felt about you. 

You thought you would live overseas, at least for a while, that your eyes would be wide with color and language and culture, the beautiful people of the world filling up and stretching out your soul.

I hate to disappoint you, but it didn’t turn out that way at all. 

You did get that Masters degree, found a good man who loves you like crazy, who laughs at your jokes and still thinks you’re beautiful. There are kids, two of them, and they are lovely. As charming and good-looking as you’d hoped.

But you kept changing your mind on your career. Even now, you don’t know what to do next. If you’d stuck with your original career path you picked when you were 14, you’d be a therapist by now, someone with letters behind your name, someone whose opinion was considered ‘expert’. 

But you have a job and a life that are small, and it’s hard not to feel like a failure on the bad days, or on the regular days, give in to that nagging suspicion that you settled, that the adventure you live inside a fenced-in yard is not really the one you wanted.

I know you thought you’d never settle for suburbia, for predictability. You thought you’d never prioritize a paycheck or healthcare coverage. You swore you’d have other things to say besides how the kids are doing. 

Sometimes I feel sad. I miss the life you dreamed up. I wonder if somehow I am missing out on the me you thought I’d be.

I think maybe I should’ve taken the chance to head to India after college. I should’ve at least moved back to Oregon, or maybe California. I wonder if I’ve lost the passion and made peace with living small.

But what is success anyway? Am I failing at life cause it looks nothing like I planned? 

Or maybe, I am right in the middle of the story I always wanted to write.

20 year old Sarah, you didn’t know that the dream of family meant sacrifice. It meant giving up some of the things you want to give the ones you love what they need. It meant deferring dreams but still learning to nurture them in your heart for the right time, rather than burying them in anger or desperation. Love and growing up meant throwing your weight behind the dream of your spouse so he can see his passion come to life.

You thought there would be more adrenaline, but instead there is more caffeine, and mostly from sleep deprivation. 

You didn’t know that when you were 20. I can’t fault you for that.

But let me assure you: it’s still me over here, still a woman in pursuit of adventure. I’m not who you thought you’d be, but I’m still a woman who longs to love and be desired by her man. It’s still me, someone who is learning to love herself in the many shapes she takes. And who, despite the flabby body and saggy eyes, is actually growing to love the girl in the mirror instead of loathe her. 

I don’t have all the souvenirs like you hoped I would, the proof of mattering. But you figured out that results aren’t the point, that the story isn’t over even after you’re dead. You’re learning, ever so painfully, that to live a life that will extend beyond yours means sowing your little seeds into the ground, invisible, even though you may never see their harvest.

Even though it’s breaking your heart, you’re learning we’re called to smallness, to plodding on day after day, even when it looks like everything you’re doing isn’t working, when it all feels pointless. You’re learning to find God in the quiet and the mundane, in the delays and disappointments, in the places you thought he’d never go.

This life is nothing like you planned or hoped. Maybe you’d feel disappointed if you saw this 33 year old you now.

But you are being faithful. You are learning to love, to love God, yourself, this life.

That is all that is required of you. And you know that now.

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Why Not Tell Yourself The Truth?

We are always talking to ourselves. But the conversation is mostly laced with deception. With small white lies and rationalizations. And even more, with stories and fables about who God is and what he thinks about us.

In my fantasy, God is mad. Still mad at me for that one thing. Or all those things. And so I avoid him. Avoid the conversation, the repentance, the confession, the coming-clean I know I really need.

I just don’t want to look at his disappointed face.

Maybe you can relate. Or maybe your not-truth is you tell yourself you’re really alone out here. It’s just you in the big world – there is no one to fight for you. Better to not pray or rely on God as he’s a bit unpredictable and we need things we can control around here, not silent and invisible deities who seem aloof at best and contentious at worst.

But this is not the truth and you, and I both know it. We’ve had moments with God that showed us his kindness, his forgiveness. We’ve read what God says about himself and he talks about Love like every other sentence.

He lived it. He commanded it. Jesus’ friend John straight up said “God IS Love”.

So take a minute to write down the truth so you can remind yourself later. I did it the other day.

It might sound canned at first. It might sound too good to be true. But either Love gets the last say in this life or he doesn’t. If he doesn’t, then what are we doing believing, even a little bit? If he is not true, if Love is a pipe dream, then we are wasting our time. As Paul said, we are the most to be pitied.

