It was my second time attending a *JourneyMates Morning Apart, so I pretty much knew what to expect:
Quiet. Lots and lots of quiet.
The quiet threw me the first time I visited, but not because silence makes me uncomfortable. I love silence—crave it even; bring on all the silence! But I if I wanted peace and quiet and space to be with God, why would I want to be in a room with thirty other women?
I spent the next three hours pretending to look pensive and reverent, but I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Not for me, I thought.
But a lot can change in three years.
My journey had led me to discover some new (old—ancient, even) Spiritual practices that were contemplative in nature and I had met a new friend who became my Spiritual Director; she taught me how to notice and respond to God’s presence and invitation, to practice soul care, to simply be with God without all the trappings I was used to.
I couldn’t get enough. And so, when she suggests I attend JourneyMates, I decide to give it another try and register for the next monthly gathering.
This time, the quiet is a balm and a blessing, oil on my head, dripping down my arms and hands and pouring onto the pages of my journal. After a period of guided silence and a time of marinating in Scripture through lectio divina ( “divine reading” ) and a short devotion, we have roughly an hour and forty-five minutes of glorious silence to seek and spend time with God; to find a comfy chair, nibble on a scone, take a walk, or gather around the fire pit.
I’m tired of trying to be strong, but we live in a world that idolizes strength. Join me at the gym some morning if you don’t believe me. Craaazy.(That’s not me by the way, lol.)
It’s cool to be a tough girl.
Pick up any women’s magazine or go to the movies. We don’t just have super heroes anymore – now we have female superheroes!
Flip on the radio and listen to these messages:
“This is my fight song” (take back my life song)
“I am Titanium (I’m bulletproof)
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
You do know, Kelly Clarkson didn’t come up with that line, right? Friedrich Nietzsche did: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Read up on Freddy and see how that worked out for him. Hint: not good.
So I decided to do a little research about it (suffering that is): does it really make you stronger? What I discovered was interesting, check it out:
Studies confirm: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Studies also confirm: what doesn’t kill you doesn’t make you stronger.
So much for the research. Listen, if what didn’t kill you really made you stronger, I would be Wonder Woman. Or Zena, the Warrior Princess. And also, strong and tough are two different things.
We tend to view strength in adversity as a badge of honor — a war wound, so to speak, to fight through and come out of a really awful time stronger, more powerful and ready to take on the next battle. It’s what the world admires and unfortunately, the church falls into this line of thinking as well. Don’t believe me? Have a conversation with a friend who has an “invisible” illness; ask them how they’ve been made to feel when they can’t do all the things that are expected of them. They hear helpful things like, “Have more faith!”“Just trust God!” Or “What are you doing under the circumstances?”
Yea, that will make you feel better.
Somehow we manage to survive the anguishing experience and then we have the audacity to pat ourselves on the back when in reality it’s only by the grace of God that we’re still breathing at all. Or is that just me?
Full Confession: I’ve idolized strength. I used to feel proud of myself for surviving. God didn’t let me get away with that for long.
I’ll spare you our conversation but He totally nailed me to my blinged up cross.
It’s just that I’d been through so much failure, and so much loss that I desperately needed to make something positive out of it. I wanted to come out smelling good, not smelling like ashes.
Nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that it’s not my job.
GOD will redeem all my yesterdays, not me.
It’s human nature to believe that our difficulties carry extra meaning, that they are not in vain. Although suffering is undesirable, it’s supposed to help us grow. We want our pain to somehow be edifying, to make sense.
Listen, friends, the hard truth is that the worst of times really is…. the worst of times. There is pain and suffering in this world that doesn’t make sense. Happy feeling gone.
But I keep thinking about our favorite ideal woman, Mrs. Proverbs 31. Remember her? Up before dawn, up past midnight sewing, entrepreneur, etc. She sure seemed like a strong woman. Wonder how she got so strong?
Verse 17 tells us: She girded herself with strength. Girding refers to putting on a strengthening belt around her middle. It meant to get ready for heroic or difficult action.
This was a woman who was prepared for whatever might come, including pain and suffering. No lalalalala prosperity mindset for her. She expected things to be hard. You know why?
Because Life. Is. Hard.
Hard is normal. She understood that suffering is part of life.
We get to choose: We can put on airs or we can put on strength.
I remember as a young mom reading “What is a Family?” by Edith Shaeffer; she talked about how as mothers, when our children get sick, we say things like, “I can’t WAIT until life gets back to normal.” Her perspective was the opposite. It’s normal for there to be sickness, she said. Weakness. And it’s normal for you to feel weak when you’re the one taking care of people who are sick and weak.
