The respond-able woman

respondable

You’re pretty, you’re beautiful and I love you so much!

This is my sons daily declaration of love for me. This is his spiel. He speaks these words again and again, eyes fixed and awaiting my response.

Of course I always respond. I scoop him up and smooch him to pieces; I drop what I’m doing and run to him; I hug him, thanking him for his sweet words; and I respond with my daily spiel back at him, “you’re brave and you’re cool and I love YOU so much!

Whatever my response, there are squeals and warm smiles all around. I’m not even sure what he gets a kick out of the most, expressing his love to me or receiving a response from me.

Now, could you imagine if I didn’t respond? What if, after his daily declaration, I ignored his words and continued chopping my vegetables, clearing away dirty dishes or applying my mascara. What if I completely disregarded his words?

Breaks my heart to even think about ignoring this little man of mine. My love for him is colossal. I would call myself an irresponsible mama; irresponsible with his tender, little-man-sized heart.

But lets look at it from another angle, shall we? What about when the words exchanged between those who love one another are filled with hurt and pain – words strewn amidst a battlefield of conflict – why is it so easy to ignore and disregard one another?

Is not a bold yet distressed word that communicates pain an equal expression of love for another as an effortless word of affirmation?

I would rather my teenage daughter express an awkward and angry frustration with me than isolate herself in her room, ignoring my knock on her door and giving me the silent treatment.

I would rather my husband speak an absolutely insensitive response regarding my ridiculous behavior, than to have him hold it in, and allow it to grow into resentment.

What if, in our unconditional love, we could give permission to those we love, to express their anger, pain, or worry without fear of rejection, silent treatment or cold-shoulder from us?

In relationships, we all posses the ability to respond to one another, but its in our capability – the action of responding – that demonstrates our measure of love in that relationship.

Being responsible enough to hold someones heart means we must be trustworthy, accountable and attentive to one another not just during good times, but also in tough times.

I’m guilty of this. Minutes after a heated argument, my husband walks up behind me, wrapping his arms around my waist saying “I love you“, I mumble a quiet, “love ya too” and pull away. I’m thinking: too soon, just give me 10 more minutes of cold shoulder. 

It’s too easy to not respond at all. One small effortless restraint of engaging in communication and poof – instant power. And unlike a physical blow to the face, there is no outward evidence of wrong doing, so clearly there are no grounds for taking full responsibility for this behavior.

Unless…we choose to live as responsible people.

To be responsible means to be answerable and accountable for something under your care. With great responsibility comes great opportunity. Our longing for deep and intimate relationships must be coupled with a great sense of responsibility for the health and care of those relationships.

Think of conflict as a tennis match: when we respond to it, we are taking a ball of power – which is the ministry of reconciliation – and we are serving it into another’s court. They, in turn, respond and send it back. This ball of power needs to go back and forth, engaging in dialogue and connectivity, to allow fear and anger to be sloughed off enough so that the core, which is the truth, may finally be revealed.

Nobody likes to play with a ball hog. He’s a hoarder of power; that guy who doesn’t pass the basketball to his team mates; continually shooting from the free-throw line. He’s a one-man-show. To him its all about winning – not about playing together.

Having a healthy relationship is not about  winning, it’s about leaving the court of conflict together, with love and unity in tact.

Too often we see one another as opposition instead of someone on our team and we overlook the real enemy: division.

We say I’m not getting into the ring with you… and..take your gloves off…because we are looking at conflict as a me against you battle. But sadly, this is just a very clever illusion that we fix our eyes upon while the real battle is well underway.

Until we choose to see one another as allies to the end, we will continue to lose the fight for unity.

Until we choose to live responsibly in our relationships, until we choose to step into the ring with one another, or lace up our gloves and fight alongside one another, we will continue to remain at a disadvantage.

Here’s the treasure: we have a Great Mediator.

He loves those on all “sides” of the offense. He has given us each the grace to face any conflict without fear of condemnation. He has given us each the courage to engage and respond to one another in truth and love; and He has given us each the strength to persevere through pain and vulnerability to reach the other side…reconciliation.