But if Love is the Last Word, if Love is the Word with skin on, a faithful friend, a patient parent, a comforting confidant, then let’s do ourselves a favor and believe already.

Here are my Truths. What are yours?

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Don’t Say No For God

When I was only five, I promised my missionary friend, Paul, who served in his native country in west Asia, that I would join him one day in his orphanage and serve in missions.

From that moment on, overseas missions was the adventure I dreamed of, a hope I could clearly see all through my school years. As long as it was unattainable, I yearned for it.

But when the time came to pursue the dream, I froze.

Instead of picking up my passport after I finished college, I took an internship, then a “real job”, got married, and the excuses never stopped. 

The conundrum is, while I believe God gave me – and all of us – a dream and a set of assignments in which to live out our calling, when the time comes to actually show up for them, we fabricate excuses like a factory. At least I do. 

Missions is only one of many places I’ve said ‘No’ for God. I do it every day in subtle but subversive ways.

I say No for God by not asking for help or provision or support for a project, allowing it to fail because I didn’t have the resources I need.

I say No for God by assuming something is impossible, so impossible that it’s not worth trying for. So I never try.

I say No for God by letting him and myself off the hook, shrinking down a goal to a measurable size that I can achieve alone, just in case he doesn’t come through. 

So it was no surprise when I was asked to join the leaders of The Lulu Tree for a first-time ever, face-to-face meeting, the excuses poured in:

  • “The baby’s not weaned. He can’t be away from me for a few days.”
  • “I don’t have $1000 sitting around for a flight. How will I get the money?”
  • “I can’t take that much time off work.”
  • “It’s not that important that I be there. They don’t need me.”
Our Lulu mothers and Lulu daughter, along with their children, and joined by our staff, Esther and Carol.

For the past nine months, I’ve held different roles with The Lulu Tree, most recently serving as the Prayer Coordinator and personal support for Emily, the founder of the organization.

My work with The Lulu Tree has opened my eyes to the beauty of allowing God to design and found an organization. From our tiny efforts I’ve witnessed him transform not only the lives of these Ugandan women and their children, but also our own hearts as we see them worship God and receive with such gratitude. 

The invitation to join the women I’ve been working with in person for prayer and vision-casting was too good to be true. So I left it there. 

Once again, I said No for God. 

But as I listened in to the conversations and plans for the gathering, I felt the anticipation of finally looking into the eyes and hugging the necks of the women who serve the mothers and children in Uganda.

Knowing the young organization has been built and run on the kinship of strangers, literally all around the world, I longed to meet them in person,  to see what God would do when we were finally all together.

As the Lulu mothers and daughter gather to pray regularly, so we will be gathering for prayer and allowing God to show us what is next.

Finally, I realized what I had done, that I had said No without even asking. I wondered if there was still time to join them. 

I had to try. 

About 10 days ago, I asked God, if he wanted to send me to Canada for the gathering, that he would provide. Days later, one of you, a fellow reader and sojourner, wrote me to ask about any financial needs our church and family had. I couldn’t believe it. I gathered my courage and shared the story and the need.

Without hesitation,  he offered to front over half the cost of the plane ticket! I was floored. 

All of a sudden, the impossible became possible. When I didn’t say No for God, he said Yes for me. 

The gathering is just around the corner in mid-June, and I still have to raise the other half of the plane ticket, along with a few other travel expenses. [Most all food, lodging and transportation will be covered for us by local church members. Check out the trip breakdown below.]

Will you contribute to this adventure of saying Yes to God and letting him say Yes back?

I would love to have you partner with me. Please contact me at scsiders(at)gmail.com if you are interested in partnering with me for the trip, learning more about the trip or about The Lulu Tree.LuluAskTo help you learn more about The Lulu Tree, I shared our goals here, as well as our link so you can get more information. 

The Lulu Tree Goals:

  • To equip single mothers in the slum of Katwe, Uganda to care for their children;
  • To equip desperate young women with life and job skills (preventing them from being forced to turn to a man and bear his children, for survival);
  • To end the cycle of poverty for widowed and HIV-infected families in Katwe;
  • To bring the good news of Jesus Christ to the slum’s future generations.

For more information, visit The Lulu Tree online.

I’d love to hear about your steps of courage and a story where you let God say Yes instead of jumping to No for him. I could use the encouragement. Send me an email about it, or comment below. ❤

Thank you for your friendship and partnership with me along the way.

It’s an honor doing life with you.

