Becoming Friends with Compassion

The length of the hallway leading to the conference room is lined with banners, books, and booths. Both sides of the narrow corridor form a living-breathing mural of ministries. They lean over their tables, clasp our hands, and invite us into friendship.

Friendship with the world.

They come to Allume en masss in order to share with us what God is doing – where He is at work throughout the world, doling out His justice, mercy, and compassion. Ministries travel to South Carolina each year in order to educate and invite us to partner with them.

 

Allume Sponsor Hall 2013View More: http://kimdeloachphoto.pass.us/allume2014sponsors-2sponsors

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We are today’s online influencers, and these ministries recognize the power of our words and ask us to spend some of them generously to advocate for others. It was at Allume where I learned what a good friend I can be to people half a world away. Here in this digital age we have the ability to reach beyond our real life friends, even beyond the ones we minister to directly online, and touch the lives of families on the underbelly of this globe.

Sole Hope and their care for children in Uganda… The Seed Company‘s mad pursuit of Bible Translation… Preemptive Love and the way heart surgeons can get to the hearts of everyone in foreign communities… Compassion International‘s international compassion for hurting, malnourished families… Vi Bella‘s heart for women in impoverished communities in Haiti and Mexico… So many ministries reaching out over their tables, that we might be inspired to reach out through our blogs.

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Bloggers move up and down the center of the hallway, greeting one another with hugs and exclamations. Women who have come to know each other online, finally meeting face to face. Friendship. And hemming them in together, is a friendship deeper still – a friendship with God’s heart for the world.

After a month of posts here at Allume, reminding us that we were made for iron-sharpening-iron relationships, we invite you into a friendship greater, wider, deeper than any of us imagined. Befriending compassion because we are friends with a compassionate God. Befriending mercy because we have been treated mercifully morning by morning. Befriending those in need, because we’ve tasted need in our own blessed, needy circumstances.

We have all sung the words “What a friend we have in Jesus…” and so we respond in the chorus of our lives, so that all may know the friendship of God.

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Let your light (your friendship light) so shine before men,

that they may see your good works, and glorify

your father in Heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

 

At Allume we receive the invitation into this different sort of friendship – an others-centric friendship that shines like light out into a dark and hurting world. Shining from the words we write, the children we advocate for, the link in a blog post, or a button on our sidebar.

Friendship.

I am eager to meet you in the girdle of this long corridor. Grab my hand and introduce yourself. Let’s spend some time together getting to know one another as we get to know what God is doing throughout the world.

Friendship. 

Bridge Builders

Bridges Are Not Built With Lit Matches

We are bridge builders. We reach and stretch with words. We long to connect across a divide. Of course, this desire has been set into our very being as image bearers of our heavenly Father and Creator. Our God spared nothing when the chasm to our rebellious selves was crossed. Fortunately, we have been shown how to build a bridge, by the life of our own Bridge.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

In becoming flesh, there is a sharing in our experience. We must first seek to have common experience and community with others as we pitch our tents together in this world. Just as Jesus moved into our neighborhood and engaged with those at arm’s length, we are surrounded online and in the real world by friends, enemy combatants, the destitute, the apathetic, and the clueless to whom we must relate.

Jesus was the manifestation and perfect reflection of God’s presence as his feet trod the dust of Israel. We must be filled with the Spirit by the reading of the word, meditation, worship, and prayer to even begin to show this same glory on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or our blogs.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. Eph. 5:1

Oh, to be a copycat of that one-of-a-kind, unique, “like Father, like Son.” Are we being kind, tenderhearted and forgiving (as we are forgiven) as we speak truth? When the injustice of this world raises its ugly head do we respond with righteous anger that is put to bed when we go ourselves?

When we speak out are we finger pointing, calling out, sharing posts that call attention to yet another area of darkness, adding to the pile, demanding to be heard, demanding others be heard – like a classroom of 3rd graders and their cacophony of “shhh”s when the teacher asks for quiet?

Are our words free of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander and malice so that when we speak out it should only build up as it fits the occasion, giving grace to the hearers (or readers)?

Bridges are not built with lit matches. Are we sure we are using the right tools in our endeavor?

Ephesians 5:2 continues on saying,

“And walk in love, as Christ loved and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

By doing so He changed the world through individual changed lives.

Friends, let’s construct bridges that cross divides and are two-way streets. Let’s put up railings of patience that make them safe for travelers who venture over the abyss. Most importantly, may our signs lead ultimately to God and not ourselves.

Speak out against injustice, stand up for the cause of the oppressed, and denounce wrong wherever it exits – GRACIOUSLY.

Go forth and build.

What Does Your Bridge Cost

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If you haven’t yet noticed, May’s theme for the Allume blog is “bridge.”  So of course the idea of a bridge has been rolling around in my mind for the past few weeks, and honestly, the 90’s hit “Love Can Build a Bridge” by The Judds is what pops into my mind every time I think about bridge as a writing prompt.

Maybe that’s what we’re going for here, not the actual ballad of course but the idea of the song — love really can build a bridge.

In fact, Love did build a bridge. 

1 Timothy 2:5 tells us that Jesus is the bridge between God and man, and “this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16 NLT).

Because God calls us as Believes in Jesus Christ to lead people to Jesus, we, too, are to be bridges!

But here’s the thing, if we want to be a bridge, we must first count the cost.

Being a bridge is not easy. Think for a minute about a bridge.

Bridges are walked on, taken for granted, and overlooked. A bridge certainly doesn’t choose who walks across, nor does it have any control over whether or not the person will make it to the other side. Sometimes the traveler will turn around and go right back to where they started.

Being a bridge can feel quite similar, can’t it?  The reality is that as a bridge, many times relationships and circumstances will be painful and thankless. We will feel overlooked and unappreciated, beat down and taken for granted.

Am I ready for that? Are you?

See, most of the time, I want to stand up and be seen. I want to be the signpost on the corner that people look to for guidance and whose advice they heed. But the reality is, if God has called me to be a bridge, then when I stand up, I just get in the way. I become an obstacle rather than a path.

God hasn’t called me to stand up and be seen but to lie down and be willing — even if that means I get hurt. Sure, bridges have boundaries, but even with boundaries, bridges are still walked on and used and many times unnoticed. But isn’t that what gets people to the other side?

Our love for one another will prove to the world that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35 NLT). Is love making me into a bridge?

We’re quick to remember that love is patient and kind, but that part about not being self-seeking or easily angered and especially the line about keeping no record of wrongs, that’s where our memories get a little fuzzy.

Love always protects, always trusts. Despite the disappointments, love always hopes. Regardless of the trials, love always perseveres. (1 Corinthians 13)

Love lays low, often advancing through surrender, gaining by relinquishing.

Jesus laid down His life for us, and He has called us to do the same.

Love is the strongest bridge of all, crossing all boundary lines and connecting us together in ways otherwise impossible.

I might be the most persuasive speaker or eloquent writer. My knowledge could be unmatched or my wisdom profound. I could even have faith that could move mountains, but without love, none of that matters. (1 Corinthians 13)

Love is the bridge.

“Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:11).

Friend, being a bridge is not cheap, but God already paid the price.

 

Question for You:

In what ways do you struggle to lay down your life and be a bridge for others?

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

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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?

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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.

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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?

On Taking The Narrow Way

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Thank God, we have an empty tomb. The glorious fact that the empty tomb proclaims to us is that life for us does not stop when death comes. Death is not a wall, but a door.” ~Peter Marshall

In these weeks after the celebration of Resurrection Sunday, I’ve spent some time reflecting on how the emptiness of the tomb signaled the fullness of God’s glory. The grave sat empty while heaven welcomed Her King. Jesus didn’t just make a way, he became the way–the bridge between an earthly, and heavenly world. He showed us death as a door, and in walking through, invites us each to take that same difficult path.

But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it. (Matthew 7:14 NLT)

I’ve been thinking about how every day, we step, either towards the bridge or away from it. Every decision, every word, every dream or hope or action moves us either closer to the the narrow way, or further into the expanse of the wilderness.

We are never as stationary as we feel.

As Christians and writers, we have an opportunity, an invitation–or dare I say, a holy burden to help wandering souls to find the narrow way–to lead them to the doorway of death to self. We can use our stories and our words to circle ’round those who stand at the edges of the bridge, we can come beside those who see death as a wall, and whisper our resurrection stories to them.

In our writing, we can extend our hands to those who doubt and wrestle, and show them our own scars. We can reveal our own wrestling, and speak about the grace that buoys us when the water under the bridge rises. We can write about how hope keeps going along the difficult road of obedience. We can be proof that surrender is how to really live.

Our stories, held out as a light in the dim of doubt and uncertainty.

Our stories, as a gentle nudge to keep going when the path feels too hard, and muddy.

Our stories, as a companion for when the way feels lonely and isolating.

Jesus laid down His life that we might find ours. He became the way for us who wander and wonder at the edges of the empty tomb. Death is a door, not a wall. Jesus stretched Himself across the expanse between heaven and earth, inviting all to come weary, broken, bedraggled and walk across the narrow way.

What might it look like, if we boldly told our own resurrection stories? What stories are God writing in you?

How to Let Go of Comparison and Build Others Up

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My finger paused as it hovered over the “post” button. The familiar tune was vulnerability, but this time I felt particularly exposed.

My anxiousness was not because I was about to share something hard, but because I was about to disclose what was, for me, a small success – a joy.  I knew that there would be silence from some in my circle, and that was going to hurt.

How did I know this would happen?  Because I understand the game of comparison.  I know what it’s like to hear of another’s success and secretly wish that it were mine – to feel like another’s opportunity means I’m being left behind with empty hands.  Our gut-reaction to that is often silence.

Celebrating another requires a bold and intentional move because it means we have to take our eyes off of ourselves. We trade our self-pity, disappointment, and feeling of unworthiness for confetti, a party hat, and a mouth full of sincere praise.

A true friend who is for me is not just there in times of sorrow, but also shows up with a celebration cake in times of joy.

There was a season in my life when doctors labeled us as having “secondary infertility.” We already had one child, but could not become pregnant again. I was at an age where all of my friends were having babies, so it seemed every week a new baby shower invitation came in the mail, or someone was announcing a pregnancy. There are few things that test a woman’s heart like infertility.