I know grandma taught you…if you ‘aint got nuthin’ nice to say, don’t say nuthin’ at all…but this might just be where the whole silent treatment came from, and it simply doesn’t work. What works is responding; what works is engaging; what works is communication and collaboration.

An equipped woman is not only a responsible woman, but a respond- able woman.

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When it’s OK to be a relentless butthole

I dream about the day when it doesn’t take an alarming diagnosis for us to stop, look around, and assess the quality of our life.

We are just fine with shutting people out of our life, until tragedy strikes and we have no one to walk alongside us.

We are just fine eating poorly, until we are officially charged diabetic, then we begin taking seriously what we put in our bodies and start taking better care of ourselves.

We are just fine with our mediocre life and our mediocre relationships, until we are diagnosed with Cancer, then all of a sudden we have a great desire to live the life we truly want to live, and only do it alongside a few *quality* friends.

Everything is OK until we get that official report telling us it’s not OK and it’s time to do something about it.

Truth is, everything was not OK, we just got comfortable with not Ok, and not OK eventually turned into good enough.

One compromise after another and we are deep in a life that we never *really* wanted. One cigarette after another, and now we are chain smokers. Never thought about that in high school, did we. When we started smoking, it was just Ok.

Year after year of OK leads us down the path we never *really* wanted to travel on.

Cancer grows like that, you know.

One cancerous cell, overpowering and attaching itself onto other cells – growing larger and spreading out with each union – until one day you go to the doctor to investigate a small lump. He reveals a large tumor hidden beneath the surface.

Conflict in relationships is similar.

One small disagreement between a friend or family member, left unattended, layers itself on top of one offense after another; growing the conflict larger and spreading it wider through gossip and passive aggressive behaviors. Until one day your friendship breaks apart and dies.

What if we saw conflict – however small or ridiculous – as cancer? What if we saw the potential of life or death in the way that we dealt with it?

Cancer, left unattended, kills. Conflict in relationships, left unattended, kills.

What if we chose to fight for unity just as passionately as we fight for life after a cancer diagnosis?

Here’s something you may not understand about fighting cancer: while the medicine, radiation, chemotherapy and surgery are the weapons that remove the cancerous cells, your responsibility is to focus on using the weapons that are necessary for infusing LIFE: creating a culture of PEACE, maintaining an attitude of JOY and strengthening yourself in the FAITH.

This is the real war on cancer. Doctors battle against DEATH (cancer). We fight for LIFE (hope).

All sides must work together, it’s a team effort; a united front.

I came to understand this while fighting alongside my daughter. We were a holistic family, we owned a wellness clinic. At first, we began fighting against the medical system, questioning everything and doubting their dangerous treatment.

When we finally recognized their heart was FOR life, we began to trust. Trust brought us peace and enabled us to walk hand in hand with their methods. Unity. Same mission, different assignments.

You see, there was a conflict going on in my daughter’s body. Some cells were fighting FOR life and there were cells fighting FOR disease. It wasn’t until all parties came into alignment to fight FOR life that we began seeing great progress and eventually won the war on cancer in her body.

If we would see conflict as just as dangerous, just as life-threatening, in relationships, we would begin working harder, fighting more fiercely and giving all we have, to maintain UNITY.

Instead, we see conflict as two faces. One is you and the other is me. This is where we get tripped up. The enemy loves to put a face to our pain; we just have to agree with him and then point our finger at them. Truth is – conflict is just feelings and emotions that rub against each other wrong. It’s how we handle these feelings and emotions, how we respond to them that determines if a relationship will survive and thrive or lie down and die.

Who, after being diagnosed with cancer, says, “Oh well, guess I’ll just sit here and wait for something to change.”

Absolutely not. We look for a cure, we search for treatment, and we change our behaviors and adjust our lifestyle – all in hopes of staying alive.

A friend and fellow cancer survivor calls himself “a relentless butthole”. He will pursue life, pursue friendships and relentlessly express his love and concern for you, whether you like it or not. I get that. Who doesn’t want friends like that?!

