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Learning to Leap

Learning to Leap


Julia Foote believed in a dream.  Literally, a dream.  One apparently induced by fever.  Her dream was that God had told her to preach.  In mid-19th century America, this was a pretty outlandish claim.  Women weren’t preachers.  The obvious thing happened.  She woke up from her fevered dream, told her friends, husband and pastor about it and was promptly reminded that it she was delirious.

In a wonderful post over at SheLoves Magazine, Joy Howard tells the story of Julia and her band of sisters, the ones who supported her through and through, believing her crazy story and urging her forward.  They became a “hallelujah chorus,” the people saying “I believe in you.  You can do this.”

Oh, how we need those people around us.  Friends, if you do not have those people in your lives, get them—and fast. 

But there is another thing at work here and it’s some mysterious blend of faith and inner resolve.  In people who succeed at wildly improbable things, there is a common ability to take risk.  They do it not because they believe that they can’t fail but because they don’t see failure as the end. 

In educational theory, it’s called it a “growth mindset.”  People who have a growth mindset believe that they grow and change.  This is harder than it sounds, especially for adults who tend to get stuck believing we’re done being made.  It’s easy for us to see that a child must fall in order to walk.  It’s hard to apply that to our own adult falls, no matter how many quotes about courage we read. 

The other day, a friend of mine described an ache in her gut, the desire to live her life differently.  “It’s just that I realized I’ve been living a pretty safe life,” she said.  This is, of course, the dilemma for almost everyone.  We feel a tug towards something more but we are afraid to fail so we choose safety. 

We don’t just look before we leap, we study the fall.  We focus on the bottom, make sure we have a plan, a back-up plan and a soft landing place.  By the time we’ve done all that, we’ve forgotten why we were making the jump in the first place—suddenly, the other side doesn’t even seem like the goal.  We’ve become convinced that avoiding failure, not achieving success, was the goal all along.  And of course, the easiest way to avoid failure is not to make the leap in the first place.

We have to learn to leap.       

If we make our lives primarily about safety, we will spend all of our time analyzing, strategizing, dreaming and never really doing.  Plans, goals and hopes only take us so far.  At some point, we have to take a risk.

Here is a comfort, though: God is too big to fail.   You might fail.  You might will make a mistake somewhere along the way.  Things will probably be harder and take longer than you thought.  But even then, God will go on, probably even weaving your mistakes into some beautiful new tapestry that was bigger and better than you’d imagined. 

I don’t know what dream is on your heart, what hope is waiting to be born in you.  But I do know that when we act with love, we act with God.  And there is no act of love that is too small (or too big) for God to use. 

So go ahead.  Love deeply.  Live deeply.  Grab hold of a dream and see where it takes you.

Living On Purpose: A Short Guide

Living On Purpose: A Short Guide

living purpose
Last week on my Barefoot Facebook page I shared this lovely illustration:


It caught my attention because I’d done a few posts on discernment, aka “figuring out what the heck we’re supposed to be doing with our lives,” a while back.  Also, because that is hands-down always one of the most popular topics when I’m speaking or teaching.  And mostly because I am constantly trying to figure out what I’m supposed to be doing with my life.
So here’s what I like about this illustration: it takes a couple fuzzy ideas and makes them easy to understand.  It had the full effect of an “a-ha” moment for me, lightbulb over my head and everything.  The difference between vocation and mission?  Passion and career?  Yes!  It’s a framework I’ll hang onto.  
Here’s what I don’t like about this handy-dandy Venn diagram on steroids.  That little star in the middle labeled “purpose.”  Now that little star in the middle has to be labeled something because it is obviously a Big Deal.  Actually, some other versions of the diagram label the center “the sweet spot.”  Which makes more sense because it would be, obviously, a sweet spot.  Getting paid to do what you love and are good at and the world needs?  Hallelujah!  It makes my heart beat faster just thinking about it.
And it’s fairly unrealistic.  I know, I am always throwing water on the fire of hope that we can live the perfect life.  

I’m one of those nuts who believe that discipleship means making sacrifices.  

It’s not all living in a dream home, saving the world and getting paid for it.  And more often than not, I really believe that looking for this perfect life–this amazing place where all of our hopes and dreams come together, starred in the middle so we can’t miss it–holds us back from living with purpose.  

