Friday, March 16, 2012

Do Them Well

Hey there! This is Ruth, and I want to introduce this amazing post you are about to read! Esther and I asked our dear friend Sarah to share about the talents God has given her, and to encourage others to use their talents for God's glory. If you don't know Sarah, she is one of the prettiest girls—inside and out—and she is an exemplary example of what it looks like to have a gentle and quiet spirit. Also, she LOVES kids! So much so, that you can tell just by watching her with her little siblings and the kids she works with at the day school at our church. It's so awesome to listen to her share about her mission trip from last summer in Houston, and how she became so close with some of the kids there.

Esther and I are hoping and praying that this post speaks to you like it did to us, and that it will encourage you to use your gifts!

Hi everyone!

My two good friends asked me to share about what I love. I love, love, love kids. If any of you have spent any time with me you’ve probably heard me start a story off saying “One of the kids at the day school…” or “One of the kids I met in Houston…” or something along the lines of that. Kids are my passion.

But guess what. I don’t always want to wake up super early and go to work in the day school at my church. Sometimes I‘m exhausted and I don’t want to play tag with the kids in inner city of Memphis or Houston. All too often I don’t want to read the same Dr. Seuss book I’ve read to the kids a thousand times. I’m too tired to build another tower of blocks, play tickle monster, help someone across the monkey bars, go crazy singing super fun church songs, and the list goes on and on.

I find myself praying this same prayer over and over again: “God, please shine through me today. Help me to give the love these children need today. Please give me energy. Please remind me that these children are a gift and that this day is a gift. Amen.” Let me tell you it works. It usually works in ways I am not expecting but every time I pray that prayer I wake up. Regardless of whether I am working at a day camp or my churches day school or inner city Houston, I become full of joy. I love to see the faces of my two year old class light up as we build a tower of blocks, watch the blocks tumble to the ground, and build another. I love to listen as they tell me all about how they helped their mommy make dinner or how they learned all about polar bears in class yesterday. I love to run around museums and petting zoos with children from Houston and watch them as they get to experience all kinds of new things. The moment I hear a child, excited to see me shout, “Miss Sarah!” I know what I’m doing is good and is absolutely worthwhile.

My heart aches for children around the world with empty bellies, no homes, and no one to show them how greatly they are loved. My heart’s desire is to go somewhere where I can feed and clothe and love children until I drop every day. I know that God has planted that desire in my heart and I’m sure that He will one day fulfill it. Right now I am still a child myself and I belong in my parents’ home.

So for now I will do the jobs God has given me right now and I will do them well.

I will go on the short term mission trips God has given me the opportunities to go on and I will put my all into them.

I will love the children God has placed in my life with all I’ve got.

He has put all of these tasks, places, and people in my life for such a time as this.

I pray the Lord shows you the passion He has planted in your heart. Remember our Father has big plans for us, plans full of joy and love and hope and peace that passes all understanding. He uses what we love for good as long as we love Him first. When we fully trust God and follow him we are promised life and life to the fullest.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

According to their abilities

Hey everyone! This is Esther, and I’ve got a question for you.

What do you love to do?

For me, it’s writing. There’s this saying, from Rene Descartes, "Cogito ergo sum." In English, that means, "I think, therefore I am." Well, I like to say "Scribo ergo sum—I write, therefore I am." Pretty crazy, huh? I must really love stringing words together.

But hold up. I've got a confession to make. Sometimes, I don’t want to write. A lot of times, actually. Yeah, crazy, I know. But…most of the time, as much as I love it, I’d rather be watching TV, reading a book, sleeping. Or—this is the most popular one—thinking about writing. Why? Because writing means work. It means putting myself out there with each word that I write. And that’s a scary thing.

There’s this story in the Bible—one of Jesus’ parables. In it, there are three servants and a master. The master decides to go away for a while, so he gives his servants some talents (money), according to their abilities. To the first he gives five, the second two, and the third one. Then he leaves. Well, the first servant, with five talents, immediately goes out and doubles them. So does the second, with his two talents. The third one, though, runs to a field and buries his talent, then goes off and has a good time.

Well, after a long while the master returns and summons his servants for a report. The first two present their earnings and receive big smiles and claps on the back, plus more money and responsibilities. They’ve done well, moved up in the world. Made their master happy. But then the third one, Mister Play-it-safe, crawls up and hands the master this dirty, musty-smelling handkerchief. The master peels it open, and Play-it-safe launches into an explanation. Here’s what he says:

“I was afraid I might disappoint you, so I found a good hiding place and secured your money. Here it is, safe and sound down to the last cent” (Matthew 25:25, MSG).