Our culture reveres strength and abhors weakness. We point to others and say, “She’s soooo strong,” wondering why we’re so weak. The world is looking for role models of strong women, but the world gets it wrong; strength isn’t in the numbers of likes on Facebook. It’s not running yourself ragged. Strength isn’t in acting tough, or acting like a man. Strength doesn’t have to be loud. Preaching to the choir here.
There are so many examples of strong women in the Bible but my favorite is Mary, who when told her life was headed in an entirely different direction than she anticipated, responded, “Let it be unto me.”
I wonder if strength could be simply defined as the act of responding to the Lord, “Let it be unto me.”
I love this quote from Stacy and John Eldredge’s book, Captivating:
“Women warriors are strong, yes and they are also tender. There is mercy in them. There is vulnerability. In fact, offering vulnerability can only be done by an incredibly strong woman, a woman rooted in Christ Jesus who knows WHOSE she is and therefore knows WHO she is. Offering our hearts wisely, living in the freedom of God’s love, inviting others to rest, alluring those in our lives to the heart of God, and responding to the heart of God in worship are some of the most powerful ways that a woman wars for her world. But she also puts on the full armor of God daily and takes her immovable stand against the powers of darkness.”
Another quote, this one from my writer friend, Katie Jo Ramsey, who suffers from Ankylosing Spondylitis. It’s a rare day when she’s not in debilitating pain. She’s written a book about suffering that will be published next year, titled, This, Too Shall Last.
Here’s what KJ has to say about strength:
Strength is saying, “Lord, I am hopeless.”
Strength is letting someone see you cry.
Strength is calling a friend, blubbering, asking for prayer when hope runs dry.
Strength is making the next small, sacred choice to show up in our lives as a place God is present, especially when we fear he isn’t.
Strength, she says, looks an awful lot like childlike weakness.
That’s one of the paradoxes of the Christian life; being weak and strong at the same time. “When I am weak, then am I strong,” Paul said.
It’s an exchange we need to make daily. Hourly. We exchange the natural for the supernatural.
Be supernaturally infused with strength through your life union with the Lord Jesus.
Stand victorious with the force of his explosive power flowing in and through you. Eph 6:10 MSG.
Don’t you love that phrase, “Supernaturally infused?” Reminds me of the monthly infusion treatment my friend KJ receives; it gives her strength for the battle.
We get our strength for the battle through being in life-union with Christ. By staying connected to the vine. Really, our focus shouldn’t even be on whether or not we’re strong. Our focus should be on Him.
Aren’t you tired of trying to be strong?
We’re ALL weak. But we don’t have to “tough it out.” We just need to LIFT each other’s weak and weary arms and cry out for His Spirit and His Strength.
Let’s make the exchange.
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I knew that organizing a retreat would be a learning process but I didn’t realize just how MUCH I would learn. I’m sure I’ll be unpacking those lessons for months, but here are some initial thoughts:
1. For the participants, Reset was a lot about rest. For me, not so much. I knew that going in, of course, but I did not anticipate how much rest I would need afterwards.
New fun fact: apparently you can be so tired that you become dizzy. Yesterday I couldn’t even do the simplest math problem.
My. Brains. Are. Jello.
My tummy is, too, but I’ll spare you the details. Several of my friends mentioned how wiped out I looked in the recap video I posted Monday. (Why didn’t I wait to post until after I’d recovered?!)
In retrospect, a week-long trip out of state with several speaking engagements, followed by holding a retreat (and doing all the cooking) the very next week probably wasn’t the smartest idea. I tend to overestimate my resilience levels.
Lesson Learned: I need to pace myself and make sure to schedule more downtime.
2. I get that some people thought it was a little crazy that I chose to cater the food for Reset. Honestly, I thought I’d left all that behind years ago; that was my old life, but then a writer friend challenged me on that mindset.
“Why not use it all?” she said; all meaning all the gifts He’s given me. What if there was a way to weave together all my experience and use it for others?
Turns out there was!
It made me realize that who I am today is a compilation of all that has gone before; the events of my life aren’t random. There’s nothing that’s for nothing; God uses it ALL. It’s all part of His plan.
Those years of catering and running a gourmet-to-go were physically grueling, but that wasn’t all they were: they were an opportunity to express my creativity and learn leadership skills. What amazing preparation for organizing an event!