Because that’s what survivors do: we fight to stay alive.  So many people have learned how to fight hard *for* life. That’s why I believe we are able to fight FOR unity. But first we must become united in cause, committing to the cause – it has to be of value to us, the relationship has to be of value to us.

The greatest way to communicate someone’s value in your life is to commit to fighting FOR the relationship.

What about you – are you in conflict, and are you fighting FOR what you value or are you laying down and waiting for something to change on its own?

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Ingredients Matter

My wedding day was a day of hope for all the single ladies of the world. All the single ladies. ALL the single ladies.

I do not wish even one day of my broken-hearted, continual-wounding, lying-cheating, on again-off again, decade-of-disastrous-dating, on anybody! I have enough stories of stupidity to write the sequel to the book, He’s just not that into you. It would be titled, In Case You Didnt Hear Me The First TimeHe Really Is – Not That Into You.

You want examples? Ok.

Let’s see, I dated a guy who stole my Vicodin prescription after I had gotten a root canal (Theif). I dated a guy who “took me out” for my 21st birthday and let me pay for my own drinks all night (Cheapskate). I dated a guy who made a compelling case as to why he had rose petals on the floor of his car, yet I did not receive said roses (Cheater). I dated a guy who thought it was funny to pull the keys out from the ignition while I was driving (Lunatic). I dated a guy who stole registration tags off other cars to put on his own (Criminal). Oh, and I also dated a guy who wished me good luck in finding the perfect guy, simply because I had expected him to tell the truth (Liar).

I wish I could tell you these were all deal breakers and I kicked them to the curb. But they weren’t and I didnt. And I really wish I wasnt telling you that some of these guys were actually the same guy. Dude. I know.

Dating seemed so full of chance, like a fortune cookie, where you never really knew how the inside was going to read. And then, when I would open my heart too quickly, I found myself with the standard fortune of fighting for communication, reading between the lines for honesty and then squinting to find any integrity.

I don’t even like fortune cookies, yet I nibble away while I read my fortune, every time. Maybe I’m just a snacky reader? Or maybe I unknowingly consume whatever dangles a mystery in front of me.

Men had always been a puzzle to figure out. I grew up with all sisters and worked in a salon full of women. I knew women. Men, however, intrigued me. In fact, I had awakened to the notion that they had intrigued me entirely far more than I intrigued myself.

Not ok.

Immediately, the adventurer in me took off, searching for buried treasure. This time it was my own I was digging for. What I discovered was a beauty that was worth defending, a value worth standing up for and a precious spirit that needed great care and tenderness. I started to treat myself with respect and dignity, raising standards and tightening security.

Storms have a way of doing that in our life, where we must shout out to the starboard crew of our inner workings, pleading “batten down the hatches!”

I think perhaps I had been secretly waiting for someone like Monica from Friends or Miranda from Sex and The City, to call out my inner beauty and lay it in front of me and say, “You see, here it is! Stop settling!”. Well, they never called. But my brother-in-law did. He asked me why I was going to dinner with the guy I just broke up with. He asked me to take better care of myself, because I was worth it.

From that day on, I ditched the fortune cookies. Not only did it turn out that I was a bit gluten intolerant, I began desiring healthier company. I listened to my heart and checked labels, discerning what was good for me. There was ownership and responsibility; there was sifting and appropriate timings. There was caution near the heat and there were times for cooling off. Then, there was feasting.

I married a man who saw my inner beauty and cupped his hands around my heart, promising to cherish it. This man affirms every strength in me and encourages my potential in every weakness. This is the love I had been looking for all along. This treasure, this heart of gold, that I had hoped even existed, was now hand in hand with mine.

What I’ve learned: ingredients matter. And the treasure within me is a very large purse, so I can absolutely afford quality elements.

I may not make a mean casserole, but these are the recipes I hope to pass down from generation to generation; the recipes that make good relationships and strong communities.