Every single month, hope would rise, and disappointment would pierce it. I was filled with struggle and angst. So when these precious friends came to me to share their joy, it was the ultimate test of my ability to build another up according to her needs, not mine (Ephesians 4:29). I knew that I could not focus on myself and sincerely build up my friend.

I had to trust that God would provide for my need, and would care for me, as I was caring for another.

The most secure and biblically mature people I know breathe this way of living. Their identity and worth is so tied to Christ that another’s success, despite their setbacks, does not trigger insecurity or comparison. They’ve learned that God’s evidence in another’s life is to be praised and that it doesn’t take one thing away from them.

If we want to be mature and secure women who reflect Christ’s character, comparison must be buried.  

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I have found that the best way to overcome these destructive feelings is with practical action. Here are three ways I attempt to kill comparison in my life.

  1. Pray – When we come before God on the behalf of another, He changes our heart toward them. I thank Him for the work He is doing in my friend’s life, and for the faithfulness He is showing to her. I then name what God is doing in my life, and ask Him to give me a heart of contentment and gratitude for those things.
  1. Act – Sometimes our feelings follow our actions. I can choose to act graciously toward the person with whom I am comparing, even if that person has not acted the same toward me. This usually comes in the form of speaking words of life to that individual.
  1. Celebrate – We can learn to celebrate another person, both for their personal benefit, but also to acknowledge that God is doing great things in the world. When I celebrate someone, I am ultimately giving credit to God, the giver of all good things.

Theodore Roosevelt once said that, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” I would add that it robs relationships of what is good. Let’s not hand comparison that power.

God’s generous provisions are more than we could ever hold. Let’s believe that truth, and overflow out of that rich abundance and heritage with a strength that, dependably and faithfully, builds others up.

I’d love to know, how do you fight comparison in your own life? or help your kids to do that?

In the Faith,

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Measuring Sticks, Insecurity, and Some Conference Advice

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I begin in the west and fly halfway across the country before I finally arrive for the conference. The driver picks me up at the airport and I’m reunited with my online friend who started her journey this morning in the east.

We chat a mile a minute and look forward to seeing our “smaller” blogger friends and many of our “bigger” blogger friends too.

During the conference I meander through sessions with my “smaller” blogger friends, all the while casually noticing who’s interacting with whom. I watch the “bigger” bloggers interact with their own circles of friends, while I engage with mine—looking them in the eye, listening, and relating.

But I deceive myself, because while I think I’m fully present in each conversation, in reality I’m partly absent. And as the conference presses on, I realize I’m disappointed when my “bigger” blogger friends have not initiated a fuller connection with me.

And it’s the last day of the conference when God convicts me of a cold hard truth.

My disappointment is a symptom of my illness—the virus of insecurity—hovering like a flu.

It has infected me. And I ache with its uncertainty while questions linger…

Do I matter?

Do I fit in?

Do “they” notice me or even want to be my real friend?

That last afternoon I leave the lunch table with my friend Alia, and make my way across the room toward our other roommate Amy—my in-real-life friend and newbie blogger—who has come with me to the conference.

And as we approach, she immediately turns to us, as if our timing is perfect.

“Hey guys! There’s someone I want you to meet.
This is Jennifer, another newbie.
And at lunch I asked her which of the “bigger” bloggers she most wanted to meet here.
And you know who she said?
Jacque Watkins and Alia Joy.
So I told her I could probably hook her up, since you guys are my roommates.”

I startle, like a deer caught in headlights.

Did she actually just say my name with the phrase “bigger” blogger?

Shocked on the inside, I greet Jennifer with a smile, flattered and completely stunned anyone would consider me a “bigger” blogger. She is sweet and gracious—a tea-drinking mama of four. And after our delightful interaction, I’m better for having met her.

As I fly home, reflecting on the conference, the Holy Spirit woos and convicts me again.

During the conference I wasted so much mental time, and internal dialogue, wondering if I’d get to build deeper relationships with  “bigger” bloggers.

While probably there were others there, who would’ve loved to build a deeper relationship with me.

And the recognition of this truth is like medicine for my ill and insecure heart.

Could it be possible everyone thinks of themselves as a “smaller blogger” and is waiting for that “bigger blogger” to initiate a connection?

Could it be that no matter who we are, there will always be someone “bigger”  to look to? That the one we see as a “bigger” blogger has an even “bigger-blogger” person they’d love to be pursued by too?

And could it be, that to someone, somewhere in the world, YOU are the “bigger blogger”?

That there is one someone scanning the room–looking for you—wishing they could meet YOU?

Hoping YOU’D go out of your way to pursue a connection with THEM?

No matter the size of our platform, we are all asking the same questions at our core:

Do I matter?

Do I fit in?

Would they really want to be my friend?

And the real truth is, our worth and purpose and significance is not dependent on whether a “bigger” blogger knows our name or pursues a friendship with us.

And we need the real truth to sink deep into the crevices of our hearts:

We all matter and fit in because we are His.

He chose us.

And He has great things planned for each of us to do.

So what if, instead of finding our validation from the “bigger bloggers” in our lives, we find our soul’s validation in our time spent with Jesus?

Allowing His Word to inform our starving souls of who He is,

And the truth of who we are because of Him…

Chosen.

Beloved.

Redeemed.

The child of God.

We are eternally valuable regardless of the size of our platform. 

And the size of our platform does not measure the worth of our soul. 

[Tweet that]

So when we set foot inside the walls of the Allume conference this October…

What if we become the initiators of connection because our security in Christ compels us to do so with whomever God places in our path?

What if we say hi first? Flash a smile first? Begin the conversation first, as a people who love in His name?

What if we stay fully present with whomever we’re with—refusing to allow our minds to be “noticing” the room?

And what if we make an effort, to not only hang out with our “people,” but to branch out to new circles of beautiful people? So that no one leaves feeling small and alone.

May we remember we are in this together…

Cheering for each other,

Fighting to believe who He says we are,

And really knowing we ARE already enough because of Him.

I can’t wait to see you at Allume!

Will you be there?

 

Adoption: A Partnering Opportunity

Slade Adoption Travel

I have been so incredibly blessed by our surrounding family, online and church community. Many of you may know that we are adopting two girls from Ghana, West Africa. We started the process two years ago. I can’t believe it has been that long already! There was one particular part of the process that kept us stuck for 13 months without movement. It was a very long and hard time.

There was much uncertainty looming on whether we would even be able to bring our girls home. Two weeks ago we finally were granted approval in order to move on to the next step, the final step before we fly out and bring them home. God has taught me a few things during our long wait. I learned the meaning of the verse Proverbs 13:12,

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

I was heart sick. Literally, my heart ached. I didn’t even know that was possible until this season of waiting and longing for our family to be together. My husband and I have struggled through the most difficult season in our marriage.

And each week we talk to the girls, their hope has waned as we have continuously put off when we will be back, because we simply did not know. Now we are just weeks away from bringing our family together but we need your help! We are in the final phase of fundraising so we can travel back and bring them home.

We need just $1,317 to complete our fundraising which will pay for the total of $7,500 for all of our plane tickets. Pure Charity has been such a wonderful partner in this. Once the funds are ready, they go directly to our travel agency. All donations made through Pure Charity are tax deductible.

When you give, you aren’t just giving money. You’re investing in the future of two precious girls who long to be with their family. You’re investing in a brand new life for them, with a hope and a future.

There are no gimmicks here. Money is simply a tool we need to use sometimes to make dreams a reality. This is one of those times. Please partner with us and help us bring them home. Click here to make a donation if you’re reading in email and cannot see the donation widget below.

On Stranger Hospitality

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Hospitality means primarily the creation of free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place. It is not to bring men and women over to our side, but to offer freedom not disturbed by dividing lines.”

Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life

***

I suppose I’m here as a sort of test case, a run at determining the lengths and depths of hospitality within the Allume community. To the point, I am far from what might be considered the target demographic of Allume, a community which hopes “to minister to the woman, the blogger, the story teller.” More to the point, I am most emphatically not a member of the sorority of womanhood. I am a member of the other sex.

The request to join this community of writing and faith was, I admit, a bit daunting. There were, at last count, twenty writers for the Allume blog, and only one other man (fistbump, Dan King!).   Unafraid of the awkward yes, I decided to jump into this decidedly feminine venue, one with an aesthetic boasting chartreuse, and plum, and frilly hearts. It is true; I come to this community as an outsider.

It is difficult to play the role of the outsider, the differentiated one. We all know this to be true, have all found ourselves on the wrong-track side of money, power, fashion, or sex. And yes, as things go, I suppose I have it easy. A critical analysis of historical exclusion would indicate that being a man in a woman’s conference blog world does not constitute the most dire of “fit” problems.

That being said, it seems, at least to me, that my inclusion at the Allume table (as it were), may stand as a sort of metaphorical reminder. There are strangers among us, those who feel the sting of never quite making it into the inner circle. And perhaps, in an honest moment, you’d admit it–you feel like a stranger too.

Don’t we all have fit problems?

According to dictionary.com, “hospitality,” is “the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers.” Did you catch that last word? Strangers. The definition begs an interesting question: if the purpose of hospitality is to create a space of invitation, of welcome, why exercise it only among those whom already feel invited and welcomed? Is the fullest expression of hospitality the invitation of close friends and relatives to a dinner party, or is it something broader?

Jesus taught a broader kind of hospitality, one that favored welcome of the outsider. In Matthew 25, Jesus taught of his triumphant return, praised those who extended warm welcome to God. And how did they extend such a welcome? Jesus taught, “[t]ruly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Jesus was the embodiment of stranger-hospitality, went out of his way to break bread with the outcasts, the tax-collectors and sinners. He was the entertainer of the marginalized, the party-thrower for the little people.

Yes, there are strangers among us, and perhaps I serve as the tangible, awkward reminder of that truth. (And don’t worry, I’ll continue to pop in from time to time as an ever present tangible and awkward reminder.)  But as we push forward to Allume 2014, let’s work to create a culture of stranger-hospitality, to craft places of fit for the outsider. Let’s remember that this is the way of Jesus.

Now… could someone toss me a baseball?!?