Lesson Learned: Embrace the season you’re in more fully by incorporating what you learned in the past.
3. There’s nothing like holding an event to deal with your ego. What if nobody comes? What if it’s a flop? What if I’m just kidding myself that I have anything to offer?
Me and Jesus had some serious talks about this over the past few months, and when I say talks, I mean me begging Him to take over, because “I got nuthin.’” I can’t even tell you how many times I sang, “I surrender all.”
Lesson Learned: If you want to know how big of an ego you still have, try putting yourself out there in a big way. That rumble in your stomach? EGO.
Karen brainstormed with me, prodded me, helped me find the location, set up the online registration, and patiently fielded all of my panicky texts and phone calls. She put the linens on the bunk beds when we found them unmade, then she put on her Miss Congeniality hat and greeted the guests and made them feel at home. Did I mention she was also sous chef and dishwasher extraordinaire?
And my personal onsite therapist?
Lesson Learned: If you want to do big things, find yourself a Karen.
5. I have to admit, there are times I miss working in the food world. The process was so simple: cook it, sell it, the customer eats it, they love it, start all over again.
With writing and speaking (and now organizing retreats) it’s not that clear cut. It’s a lot harder to know if you’re making an impact, and the truth is… sometimes you’re not.
Lesson Learned: Pleasing God is more important than pleasing people.
6. There were lots of ups and downs the last few months and the nightly practice of #countingitalljoy was a lifeline for me while I prepared for Reset Retreat.
Finding the perfect Airbnb counted as joy. When I found just the right giveaways, I counted that all joy, too. The charcuterie board my brother made for me, the pumpkin swag I found at the dollar store, the messages that started to come together… joy.
The days when no one signed up, I counted it all joy. (Not saying I felt like it; it was a choice.) Staring at the blank computer screen, endless grocery shopping trips, kitchen basically impassable because of all the boxes and bins…. joy, joy, joy.
Friends donating so others could attend—JOY.
Making new friends—JOY.
Using the gifts that He gave me—JOY.
Learning how much I still have to learn—JOY.
All that counting added up to the overall joy of Reset Retreat.
Lesson Learned: The journey is every bit as important and precious as the destination.
7. Last month I shared a message called “Cultivating a Life of Beauty and Strength.” It was based on a prophetic word about women being roses with stems of steel. This past weekend I got to experience that beauty and strength up close and personal with the women at Reset. It was breathtaking listening to their stories. As they wrapped themselves in a “mantle of praise,” I thought to myself, “Beautiful warriors, every single one of them.”
Lesson Learned: We need to tell each other how beautiful we are.
8. Last but by no means least, never underestimate the power of cheese. I brought home tons of crackers but sadly, very little cheese.
Gorgonzola? Gone. Brie? Bye, bye. Asiago? Adios.
Lesson Learned: If you build a cheese board, they will come.
I’m looking forward to my own Reset at the end of the month when Roger and I head to the mountains; we’re praying there will still be some fall color to enjoy. In the meantime, I’m making notes and jotting down ideas for how to make the next Reset Retreat even better, based on what I’m learning.
Tell me, what do you look for in a retreat?
And now a contest for those of you who weren’t able to attend Reset Retreat!
Winner will receive the same giveaways that our attendees did: a Reset journal, a copy of Bob Sorge’s book, “Reset, 30 Ways to a Consistent Prayer Life,” homemade soap, a handmade piece of pottery by Pottery With Parkinson’s, a Clinging Cross, a “Re-words” bookmark, and a “Re-word” stone.
Rules to enter:
*1 entry for commenting on post
*1 entry for sharing
*1 entry for subscribing to blog
*1 entry for Tweeting
Winner will be announced on Sunday, October 13th.
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When you meet a new writer friend and discover she’s publishing a book about one of your favorite “Re-words,” you pay attention. I’m happy to have Tracy Steel with us today on the blog and to introduce you to her recently launched book, A Redesigned Life, Uncovering God’s purpose when life doesn’t go as planned.
All of us are living a life we did not design, but one that God is redesigning for us. Like a human interior designer or artist uses a set of design principles to help them create, God uses his own set of codes to create a couture life for each of us. Recognizing what these are is key to uncovering the purposes of God when life doesn’t go as planned. Similar to all the other “re” words we’ve looked at here in this space, the word “redesigned” is no different. God is busy redesigning each of us so the focus of our hearts and mind will return to being fixed on him.