Notice what he says--down to the last cent. He didn’t keep anything for himself, didn’t waste any of it on his parties, didn’t even lose it on the way to and from the field. So the master should be pleased, right? I mean, this guy is obviously responsible.

Instead, the master throws a royal hissy fit. “That’s a terrible way to live! It’s criminal to live cautiously like that! If you knew I was after the best, why did you do less than the least?” (Matthew 25:26, MSG)

Less than the least? Ouch!

Jesus is making a point here; it’s no coincidence that we translate the word for money as talent. God gives us talents, just like the master did his servants. He expects us to use them, and will hold us accountable for them, as well.

And notice something else—at the beginning of the parable, it says the master gave the servants their talents according to their abilities. This means he knew them. He watched them work--knew their strengths, their weaknesses, what they could handle. He didn’t just reach into his purse and toss out a handful of coins. No, he took the time to tailor his gifts, to get them just right.

Are you beginning to see where I’m going with this? I hope so. I pray so. God loves us; He gives us talents according to our abilities, and He expects us to USE THEM. He doesn’t want some moldy handkerchief crawling with worms and spiders, even if what it holds is brand-new and complete. He doesn’t want us to play it safe, to plunk ourselves down in the dirt and make mud pies because we’re too afraid of opening the oven to try the real thing.

Think about your passion. Think about the love you have for it, the joy it gives you. The way it makes you so excited you just have to share it with somebody. It’s perfect, right? It fits you in a way only you can understand. You…and God.

Now answer this question—do you use this talent every day?

Monday, December 26, 2011


Dear 14 year old self,

I want you to know that you are loved unconditionally. You may not feel like you are good enough, or that you aren't pleasing everyone all the time, but that is not your task. Your Father in heaven has planned you from the beginning. You are captivating to Him. And His opinion is really the only one that matters. You may not feel seen, heard, understood, or important, but you are. The Lord sees, hears, understands, and longs to let you know how important you are to Him. You have immeasurable value and worth to Him. Stop seeking attention from boys that you admire. You cannot find sustenance from broken cisterns. Seek everything you need from the Lord, because He provides everything you will ever need. He will fulfill you if you seek Him instead of people who tend to become idols in your eyes. He will never disappoint, never abandon, never stop loving, and never forget you. You are on the front of His mind and your name is written on the palm of His hand.

I encourage you to love yourself. You are not able to fully love another until you are comfortable within yourself. You and God are the only ones on your journey. Learn to love yourself, then learn to like yourself. Know that you are human and will make mistakes, but have grace for yourself when you do things that disappoint. Embrace the way God has made you. Honor yourself by being honest with your feelings and emotions. They are there for a reason, listen to them. Don't allow other people's opinion of you override your own opinion of yourself. Don't take responsibility of another person's feelings, allow them to do that. Take care of the things YOU are responsible for- your thoughts, feelings, emotions, actions, decisions, health, and growth.

Don't be afraid to say "no" and in turn potentially disappoint someone. Be true to yourself and don't worry about disappointing others. If you are true to yourself and honest in your answers, others will respect you and they will be able to deal with their own disappointment. Don't be afraid to grieve, for it is in the grief that you grow closer to Jesus in His suffering. Don't be afraid to hurt. Feel it, acknowledge the pain, and release it into your comforting Father's hands. He will heal your heart and fulfill all your desires.

Find confidence and security in the Lord's love. He is always Faithful and will always come through for you.

I love you--your older self.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

He doesn't want you to be anyone else.

Hey girl, it's me - you at twenty-five years old. Crazy right? If it were possible to meet face to face right now, you'd probably think I have it all together, and that is because I know how you think. I've dropped 25 lbs. Since you last saw me, your boobs FINALLY came in, we have a very sweet boyfriend, a car, an education, a job, and our family isn't THAT crazy after all. Things seem to have gone pretty smoothly - on the surface. You don't realize this now, but even when things seem to be perfect on the outside, sometimes they're not. I'd like to clue you in on a few things that I know about you, things that you might want to think about changing.

You are very sweet and thoughtful. You are always taking care of other people, making other people feel good about themselves, and making the world a brighter place. These are wonderful qualities - but you need to be aware that sometimes these qualities can be weaknesses.