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Seth Haines is a working stiff who makes his home in the Ozark mountains. He and his wife Amber Haines have four boys and a dog named Lucy. Seth enjoys music, food, fly fishing, and fine sentences. He writes regularly at sethhaines.com, and shares music, art, and quippy thoughts on both Twitter and Facebook.

*Photo by Kulwant Singh, Creative Commons via Flickr.

Community Begins with Your Unique Voice

Community Begins With Your Unique Voice

Since this is our inaugural post for the Allume Community Writers, we would like to introduce ourselves first.

community_unique2Hi! I’m Caroline.  And this is my friend Karrie.

We met each other almost 11 years ago in Akron, Ohio.  Karrie was in high school & I was a sleep-deprived mother of 2 toddlers at the time.  Karrie quickly became a necessity in my life as a babysitter & sanity saver.  2 more kids later & 16 moves between the two of us, Karrie is no longer our babysitter, but she’s still my sanity saver!

Karrie & the TeSelle kids circa 2009

Karrie & the TeSelle kids circa 2009

From the very beginning, we have done life together & built community – sharing the good, the bad & the ugly.  We have not let geography or our 15-year age difference hinder that.

It was because of our friendship & life built around community & our desire to help others that led us to start working together as virtual assistants.

What does all of this have to do with being a part of the Allume community?

Community begins with your unique voice.

We recognize that you have a unique voice in this world.  Your life and your experiences are uniquely you. You’re here because you have recognized the opportunity to share that with the world through the avenue of blogging.

What is our unique voice?

Our unique voice is to help & encourage others.  Right now, we’re doing that in a virtual way.  We are here as a part of the Allume community to HELP YOU.

We see this as an opportunity to get to know you {build community}, hear your dream {encourage your unique voice}, then point you in a direction of figuring out how to achieve that dream {grow your influence}.

In the coming months, we will cover topics ranging from writing a great purpose statement for your blog, interviews with the experts, working with affiliates, widgets we love & much more.

…our heart here in this space is that we walk together into living well and full, and from that place we write and blog and make a difference in the world in which we live. Logan Wolfram

Most importantly, we’re here for the community, sharing the good, the bad & the ugly. Walking together, living well & full – that’s community.  Building upon those relationships will help grow your influence & make a difference in this world.

We’ve introduced ourselves, now it’s your turn. We want to get to know you better.

Take that first step of walking together in this community.

What is your unique voice?  Share it with us in the comments below.

You’re Invited to (in)RL!

You're Invited

Wait, what’s (in)RL?  (in)RL stands for “in real life” and it’s coordinated by the wonderful women of (in)courage, but hosted by YOU.

It’s the gathering of women in community, in real life. Check out this video, and you may want to grab some tissues. {Click here to view on the blog}.

As I watched this video, I saw so many women pop on the screen that I have had the privilege of hugging and connecting with face to face. The online world is a great place — but in real life deepens those connections even further. And let me tell you, these women have some a-mazing stories.

We want to encourage you to share your words; to share your stories. Someone or many someones out there needs to hear them.

Today, (in)RL registration is OPEN and you can register for FREE. This conference is local and online. You can either sign up to host a gathering or you can look for a gathering in your area to join. Anyone who registers today, January 15th, will be entered  to win an Allume 2014 pass. Woot!

Here are some details of (in)RL, and I encourage you to pop over to their site to get even more acquainted with this amazing community.

  • Registration is FREE, but there is an opportunity to give to one of their 6 awesome projects through their Giv(in)g Projects. {This is such a gift to be a part of and watch unfold. Trust me.}
  • (in)RL Online Webcasts kick off on Friday, April 25th followed by meet ups, Saturday, April 26th.
  • Everyone who registers gets a free backstage pass to all (in)RL content from 2012 & 2013! {access expires April 24, 2014}

On behalf of Allume, we invite you to enter into (in)RL community.

 (in)RL - We need your stories

 

Dear Allume, Can I Tell You Something?

Dear Allume,

I have been staring you down for 5 months.  Your stellar speakers, your sponsoring partners, your eager attendees, and an incredibly dedicated team have been on my computer monitor and in my heart daily.

Can I tell you something?  You are remarkable.

You host a community far larger than the conference, a vision much richer than any website could hold, and you are an exquisite storyteller.   You have done real life in the light of day, in the light of Him, and it moves people.

Keep moving and shaking.

Change the world, Allume.

You can.

You know why you can?

It’s because you believe.  You believe in the power of words and the presence of authentic living.  You know how to link arms with other kingdom workers to comb the fields and love strong.

You have knelt in prayer and charged the day with enthusiasm.  You have shared tears, years, and become mirrors.  You reflect each other’s strengths and the resplendence of friendship.

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You swoop underneath to become trusses of support during high waters and span the distance from seasons of sure footing to those over the raging river. You have become a bridge.  A bridge that carries the path to real light living.
And You do. You don’t do it without error and you don’t stand alone.  Other communities and conferences do it too.  The bride of Christ holds the banner in front and bids you to follow. Beckons you to bridge stories to the world around us.

All of you.

The quiet, sporadic blogger of 3 readers and the prolific wordsmith with thousands.  The writer, the author, the musician, and the artist.  You wrote for Him and I now write to you.  You are part of the reason why I write. You are a risk-taking, contentment-finding, hope-chasing people.

You are people, not a platform.

You are honing a craft and becoming empowered in the task.  You take the task to change the world seriously and as you become storytellers who also becoming do-ers, know I am cheering for each of you.

I am thrilled to be with the conference goers one week from today. I am also honored to be joining hands with the larger Allume community across this nation and overseas who lives well into the mission.

As you own your sacred stories, serve those near and far, and overcome time and time again– know we are so very glad you came to this space and know we release, with you, to the high calling of life we must mobilize to.

Real light living, Allume, you do it and you are remarkable.

With sincerity and zeal,

Nasreen Fynewever

Allume Production Manager

Nasreen

Nasreen is an educator by training and by passion.   Nasreen finds the stories of her students and the adults they become to be fascinating.

Adopted from Bangladesh, raised in Michigan, and living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Nasreen draws on each chapter as she speaks and writes of her life story. She raises 3 little boys with her husband of 10 years and they call their life an adventure.

Nasreen has recently shared the stage with David Kinnaman (President of Barna Group) in his You Lost Me LIVE tour, produced Jumping Tandem: The Retreat with host Deidra Riggs, and been an active part of Holley Gerth’s God-sized Dreams Team.

She falls hard for those who have stories to share, dreams to believe, and Kingdom work to do.  As one who chases hope, with you, she blogs at nasreenfynewever.com

Meet the rest of the Allume team here.

When Your Voice is an Idol

We spend more time analyzing ourselves than ever before. With the rapid expansion of social media and technology, we live in a world constantly bombarded with self.

Which profile picture will I use for my avatar? What do my liked pages say about me? What interests do I showcase that make me look good?

We live in a culture that capitalizes on more than our personal tastes, it capitalizes on our persona, our brand. 

Whether it’s the TV shows we like, the books we read, the stores we frequent, or the places we go, there is a growing desire to share bits of who we are with others. You can tweet during your favorite shows, share excerpts of the books you read, capture your pumpkin spice latte and map your location down to your favorite neighborhood Starbucks.

Some would argue that this narcissistic bent is why connection is often difficult, why comparison and insecurity arise when everyone else’s Instagrams are so much cooler than yours, because you never eat watermelon in cowboy boots and a floral dress whilst leaning over a vintage table with the perfect yesteryear wash bathing the photo in golden hues. You just stand at the counter in your faded yoga pants and spit seeds into the garbage pail next to the pile of dirty dishes you have yet to get to.

And maybe you’re doing it wrong. Maybe the life you live is less than. Or maybe you are the girl with the cute boots and impeccable taste Instagramming away your seamless life? Even you know there’s more to your story than the pictures you share.

default of the heart

But social media or not, I think the human heart always seeks to compare. Our default is to be concerned and consumed by our own glory. If ever there were an idol of our times in the blog world, I believe it is our voice. Our need to always be heard saying something.

There are the shock value bloggers capitalizing on every current event, every controversial divisive line needing to be parsed and severed and inspected with scathing sarcasm and open letter rants.

There is the desire for our words to reach further, to impact more, to challenge or encourage or matter. But there is a grace-less way about always needing to have our voice heard. And there is the quiet despair for those who faithfully share their voice and stories to the humble reception of silence and wonder if they matter at all.

We gather at conferences and wonder about the elevator speeches we’re supposed to prepare summarizing who we are and what we offer. And sometimes I think we’re too practiced at saying all the right things that we never stop to listen.

Because at the heart of it all, we tie our performance with words and platform and branding to our worth. If our story doesn’t matter, maybe we don’t either?

And I know I’m not the only one, but I’m tired of it.  I’ve felt the sticky fingered lure of candy coating what is, at it’s core, pride. The syrupy tongued words that pave the way to a bigger audience have sent me writhing back to silence, like a child found in bloated emptiness amid a flurry of candy wrappers the day after Halloween.

I’m an advocate for story because I believe the word of God’s people, the testimony of His beloved brings glory to Him, connection to the body, and light in the darkness but there will always be the temptation to focus so much on ourselves, our story, our path, our contribution to this writing world, that we forget that to live a good story, we’d be wise to listen and slow to speak.

Because grace happens in the pauses, when we stop to soak in words that are not our own. We live better questions when we stop reciting what we have to offer and start to champion other people’s voices. Start to believe in the storyteller who’s writing our moments with a master’s precision. When we find our humanity not just in the words we craft but also in the words we cultivate. When we worry less about our own voices being heard and allow God to speak.

crafting words

 I will always champion God’s people using their voice, but let us also learn to hold our tongues and listen with bold ears and hearts wide open, and maybe then, God will speak and our words will be tinged with grace, soothing to our souls, and full of life.

Skyscrapers are Moved When Dominoes Fall

Skyscrapers are moved when dominoes fall

Sometimes in life, we exist as one domino in a row of many, poised and positioned to fall in the most glorious ways … changing one another’s lives forever.

She emails to tell me of the farm lady with the blog. But I know nothing of blogs in January of 2011. And it’s not until I’m standing in line at the Ft. Lauderdale airport I pay attention. It’s her text this time, “You HAVE to get this book for your flight home….”

I download the book before I board the plane, and the five-hour flight seems only five minutes long as I pour over her profound and poetic words.

