Build Bridges, Not Walls

Two young girls sitting on the wooden bridge

We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” Isaac Newton

I am 25 years old and death is a major part of my story. During the quarter century I’ve been alive, I have lost more than 20 family members or close friends. During high school, we lost ten classmates in my grade alone. Ten funerals in four years. Suicides. Accidents. Overdoses.

By the time I finished college I owned more little black dresses than any of my friends. I hated all of them, because they each one held a dark memory. A failed lung transplant—the heart of my joyful, fiery friend redlining on the operation table. A plane crash that took the life of an entire family, except my sweet friend’s big brother. The day I squeaked through the eulogy at my grandfather’s funeral. And that is just the beginning.

For years, I didn’t know how to talk about the losses I’ve experienced.

I’ve always been strong in my faith, and I never wanted anyone to know how much I was hurting. I was desperately confused. I didn’t want anyone to find out I spent countless nights staring at the ceiling through tears, whispering angry prayers to a God I desperately wanted to trust, “How could you allow this to happen again?”

I was angry. And frankly, some days I wasn’t even sure God was out there listening to me.

But instead of asking for help or sharing my story, I covered it up. I built a wall of peppy, sorority girl positivity and empty “praise the Lord’s.” I barricaded my brokenness. I pushed others away with fake smiles and fluent Christianese.

But five years ago, during Spring break my sweet cousin Taylor passed away in a skiing accident. She was only 13 years old with an infectious laugh and baby-blue eyes.

The week leading up to her funeral was one of the most difficult of my life. For days my family sat bleary-eyed in my Aunt Tara and Uncle Todd’s living room. We cried hysterically and made God-awful decisions about caskets, grave sites, and funeral music. And after we were utterly exhausted we shared sweet stories about Taylor’s giving spirit and sputtered between delirious laughing spells and even more tears.

I learned a valuable lesson from my grieving aunt and uncle during that week. Their reaction to the loss of their daughter was not to hide out or wall up—they wanted nothing more than to share her story.

Instead of building a wall, they bravely offered their story of suffering to connect with and encourage others.

They built bridges.

Very quickly after the funeral, my uncle made the brave decision to quit his job so he and my aunt could launch Taylor’s Gift Foundation, an organization with a mission to regift life through organ donation.

Aunt Tara and Uncle Todd now spend their time speaking all over the country about the most difficult day of their life. They have published a book and shared their story with Good Morning America, Ellen Degeneres, and Jeff Probst. They have inspired thousands to outlive themselves through organ donation. And by being open with their story they have comforted many people who are grieving their own losses.

I’ve learned that we must be willing to tell our stories—even the difficult ones. When we are brave enough to be vulnerable and honest, our stories become bridges of connection with others.

When God rebuilt the bridge to man—it required sacrifice. It was not easy. (1 Timothy 2:5-6) In the same way, building bridges to others with our stories can be painful. But it is absolutely worth it.

I’m not sure what heartaches you’ve walled up in your story, friend. But as someone who has found great freedom, healing, and joy in sharing the difficult parts of my story, I’d love to encourage you…

Will you be brave enough to build bridges by sharing your story?

Two are Better than One

twoarebetterthanone

We are better together.  We were meant for community, to live side by side and share the triumphs and tragedies of life with the people that God has put in our lives.  This is truth! I believe it to the core of my being.  Why then, do I often recoil at the thought of being in community, of showing bits of myself that I would really rather hide.

I’ve been reading lately in the book of Acts about the birth of the early church.  How the Holy Spirit lit a people on fire for Jesus. Throngs of believers were born as the good news of reconciliation began to take hold with the early believers.  The early church did everything together.

The community continually committed themselves to learning what the apostles taught them, gathering for fellowship, breaking bread and praying… There was an intense sense of togetherness among all who believed; they shared all their material possessions in trust. Acts 2: 42 & 44 (The Voice)

The passage goes on to describe a community that works together, plays together and provides for one another.   It was a community that was unified with one purpose; spreading the news of the beautiful gift of salvation that was given  at the cross.

