I am qualified

Qualified.

This is my word right now. It’s the word I chose to stand under for the whole of 2018. Because the truth is most days I feel pretty unqualified. Unqualified to raise these three humans entrusted to me. Unqualified to lead by example, to teach them how to build a strong marriage rooted in love and honesty and forgiveness; teach them how to put Jesus at the center of their lives.

I struggle to claim words like “writer” and “ministry leader” because don’t you need to have a diploma with these words on them or get a paycheck for doing them before you can be them? I don’t, so I am unqualified.

I struggle to claim the words instructional designer or teacher when I’ve been developing curriculum and delivering training professionally for 2 years. Because it’s not what I went to school for, I am unqualified.

But then I realize the truth is that even with a Master’s Degree in Marketing and 15 years experience building and managing websites, I never felt completely qualified to call myself a subject matter expert in online marketing.

I could spend hours trying to figure out why I struggle to claim these things. To feel qualified. But the bottom line is we all know that God doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

So right now I’m working to claim it. To own my calling and lean on heavenly qualification.

God gave me these three children to raise and love and teach. I am qualified to be their mother.

God brought this man into my life and called us into marriage. I am qualified to be his wife.

God gave me words and a deep-seated desire to write them down and share them with others. I am qualified to be a writer.

God gave me a heart for women, for leading retreats, and speaking truth and hope and light into other’s lives. I am qualified to lead a ministry.

God led me to a second career as a training designer and manager, a job I love and work at every day. I am qualified for it.

And whatever is next. Whatever God whispers to my heart and guides me toward. I will be qualified. Not because of what I’ve done, but because of Who does the qualifying.

What’s your word?

 

photo credit: IRRphotography A Writers Desk via photopin (license)

 

Is there a reason for everything?

When I was in college at Appalachian State University, I was super involved with the campus Lutheran Student Association (LSA). It was the first group I joined when I got to school and in many ways the friends I met in that group were a life-line during those four years. They were my people and they helped me get closer to Jesus. I loved being a part of the group and the larger church community that supported them.

Each year I became increasingly more involved — serving on leadership, helping to plan and lead events, mentoring other students, etc. By my senior year it came time to hold elections for the group’s leadership and I decided to run for president. There was another girl who was younger, had not been a part of the group for as many years, who also decided to run.

I remember sitting in the fellowship hall of the church after the voting process and hearing the announcement that the other girl had been elected. She had won and my heart sank. I won’t lie, my ego was bruised, but I also felt like the group that had been “my people” had turned away and said, “you’re not the one that we want, we choose someone else.”

I know a leadership position for a campus church group doesn’t sound like a big deal or something to get upset about, but at the time I remember feeling devastated, hurt, even cast-out.

However, I’ll never forget that moments after the results were announced the pastor of the church and leader of our campus group — who had become a great mentor and surrogate father to me during my time at Appalachian — came over and rested his hand on my shoulder, leaned down and whispered in my ear, “I really wanted that for you.” Then he gave my shoulder a squeeze and walked away.

In that moment it was like he said, “I see you. I see what your heart desires, and because I care about you, I want you to have it.”

I’ve thought about that moment a lot over the years and what it meant to know that someone saw me and saw my heart.

A lot changed for me that year. Partly because of the hurt I carried from that event, I pulled away from LSA and church. Some other really hard things had already been happening in my life and it became a bit of a perfect storm. I slipped into a deep, deep depression my senior year. I didn’t go to class, I started getting migraines and had to be taken to the emergency room because of one that was so bad I couldn’t stop vomiting. I even contemplated suicide at one point. As my friends struggled to understand what was going on with me and how to be around this changed person, I withdrew from them. I was angry, I was lonely, and I was scared.

But during this time I stayed in touch with that same Pastor. Even though I wasn’t going to LSA meetings or to church much, I would stop by his office every week and we would talk. He would encourage me and pray for me. In many ways he was the life-line that kept me from completely severing my relationship with God.

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We often say, “everything happens for a reason.” I have said this frequently over the years. But as I get older I’m starting to question if that’s true, or is it just a nice platitude we tell ourselves? Does everything really happen for a reason? Is there a reason a mother has to bury her child? Is there a reason a husband and father would lose his entire family in a car crash? Is there a reason the young, healthy newlywed gets a cancer diagnosis on her 26th birthday?

Do I believe God creates good out of every situation? Absolutely, without a doubt I do. I have seen it time and again where beauty has risen out of the ashes and joy and love have transformed the ugliest, darkest situations and sorrowful times. But that still doesn’t mean those things — those desperate, break-a-person-in-two things — were ordained by God and happened for a reason.