I scour her site and read every word, and it’s at the bottom I see it: a link to a place called (in)courage. I click on it, and am ushered into a world of writing I’ve never known before…

One which will change so much for me.

One  in which He’ll use even me, to give hope to other broken hearts.

“Because God intends to use each one of us to change the world.” ~@RichStearns [Tweet that]

I discover blogs. Countless blogs. With words, link-ups, and communities of real people.

But it’s not until September when I learn of The Relevant Conference (now called Allume). A conference for bloggers who long to be used in real and relevant ways, to bring the light of Christ to the world through their writing.

And the conference is already sold out.

But little did I know, even God can use Twitter to accomplish His plans.

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I stalk the Twitter stream and gain enough courage to send a tweet: “If you’re needing to sell your ticket, I’d love to buy one…”

And it’s a stranger named Denise in Bloom who responds. She doesn’t know me at all, but sweetly offers to watch for a ticket. And it’s through her help, a way is opened for me to go.

Less than two days later, with a last-minute conference ticket in hand, I quietly tweet to ask if anyone needs a roommate.

And this time it’s Annie at Home from New York who replies. She’d been on the waiting list and obtained a last-minute conference ticket too. We chat on the phone and it doesn’t take long to feel like we’ve always been friends.

But since Annie is driving to the conference, she won’t be there the first night I arrive.

So I meander onto Twitter again, to ask if anyone has room for me to stay with them for one night.

And it’s Erin from Home with the Boys who tweets back, generously offering me to stay with her and Brooketwo close friends offering to open up their room to welcome me, a complete stranger! Their kindness overwhelms.

Airplane Flying Over the Clouds

Before I know it I’m on a plane to Pennsylvania for my first blogging conference ever. I know no one and have only read a couple of blogs. And as the plane lands, I have no idea I’m about to encounter some of the most generous and kind women on the planet. Women whose dominoes are about to fall into mine.

“God creates elaborate plans with spiritual dominoes, and the chain reaction begins with one domino at a time.” ~@RichStearns [Tweet that]

We stand at baggage claim and watch the suitcases circle around. She tells me her name is Kat, and that she’s from Texas. And standing with her weight on one foot, she leans against her suitcase and asks about me. I tell her I’ve been blogging only 3 months about mercy and grace. And she fills my heart with encouraging words. Welcoming me to the blogging world and inspiring me to write as God leads.

I go to dinner that night with my new friend Annie, and we inconspicuously sit at a table in the back. But they’ve seated speakers at each table who rotate tables to meet us. And at our table I’m introduced to the down-to-earth and inviting Emily Freeman, the good girl full of grace, who interacts with us just like a close friend.

After dinner a woman with a smile as wide as Colorado tells me her name is Kristen. I tell her I’m new, and she tells me not to worry about that. Not one. little. bit. And throughout the conference, she tracks me down, and hugs me tight, time and time again. As if it’s her personal mission to make me feel like I matter and know I really belong.

Allume friends

At lunch the next day, I sit by a quiet girl with long flowing hair, who subtly leans over to say hi, and tells me our names rhyme: Myquillyn and Jacqueline. And we commiserate over the spelling challenges of our names and chuckle about the ways people get them wrong most every time. We chat about everyday down-to-earth things over salad and chicken, and I leave feeling better for having crossed her path.

With such an unusual name, I wonder if she blogs. And it’s then someone tells me that the Myquillyn I met, whose name rhymed with mine, is none other than The Nester. Who is also the sister of Emily Freeman. I had no. idea. And neither did she find the need to tell me. What humility and grace.

I work up my courage to approach Lisa Jo Baker, the host of Five Minute Friday. As a new blogger I’ve been learning to write with her community, and I blurt out my confession as soon as we meet face to face, as if to alleviate the secret guilt I’ve been carrying all three months of my blogging life.

“I have to admit to you I cheat on FMF posts,” I confess. “…I set the timer for five minutes, pause it every so often to think, and turn it back on to furiously type.”

She throws her head back in laughter, and hugs me tight like we’ve been friends for a decade, melting my anxiety into a puddle on the floor.

And across the room I recognize Christin in the lounge. Hers is one of the few blogs I’ve read. And I rush over to thank her for her words at Joyful Mothering. We eat cupcakes and talk into the evening.

Ann and Jacque 2011And it’s the next day, I meet the farm girl. Ann, full of grace. I wait at the end of the line, and when we talk, I cry the entire time. Eyes-pufffy, tears-pouring cry. And she locks her eyes on mine, as if I’m the only one in the room. And she tells me I am loved … that God wants to use me too.

Oh the grace and kindness of each heart I encounter.

Rich Stearns, president of World Vision, U.S. describes how God has big plans for us all … how He always uses ordinary people to change the world.

Yet in God’s story, we are dependent on one another. Because together we can do things we could never accomplish alone.

Did you know it’s been shown that if you create a chain of dominoes, each one 1 1/2 times the size of the previous one, the cumulative effect of their fall is exponential. So much so, that if the first domino in the chain is a mere 5mm high and 1mm thick, the 29th domino to fall would be the height of the Empire State Building?

One tiny domino falling with the tiniest force, has the potential to effect the kind of change that could fall a domino the size of the Empire State Building!

“Only God can multiply seemingly insignificant things to knock over skyscrapers.” ~@RichStearns

In His plan, God places us in the right place, perched and ready to fall at the right time, by His Divine providence alone.

And as He sends us opportunities, He whispers:

Lean in. And fall.

And when we do, He magnifies the results to accomplish things we never dreamed were possible.

Introductions and smiles, and conversations at meals … all of them connections.

One domino leaning over to fall the next, as God orchestrates it all in His time.

I become friends with Denise in Bloom, and in time become a contributing writer at Sisters in Bloom. I find sweet friends among the writing team there. And it is Amy Bayliss, one of those Sisters in Bloom, who gives me the life-changing advice and push I need to share my story of how Mercy Found Me.

“You are a domino precious in His sight. Be willing and say yes … be available to be used.” @RichStearns [Tweet that]

Through the random kindness of Erin and Brooke, we become friends. And in time I begin to write for The MOB Society, and later for Team Hope, the team of women who encourage weary mama-hearts at Brooke and Stacey’s place, Hope for the Weary Mom.

In time I figure out who Kat is and find the Hello Mornings community.

And I continue to receive Skype calls and cheerleading from the sweet and generous Kristen Strong.

Because of Lisa Jo, I become connected with (in)courage, leading an (in)couragers group. And I’m honored to participate in the video footage for (in)RL 2013, sharing my passion for community. And in more time, Christin emails me and invites me to write for the Allume blog.

Certainly when I arrived at the conference in 2011, I never anticipated how it would change my life. I never imagined how I’d encounter such gracious and humble women–women and writers without pretense, who display such a pure love for Christ.

His love compelled them to reach out in kindness to even me–a newcomer and nurse who never imagined she’d be a writer at all.

We are dominoes falling into one another, with skyscraper moments ahead.

“Because skyscrapers are moved when dominoes fall.” @RichStearns [Tweet that]

Are you ready for Allume?

Are you standing tall in your domino spot?

Are you ready to lean in and fall, that your life may change another?

As you prepare for Allume, poised and positioned in the exact place God intends, get ready sweet sisters.

Get ready for the divine appointments He has waiting for you.

May you expect them,

Watch for them,

And find them.

And as you do, may we one day see the skyscraper-size impact He accomplishes through each and every one of us.

One smile, one hug, and one conversation at a time.

I can’t wait to see you there!

 

How have you been changed by Allume?

What are you most looking forward to?

 

Photo Credit 

When You Want In

Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain. C.S. Lewis, The Weight Of Glory 

I transferred to my new high school a month after the school year had started. Uprooted, (literally) two months prior by hurricane Andrew, I’d spent the very beginning of the school year attending a temporary school, while we waited for military moving orders.

I was the quintessential “new kid”. Coming from a very small private school to this (much larger) public high school was a most unexpected and somewhat fear-filled transition. (Did I mention we’d just lost virtually everything we owned in a natural disaster of record proportions?).

It’s safe to say, I entered this new social arena already battling the clutches of fear. I was in every way, an outsider.

New state, new house, new stuff, new school–no friends.

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I wandered through the maze of halls surrounded by circles of kids I didn’t know, living lives I couldn’t  relate to. Though my military upbringing had schooled me in the art of quick assimilation, high school is hostile territory at best, and for the new kid–it’s a virtual minefield of potentially embarrassing interactions.

I wanted to simultaneously hide and find my place within one of these social circles.

While reading C. S. Lewis’s, The Weight Of Glory, his essay The Inner Ring, struck me like a sucker-punch in the gut.

I’m not proud to say that during certain seasons of my life, I have hungered to be inside of certain social circles. Often, these were not necessarily circles I have been explicitly shut out of, but rather ones that are well established and grooved with the familiarity.

I’ve been both granted and denied entry into these various rings.

Amongst bloggers there exists these inner rings of small, somewhat exclusive communities. Most of them, I would say, developed naturally (as rings do), where people with common theology and interests gravitate towards each other sharing their vulnerabilities and lives in detail.

C.S. Lewis notes that inner rings are “certainly unavoidable”, and that “it is (in itself) a good thing that personal friendship should grow between those who work together”.

To this I am sure, we can all nod our heads in agreement.

The struggle we face, is our own personal desires to be included within the ring. It is possible (ahem) to let the desire to be included eclipse the calling as Christians to love one another.

The trouble comes when in pursuit of the inner ring, we are tempted (and many times do) compromise who we are and what we believe in order to cross the barriers.

In high school the rings were clearly defined: the cheerleaders, the jocks, the band “nerds” (forgive me–I married one), the “grunge” crowd, the promiscuous girls, the preppy kids, and so on.

I didn’t fit in with any of these groups, and so the temptation to make compromises ensued. Lewis warns,

Of all the passions the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things. The Weight Of Glory

Yikes.

We’re all adults now, free to make choices without having to answer to our parents–but what about heavenly Father? We are still accountable to Him.

The best way to guard against the desire to be inside of one of these elusive rings is, first, to get honest with ourselves about what it is we actually want.

We should ask ourselves:

Am I lonely?
Is this unchecked ambition?
Is this about glorifying God or myself?