In her new book, A Redesigned Life, published in partnership with Revell/Baker Publishing Group, author Tracy Steel considers six principles of design and how God also uses the principles of movement, emphasis, pattern, contrast, balance, and space to redesign our lives. Each of these principles enable us to uncover something spectacular about the purposes of our creative God. The following excerpt from Tracy’s new book focuses on the principle of emphasis and how it helps us to see the “No’s” of God differently:
I love simple and elegant design. We’ve all seen pictures of a living room with its crisp white walls and cream sofa. Imagine a coffee table in the middle of that living room. On top of the table sits a glass vase filled with a bouquet of orange tulips or powder blue hydrangeas. Or perhaps there is a turquoise-and-white paisley pattern rug under the coffee table. Maybe there is a large abstract oil painting hanging on the wall composed of green, blue, and purple horizontal stripes. Our eyes are drawn to the flowers, to the rug, or to the oil painting because of the pop of color they provide among all the white. This is the essence of emphasis as a design principle. Emphasis makes us stop, helping us focus. A designer uses shapes, texture, or color to create emphasis.
Imagine the same living room but now everything in it is red—from the couch to the walls to the flowers to the rug. I don’t want to linger or enjoy the space because it’s overwhelming and nothing grabs my attention. There’s too much red. Nothing is emphasized.
In the same way, our world is pressing us to be like an all-red room. We must be all things to all people all the time, it seems. Good at everything. Involved in everything. Know everyone. I’m tired of the pressure, of all the striving, competition, and backbiting. Give me some white space, please.
I need God to give me emphasis and so do you.
God is not asking us to be all things to all people all the time. He’s the one who is capable of doing and being this. He’s the one who is all-knowing. God alone is our ever-present help and shield. We’re only to add our little pop of color into the corner of the world in which he places us. We do this through the emphasis that God has designed for each of us. The beautiful thing is, all our emphases or callings will look different. However different they may be, our little pops of color should cause others to rest the eyes of their hearts and minds upon God. And if we are doing too many things, we will be way too red or stressed out and no one will want to linger around us either.
But what if we really feel like we found our calling or purpose, and then it doesn’t happen? Sometimes the emphasis we wish for or desire in our hearts will not come to pass because God will say no and not allow it to happen. We may assume this is because God is not good or fair. Or maybe we believe we are not good enough for God to use us, or that God doesn’t care about the dreams or passions that we feel inside us. But this isn’t true.
Look at God’s “No,” from a different perspective. God, because he is good and is in the process of redesigning us, could be saying no to our good desires simply because they are not in line with the emphasis he has designed for our overall life. And God’s no enables our pop of color to be a beneficial and beautiful one. Here it is in a nutshell:
God’s no = not our emphasis
God’s no = the revealing of his emphasis for us
God’s no = his protection, preventing us from becoming an all-red room
And when God says no, that means we will have the opportunity to say yes to something that he has decided is better for us, because in his providence he knows and has already designed what is to come. So if you ever thought that by now you’d be living in the city or home of your dreams and making one million dollars and, well . . . you aren’t, it’s okay to admit your disappointment or feelings of failure to yourself and to your God. Ask him to heal you of those feelings. Realize that you’re beautifully gifted to do something else with your life and that God is redesigning you so you can bless the lives of others and bring glory to him.
Don’t be all things, just be you-things.
Your emphasis matters in God’s eyes. May this encourage you whenever your life doesn’t go as planned.
To hear more of Tracy’s musings, visit her online home and subscribe at www.tracymsteel.com. “A Redesigned Life” is now available for purchase at various online retailers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Baker Publishing Group, and Christian Book Distributors.
Tracy Steel graduated from Kansas State University with a BS in interior design in 1998 and has a master’s degree in biblical and theological studies from Phoenix Seminary. As a project designer, Tracy created and coordinated the design and space planning of commercial spaces for clients such as Bank One, Wells Fargo, Express Scripts, DHS, and Lockheed Martin. Moving from one type of interior design to another, Tracy then worked in full-time youth ministry, serving as the director of female students at Scottsdale Bible Church. God’s true design for Tracy now involves improving the interior space of the hearts and minds of women around her. Currently stationed in Washington, DC, this military wife and mother of two enjoys linking up with other bloggers, leading Bible studies at her local church, and speaking at various moms’ groups and women’s ministries events nationwide. She is also the author of Images of His Beauty, a 10-week Bible study for young women that focuses on identity, overcoming and healing through Christ, and bearing the image of Christ.