I might not be able to save my teenage daughter from every heartbreak, but I believe that in telling my stories, bless it, I can at least protect her from a few deep and scathing wounds.

When she begins interviewing for jobs, I will share stories of glass ceilings and stories of thriving leadership, so she will ask the questions that reveal the integrity and direction of the institution.

When she struggles with friends, I will share stories of jealousy and rivalry as well as stories of fierce sisterhood, so she can avoid the traps of competition and carefully examine the hearts of those she aligns herself with.

When she struggles with her faith, I will share the stories of hopelessness and division as well as the stories of living amidst hope-filled unity, so she is able to identify the evidence of healthy community.

Guideposts.

My stories will be guideposts; not locking her in, but giving her a compass of true north. The prickly brush that once obscured the truth for me, has painstakingly been cleared back a bit, providing my daughter, my most precious treasure, a much safer passage.

And for that cause, I am Ok with taking a few blows.

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Follow

“Bloom where you are planted” – heard that one since forever ago. I’ve bought into this statement by way of stationary, journals and pretty wall pieces because it sounds so lovely. At 38 years old, I have found a problem with this. No one ever told me that it’s best to seek fertile soil first.

Few have been raised to investigate the grounds we allow to encompass our roots; even less have been taught to sample the waters that flow nearby or simply view ourselves worthy of moving about to find the rich soil.

When it comes to choosing friends, seeking a life-partner, starting up a new business, or deciding on the best schools for our children, however, we strongly encourage each other to seek quality. We read labels and check ingredients in the foods we buy because we care about the quality of what we put in our bodies.

Even our Creator, the greatest of all loving and nurturing shepherds, says to “taste and see that I am good”. We are encouraged to experience his heart before we give him ours.

In doing this, God invites us to build trust in Him. This is his first lesson of leadership. When he says follow me, we do as He does, we lead as he leads. And the first thing He does, as a leader, is establish trust.

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My pastor talked about courage in leadership this past week and how in order to become a great leader, first you must be a good follower.

A good follower tastes, tests, experiences and practices what they learn. A good follower asks questions and searches the heart. A good follower is alert to contradictions; active amidst injustice, and holds themselves responsible for the integrity of the whole. A good follower knows his leaders voice.

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As one  wounded out of unhealthy church community, It breaks my heart to no longer view Gods house as a place of safety and refuge; of sanctuary and love. It saddens me to feel so much disillusionment towards the place I once believed to be a vessel of abundant hope.

Turns out there are many of us. We find simplicity and contentment outside the walls, foregoing the exclusivity and corrupt culture that continues to dismember itself. He’s all we need.

Some days I wish I could ignore the zeal I have for His house. If only my heart didn’t beat for the restoration of His Church. Why must I love unity so much?

I guess I am my Fathers daughter.

I cry out, “Lord, how can you tolerate this in your house? Do something!”

And He replies as He did in Isaiah 6:8, “Whom shall I send?”

My heart quickly responds, “Here I am. Send me.”

Responsibility; a good follower is responsible for the health of the whole.

Yes, community is messy, but messy and sloppy are separated by one word: carelessness. A healthy community is in no way a perfect community. Healthy is simply balanced, thriving, full of love and unmistakably flourishing.

Healthy means truth is upheld and communication flows heartily; where hope abounds and peace resides; and healthy means that while conflict inevitably rises, unity is the goal for all who are members of the body.

A healthy community is reliant upon responsible members.

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While serving in leadership at a beauty institute, I discovered what it looks like to flourish under the influence of a humble and loving visionary. This generous man empowered my leadership, investing in my personal growth and development. His students were inspired by inspiring and influential teachers. He taught me that growth comes from the inside and extends outward and I followed his lead.

The soil here was rich and hearty; good for growing all kinds of wonderful people.

I am humbled to have tasted of good, healthy leadership. I am relieved to have experienced community that believed in interdependence, an honoring of our differences for the whole body to prosper. There was no need to preach about I Corinthians 12, I lived it every day.