Of course God can make something beautiful out of life’s ugly, and create strength and redemption from weakness and brokenness. In the midst of tragedy He can bring together people who otherwise would not have come into each other’s lives. But I cannot sit here and say God caused a tragic accident so that He could do those things. Or that there is some bigger purpose for a mother and father to bury their child. The reality is that sometimes hard, devastating, crappy stuff happens.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not trying to compare me losing some silly election for a college student group 25 years ago to these other real-life tragedies. But I can look back and tell you that I don’t see any reason why that happened. I don’t see any reason why God would have created that situation, with a darkness already looming in my life. But I often wonder how or if that year would have been different had I not pulled away from my friends and from church. Had I not felt a little bit cast-aside.

And yet, I do see where God made sure there was someone there in the midst of that who said, “I see you.” And that created a life-line for me to get through a really difficult time.

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Recently my daughter had a pretty disappointing thing happen to her. Something she wanted badly and had worked hard for, and due to a simple mistake — a forgotten deadline — she lost the opportunity. When she came home in tears my heart just broke for her.

Being a mom I wanted so badly to look for the reason. I wanted to say to her, “there must be a reason, let’s look for it together. What’s the good that can come out of this, how is God going to use this?” But I couldn’t bring myself to say it because the truth is, I don’t know if there is a reason. Maybe it’s just a really crummy thing that happened.

Will she learn from this experience and never miss a deadline again? Maybe. But I’m not sure that her feeling badly about herself and the sense of failure and disappointment she is carrying were intended for some loftier purpose.

So instead of pulling out the mom advice on what’s the big lesson we can learn here, or what’s God’s reasoning, I was just honest with her and said, “You know what honey? This sucks. I know it hurts and you’re disappointed, and I’m so sorry. I really wanted this for you. Because you wanted this, I wanted it for you.

I see how hard you are working and what you’re working towards. I see you. And I want you to know that.

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There’s probably someone in your life who, right now, just needs to be seen. Maybe it’s one of your kids. Maybe it’s your spouse. Maybe it’s a sibling, a parent, a friend, or a co-worker. Maybe a teacher or a next-door neighbor. But I want you to find that person. Find someone who is going through something really crummy and please don’t give them that sad, old platitude that everything is happening for a reason when they start to pour out their heart to you. Instead, just come alongside them and simply say, “I’m so sorry. This sucks and I wanted better for you, because I care about you. Because I see you. I see your heart and I see that you’re hurting.

Maybe if we spend more time seeing each other and loving each other rather than trying to put quick fixes and patches on everything, then instead of wasting so much energy trying to understand why tragic things happen, we can simply be a beacon of light and love in the darkness.

Matthew 25:35-36

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A Back-to-School Prayer

The first day of school is always a weird jumble of emotions for me. I vacillate between being ecstatic that they have some place to be other than home, happy for a normal routine after a long summer without much structure, and pushing down that giant lump in my throat that forms knowing they are one more day closer to walking out the front door for good.

I think I’m probably not alone in this and most parents have a little bit of worry inside about what lies ahead for their children at the start of a new school year – will they like their teacher? Will their teacher like them? Will they choose kind friends? Will they get picked on because of their lisp/birthmark/crooked teeth/loud laugh/weight? Will they be pressured into doing something they don’t want to do? Will they come home crying because their best friend said they can’t be friends anymore? The list goes on.

At different times throughout the last 13 years of sending my little ones off to school, my heart has been burdened with all of these things. And unfortunately, many of these worries have become a reality at some point. If I’m not careful, I will carry these fears with me as I wave goodbye and send them off for another year, feeling helpless to do anything to protect them once they are out of my site.

But then I remember, there is something I can do: I can pray for them.

Here is a back-to-school prayer I wrote for my children, perhaps you will want to use this to pray over yours:

Dear Heavenly Father,

Please protect my child(ren) as they begin a new school year. I know that my daughter is uniquely and wonderfully made in your image, and I pray that she will remember who she is and be unafraid to be her true authentic self. You have blessed her with many special gifts and talents, but perhaps the most important is her ability to love others and be kind. Help her remember this and seek out the unlikely friend, the lonely classmate, the shy teammate.

When he feels scared, hurt, confused, angry, sad, or pressured by the world around him, please help him to remember You are there and so am I. When school is hard and my son feels inferior, unable, or incapable of what is being asked, help calm his mind and lead him to a teacher, aid, coach, or administrator that will show compassion and gently guide him in the right direction. And Lord, let him trust me enough to help, and help me to listen — truly and earnestly listen — to what he is trying to tell me instead of always trying to fix everything. At the end of the day, I pray that his struggles will make him rely on You more, and have more empathy and compassion for others.

Finally, I pray you will guide her friendships. Lead her to others that will love her for who she is, and not care about the clothes she wears, the backpack she carries, or how she fixes his hair. Help him find friends that lift him up instead of making him feel like he is not enough. And when there is conflict or hurt feelings, as there surely will be, help her to be humble enough to apologize first, and gracious enough to forgive without reservation.

May they always keep their eyes fixed ahead on You and your path.

Amen.

 

Originally posted on the Today Parents Parenting Team Community.