My occasional hunger for a different inner ring springs up when I am feeling most vulnerable and spiritually weak. My desire to be a part of that group comes when I feel unnoticed, or irrelevant.  But the truth is, Jesus has called me friend (John 15:15 Esv) (In my head I hear that old spiritual, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”). This is not a trite statement. Jesus CALLS US, FRIEND. How’s that for being a part of an inner ring?

Here’s the truth: No VIP access to any worldly inner ring will fill the void of a heart that doesn’t know it is known by Jesus. (<–Why don’t you go ahead and tweet that puppy)

We are already within our own inner rings–and friends, the inner ring you are in is not an accidental happenstance. God places specific people in our lives for specific reasons and seasons. 

 Whatever online community your staring down with longing in your heart, let me say this, let it go. 

Pursue God. Pray for His guidance into the community of His choosing for you.

Chances are, you are already in it.

C.S. Lewis concludes this magnificent essay with this:

And if in your spare time, you consort simply with the people you like, you will again find that you have come unawares to a real inside, that you are indeed snug and safe at the centre of something which, seen from without, would look exactly like an Inner Ring. But the difference is that its secrecy is accidental,…for it is only four or five people who like one another meeting to do things they like. This is friendship.

You already belong, sister. Right where you are.

Embrace your community. We ‘re right here with you.

Be Love… {Impact Opportunity Sign-ups!}

Today, we are sharing with you the final 3 Impact Opportunities with the following partners that will be taking place at the Allume Conference on Saturday afternoon, October 26th!

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You will have the chance to sign up for the ONE that peaks your interest most at the end of this post! (The sign-up link will also be added to the bottom of each previous Impact Opportunity post as well in the Conference/Super-Fun Sign-ups tab on the Allume navigation bar, and in a link on the sidebar!) Remember, there is limited space in each opportunity, so sign up quickly to make sure you reserve your spot!

The Impact Opportunity sign-ups are available to conference pass holders only and will take place from 2:30 – 4pm on Saturday afternoon of the conference!

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Using Your Influence for Good
Join Mike Rusch (Pure Charity) & Lindsey Nobles (Food for Hungry) as they work with you to help form and shape your strategy of rallying your community for good.  They will provide real world insights that result in tangible ways that your influence (large or small) can be used make an impact in the lives of others.
During this time you will have the opportunity to discover how your passions align with your ability to make a tangible impact in someone’s life, develop a customized communication and fundraising strategies for your community, and receive practical training on how to build online advocacy groups to maximize your communities impact.
Pure Charity is a community of people dedicated to inspiring and encouraging a movement of generosity.  Pure Charity empowers you to promote and support your favorite nonprofits, create personal fundraisers for adoptions, missions, and travel, and affect change for the vulnerable around the world.
Food for the Hungry (FH) is a Christian organization serving the poor globally since 1971. We reflect the love of Christ in short-term emergency relief and long-term development. After natural disasters, FH responds to help shelter, feed and clothe survivors. Over time FH begins working towards long-term sustainable development, transforming impoverished communities into healthy, productive places for children to grow.

 

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It’s time to channel your inner passion for snail mail and come and join (in)courage as we write love notes that will be traveling as far away as Kenya and as close as around the corner here in Greenville. DaySpring will be providing cards and small gifts of encouragement for you to personalize with messages of hope and encouragement to remind some of our sisters in Christ trapped in the worst kind of abuse that they are, indeed, beloved and not forgotten by their Father God.

Your love notes will be delivered to the teenage moms of Mercy House Kenya, a home providing care to young girls who’ve become pregnant after being forced into prostitution in the slums of Kenya. Because of the safe haven of Mercy House there are 12 babies growing up healthy and happy who would likely not have been with us otherwise. Other love notes will be delivered by local organization Switch 42:16 to women currently involved in or escaping the sex trade right here in Greenville.

Join us from 2:30 – 4pm on Saturday at Allume as we hear from the directors of both these ministries and write message of Truth reminding our sisters that in God’s heart they are Created (I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Psalm 139:14), Chosen (The Lord has chosen you to be His treasured possession.Deuteronomy 14:2), Celebrated (He will take great delight in you…He will rejoice over you with singing. Zephaniah 3:17) and Cherished (I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness. Jeremiah 31:3).

As bloggers we all understand first hand the power of words. Come and spend your time and your words capturing the heart of our God for His daughters. Your notes and gifts will be delivered by hand to women who’ve forgotten that love is a free gift by the God who first loved them. Come and be part of the reminder.

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Preemptive Love Coalition works to remake worlds through surgical healing.  Rather than the knee-jerk lifestyle of risk-management and safe discipleship, PLC jumps first into situations of conflict to create space for peace, reconciliation, and generosity. Rather than preemptive war, which strikes first to avoid harm to self, preemptive love strikes first to remake the world through love.

We do this by providing lifesaving heart surgeries to children in Iraq and training local doctors and nurses to perform these surgeries on their own. Iraq has a tremendous backlog of 30,000+ children in need of heart surgery.

During Allume’s Impact Opportunities, we hope you will join us to make therapeutic fleece heart pillows to help these precious children recover following their lifesaving heart surgeries. These pillows reduce the pain of breathing and coughing, which is central to the post-op healing process. And in addition to pain relief, they will also know they are loved and cared for by you, Christians halfway across the world with big hearts.

We will also be writing “get well soon” cards to accompany each pillow, to give you an opportunity to tell these children how much they’re loved, cared for and prayed for. We are looking forward to seeing you at Allume and hope you will join us!

And now….you can SIGN UP HERE for the opportunity that gets you most excited!  If that one is full, pick your next favorite…and so on and so forth!  The truth is, they’re all gonna be awesome!  Make sure to only choose ONE though as they will all be happening simultaneously!

 

Impact Opportunities {Part 2}

Today we’re sharing with you the first three of our Allume Conference Impact Opportunities and Partners!

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Pay close attention and make sure to come back tomorrow and Friday to hear about the rest!  Then, don’t delay in signing up for the one you want to be a part of!  Spaces are limited in each opportunity!  (Sign-ups are only open to conference attendees.  If you aren’t coming to the conference, but are local, still pay attention because you may have a chance to get involved in other ways as well!)

So without further ado…. here’s how you can get involved during this year’s Allume Conference!

 

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Want to make a difference in a child’s life today? Come to the Shoe Cutting Party and hang out with the girls from Sole Hope! Asher Collie, the founder of Sole Hope, will be sharing stories about living in Uganda while fighting the chigoe flea epidemic which is effecting the life and livelihood of children in East Africa.  Did you know children are in pain, humiliated, and social outcasts because they are living with a very treatable problem?  Today you can repurpose some old jeans and make a lasting difference in a child’s life.  We will be cutting up jeans and preparing them to be made into shoes by the Sole Hope ShoeMakers who reside in Uganda.  Come empty handed- we will have everything ready for you.  All we ask is you to have fun, meet new friends and cut on the line!

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In 2009, a celebrity photographer, Jeremy Cowart, presented a simple idea called Help-Portrait to the photography community:

  1. Find someone in need (a single mom, your next door neighbor, the elderly, the homeless, children at a hospital)
  2. Take their portrait
  3. Print it
  4. Deliver it

No one could have anticipated the response.

On a Saturday in December that year, more than 8,000 photographers, makeup artists, hairstylists and volunteers in 47 countries joined to give back and discovered the incredible impact this idea could have.

By simply giving of who they were- their time, talents, love, passion, laughter, hearts… a movement of life, hope, and purpose began to take root in the hearts they were serving.  Tears streamed down the eyes of a woman as she confessed that she felt special and beautiful- something she had never felt before.  A 53-year old man was all smiles after getting his first-ever picture taken (with the exception of jail).  Laughter and joy replaced discouragement.  Hope was restored.  Light returned to lifeless eyes.  People were reminded of their value and beauty.  Not only did it change the lives of those being served, but those who were serving came away greatly impacted.

From small events to large, from the largest cities to smallest towns, in various languages, a movement awakened.

In the last four years, people in 67 different countries have rallied together to give over 282,000 portraits away.  Time and again we have witnessed the transformational power of these events, and we want to invite you to experience it first-hand.

At the Allume Conference, we will be hosting a Help-Portrait event, and we would love for you to be a part of it!

Here is what we are looking for:

  • Photographers who are able to bring their cameras and put them to good use.
  • Hair stylists and makeup artists who will use their gifts to makeover the guests and help them to feel camera-ready.
  • We also need volunteers who will make the guests feel welcome, loved, and cared for.

This is about using whatever gift you have to reach out, to love, to connect, and to invest in those around you.  It might seem small to you, but your gift is valuable and when offered might just have the power to change a life- maybe even your own too.

We would love to have you on board.

 

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Cost of admission:  a least one gently used bra.  (YES, you read that correctly!!)

Ladies, dig those old bras out of the graveyard in the back of your “unmentionables” drawer and help change the life of a woman halfway around the world!

Kimba Langas, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Free The Girls, will be at Allume to give you the low-down on the lowest form of exploitation:  human trafficking.

What is Human Trafficking?  Human trafficking is tied with the illegal arms industry as the 2nd largest criminal industry behind illegal drugs.  Learn about why it’s a $32 billion dollar industry.  What does this mean to me?  Trafficking doesn’t just happen “over there”—it is rampant in the U.S. as well.  Learn the signs and how you can help.

Mozambique or Bust:  Watch a CNN Freedom Project documentary telling the story of Free The Girls and how a group of ordinary people set out to change the lives of trafficking survivors overseas.

Join the BRA BRIGADE:  Help receive, count, and box up bras dropped off at the hotel by the local community during the Impact Opportunity time frame.

About Free The Girls:

Free The Girls is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt non-profit corporation based in Colorado that has been working in Mozambique, Africa since August 2010 and is currently expanding into Kenya, Uganda and El Salvador. Free The Girls partners with established safe houses and after-care facilities to conduct business and job training for women rescued from sex trafficking.  We offer trafficking survivors an alternative to prostitution by providing them with the opportunity, training, and initial inventory to start micro-enterprises selling bras in second-hand clothing markets. These markets are a widespread, thriving industry in Sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries.

 

Can’t decide already?!  Just wait!!!  We’ve got three more coming at you tomorrow!