After stepping away for a few years, I began to follow my heart back into leadership. The search for integrity to align with was excruciating. Thankfully, the time I had spent feasting on integrity and wisdom grew capabilities that protected me. I was able to sniff out intimidation and oppression; recognize arrogant and manipulative authority; steering clear of chauvinism and patronizing leadership.

We are placed within families to be tended to as children; when we mature, we become responsible for seeking out healthy associations, partnerships and mates. When we walk in spiritual maturity, it matters where we plant ourselves and it matters that we become responsible followers.

kyak

When she is responsible, she cares about the integrity of her culture, especially the one that shapes her faith. When she is responsible, she cares about the quality of spiritual soil that nurtures her children as well as yours. When she is responsible, she cares about her own spiritual growth and development; it matters to her to be aligned with a community that is healthy, loving and thriving so she can safely bloom into all God has for her.

We are not weak-willed women, easily swayed or cunningly manipulated into silence and passivity. We are women who plant our roots in fertile soil in responsibility for ourselves, for this family of believers and for all our sons and daughters.

As we pray for unity in His house, we become responsible for laboring for it. As we pray for the flames in our childrens hearts to remain ablaze, we become responsible for fostering a culture that stokes. When division threatens our house, we become responsible to band together in unity.

Wisdom and discernment are sharpened when practiced. Let the zeal for His house consume us all towards greater responsibility, wider ranges of influence and more loving leadership.

It’s time for good followers to #LEAD

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Covered

~for my family~

What does it mean to be covered in your love?

When you invite me, my lovely one, I place my love over you, like a cover.

My love keeps you warm while bitter cold blows all around you.    

When you move about, my covering of love moves with you. It is not too tight, making it difficult for your expressions; not too loose, smothering you with excess.

My covering is a perfect fit on your frame. 

My love protects you from life’s torrents; it is water-resistant, leak-proof and good for all-weather.

Why, a covering that doesn’t repel the rain ends up becoming a heavier weight upon your shoulders when the rain really pours down!

covering

My covering of love is a shelter under the scorching sun.  Though you may feel the heat, you will not be burned.

My love stays with you as you stretch and grow; remaining fully extended over you. 

My love covering is soft, pliable and easily transportable; humble; eager to be used by you. 

If you only know this much of my love, hold fast to this understanding:  real love is a covering, not a cage.

I tell you this so you will be careful and not be deceived. 

I see cages disguised as coverings, placed unknowingly over good-hearted people. 

I watch them wither and dry up; trapped by rules and entangled in regulations.  

The immoveable bars are one-size-fits-all, binding growth with boundaries of steel.

The cage tells them to bloom where they are planted, right within its own walls.

But my covering of love, helps you find fertile soil, where roots grow deep and limbs extend wide.  

My love whispers guidance, helping you make right choices.

The cage tells you what to say and what to do.

If you only know this much of my love, hold fast to this understanding: my love is a covering, not a cage. 

My love follows you, wherever you go.

My love is with you always and forever.

And as you are free, let them see you as free, those bound by the cages of “covering”.

For you are the one to reflect my love, dispelling all doubt and dismissing all fear, to those good-hearted, withered up ones.

And when they are brave, they will unlock that cage, and look to your beautiful face.

It will be me that they see, and my covering of love; waiting to set them all free.

XOXOXO

Melinda

 

 

 

 

Wide Open

Squeals of delight encompassed the room as we bounced ideas around for our next women’s ministry event. What social event were we planning this time and how big was our budget? We also had hoped someone brought a Bundt cake so we could treat ourselves while we planned the details to treating ourselves. How fun this women’s ministry was and how lovely we all were.  Social club? Well the name says women’s ministry, so I was sure this is what we were doing, especially because they said so.

Yet, the same 50 women came to every luncheon, fall retreat, and every annual women’s tea. The same 50 women attended cookie exchanges, ornament exchanges, and spring teas. Even after several years of rising attendance, the same 50 women enjoyed the spring retreat, Christian concert and summer bible study.

