Sunday, July 31, 2011

Day 31: Gotta Live Like We're Dying



In the 2008 film Seven Pounds, aeronautical engineer Tim Thomas is fighting a troubled past. Two years ago, while texting and driving, he causes a collision, killing his fiancee and six strangers in a minivan. Unable to rewrite history and save the seven lives taken by the fatal accident, he goes on a mission to save seven other lives.

(Quick disclaimer: I'm certainly not in agreement with the film's take on suicide. My husband Anthony and I saw this movie with another couple, and the lady I saw this movie with said she was so saddened by the ending. Her heart -- and mine -- broke over the fact that this character didn't seek forgiveness and redemption in Jesus, but tried to find it by taking his physical life.)

But the spiritual principal in this movie is amazing. Tim Thomas spent his final days on earth searching for people who needed a new lease on life. At his death, he planned to donate several of his vital organs to people that would die soon without transplants. He gave his life away to save the lives of others.

And shouldn't this be the purpose of every Christian? God calls us to give our lives away.

How do we do this? We live like Tim Thomas did: we have to live like we're dying.

Kris Allen, the 2009 finalist of American Idol (also a believer and a resident of Conway, Arkansas, my new home, by they way) has a great song: Live Like We're Dying. Here's a sample of the lyrics:

Our hearts are hungry for a good that won't come
And we could make a feast from these crumbs
And we're all staring down the barrel of a gun
So if your life flashed before you, what would you wish you would've done?

Yeah, we gotta start lookin' at the hands of the time we've been given
If this is all we got, then we gotta start thinkin'
If every second counts on a clock that's tickin' 
Gotta live like we're dying

We only got 86 400 seconds in a day to 
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell 'em that we love 'em while we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we're dying

I'll add one more line to Kris' song: Like Tim Thomas, we've gotta live like they're dying too. 

People the world over are dying. Some are dying of hunger and malnutrition. Others are dying in wars that seem to never end. Others are dying natural deaths, but they're dying and spending an eternity separated from God. What would God have us do? We've gotta live like they're dying.

If you're like me, you're wondering, how can I do this? I can't save everyone dying of starvation. I can't stop wars in foreign countries. I can't tell the whole world about Jesus. I hear you. But let's take a look at what we can do:
  • Pray for those around the world that are dying from starvation, ravaging diseases and oppression by other people groups
  • Pray for those that have yet to discover Christ's love for them
  • Pray about how you can get involved in God's activity in your community and around the world (the possibilities are limitless: short term missions, joining the fight against human trafficking, giving financially to organizations that send aid to suffering people around the world, pursuing volunteer opportunities with parachurch ministries and community organizations, mentoring a young person in your church or community, considering full time ministry)
While pursuing your specific purpose in Christ, never lose sight of each believer's responsibility to give our lives away to hurting and dying people around us. My personal prayer right now is discovering how I can use my writing to empower others in financial and/or spiritual need.

As I complete this final day of "31 Days of Purpose," I do so with joy and sadness. I'll miss this daily time with you. I'll miss pouring myself out through my blog every day. And I'll miss seeing God move mightily when I stare at my blank computer screen with the cursor flashing on and off. He has written far more words these last 31 days than I have. And for that, I am grateful. Believe me, I never really have much to say.

Please join me in the upcoming months every Tuesday and Saturday as I continue to share God's thoughts for you and I. I've got a feeling in my spirit like there's so much more to say! So sign up to receive an email of each post. And join my list of "Followers." I'd love to know you're reading. Please tell your friends to check out my blog and keep the comments, emails and facebook messages coming. I love hearing how God is speaking to you through my blogs. Makes me know it's really Him speaking through me.

I leave you today with I Give Myself Away by William McDowell. I've posted it before, but it really sums up the desire to walk in God's purpose for us.


Wherever you are on your journey to purpose, choose each day to give yourself away to Christ and to those He died a heinous death for.

Our lives are not our own. To Him we belong. Let's give ourselves away...

Purposed For Him,

Carla

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 30: On The Eve Of Our Curtain Call


It's July 30th! Can you believe it? Our journey towards discovering and walking in our God-given purpose is coming to a close -- at least together. My prayer is that you and I will spend our lives here on earth walking in the purposes that God planned for each of us before we were born.

But this small part of my purpose is definitely in its finale. After tomorrow, the curtain will close on this act, and I've got mixed emotions. On one hand, I'm exhausted. I don't think I'd be able to write a blog for August 1st if someone offered me a million dollars. On the other hand, I'm going to miss this daily interaction with my own mind and spirit, with my blogger-sisters Monique, Michelle, Cheryl and Jennifer and with you. It's been a joy sharing this journey with you. We've been encouraged together. We've been convicted together. We've certainly grown together. I can tell from your facebook messages, blog comments and emails. God has stretched us, and we won't ever be the same again.

But then, we don't want to be the same again. Do we?

Tomorrow I'll close with a final thought for you. So come back for our final day together. And after tomorrow, July 31, I will continue to blog regularly -- at least twice a week. I'm seeking God about exactly what shape my blog will take. Pray for me. When I know for sure, I'll let all of you know!

For today, let's look at what we've discussed over the month:

First of all, we took a look at the fact that we all -- every human being -- craves purpose. Many walk through life aimlessly, but there's a purpose to each and every life. After all, why would God create us for nothing?