When Comparison Crushes Your Heart and Steals Your Joy

When Comparison Crushes Your Heart and Steals Your Joy

It’s close to noon and she’s huffing and puffing, feeling the pressure to push.

Another nurse gives me a break, so I can inhale my food in the nurse’s lounge before my patient delivers. I escape for a while and open Feedly, to catch up on words I love, written by writers who make me better for reading.

And it’s the title of the last post I read, which stirs feelings that are always residing just beneath the surface: Comparisons Will Kick You in the Teeth and Hijack Your Dreams Every Time.

It reaches out and grabs me by the throat. And wouldn’t that title trigger a tsunami within any woman? As if comparison is one of the genes on the x chromosome.

I finish her post and I’m a mess–a tears-streaming, nose-running mess, as I realize my teeth have been kicked and my dreams are being hijacked. And it’s been happening for a long time.

Thankful I’ve eaten alone, I do my best to pull it together. Because when someone’s having a once-in-a-lifetime birth moment, it’s never good to lose your I’m-so-happy-for-you presence.

Her delivery ends up being all she hoped for–a moving moment without a dry eye in the room. But as I wipe off her squiggly vernix-covered newborn, crying and squinting under the warmer’s bright lights, my mind still ponders the post and questions still simmer in my mind…

Do I matter?

Am I good enough?

Do the words I write make any difference at all?

But the words of her post echo, pushing against my questions with the resistance of a fierce wind…

Don’t waste even a moment of your own beautiful life comparing it to mine…
Let’s choose to rejoice with one another…
Let’s not trample what we’ve been given in order to get to what we wish we’d got…

I marinate in her words for a few days, letting them soak and tenderize places deep inside.

And it’s on a walk, a few days later, I pass a planter filled with flowers of different sizes and at different stages; some budding, some blooming, and some just finishing their bloom.

When Comparison Steals Your Joy

And it’s as if God screams it to my heart:

Flowers don’t bloom all at the same time, and neither do any of you.

I stand stunned at the realization; convicted and relieved at the same time.

Convicted because comparison’s been crushing my heart and stealing my joy.

Why do I assume I should bloom alongside everyone else?

Why do I think I’m further behind than I should be?

Why am I never fully satisfied right where I am?

Yet relieved because I’ve been asking all the wrong questions … trampling all I’ve been given in an effort to try to get to what I wish I’d gotten, and failing to see the beauty that is my now.

The truth is, I’m in my own stage of development, and SO ARE YOU–the very stage God has planned from the beginning of time, for each one us. For now.

And when we long for the next thing, we are rejecting the now thing He gives. [Tweet that]

There are invisible moments before a bloom … preparation and work and cultivation … a maturing God longs to accomplish before the full beauty of our blooms can be realized.

God prepares all things and all circumstances.

He sets blooms in His time and in His way, to bless and beautify the whole world.

He cultivates a garden of alternating blooms, so their beauty will last over the longest time,

To bless the greatest number of people, for His purpose alone.

She was right. Comparison does kick us in the teeth and hijack our dreams. Every. Single. Time.

So will you join me?

Let’s save our teeth, and keep our dreams.

Let’s embrace our stage in God’s garden, allowing Him to bring our blooms in His time.

Let’s be faithful in our now thing and stop longing for our next thing… [Tweet that]

Each of us a member of a body…

Functioning together…

To bring the most glory to His name.

May we surrender our comparison, to be used by Him in the now thing He has planned for us, whatever that may be.

 

What does comparison do to your heart?

What is the now thing God is asking you to do?

How can we cheer you on?

5 Sanity Saving Essentials for Blogging Conferences

Essentials for Blogging Conferences

Remember God is guiding your steps.

  • That moment when you see swirling crowds and wonder what the heck you’re doing at a conference with hundreds of women, remember God has a specific purpose for you. It’s not the same as your roommates, the speakers, or your blogging buddies. Let your agenda be dictated by God’s leading and you’ll never falter.

You’re the boss of you.

  • If you need to find a corner to sit and stare at the wall to recharge, do it. If you need to turn in early because your eyelids are dragging so heavy you might trip on them, tuck yourself in. If you want to wake up early and jog before breakfast, I don’t understand you at all, but hey, go for it.
  • Believe that the opportunities God has for you are not going to be “missed” because you aren’t on every second.
  • Trust that the capacity God’s given you isn’t a mistake. The Allume organizers are an amazing group of godly women who pray for you and have designed the content to leave room for God to work. Trust in that.

Think deep not wide.

  • At my first blogging conference I had only been blogging for 6 weeks. I traded tons of business cards, gave my awkward elevator speech a zillion times, and tried to jam in all the information I could. Everyone told me I had to network. It was exhausting.  Turns out the long lasting relationships maintained from that conference came in the slow moments. Lingering over coffee, sitting down to a long dinner, following up after the conference and investing in their blogs.
  • In many ways, the idea of networking makes my stomach sour. I don’t want to connect so I can climb on your shoulders and have a larger platform. I want to connect because you have something to offer that is unique: YOU. I want to know you.
  • Think of it as a chance to connect with God breathed people, joined in spirit, not just an opportunity to guest post or get retweeted.  I know now that meeting ALL the people is much less important than connecting with a few. Take your time and really value the people God brings across your path.

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Think of ways to invest in people you meet and encourage those where you are or even mentor those coming up behind you.

  • I had someone tell me recently that they saw me at Allume and were too nervous to introduce themselves. I snort laughed at the craziness of that. Although flattered, I am not a rock star contrary to the tens of people who think so.  Ok, the ones of people, but still. Come say hi.
  • We’re all sisters here. But please, don’t be offended if I don’t recognize you right away even though we’ve tweeted back and forth every week. You are much taller than your avatar, and I am much, ummm, fluffier. So yeah, it might take me a minute. Again, grace.

 Don’t listen to the lie that you aren’t important. That your story and words don’t matter as much as the famous blogger. That no one is interested in you. That’s pure crap.

  • Each of you has a gift. A story of redemption, a story of a God who loves you, a story of life.
  • You may have a style blog and have an eye for beauty in a perfectly mismatched teal bag with platform sandals and a flowy maxi dress. You may have a food blog and share the glory in the crisp snap of fresh greens, laid like an offering, scattered with toasted goat cheese, raspberries, and roasted hazelnuts, a sweet mustard vinaigrette drizzled like the swirl of a painter’s brush. You may have an organization blog where you help women like me put labels on pretty baskets and get rid of the stack of sweaters I’m planning to felt someday. You may share stories, your life in words, your tears and triumphs and soul words.
  • Whatever God has given you, you have a gift to share. Go confidently knowing that you are called.

Is this your first conference or are you a veteran? What do you feel God is leading you towards as you prepare for Allume?  

 

5 Ways You Know You’re Doing Too Much

 

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I am a “go-go-go” person. I seem to somehow involve myself in everything. If I see a need, I usually volunteer. This isn’t a practice I’m encouraging you to emulate-but instead it’s something I’ve lately realized is quite a problem. After years of overcommitting myself, I now see a pattern. It’s a cycle of “go-go-go” followed by a swift crash and burn. When I fill my calendar to the max, my body eventually becomes physically spent and my motivation to be involved in anything outside of sleep waivers.

As writers, mom’s working inside or outside the home, wives, friends, daughters, disciples, and countless other roles, we tend to get involved everywhere, don’t we? We see a need, and we jump in.

And I wonder, have you stopped to look at how this lifestyle is affecting you and those around you? Do you burn-out? Do you recognize when a burn-out is around the corner? Do you recognize when you’ve overcommitted yourself? Only recently have I begun to slow down and truly seek His agenda for my time and energy. With that said:

Here are 5 Ways you know you’ve committed to too much….

  1. You feel like you’re just ‘going through the motions’
  2. You neglect other responsibilities {family, home, job, etc.}
  3. You start to dread the things you normally love
  4. Your body tells you so {‘Can I just get a nap, please?’}
  5. You neglect your time with Jesus

A few years ago I had a very wise friend tell me (and I’m paraphrasing), “a need doesn’t constitute a calling“. This phrase runs through my head often. I now realize that I must sift very carefully through the needs and opportunities laid before me. Just because a ministry volunteer position opened up or someone needs a leader for VBS, doesn’t mean it is my duty, or my calling to step into those roles {even if it is a passion of mine!}. We must go to the Lord over each opportunity presented to us.

Sometimes us ‘go-getter’ types can get caught filling our calendars with what others think we’re supposed to be doing, rather than with what we really should be doing. Sometimes we neglect to pray about who He may want leading a particular ministry, or contributing to specific blog. Maybe He has that role reserved for someone else, and it’s our responsibility to turn down the opportunity on their behalf. Not only will this bless this intended participant, but it could also bless your life in ways not immediately apparent. Perhaps He wants to give you some much needed time to breathe and focus on your family. Maybe He wants you to focus more on your personal blog. Have you thought about that? Sometimes it is our job to pass on opportunities in favor of other women, women who may need the encouragement of another to step up and lead.

If you understand your purpose, it is easier to set boundaries.

-Hula Hoop Girl, by September McCarthy

Each season of life brings new opportunities and new limitations. Because He is the ultimate Ruler in our lives, He deserves to control our schedule, honing in on what we’re called to do for Him in each season. We must ask Him to show us when and how we can step back, give another an opportunity, and determine when He has truly opened a door He wants us to walk through.  We must properly sift through what’s on our respective plates, for if we do, He will not neglect to lead us exactly to where He wants us!

Happy sifting, sisters!

By,  Mandy Scarr

 

When We Choose Pouting Over Praise

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I spent the first year at my job wishing it away.  It wasn’t what I wanted, and I let a pout be a permanent fixture in my attitude.

I went back to school with the intention of graduating into my ideal ministry position. I dreamed about that position throughout my three years in grad school. I longed for the day of ministering to women, pouring Scripture into their hearts, and connecting deeply with the Spirit in prayer beside them. I had a dream, I had a vision. But He wanted something different.

I graduated and He opened a door to a position much like where I had come from prior to grad school. In fact, it was a few steps backward in many ways. But He made it obvious this is where He wanted me, and so I obeyed His lead and accepted the position. As time went on I grew to dislike the position more and more and I grew bitter.