One day I woke up and realized we were simply ministering to each other; shining our lights back and forth onto one another and then again onto ourselves. A collective display of God’s love expressed outward could so easily have blinded the eyes of our community, but instead our social-club, women’s ministry bubble, limited His exposure.

wide open spaces

Over time I watched women come and go, unnoticed; ministries birthed and quickly aborted by those who govern the bubble. Bible studies became cliques, where a broken-hearted woman could not just sign up for the broken-hearted community group, as there were exclusions that may disqualify her.

I am ashamed of myself for allowing this religious bubble to mislead me into believing what ministering really looked like, how it was done and to whom the rights of ministering were given.  I am embarrassed that I allowed this bubble to shape my faith and influence my beliefs of women who minister.

I wish I had known my Father better. I wish I had really known his heart, back then.  Maybe we all could have stood to know his heart a bit better, maybe then we would have expressed it in less selfish ways.

His heart loves us regardless of the show we put on; His heart never closes its door on us; His heart does not plug its ears when we speak and it will never ignore our knockings.

His love is not exclusive, it is all inclusive.

His heart is to make room for all to share their stories of His goodness, yet we continue to sift out who we think is worthy, who we think is ready, or who we know and like the best. How lucky He is to have us working on His behalf; disqualifying and skimming away all we believe are unworthy.

His heart lets us speak freely, but we do not know how to let others do the same. We quickly retreat, or we grow silent when confronted. We cannot even hear one another’s heart when it is spoken to us because we are too busy processing how it is making us feel.

His heart desires unity and He delights in communication; we have grown sharp at the manipulation of the silent treatment. He blesses the action of peacemaking and we bless the art of passivity.

Bubbles and glass ceilings were not put in place by my Father and they can be broken. We have also been given the spirit of courage and power to pick up our mat and move ourselves out from under them.

It is our right and also our responsibility.

Slide to the left, scooch to the right; whichever side you shimmy to you may just find a wide-open space that will allow your faith to grow BIGGER, WIDER AND WILDER.

There is fresh air in the wide-open spaces; possibilities are unlimited and opportunities are vast. There is spaciousness here. Your lungs fill to maximum capacity and your legs move you farther than you ever could have moved them before. You see, it’s cramped in that bubble.

Our Father watches in delight as our eyes grow big like saucers, witnessing things we never knew existed; feeling like a child full of wonder. Then, as we look back at Him in a gasp of the awesomeness of it all, our words fail to release the full expression of what we are experiencing and He looks at us – eyes wide with excitement – saying,

I know! This is what it is to be free, my love. Jump as high as you like, dive as deep as you wish. I love every movement you make. Sing as loud as you want, shout for joy if you desire. I love the sound of your voice.”

This is when you know you can never go back to what you had before. You may try, but you will notice how dimly lit it is in the bubble and how quiet and reserved you are expected to be. You will become fully aware of the staleness of the air inside, so different from the freshness you inhaled while walking in the wide-open spaces.

Your ears hear the hopelessness so frequently spoken here, then trapped within the walls and ceiling; never able to fully be released or forgotten. You see it now, played out in marriages, relationships, stress and of course, division.

You will think to yourself, how did I not see this before?

As a child we are fed. A good-hearted child gladly receives the nurture and provision they are given. Our hearts have been grateful and obedient, but never allowed to fully mature; never encouraged to discern. As we mature, we discover His pure love and our hearts crave it more and more. When we know His love, we can more easily spot an imposter.

We start to investigate the heart to reveal the truth. We know this much:

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. – 2 Corinthians 3:17

And the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23

Are you seeing these characteristics in your faith community? Think about it.

His love for us is so great, so wide and so deep. I know you know that song. You may have sung it a thousand times, like I have. I challenge you with this: are you giving God the space to deliver His love to you in just as equal proportions or are you living under the bubble of religion, where both the receipt and expression of His love is limited?

Yes, God’s presence still resides in the small, cramped and narrow spaces, but He wants to give you so much more.

Tell me how I can help you or share this with someone who needs to hear it today.

For Freedom,

XOXOXO

M