What does that mean today?  How do we work together as a unified body when so much of what the world tells us is about being alone.  We’re part of a culture that promotes individualism, looking out for ourselves and doing things for ourselves.   With all of that noise it can be difficult to understand how we can stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters.

Life is hard, it’s messy and it can bring thinning and hurting places deep in our hearts.  But, doing life alone?  That’s where we struggle the most, that’s where those thinning places become the ripped-open-wide places.

Doing life alone is never how we were designed and God knew this from the beginning.  Nothing has changed about our nature since Adam and Eve.  We still need each other.  Desperately.

So how then do we live together in a world that values isolation?

Just like the early church we need to be there for each other.   We need to not only be ready to help when there is a need but willing to ask for help when struggles find their way into our own lives.  Pride is built on bravado and bravado builds walls.  Reaching out for help builds a bridge to hope.

We need to stop being afraid of what others think of us because all that matters when we’re living in authentic community is that we all see each other as God sees us; His children.

Let’s start building community that is centered around the scandalous grace that became ours when God slipped on human skin and allowed nails to pierce His flesh.  The focus should not be on how we can benefit from each other, rather it should be on how God is moving in our midst.

Don’t be afraid to engage with others in the hurting places.  Our inclination is run when suffering finds it’s way into our lives, but let’s not forget the beauty of lament.  When we open ourselves up to the keening of each other’s hearts we will find God in the midst of our suffering.

Find ways to be intentional about being together with those whom God has placed in your life.  Yes it will seem scary and weird taking the first step of picking up the phone, talking to the other mom on playground or the woman who stands all alone in the lobby after church.  If we all waited for everyone else to take the first step we’d never get down to the business of doing life together.

However you choose to make community a priority in your life you won’t regret it!  The stories of our lives were meant to be part of the bigger story of God’s work here on earth.

I’d love to hear from you!  What helps you connect with community?

In Christ,

Tonya – Stone to Heart

Are You Building Bridges Never Crossed?

bridge

I have a confession to make. I’m a worrier. If life is going well I will still find something to worry about – like it’s my life’s mission to find what could possibly go wrong and fix it!

Like the time I tried to plan for Hurricane Katrina.I packed a large plastic box full of zip-lock dog food, a change of clothing, medication and a lot of canned tuna fish –because the weather channel said those along the Gulf Coast should prepare to evacuate.

The truth is, though we were going to receive a lot of rain, we were not going to need to evacuate. More than likely, we are going to deal with tornados coming from the storm. And everyone knows all you take to OZ is your little dog in a picnic basket!

My dad used to tell me, “You are wasting energy and time building bridges that you will never cross.”

Building bridges never crossed is a well-honed craft of a worrier.

Worrying 15.03.15

There are things that we should plan for in advance. Things like grocery lists, education, job, raising a children – the list could go on for a while.

But worrying and planning are two different activities.

The Greek word for worry is merimnáō, and it gives the image of something divided, or something being torn apart.

Do you feel that way when you worry? Do you feel as if you are being torn in two?

Worry is the opposite of faith. Worry says that we are responsible for controlling events in our lives – those that are real and those that are conjured up in our mind. Worry does not give a place for God in the equation. It gives us the illusion of being God and placing the responsibility of the outcome in our hands.

Planning is preparing for probable events. Planning, as a Christian, includes prayer as a step towards success. Planning can also include seeking the counsel of a mentor who has been down a similar path.

Planning looks at truth and begins to pack the correct clothes for the journey.

Worry sees life as a place where shards of jagged-edged dreams fall to the ground. But God sees plans to prosper you.

God never means for worry to be a part of your life. Though it is human nature to want to avoid pain or suffering, worry is not a characteristic of our Father in heaven, nor will it help you avoid adverse events.

Let go of worry. Begin making plans according to what is in front of you, what is real, and walk prayerfully across a bridge that leads to the One who has prepared the way for you to go.

That God is on one side and all the people on the other side, and Christ Jesus, himself man, is between them to bring them together 1Timothy 2:5

Christ is the Bridge 

Christ Jesus is our bridge.