Instead of being grateful for a job in a struggling economy, I allowed misery and self-pity to overtake my heart. I soaked in the waters of anger, and I chose not to look at the blessings covered beneath the surface of this job.

Gratitude was something I had lost–a lifestyle, an attitude, a focus I chose to walk away from.

Over time the Lord began to pull up the weeds of resentment, showing me why He had me there. He revealed the purpose- the very reason I was placed there. Over time my heart changed.

But looking back I am saddened that for so long I wished away that season, excited to move on to what God had for me next.

Look what Paul wrote of the Macedonian churches in 2 Corinthians;

Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.

Those in Macedonia faced great persecution because of their faith. Their situation deteriorated and poverty spread through the Church. Despite the difficulties they faced, they still chose to praise God and bless others. They contributed financially to Paul’s missionary work during this difficult time, they gave out of what they did have, instead of focusing on what they didn’t have. The Macedonian’s faith increased even in the midst of great trial. They chose to see the grace of God, soaking in His blessings even in the midst of a storm.

The Word of God gives us testimony after testimony of this very attitude, the attitude of living in gratitude and sharing the joy of the Gospel of Christ in every and all situations.

I wonder what would’ve been different if I hadn’t ‘wasted’ a year pouting over the season He had chosen for me.

As I reflect on that season, I see that He is patient. He is gracious. And He is a great Teacher.

I needed that season of pouting to learn that sometimes my story isn’t equal to His story. Sometimes He has different plans for a season then I do, and that doesn’t mean it’s a waste of time. When my attitude learned to adjust to His plans, when I accepted where He had me and chose to be present and purposeful, I saw His abundant blessings. I saw Him.

After two years in my position, today is my last day. God has moved me into a new season, and I am walking away from this job. I am grateful for where He is leading me, but I wonder what would’ve been different if I hadn’t allowed my pouting attitude to cloud that season.

I am grateful for the lessons He’s taught me on this journey, and I pray that my heart will overflow with gratitude, like the Macedonian’s, no matter what challenge or storm this next season brings.

Are you in a season you didn’t picture for yourself? Are you weary and bitter? Are you pouting the days away?

Let’s choose gratitude. Let’s choose to see Him in the midst of this season, being open to what He might have for us there.

By, Mandy Scarr at mandyscarr.com

More Than Your Business Cards

more than your business card

I attended my first Allume conference two years ago. I was as nervous as a hummingbird! A few weeks before the festivities were to begin, I started to notice Allume peeps tweeting about the cute business cards they were bringing to the conference.

What? I began to panic. I didn’t have these things called “business cards”.

I quickly asked a designer friend to whip me up something and we rushed it to Overnight Prints. Like magic, I suddenly became the proud owner of business cards. But, I have to admit I was still wondering what I was actually going to do with them. I was pretty sure I would be returning home with the whole box.

Boy was I wrong! As I sat down the first night with a table full of women I did not know, one lady spoke up and said,

“Let the business card passing begin!”

It was like she sounded a trumpet! Everyone grabbed a stack of their cards and started passing to their right. As the cards went by you grabbed one of each. Wow! I suddenly now had other people’s business cards. This ritual occurred probably five times a day. By the time I got home I had over 100 business cards. In fact, I still have them. They sit in a stack on my desk along with my stack from last year.

I do enjoy looking at the way people visually represent themselves and their brand, I do enjoy having email addresses of people I connect with easily accessible, and I do enjoy having something to use as a distraction when I am sitting by myself and not sure what to do. But do you know what I enjoy more than a 3” x 2.5” piece of heavy weight paper with a picture on it?

  • I enjoy actually getting to know the people at my right and left at meals.
  • I enjoy having conversations about where people are from.
  • I enjoy discovering how and why people started blogging.
  • More than anything I enjoy listening to hopes and dreams inside the women around me.

Each year I go home from Allume with my new stash of business cards but what stays with me and makes me want to keeping coming back to Allume each year are not the cute business cards, it is the relationship building. It is impromptu mentoring sessions, the brainstorming breakfasts, the tears in the DaySpring lounge, the kindred spirits you discover, the challenge to be brave, the reminder to choose God 1st, family second, and blogging somewhere way down on the list, the opportunity to worship without distraction, the prayer, prayer, and more prayer.

So this year bring your cute business cards, but plan on being more than your card. Plan on being a conversation starter, relationship builder, and light to those around you.

With Joy, Carey C. Bailey from Cravings: desiring God in the midst of motherhood

 

Gathering of Loveliness

gathering of loveliness || Teri Lynne Underwood || www.allume.com/blog

It’s true, you know, beauty brings beauty.  When we gather together as women the loveliness inside each of us is magnified.  I’ve watched it happen time and again.

Deep inside each of us is a longing for the beauty of true heart connection.  We pray for soul sisters who will walk the hills and valleys of life with us.  We long for friendships forged through play dates and prayers.  Instinctively, intuitively, we understand we need others.  Others make us better, stronger, beautiful.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil … And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.  Ecclesiastes 4:9, 12 ESV

Do you surround yourself with the loveliness of other women?  Maybe you need to schedule a lunch with some friends or join a book club or plan a play date.

Make gathering with other women a priority … you’ll be stronger and lovelier from it.

What is your favorite way to spend time with other women?

When God Builds a Team

When God builds a team

I sit with my husband in a coffee shop.  It’s mid morning and I feel like I’m playing hooky. This is just too fun. Partners in adventure . . . gathering a team.

We wait, expectant for God’s leading.

Married 17 years, we are co-leading a family mission trip to Tecate, Mexico, our third time–a trip that begins two weeks from today. We have been on four mission adventures so far–one to Ethiopia, six years ago, and the last three, with our children–to the Navajo Nation, in Chinle, Arizona, and to Tecate, Mexico.

My fingers fold around my cup. God continues to meld together this one heart, His one flesh.

On this morning, we  sit abreast, at the counter, excited to meet a single mom who will join the team. So many conversations over the late winter and spring about the team–hearts shared at busy outdoor barbeques or at bustling coffee shops, steaming java in hand. We squeeze moments between play dates and work. We seek His guidance and wait to see who He brings.

Adventure awaits His team.

Through the spring we trusted Him to put together a team–strangers turned family who will work alongside one another to build a children’s home for orphaned children in Baja. Through months, and now just weeks left, of preparation, we gather supplies and check lists and plan final meetings. But mostly, we wait.

Expectant.

Excited.

The best way to prepare for these trips is to be ready to see God. I am going to be stretched and uncomfortable. I am going to feel depleted and raw. I am going to get dirty and feel tired and want to take a break sometimes, when I can’t. The only way a trip like this can be measured a success is if we feel, the entire time, we don’t have what it takes, on our own, to do a thing. 

We have to be ready to let God in.

Connecting hearts to His is the only plan.

An adventure with God can be a trip to our neighbor’s house next door. Or it can be a trip across the earth. He wants to show us how, in fact, He’s made the world small. Big enough so that we feel lost in it when we try to do things on our own. Small enough for hearts to unite despite geographic boundaries, despite linguistic barriers. Through ever trip God builds His team, transforming strangers into family.

God has no barriers.

And so we will pack bags and cook food. We will worship and sleep and work alongside one another. Grandfathers and fathers and mothers and children.

We go, knowing His faithfulness, trusting His plans are good.  We go, expecting adventure, anticipating not knowing the answers and having to tackle the unknown. We go, believing our Father is the leader, the one sure thing, the heart that never sleeps. We go, leaning into Him, where He will pick us up if we fall.

I send out support letters to friends and family today, asking for prayer for the team in Tecate. We pray for further trust in our Leader, as He guides us and protects us and leads the way to loving with full, open hearts.

I would love to hear one of your stories of God asking you to trust Him–and where He has asked you to go. I am curious, have you ever returned from a trip a changed person, and with new, deeper relationships with the people with whom you traveled? I can’t wait to hear about it, friends.

How to Handle the Social Media Egg Basket

How to Handle the Social Media Egg Basket - @GretLouise on #Allume

Everyone knows it’s not a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket. But sometimes, I think we’re trying to carry too many baskets — especially when it comes to social media.

There’s always a new social media network. Something to try, something to learn. A new opportunity to get lots of followers and rise to the top of the crowd.

But sometimes, we spread ourselves too thin. In trying to be everywhere, we are nowhere. And the eggs break just as quickly when they hit the ground, whether we are carrying them all in one basket or spread out into more baskets than we can hold.

I love Twitter. Facebook is where my grandma is, so I’m not leaving it any time soon. Pinterest is pretty and easy to organize. And I know Google Plus is  a necessary evil for bloggers.

But I forget to use Delicious. I tried Tumblr to see if it was a more social version of a bookmark and quote site, but I never remember to use it. Instagram is fun but without a smart phone it’s a three-step-process to a #latergram if I’m not at home with tablet in hand. And Digg? StumbleUpon? Never even used them.

Whenever I start forgetting to post to a social network, I know it’s lost the social aspect. And when I stop visiting anywhere but private Facebook groups, I know I’ve spread myself too thin.

It’s then I remember the tried and true advice of those with more followers than I: find a few social media networks you love, and become good at them. You and I are each only one person. Unless we have a team of bloggers working with us, or a good social media manager behind us, we can only do so much.

And it’s when I pull back and enjoy the process of just hanging out on my favorite social media networks that I actually see fruit from my time spent there. It’s when I view social media as a place to connect with my friends rather than an item on my to do list that the benefits can be seen — and in more than just numbers.

Tips

  • Choose one day a week to hang out on less popular social networks (for me it’s Google Plus and Tumblr). You don’t have to be on any given social media network every hour of every day to have a presence there.
  • Ask questions on Facebook. Get to know your followers there again.
  • Use scheduler apps like Buffer for Twitter and Facebook’s built-in schedule feature so that you can be there without being there all the time.
  • Use plugins like Tweetily (to Tweet old posts) and Jetpack’s “Publicize” (to Tweet new posts) to automate your blog’s presence on Twitter (just don’t spam your followers!) so that you don’t have to worry about your blog when you get on Twitter, you can just be you.
  • Don’t just Tweet and Retweet — remember how much fun it was to have conversations on Twitter?
  • Stay off Pinterest.com and just pin from the sites you visit to avoid the Pinterest time trap.

How do you keep a handle on your social media involvement?