When I was your age, I thought I was doing pretty well. I was a "good Christian." I put other people’s needs first. I tried to always do the right thing, so that no one would have cause to be angry with me. If anyone was hurting, I tried to make it better. I was very encouraging and supportive to other people. But if I was hurting, I couldn't admit it to anyone. I pretended that everything was completely normal. It was so embarrassing to admit that something was wrong. Even when I would go to the doctor, they would ask, "well how are you feeling?" and I'd say, "oh, fine, how are you?" without even thinking about it. I was so good at faking it. When it would have made me feel so much better to talk to someone else and be encouraged by them, I could not do it. It was my gift to be encouraging and uplifting to everyone else – but I would rather die than open up to someone else and tell them that I was sad or lonely or having a hard time.

Not only was I not taking care of my own needs, but I was also entirely too dependent on the approval of others. My friends didn’t like me the way I was, so I pretended to be like them. People at church expected me to act a certain way, dress a certain way, and be a certain way, and so I pretended to be person they wanted me to be. The guy I was dating in high school wanted me to be interested in the same things he was interested in, and I pretended to be interested in those things. I pretended to the point where I actually THOUGHT I was all of those things. I thought I was like my friends, I thought I was the person the people at church thought I was. I thought I liked the same things my boyfriend liked. I was afraid people wouldn’t like me if I wasn’t the way they expected me to be. So even if I didn’t agree with it or enjoy it, I became the person I thought everyone else wanted me to be. I found that I was only truly being myself when I was at home with my family.

This went on for years and years, and when I graduated high school, it began to spiral out of control. I began to exhibit early signs of depression. I cried all the time, and felt sad and I didn’t know why. I would go home from college every weekend just to regroup. I couldn’t be myself away from my family. That was the only place I knew who I was. But every Sunday I had to go back to school. It was terrible. I would wake up in the morning, and pick up my Bible and pray that Jesus would come back that day, because there was no way I was going to make it any further than that one day. I remember the song "In Christ Alone" was really big at that time, and we would sing it in chapel a lot, and I could not sing that line, "till he returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I stand," without crying because that line was my life. He carried me during that time. I honestly would not be here, if not for him. Keep your faith strong, because I really needed it then. I carried my Bible everywhere. I would read it, pray, and sometimes just clutch it in my hand, to let myself know that he was there.

I came home after two years – did you catch that? I was so worried about disappointing people (by coming home from college), that It took me TWO YEARS to decide to come home. That's sad. It took me three years after THAT to figure out why I was so depressed, and to get everything sorted out. Those 25 lbs. you were so impressed that I lost? - I lost them within a few months time, simply because I couldn't eat. Now that's crazy -- this from the girl whose boyfriend (instead of a dozen roses) brings her a dozen chocolate covered donuts on date night -- let me tell you, me not eating, now that's crazy. But that's how it was. I wasn't being me, because I did not know how. It was very hard, and there was a time I even thought about suicide, simply because I didn't think I could make it any more. But there's a happy ending to our story. God was always there - he put special people in my life to help me (and I wonder if one of them wasn't an actual angel) and things got better. I've had two and half years of counseling (it's not just for crazy people - it actually helped a lot, I promise), my family and my boyfriend were very supportive, and now I can say that I have learned how to be myself. And boy does it feel great to be myself. I have found that it's actually easier to serve God and other people when you're yourself - strange isn't it?

You can avoid all this, and it's very simple. God made you just the way you are, and he loves you. He doesn’t want you to be anyone else. If your friends don’t like you the way God made you, then get new ones. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. There’s no shame in admitting that you need help. We’re all human. And most of the time, there’s someone out there struggling with the exact same thing you’re struggling with. I don't regret any of my story -- I actually am very thankful to have had this experience, so that I can help other people avoid it. Funny how God works sometimes, eh? He's pretty amazing...

Monday, December 5, 2011

Just be brave.

Dear 7th Grade Self,

No, sweetheart, they are not your friends.

They might have been, once upon a time, but this is not how friends behave, this is not what friends are like. Give it up; let go. It’s better without them.

I know you miss that close, tight group you used to have with them. But it just doesn’t exist any longer. These are the same girls, but sixth grade did something to them that it didn’t do to you. Who knows why or what. They got mean or hard or self-conscious. Something terrible at home - a divorce or a bullying older brother; a dad that doesn’t care about what happens to them; a mom who starts every morning belittling or fighting. Whatever did it; it’s already done. They think the only way to look good, to feel better, is to make others look bad, make others feel worse.

It’s not wrong for you to not be comfortable with them anymore; it’s not wrong to want it to be different.