Today, let’s walk across a bridge that leads us to The Cross and embrace the work He has done for us. Let’s embrace faith, knowing He has worked all things for our good, because we love Him and He loves us.

Do you build bridges you never cross? How do you change worries into plans?

Seven Signs of a Successful Blogger

Blogging Connects Us

If we asked seven people for their definition of a “successful blogger,” we’d likely get seven different responses. Because every blogger is unique. Our reasons for blogging are different too.

A successful blogger is oftentimes categorized by virtue of certain statistics. This data reflects the way a post is resonating with readers, and we can appreciate the information these numbers provide. But there’s more to blogging than statistics. Much more.

We blog because we want to share a part of ourselves with others. Blogging has become an amazing way to build bridges with folks we might not have ever met otherwise.

Blogging connects us in ways we couldn’t have ever imagined. <Tweet this!>

This is why we enjoy gathering once a year. The Allume Conference is a place where all of our online bridges connect for one special weekend of real togetherness. My favorite part of the conference has always been the people — people who share a love of words and a love for God and a love for reaching others with the Light of Christ.

Blogging is one way we get to share our soul’s message of hope and freedom. And we want to blog with excellence. So what does that look like? What does a successful blogger look like?

While statistics have become a basic measuring stick for bloggers, there are key qualities in a successful blogger that can’t be easily quantified. Here are seven signs of a successful blogger that you won’t find on a bar graph anywhere:

1. Successful bloggers can look back at their earliest blog posts and see considerable improvement in their writing.

Blogging provides a wonderful venue for practicing the craft of writing. We improve with time and practice. When you read your first posts, do you notice a difference in the way you write today? How has your voice developed and changed?

2. Successful bloggers continue to refine their purpose for writing online.

The more we write, the more we grow. And as we grow, our purpose for writing continues to come into focus. Sometimes we begin writing about one topic, but we end up writing about another. That’s part of the process. We gain greater clarity as we write through the years.

3. Successful bloggers persevere through the inevitable ups and downs that accompany the blogging life, and they find their own rhythm.

Every blogger, at some point, entertains the idea of quitting. Blogging takes effort. Sustained effort. Yes, bloggers will take a break every now and then. Maybe even a really long break. But eventually, successful bloggers settle on a pace that works for them, and they stick with it.

4. Successful bloggers build relationships with other bloggers.

The beauty of blogging comes from the people we meet. At first, we might distinguish our “real life friends” from our “online friends.” With time, however, we discover that our online friends have become our real life friends too. There’s no longer a distinction. These online relationships span continents and oceans, and they become the truest testimony of our “success” as a blogger.

5. Successful bloggers create a body of perennial work they can point new readers to.

A perennial flower is like an evergreen tree. It’s flush with life, all year round. In the same way, successful bloggers can direct new readers toward a ready collection of posts that represent the best of their years as a blogger. This isn’t just a list of archives either. These posts are their penultimate work. They enable new readers to get to know them and what their blog is about relatively quickly.

6. Successful bloggers connect with readers and make a positive impact on their lives.

This is the most important part of blogging — making a difference. A truly successful blogger is someone whose life and writing have changed someone else for the better. Maybe it’s a comment on a thread. Or maybe it’s a private message sent. When readers reach out to tell you that your words have touched them in some way, that is the best thing about blogging.

7. Successful bloggers begin to mentor newer bloggers.

Successful leaders never hoard information. Part of what lends to their success is their ability to share what they’ve learned with others. Success always multiplies itself. Successful bloggers are generous with the tips and tricks and tools of the trade. They’ll come alongside newer bloggers and share what has worked for them and what hasn’t. One person, of course, can’t possibly be available to everyone on the internet, but one person can establish mentor relationships with at least a few other bloggers who would love to learn and grow.

So if we extracted the key verbs from each of these seven signs, it would look something like this:

A successful blogger will . . .

Look Back
Refine
Persevere
Build
Create
Connect
Impact
Mentor

That’s the definition of success.

What would you add to this definition of a successful blogger?