Now I’m not just picking on the poor person who adapted this diagram.  (I feel bad that someone’s feelings might be hurt, even on the internet by some lady they don’t even know and/or care about.)  It’s not really about the diagram, it’s about some bigger, human yearning that we’ve somehow tried to mash into a culture of status and consumption.  It’s like we’ve taken the very best of what’s inside of us, this desire for Something More, and tried to wrap and package it for easy use.  
Instant Purpose
Instant Purpose
Case in point: we talk about having a purpose.  Having it.  Like it’s something we own.  And maybe that’s the problem right there.  Maybe it’s time to stop thinking about “purpose” like it’s a commodity.  Maybe, instead, we could think about purpose as something we do, a series of choices that we make.  Maybe a life of purpose is built second-by-second.
Now here’s where it gets a little bit tricky because if a life of purpose is built second-by-second, then every second matters.  And that sounds like a whole lot of pressure.  There’s a downward spiral that starts with “making every second count” and ends with “never taking a break,” or “berating myself for those 5 minutes spend on Facebook.”  Neither of those takes us down the path of fulfillment.  So let’s hold that idea loosely so as not to make ourselves crazy.
What we might realize, though, is that there is power in this idea, too.  We might realize that it frees us up to make a thousand small, purposeful decisions rather than frantically trying to nail down the One True Thing that makes our life worth living.
Now, this does mean that we have to make choices in line with our priorities.  I know, right?  This sounds so obvious.  But it’s one of those principles that bears repeating because we are so bad at it.  (Ok, I am so bad at it and I’m assuming some of you are too.)  If you walked up to me today and asked me to name my goals right now, one of the things I would say is “I want to learn Spanish.”  Now, ask me how I spend my free time.  “I’m on season 4 of Murdoch Mysteries.  Also, I am desperately waiting for the next season of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries to come out.  Hey, did you know there’s a new trailer for the upcoming series?”  
Now, watching every period mystery series ever made does not make it onto my list of priorities but sometimes I find myself living as though it’s my most important task.  And I do it with big things too.  I will rant and rave about the importance of taking care of the poor and walk right by the homeless person at the intersection.  I can cite chapter and verse about letting the children come and fail to make time for the children living right in my own neighborhood.  Sometimes the problem isn’t that we don’t know our purpose(s), it’s that we aren’t carrying them into daily life.
You know what?  I don’t think that’s just because of laziness.  I think sometimes that’s because we don’t really believe that it matters.  There’s this thing that happens to me when I’m faced with a really dirty house.  It’s called Dirty House Paralysis and it should be diagnosable because it is a real thing.  I look at my dirty house and I know it needs cleaned and I can’t figure out where to start.  I’m not making this up.  It is so totally overwhelming to me that I turn my back on the whole thing.
Sometimes we suffer from Broken World Paralysis.  We look around and we truly believe that we can’t make a difference.  There are so many needs and our hands, wallets and purses are so limited.  So we turn our backs on the whole thing.  


If you’ve battled Dirty House Paralysis, you know that the same solution applies to Broken World Paralysis.  Start anywhere.  I was greatly comforted to have this thought pop up in my email recently:  

It’s important to do something even though we find it difficult to imagine how our small contribution can have any impact at all on this immense and hopelessly complicated problem.  Leave that to God.

Br. David Vryhof, Society of St. John the Evangelist

You know what’s really funny?  I hear people all the time talk about feeling like they don’t make a difference with their lives.  I hear them say that they don’t feel talented or worthwhile enough to do something.  And every time, every single time, I am astonished.  “What!?  You!?”  Because to me, it always looks like those people should be walking around in complete assurance that they matter and they can do amazing things.
So I feel confident saying this to you–the ones I know in person and the ones I don’t–you matter and you can do amazing things.  Start anywhere.
Living with Purpose_ A Short Guide1. Start

linking up this week with #wholemama

On Stars, Talents and Light Pollution

On Stars, Talents and Light Pollution


Sometimes, if you’re standing in a city at night you will look up and realize that you cannot see the stars.  They’re crowded out by all the other lights–lights that appear bigger and brighter.  These street lamps and house lights seem to be lights that really do light the world while the stars just softly twinkle in the distance, providing a little bit of atmosphere but otherwise not doing very much for anybody.

I sometimes worry about being a star trying to shine in a brightly lit city.  I sometimes worry that anything I could offer to the world will be overlooked due to the brightly shining lights of those around me, lights that appear to be bigger and brighter than my own.  It’s like light pollution of talent.  How can my small little twinkle compete with the brilliant shine of a halogen bulb or a meteor shower?  Sometimes the question plagues my days; sometimes it even keeps me awake at night.

The story goes that Jesus once reminded his followers that lights do not belong under baskets.  Lamps are to be placed on lampstands, where they can provide light to an entire room.  The meaning is clear: it takes courage to provide light in a dark place.  It takes courage to stand out and let your light shine, as the children’s song goes.

I’m discovering that sometimes it also takes courage to let your light shine in a place that is already populated with shining lights.  Sometimes it can feel like your little light (emphasis on little) is too small to matter at all, not because the world is too dark but because it’s too light.  It’s so easy to become convinced that our talents or contributions are just too small to matter when people are curing ebola and fighting hunger in big, newsworthy ways.  For those of us who care deeply about the world and the things God is doing in it, this is a singularly depressing feeling.  It is enough to make a person want to turn off all those other lights so that we can shine through just a little.

Of course, we know that’s ridiculous.  We know that no good comes from running around blowing out other people’s candles.  We know that when Jesus said not to hide our lights, he also meant that we ought not smother and discourage the lights of those around us.  The kingdom of God is not Game of Thrones.  We do not want to be the kind of people who can only shine in competition with others.

So perhaps the only answer is just to keep shining no matter how big or small we may feel.  Whether my light is distinguishable from everyone else’s may be beside the point.  Whether my light shines as I masterfully prepare dinner for 500 in the local shelter or shines as I smile and gently hand a dollar to the hungry man standing on the street corner, it is still a light in a hurting world.  Perhaps in our earnest desire to do good in the world, we put too much emphasis on letting our light shine when the emphasis is on letting light shine.  Maybe the goal, after all, is for a pool of light to spill out, blending together with no sense of where it begins or ends until we are all illuminated and illuminating in one giant display of radiance.

Wherever you are today, may you have courage to let your light shine.

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