But here’s the thing: It won’t go back to how it was. No matter how long you stick it out with them, how many times you listen to them gossip, how many seats they end up saving for you, how may lunches you guys ridicule each other through - no matter how long you keep this up, it won’t be the way it was. It won’t be as good, or as right, or as close. They won’t be your friends.

They’re already not your friends.

Think about it. There’s no real reason they won’t save you a seat in first period. There’s no real reason they trash talk the guy you like. There’s no real reason for the whole group to go silent when you walk in a room.

No real reason. This is just how girls can be.

But the good news is - not all girls are like this. Not all girls want to see you cry. Not all girls form a little clique and ignore anyone who doesn’t quite fit.

Some girls want friends just like you want friends.

You’ll find them. You’ve already found them. You know who they are; you know that they’re fun, that they joke and laugh and tease and hang out on Fridays. You’ve seen them pass notes to each other in class about silly, goofy stuff. You’ve seen them doodle on each other’s shoes and arms; you’ve listened to them moan about pre-algebra homework. You know them. They’re right there, in front of you.

I know that this is so hard. To cut ties with the girls you thought were your friends, who did, in fact, use to be your friends. I know that it’s scary to think that you might drift around 7th grade without someone, without belonging, never fitting in. But that’s not what happens. That won’t happen.

God is looking out for you; He’s got something in mind. But He needs you to step out on faith, to take the leap into what looks like a vacuum. He will catch you. He will. He will. He is faithful.

Another thing about the way God works. See, what He does for you might sometimes not look like what you want. Or even need. It might look like a paltry imitation, a shadow of the great group of friends you had once. These new friends that God has in mind for you? Yeah, at first glance, they don’t look like the friends you have.

You know the girls I mean, the girls who will be your friends; you’ve already seen them in homeroom. They’re not as put together maybe; they’re wearing last year’s boots instead of this year’s. They do hang out with a couple of guys in band class, and yeah, one of the girls has a retainer she has to wear that gives her a kind of lisp. But guess what? It’s so much more fun when you don’t have to try so hard to be liked, when you fit in with a group of girls who don’t care if your shoes are cool or if this is a good hair day. It’s so much more honest, and real, and relaxing, and right when the friends you surround yourself with just love you for you.

God has plans for you; He needs you to be willing to go along with Him, to ride it out. Because the moment that you step away from those mean girls and sit down at the other end of the lunch table - that’s the moment God starts working through you.

When He does that, there’s no stopping the blessings you get from Him. The girl with the retainer? She teaches you a cool trick to help memorize the poem you have to recite in front of the class next semester. The girl with the geeky band boyfriend? (Yeah, he plays the trombone and gets mad really easily, I know). That girl will be your best friend for the next two years; she’ll get you free tickets to a cool concert and you’ll have her over to spend the night when her stepdad leaves them.

God will be at work in your life. All you have to do, all you need to do, is be brave. Walk past the head of the lunch table and the girls pretending to be stupid to impress the boys, walk past the girl with perfect hair who was new in fifth grade and needed you but doesn’t need you now. Walk past them. Walk to the last table, the one by the trash compactor that stinks. Walk all the way to the end and sit down.

They won’t kick you out. They won’t stare at you like you’re crazy. They won’t stop talking and leave the table in dreadful, judging silence. It’s not a fiery furnace; it’s not a lion’s den.

They’ll ask if you want your orange (no) and if you want to come to the band room after lunch and listen to music (yes). They’ll accept you without question. These people will be your friends. You won’t even miss the others.

In case you couldn’t tell, everything works out. It’s easier than you think. God is bigger than your fears.

Just be brave. Be willing to walk into the flames - they will not touch you.

With hope,
Your Older (Wiser?) Self

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Dear Younger Self Project

This post marks the start of a new blog series we're calling the Dear Younger Self Project. The basis of this series is the question "What do you wish you had known in seventh grade?" For the next few weeks, or months, or however long God leads us to do this, you'll be reading anonymous letters that trusted friends and mentors have written to their younger selves. It is our prayer that in reading their self-advice, you will be blessed in a way only God can orchestrate. We're so excited about this new series--God has already been doing amazing things behind the scenes. So, without further ado, the first Dear Younger Self letter:


Dear Younger Self (and probably Future Self since this seems to be a lesson I am bound to repeat over and over and over.....again....),

No matter how old you get and no matter what you choose to do in life, there will always be well-meaning people who want to offer you advice....from dating advice, to what you should do with your life, to where you should go to college, to who you should or should not marry, to when and how you should have your children (YES people do actually offer opinions on this...crazy, I know!), etc. Here's the thing though, no matter how successful they are, no matter how well educated they may be, no matter how much older they are than you, etc, YOU are the only person qualified to write your life's story because God made YOU the expert on YOU! He gave YOU a unique set of gifts and sent YOU out on a real life “Choose Your Own Adventure” type of story!