Just Leap

You’re making it too hard. Don’t overthink it. 

If you’re like most of us, you don’t have an impulsivity problem – you have a fear problem.

When you make a decision and it’s a good one, you learn to make more like that. When you make a decision and it goes to crap, you evaluate and figure out how to never do that again. Hopefully. 

[Photo credit: http://www.theskooloflife.com]

Decision-making is really just a learning process. People who move fast aren’t necessarily brash or super smart – they are just deciding they want to learn their lessons at a faster rate. The rest of us are snailing along, fearful of doing this and that wrong and permanently damaging the course of our entire existence.

When we move quickly, we learn quickly – we adjust the sails and learn to navigate our internal waters faster. We teach ourselves confidence. We learn that failure won’t kill us. And maybe we do some awesome things too. 

So think fast. Then act. Then learn. Then act again.

When in doubt, make a decision. If you make a wrong decision, make another decision. -My Dad

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How To Kick The Ultimate Creativity Killer

Today, Holly and Kari over at Dreadlocks and Goldilocks are returning the hospitality and having me over for a visit. They are in a series on creativity, so join me over there, will you?

My mom used to tell me she wasn’t creative, but no one believed her. She finished a Master Gardener program about ten years ago, and everyone marveled how beautiful her backyard landscaping was. Yet she insisted she was not creative. Not like me or my father, the writers.

She took ballet classes and tried out horseback riding lessons. I tried to tell her, “Mom, you’re creative. Look at your garden. Look at all these creative pursuits you’re involved in.” Still, she argued.

Slowly she started to own her identity as a creative person, but sometimes I think she still doubts. She doubts her creativity like I’ve doubted mine. Like you’ve doubted yours.

Maybe you’re not an artist, a sculptor or a writer. You’re an accountant or a gym teacher or a mom raising kids and wrangling the household duties. No one pays you to create. You don’t even attempt those seven-layer desserts you pinned on Pinterest. The imminent failure is too painful. You’ve decided you’re not creative so you’ll just stick with what you know.

But you’re wrong. You are creative.

My mom’s opinion of herself, that she wasn’t creative despite all her obvious artistic leanings, is far too common. Yet why is it that so many of us have come to this conclusion?

It’s Comparison, The Ultimate Creativity Killer, that stuns us into bashful silence.

Creativity dies a quick death when we hold our work, our ideas, our creations up next to someone else’s. We look over the shoulder of other students in our writing or painting classes and wonder why our work doesn’t look like theirs.

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But if Van Gogh or Picasso tried to create work like pieces they had seen before, we would have no Van Gogh or Picasso. We would have no Emily Dickinson or Maya Angelou, no buildings by Frank Lloyd Wright, or musicals by Andrew Lloyd Weber. What if Stephen Hawking had thought it sufficient to view the world through everyone else’s theories of physics? Or what if Steve Jobs only introduced technology people had already seen before? We might have no tablets, no iPods, no appreciation for function that can also have form.

These are the great ones we hold up and revere, the creators of our history who braved the Never-Before to bring us something we can’t imagine life without. They brought us pictures, words, music, ideas, and they changed the world forever.

And that’s exactly what creating does. It takes the things that already exist and makes something totally new out of them.

The trick is that anyone can do it, anyone with a unique brain and set of fingerprints can create something totally original.

Or they can copy. They can dilute and tame and Xerox the life right out of the thing they were designed to bring to the world.

Anyone can make art that looks or sounds exactly like someone else, but we don’t call that art. We call it plagiarism. We call those “artists” copycats, or at least a cover band, on a good day.

Continue reading over at Holly and Kari’s place.

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The Problem With Being Good At Things

Today we’re hearing from Holly Pennington, a new blogger pal of mine. She is sharing a powerful perspective on the detours we run into when we think our skills should be our gifts and passions, and she dives into brave territory as she discusses how using our gifts sometimes means we don’t need God. Her questions are really making me think. Check out her bio below for more info and ways to connect with her. Heeerree’s Holly…

The problem with being good at things is that we can be fooled into thinking these things are our gifts.

I used to think my gifts were the things that I was really good at, without having to put as much effort into them as others. For example, I was always good at math without needing to study.  So, I concluded in my high school years that math was one of my gifts.  Then, in college, clueless about what major to choose and overwhelmed by all of the options, I became an accounting major because I was good with numbers.  I didn’t really enjoy accounting, so the major only lasted for a semester.  And, I remember feeling discouraged and confused by the realization that I didn’t like what I was good at.