Tweetables:
  • Sometimes, we spread ourselves too thin on social media. In trying to be everywhere, we are nowhere. (Click to Tweet)
  • Whenever I start forgetting to post to a social network, I know it’s lost the social aspect. (Click to Tweet)
  • How do you keep a handle on your social media involvement? (Click to Tweet)

Photo Credit: Kateri Fahey of Dandelion Haven

a simple truth that can transform any relationship

 
Don’t place your trust solely in him. Or her. Or them. Because they — like you and me — are mere humans. And do you know what humans do? We fail.

 

People will fail.

 

I read Jesus’ words last week and they struck a deep chord. He had just started His earthly ministry, performing signs and wonders. And after seeing the miracles, people believed in Him.

“But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” John 2:24-25

Do you hear what He’s saying? Yes, people put their trust in Him. I mean, He was turning water into top-shelf wine. But He didn’t put His trust in people. Why? Because He “knew all people…(and) knew what was in man.”

Never in the Bible does it say to put our trust in people. Never. Love people, yes. Forgive people, continually. Pray for people, always. But trust? Never. And it’s because people are people. We’re weak and selfish and prone to wander.

When we place our trust in people — depending on them to give us life and hope — we’ll inevitably fall to disappointment. That’s why Jesus didn’t put His trust in man. Not even His most beloved disciples. He put His trust solely in the Father.

His eyes were dead set on the will of the Father. His gaze was continually pointed to the Father. He didn’t look at humans in search of fulfillment with cheesy phrases like “you. complete. me.” No. Because He knew what was in man. And woman.

Personally, I put my hope and trust in men — eventually my husband –in search of security and meaningful love for far too long. And though God gifts us with earthly, blessed, necessary relationships, people can never completely fill us. People will fail us. Just like we’ll fail them.

So when it comes to trust, we’re supposed to put it in one place and one place alone. We put our trust in God.

 

Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord.
He is like a shrub in the desert,
and shall not see any good come.
He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness,
in an uninhabited salt land.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
for it does not cease to bear fruit.
Jeremiah 17:5-8

 

God is the forever faithful One. He’s the One who sees the beginning from the end and knows how to make every detail work out for the good of those who love Him. He’s the One who never ever leaves or forsakes His children. He alone is always trustworthy.

And here’s the beauty. When we put our trust in Him, rather than the people or circumstances in our physical world, it frees us to love others without expectation. It frees us to forgive and bless. Because we’re not depending on people to be our Source of life. We’re depending on the life-giver. And that, my friend, is true freedom.

 
How have you seen that passage from Jeremiah above play out in your own life? (i.e., trusting in things or people vs. trusting in God regardless)

Drumroll….The 2013 Agenda!

 

Did you see it?!  The 2013 Allume Agenda?!

Ok…if not, you must immediately click HERE  to open the full 2013 Agenda in another window so that you can peruse it in just a minute!

But first, I just need you to know why I, for one, am doing the happy dance!

It’d take me 45 minutes talking fast to cast the whole vision (and you’ll get some of that at Allume in the flesh) but for now, just know that God has been working in a chill-bumps-inducing way over the past several months.

A few months ago, the Lord gave me a picture of an underground river.  It was bubbling and moving forward…yet, it was underground.  And then suddenly the river came into the open.  It broke through rock and earth and spilt forth…moving fast and branching off to cover all over the earth.  And then I saw a bright light…and it was a line that was just positioned at the cross-section where the river left the underground and came into the light of day…and the Lord said…”this space, this place where the bubbling bursts forth into the earth…this is Allume.

River Emerging from Underground

Every time I recount the picture and the words… I cry.  God is moving friends.  He’s moving in each of you now, and he’s moving in what he’s planning to accomplish at Allume.  And when we all collide together in the same time and space, the work that He is doing, and the work that He will release is like a mighty rushing river of Kingdom awesomeness.  It makes me excited.  It gives me chills.

I’m excited about the things you see in the agenda listed with times and dates and titles, but the thing I’m most excited to see is what God does in the in betweens too.  I’m excited to see the way he weaves the words of the keynotes, and teaches and inspires you with session speakers.  I’m elated to watch you all connect and love one another in that special way that it happens at Allume.  I’m blessed to have not just reached out to compile a list of speakers, but to have been building relationships with these Kingdom of Heaven World Changers, and I can tell you with every bone in my being, that the words the Lord gave to Sarah Mae, Jessica, and I back in November are coming to fruition.

 “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?  I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert…for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.” –  Isaiah 43:19-21

Our dear friend, Ann Voskamp, will bring a fresh word, as only she can, and open our hearts on opening night.  Melanie Shankle will make us laugh til we cry, and cry til we laugh just before Jennie Allen moves us with truth and life and reminds us how ‘faith is the is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Bianca will arrest us with passion, and Jeff will move us to live bigger and more authentically than we’d ever dreamed.

Our incredible sponsors will pour into you and help show ways that you too can pour out.

Our hope and prayer is that your time at Allume will equip you, empower you, refresh and refuel you, so that you can leave and walk taller into the callings that God has for you (and for your blog.)

We invite you to come spend time with us for a weekend of life, and friendship, community, and awakening.  We can’t wait to see what God has in store for us all!

So now, if you haven’t yet looked at the whole incredible lineup yet, go….HERE!

And if you still need to snag your ticket, go HERE!

All our love,

Logan, Sarah Mae, and Jessica

Image Source

a different kind of {group} giveaway

A Different Kind of {Group} Giveaway via @GretLouise on #Allume http://wp.me/p2VosB-1da

I think it was my idea.  That our mastermind group should do a great big giveaway together.  You know, because everyone else in the blogosphere was doing it.

And the leader of our mastermind group had one question: why?

To create unity within our group, I said.  To give back to our readers.  And to share our platforms with each other and the small businesses who were sponsoring the giveaways.

Oh we had fun planning it.  Some of us contacted favorite companies.  Others handmade beautiful prizes.  We called it “Our Favorite Things” giveaway.

But then it came down to the nuts and bolts of how folks should enter.  And Houston, we had a problem.

99.9% of the giveaways we’d seen (and were copying, as it were) had one big Rafflecopter, with billions of Facebook pages to like for entry into a contest to win a big bunch of loot, only one or two items of which were even remotely interesting to the same person.  (I exaggerate, but in order to state my point.)

There are 20 of us in our mastermind group, 12 of whom were participating in the giveaway.  That made for a slight variety in prizes (we’re different, so we have different favorite things).  How would we know who wanted what when they won?  Should we have a page full of Rafflecopter widgets, 1 for each available prize?  Should we have one great big Rafflecopter with 25 prizes and half a gazillion Facebook pages to like (for the sponsors and the bloggers, of course)?

Our blogs are all so different (in our mastermind group, we find there’s strength in our diversity).  And suddenly, asking my readers to go down the line and like every single one of these other blog’s pages for entry seemed a bit strange.  We do plenty of strategizing about Facebook in our mastermind group.  We know that “empty” likes do nothing to help our Facebook edgerank, and “dead” fans drag our page down rather than building it up (at least in Facebook’s great algorithm).

And then, of course, there was this post, about iPad giveaways, that clinched the deal.  We all love to enter them, but really, do we care a thing about all those pages we’re liking for entry?

So two weeks before the giveaway was to commence, we changed our game plan.  We decided that instead of doing what everyone else was doing, we’d mimic what one of our members had seen done once before.  It became a blog-hoppin’ kind of giveaway.

We each hosted our own giveaway on our own blog, using our own Rafflecopter widget or comment system for entry to our own giveaway. Our post went live at the same time on the same day, linking to everyone else’s giveaway post and using the group graphic.

This better served our readers enabling them to enter only for the items they were interested in, letting them like/follow the people they wanted to without adding things to their feed they won’t care about. It also served each other more by generating traffic to each other’s blogs and providing genuine likes/follows rather than ones that will take away from our “interaction/engagement” ranking.

“A bunch of us have each chosen a few of our favorite things to giveaway on our blogs, and we’re all linking to each other, like a giant, progressive ‘dinner’ of giveaway goodness. I’ll share ‘directions’ to their ‘homes’ and goodies in a minute, but first, my gifts to you…”

-Trina Holden in “A Giveaway of a Few {make that 25!} of My Favorite Things!

Our fearless leader Trina created the beautiful giveaway graphics.  Her husband Jeremy gathered everyone’s permalinks and coded it all so everyone could copy and paste the giveaway code and have the graphics and bullet list of links magically appear in their post.  All they had to do was add their own descriptions and their own giveaway entry and prize details, and we were set. (Using different wording in each post is crucial for SEO, as Amy Lynn Andrews points out in her post “The Power of Collaboration.”)

“I’m super excited that this giveaway is just one of a giant blog-hopping giveaway in which you not only get a chance to enter more than 25 giveaways but you get to visit the blogs of some of my beloved friends from my blogging mastermind group in the process.”

-Chantel Brankshire in “Giveaways from People I Love

And what fun it was! It was a special way to be able to share some of my readership with a few of the women whom I blog so closely alongside. And it was a neat opportunity to say thanks to my readers, giving them not just whatever the latest giveaway options were from my sponsors, but choosing individual products I loved and wanted them to love, too. In fact, we had so much fun that we did it again on a smaller scale a few months later.

Have you ever hosted or been part of a group giveaway?

I’d love to hear how you did it!

Thanks for sharing,
Gretchen Louise

Planning a group giveaway? Here are some details you need to specify:
  • Use permalinks or WordPress style shortlinks to link to each other’s posts, not links that will change when you rename or publish your posts.
  • Decide on the exact date and time zone the posts will go up so that one person’s post doesn’t go up earlier containing not-yet-live links. (Rafflecopter may need to start at midnight the night before if your posts will all go live at 8 a.m. EST.)
  • Specify the exact date and time the giveaways end so your readers aren’t confused (if you want them to go through Monday night, set Rafflecopter to end 12 a.m. EST Tuesday).
  • Requiring a “like” or anything else on Facebook as a giveaway entry is against their policies (you’re not even supposed to notify winners via Facebook!) — make sure everyone is aware of that when writing their posts.   Rafflecopter’s Facebook-approved wording is “automatic entry for Facebook fans…”
  • Click here for more links and resources on blogging giveaways.