 

photo credit: woodleywonderworks first day school bus ritual via photopin (license)

Dear Daughter, here is the truth about modesty

I’m the mom of three teenagers, two of whom are daughters. Sadly, we’ve been having the same discussion about modesty and what clothing is, or is not, appropriate since they were about eight. But I finally realized that we’ve been having the wrong conversation.

There’s been much debate over school dress codes, and how clothes are made differently for boys and girls over the last few years. There’s been outcry over girls feeling body shamed, called out in front of peers for a peeping bra strap or wearing leggings, receiving detention, being sent home, or even suspended. There’ve also been parents rising up to call out the clothing manufacturers for the grown-up silhouettes being produced for young girls, and explain to school administrators how difficult it can be to find shorts and skirts that meet dress code lengths.

I’ll admit I’ve been relieved that my kids attend a conservative Christian school with a very clear-cut dress code, making clothing debates in the morning a bit easier by being able to say “that’s against the school dress code”. Sadly, though, I realized the message my girls have gotten from teachers, peers, and even me about the “why” behind the dress code has been inconsistent, at best. A recent conversation with my teen daughter and a friend brought to light their growing frustration over feeling like the sole purpose of the dress code was to make sure their male peers were not tempted by their bodies.

As a mom, I felt sad and a bit convicted that I had not done a better job of explaining the purpose behind modesty. It’s a topic that is not always easy to explain, but hearing these girls honestly share their understanding (or lack thereof) based on things they had heard or read, I finally understood what had been lacking in my explanations, and what, in general, is lacking from the conversation as a whole. Modesty is not about hiding our bodies or our femininity, it is about protecting and cherishing what is sacred.

What I mean by this is our innate sexual nature. Too often I think as parents, as Christians — as humans — we’re afraid to talk frankly about sex and sexuality. But the reality is we live in a world where women and girls are highly sexualized by the media and consumer landscape. This mass sexualization has not only desensitized us, but it has created an incredible misunderstanding about the God-given gifts of sex and sexuality. And, unfortunately, as long as we are afraid to speak the truth, our sons and daughters will continue to get all of their information from society, their peers, and the media, instead of us.

Society tells them expressing sexuality is a sign of strength and confidence.

Society tells them likability and desirability is directly related to appearance.

Society tells them anyone who promotes modesty is wanting them to hide their true selves or is prudish and puritanical.

Society tells them modesty is an attempt to devalue and oppress women, and puts all of the blame on them for male lust.

We are hard pressed to dispute these things as long as our best argument is “too much skin is a distraction”.

But here is what I am now telling my daughters:

It is not your job to worry about another person’s sin. Your body was created in God’s image and is not something to be embarrassed by or thought of as a temptation to others.

Sex is a beautiful gift created by God, and with it comes sexuality and sensuality. These are not things to be afraid of or ashamed of. But that gift and the things that come with it, are intended to be shared with only one person—your spouse.

You are so much more than your appearance. You are strength and love. You are smart and talented. You are designed to do great things and your body is a vehicle for accomplishing many of them. But, the moment you start to worry more about how you look than how you act is the moment you begin to devalue yourself and all of your gifts.

Magazines are fake. Television is fake. They are trying to sell you something, and mostly that something is the message that you are not good enough as you are. That’s a load of bull. You do not need to look like, dress like, sound like, or act like those images you see. Stop trying for the perfect selfie, finding the right pose, the right angle, the right lighting. You are wasting so much time trying to achieve something that is not only fake, but unimportant.

you are so much more than your appearance

I choose modesty not because I am trying to hide my sexuality, but because it is saved for my marriage and shared in love with my husband. I choose modesty not because it is my job to worry about my cleavage or collar bone tempting another man into sin, but because I worry about preventing my own sin and I know that vanity is one I struggle with. I choose modesty not because I want to look frumpy, hidden, or weak, but because I want to feel strong and capable so I can get to work on the important things God is calling me for, and taking the perfect selfie isn’t one of them.

Dear daughters, for all of these reasons I choose modesty, and I hope you will, too.

Modesty is about strength, not shame

Originally appeared on Her View From Home.

 

photo credit: Send me adrift  via photopin (license)

Join Our Summer Women’s Bible Study

Dear friend,

As a reader of Neither Height Nor Depth I want to invite you to join me for a free online Summer Women’s Bible Study I’m hosting. Beginning in July, each week I’ll send out an email with a brief lesson/story and list of daily scripture readings and prayer prompts. Then at the end of the week I will be hosting a Facebook live where we can all come together to discuss. But don’t worry if you can’t make it, the discussion will still be active after the “live” portion so you can read other’s thoughts and comment with your own. And if you’re not on Facebook, that’s OK, too! You will still receive the weekly email, allowing you to dig deeper into the Word this summer.

Our summer study will last 5 weeks, and it’s designed to be flexible, allowing you to study when and where you can!

If you’d like to join us, you can sign-up here.

And if you haven’t already done so, be sure to “like” Neither Height Nor Depth on Facebook so you can join the online discussion.

All my best,
Jelise