Shouldn’t enjoyment be the natural response to easy success?  

Frustrated with this gap between excelling at something and enjoying it, I set out to find my true gift.  I adopted a two-pronged approach as I decided that my gift must be something that 1) I could excel at with ease and 2) I naturally enjoyed.  But, I kept experiencing the excel-enjoy gap.  During my brief stint as an art major, I learned that creating art brought me great pleasure.  But I wasn’t very good at it.  When I swung to the opposite pole and became a computer science major, my grades were good but I spent an entire semester in late-night computer lab misery.

Four college majors, countless personality/career assessment tests and dozens of self-help books later, I was still trying to find my gifts.  I decided that my two pronged approach to gifts must be missing something:  a spiritual twist.  So, I added a third prong:   Gifts must be something that can be used to help others, do good and create positive change in the world.

I expanded my definition of a gift to this commonly accepted one:

1) Gifts are things that you good at with little effort.
2) Gifts are things you enjoy doing.
3) Gifts must be needed by the world.

I believed in these three things for a long time.  They motivated me to become a physical therapist. They drove me to advance in my career.  I preached this definition of gifts to my two daughters, and encouraged friends and colleagues to cultivate their gifts based on this three pronged approach.

Then I realized something:  Most of the time, when I was using what I thought were my gifts, I didn’t need God. 

When we excel at something with little effort, derive great satisfaction from it and are fulfilled through helping others, we can go it alone.  We don’t need to depend on God. 

[a Pixabay image created on Wordswag]
[a Pixabay image created on Wordswag]

How can it be a gift if we can do it apart from God?

When I started writing, my three point definition of a gift was further challenged.  When I write, I feel like a vessel.  There is a force outside of myself, which I believe to be God, working through me.  The supposed muse is palpable.  I am humbled to my core by the process because I know I can’t do it alone.  I don’t think writing meets my three criteria to be considered a gift, but I know that I am supposed to do it. I know I need God to do it.  And, because of this, I believe it will be used to help others.

So, I wonder:

What if a gift is that thing we do that makes us humble?   What if gifts require our dependence on God?  What if they are not meant to be something we can do completely on our own?

If we don’t have to tap into God and let Him flow through us to do what we are good at, then maybe it is not really our gift. If we are powered completely by our own engine, able to keep on racing and winning without needing God, then aren’t we limiting ourselves?  We can only live up to our full divine potential if we stretch ourselves to need to depend on Him.

Bach wrote the letters “J.J.” at the top of blank manuscripts before writing his compositions.  “J.J.” was his abbreviation for “Jesu, Juva,” translated as “Jesus, Help.”  I think we would all agree that composing music was Bach’s gift.  But, he didn’t think he could do it alone.  I can picture him taking a deep breath as he wrote “J.J.” with his quill pen, praying a silent prayer for help, then hoping that God would give him the notes to write as he stared at the blank page.  I can picture him being humbled by the outcome of his completed composition as he penned his signature “SDG” at the end:  “Soli Deo Gloria” or “To God alone be glory.”

I am trying out some new definitions of gifts these days.  I am not sure that gifts have to be things that come easy to us.  I am not even convinced that we have to fully enjoy them.

But, I am becoming convinced that our gifts should make us humble.

And, I wonder if we can only find our gifts in that space between “J.J.” and “SDG.”

If you think you know what your gifts are, challenge yourself with the question of humility.  Can you do what you are good at on your own?  What if you stretched yourself, with these gifts or new ones, to work in that space between “J.J.” and “SDG”?

And, if you’ve spent a chunk of your life trying to figure out what your gifts are (like me), give these new definitions a try.  You just might be able to avoid having a problem with being good at things.

Do you have a natural talent that you pursued but never loved? Or have you discovered how to use your gifts in partnership with God? Leave a comment below and tell us your story.

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Bio:  Holly Pennington is a writer, mom, physical therapist and entrepreneur living in the Seattle area.   She is currently working in that space between “J.J” and “SDG” as she writes at www.dreadlocksandgoldilocks.com and starts a new business.  She can be reached on Facebook (dreadlocksandgoldilocks) and Twitter @dreadsandgoldi.

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Want to be my guest too? I’m looking for writers with an authentic voice who can share their struggles and insights on purpose, parenthood and the life following Jesus. Check out submission guidelines here.