No matter what choices you make, your story is going to be one of those great novels that keeps people on the edge of their seats, not some trivial piece of formula fiction at best destined for tomorrow's compost pile, because life doesn't follow a predictable formula. You can't plug in all of the right variables and come out with the right outcome every time. Each person is different and there are countless variables that you cannot control for across individuals and circumstances. Even if you could, it's not about the last page. It's about the journey that brought you TO the last page...what you learned, how you loved, how you gave, the commitments you made, etc. The problem is that we like formulas. Formulas are safe. There is minimal risk and responsibility on our part for failure and criticism...that's why people write sequels....because they are willing to sacrifice the potential of creating something truly great for the laurels and accolades of others.

That's the real secret: In order to be able to write YOUR story from YOUR heart and not what you THINK other people want to read, you have to be willing to live with criticism. Criticism is never easy to hear, especially when it comes out of ignorance and thoughtlessness. However, God can use all things for good, and sometimes He uses these often unkind words to hone your heart into the heart of a lion. At the center of every woman who has a gentle and quiet spirit, there must exist the heart of a lion, that is willing to courageously stand firm and hold fast to what she believes is matter what. Otherwise, she risks becoming a doormat. At some point, you have to recognize that it is well worth the risk of failure and criticism to go out and live the life God created YOU to live and that the only true measure of your success is when you are measuring it against YOUR rubric and not someone else's.

"God doesn't want us to be shy with his gifts, but bold and loving and sensible." 2 Timothy 1:7 (The Message)

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Not a fan.

Hi everyone! It's been quite a while since Esther and I posted last. Summer and school get in the way of everything so easily, can't they? But that's no excuse. First, I want to explain some of the things I, Ruth, have been going through.

So, I had an amazing summer. However, it ended quite abruptly when I had to get my tonsils out two weeks before school started. Oh my goodness, I never want to re-live those two weeks again! God definitely taught me a lesson on how blessed I am to have my health. But I recovered quickly and my throat is much better now.

When school started, I was instantly bombarded with projects and schedules and volleyball games--pretty much everything you can think of. Praying to God became rare, and I slowly stopped thinking about Him as much as I had in the summer. People have always told me how much easier it is to be on fire for God in the summer than during the school year, but I never understood it until this year.

In the summer, I go to church camps and missions trips and help feed the homeless in the inner city with my youth group. During these excursions, I'm thinking about how amazing God is and how blessed I am to have this kind of environment with other teens to minister to less fortunate people. I'm not stressed out and I don't have the pressure of projects and drama and sports on my mind.

So, I finally "got" what people had been saying when this school year started. I was kind of angry at the world. I didn't want summer to end! I wanted to go back to St. Louis where I'd gone on a mission trip in July, and help the people there. I didn't want to be stuck in a classroom all day. I mean, how can you minister there, right?

Wrong. I've realized that you don't have to be somewhere special to share God's love. You can be anywhere! You just have to allow God to speak through you and fulfill His will through you.

My youth group's fall retreat last weekend epitomized how my relationship with God was headed. Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't going out on the weekends and doing bad things! I just wasn't relying on God as I much as I should have and spending enough time with Him.

We had a guest speaker at the retreat and the theme for the weekend was "Not a Fan." That might confuse you at first (trust me, I was confused too!), but this clever little phrase is referring to how we view God. Are we fans of Him, or true followers? The speaker went on to say that people can be a fan of someone and know everything about that person, but not truly know and have a deep relationship with them.

You can know all the books of the Bible and all the Bible stories, but what about the Creator? Do you know Him? The speaker explained that the Greek word for "know" is yada. In order to yada someone, you have to talk to them daily.

So, I encourage you, crave a relationship with God. Desire to know Him. Want to follow Him. Don't be a fan. Be a follower, and follow God's footsteps.

What's your yada moment??

"Fans may try to follow Jesus out of their own strength, but followers of Jesus are empowered by the Holy Spirit" -Kyle Idelman

Be looking for a new series Esther and I are starting called Letters to Your Younger Self!