If you’re not a writer, but want to continue the honest conversation on hope and calling and life in between, subscribe here, and I will send you my two eBooks free. You can only get them when you subscribe so be sure to take a moment and sign up. Thanks for reading.

It’s Always Opposite Day In Hell

I’ve been meaning to tell you this for a while, but hell was beating me up. Just like it’s been beating you up. I finally got ahead in the past several days, but I am tired. It is 2:00 in the morning as I write today, the first time I’ve been simultaneously awake, coherent and motivated enough to get the words out.

I want you to know what’s going on in the world, and why it feels so bad right now. Why you can barely take a breath without anxiety clutching the air out of your lungs. Why despair and depression are clouds over each of us, seeming to form one giant rain cloud none of us can escape.

For weeks I read the news – this was my first mistake – and each story of terror and fear fell around me like prison bars of horror, trapping me inside my mind. I tried to escape, but the images, the anxiety, lurked around every corner, every empty moment where my mind wandered.

But ten days ago, something shifted for me when I sneaked into an old Catholic church and read the mass of the day. God knew I was coming, and he met me there.

Something shifted again when I finally told my friends and my husband what was going on inside my head. How horrible I felt every day. I had an epiphany, just from talking, and relief swept in.

And then again, more breakthrough flooded my soul when I sought counsel and prayer from a woman who could lead me straight to God when I could no longer find him.

I want you to know what is going on so you can find the real God too. I want you to have the upper hand in the battle for your peace, your security, your hope and faith.

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First, you must know it is always Opposite Day in hell. Whatever God wants to do in heaven, Satan directly opposes by releasing the opposite. That’s because Satan cannot create anything new – he can only distort the good God has already made. Here’s what that looks and feels like in our lives:

  • When God is about to give you breakthrough, Satan throws up a wall so you feel like you will be stuck forever. You may have been fighting this fight for months or even years, but right before you’re about to crash through to the glorious other side, it will always feel hardest. The moment you want to give up most is the moment you MUST keep going.
  • If you find yourself fighting anxiety and fear all the time, or just at certain times, it’s because God wants you to walk in a divine level of peace and confidence. It is likely that you have the gift of faith that Satan wants to snuff out because he knows the effectiveness you would live with should you live with this faith.
  • The joy of the Lord is our strength, the Bible tell us, but depression renders us weak and feeble. In despair, we feel joy is a liar. But joy is contagious and brings great healing to you and to others.

The reason we don’t receive the hope, joy, peace and confidence at any given point is because when Satan gets to us first, we tend to agree with him. The despair and fear sidle up to us like trusted friends, and we grow wary of this cheerfully optimistic God. We assume he is powerless or blind to stop the pain in the world because otherwise, he would not be acting like everything is okay.

The truth is that we cannot be both hopeless and hopeful, both anxious and trusting. We cannot possess both fear and peace.

A room can only be light or dark. Darkness is the absence of light, and once light comes in, darkness is no longer there. But in our hearts, we have to hand over the darkness. We have to invite in light. Truth.

You do not have because you do not ask, Jesus said. And so we must ask. Boldly.

If you want peace, you have to hand Jesus your fear and anxiety, and ask for peace and faith.

If you want hope, you have to hand Jesus your despair and ask for hope.

The most important thing to know about hell’s Opposite Day is this: If you struggle with a certain thing, it’s because part of your calling and destiny is to release the opposite into the world. 

It doesn’t matter how bad your fear or despair, lust, loneliness or compulsion is, these are not evidence of how messed up and hopeless you are. These are actually signs of what your calling is. Your fear means you are to carry great peace. Your lust or addiction problem, which are both a form of distorted worship, means you have a calling for purity and worship.

So what’s tripping you up? Instead of asking God to just take away your addiction or your fear, thank him for your calling to release the opposite into the world. Then hand over your distorted, dark version and let him give you the beautiful torch you were meant to carry. 

If you want to get your world rocked a little more with God’s perspective, I want to introduce you to Bob Hartley, one of God’s greatest messengers of hope in our time. I resonate with him so much. Read this article about God’s hope for the United States, and other nations in the earth.

 

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{God is speaking during this wild time in our world’s history. I have more to say on this, and I will be sharing it in the next few weeks. I want you to know what is going on. Pray and let him speak to you. But also join me as we learn to live with hope and courage together.

Subscribe to the blog today, and I’ll send you two FREE eBooks to help you do just that.}