Then we discussed where we should go -- or rather Who we should go to -- to discover our purpose. If we need to find the purpose for a product, we have to consult the manufacturer. God is our manufacturer. He wrote the instruction manual!

We gleaned a treasure in God's Word: we are God's workmanship, which means poem. God has made some beautiful things in creation -- the birds of the air, fish in the sea, animals and insects of almost every color, size and shape. And just think of the many species of plants and flowers He created. God is an amazing artist, but out of all those creations, we're the only ones that He created for relationship with Him. We're the only creation that He sent His son to the cross to die for. Obviously, we're amazingly special to Him.

On Day 5: Believing God, I was about to lose it! My blog was therapy for me. Sometimes I sit around and think, "This is crazy! Am I the only one that sees, hears and smells that big ol' elephant in the middle of the room?" We've got to be real, y'all. We've got a lot of mess to clean up. Better yet, let's just give it all over to God, and let Him clean it -- and us -- up.

On Day 6 and 7 I got personal and shared my own journey of relocation. I shared the steps God took to call Anthony and me to full time ministry. And after a new friend's request, I shared how we came to live in Conway, Arkansas. On the following three days, we took a look at who our purpose should be about -- God first, and then others.

For the next ten days I got practical about purpose. We looked at talents, spiritual gifts, passions and personality. I highlighted several believers that are passionately walking out their various purposes. And then we discussed how to walk in purpose with so much against us: the muck and mire of daily life, trials, and closed doors. Then we peered into one of my favorite children's books to see how we can invest in a legacy of purpose through the next generation.

Our last nine days have been spent examining those issues that creep in to steal our purpose from us. There are many more; I shared the few that God laid on my heart each day. For me, these days were the most convicting as God showed me my own heart and its weaknesses. I appreciate you hanging in there with me. I know it sometimes hurt, because it hurt me too. Our consolation is found in the book of Proverbs:
"My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in." Proverbs 3:11-12
If you're a son or daughter of God, be encouraged today. He delights in us. Say that to yourself right now:
God delights in me.

Isn't that refreshing to hear and say?

Some of you have been walking in your purpose for many years now. I hope God still had a lot to say to you over the last month.

Some of you have been walking in your purpose, but God's beginning to lead you in a different direction. I have one friend who believes that God wants her to write her story. These blogs have helped her hear God's voice a little clearer.

Others of you are still searching, unsure of the purpose for which God created you. Hang in there. Keep seeking Him. He will speak in His time. 

For all of us, God is letting us know that He delights in us. He loves us. We're the apple of His eye. We're His poem, His masterpiece. No matter how we fall short. No matter how small a part we play in the world. He adores us. 

I'll leave you with a praise song I heard just tonight, played by a band of teenagers at a Christian camp. For me, it summed up much of what I've already shared this month. (To view this video, click here)

From The Inside Out
A thousand times I've failed
Still your mercy remains
And should I stumble again
Still I'm caught in your grace

Everlasting, Your light will shine when all else fades
Never ending, Your glory goes beyond all fame

My heart and my soul, I give You control
Consume me from the inside out Lord
Let justice and praise, become my embrace
To love You from the inside out

Your will above all else, my purpose remains
The art of losing myself in bringing you praise

Amen and amen. See you tomorrow for one more Day of Purpose...

Purposed For Him,

Carla

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 29: Purpose Stealer - Materialism and the American Way


"Is this the day I die?" asks Li Quan. Growing up as a young boy in China, these are the words his father taught him to recite daily. A member of an underground Christian church, Li Quan must be prepared to die. On any given day, local government officials might raid his house church and kill every member present.

Across the ocean in the United States, Ben Fielding lives a comfortable life as a business executive. His life is consumed with business deals, management team meetings and his palm pilot. When business takes him to China, he reunites with his old college buddy and roommate Li Quan. Ben hasn't seen his old friend in twenty years, and has no idea of the endangered life he's been living.

Until he visits Li Quan's house church. From that day on, neither man's life is ever the same.

Though a work of fiction, Safely Home, written by Randy Alcorn in 2001, speaks volumes about the persecuted church in China. For a North American girl that sits on padded seats in an air-conditioned in the summer/heated in the winter church building, it's unfathomable to me that my brothers and sisters in other lands suffer for their identification with Christ. Many Christians in Asia, Africa and the Middle East meet secretly for church services and Bible studies, often risking imprisonment, torture and even death if discovered by their government.



In Radical: Taking Back Your Faith From the American Dream, David Platt gives a real-life account of his involvement with the underground church in Asia. He describes the believers he met there and their hunger for the Word of God, their hunger for Jesus. During house church meetings, they sat on hard floors in very hot -- or very cold -- rooms. They took turns arriving, so passersby wouldn't suspect a large gathering. And they are prepared to die for their faith.

Here's Platt's description of the culture shock he experienced when he returned to his home church in the States:
"Three weeks after my third trip to underground house churches in Asia, I began my first Sunday as the pastor of a church in America. The scene was much different. Dimly lit rooms were now replaced by an auditorium with theater-style lights. Instead of traveling for miles by foot or bike to gather for worship, we had arrived in millions of dollars' worth of vehicles. Dressed in our fine clothes, we sat down in our cushioned chairs."
And that brings us to today's -- and our final -- purpose stealer: materialism and the American way.

Reading Platt's book, after the suggestion of my husband and my blogger-sister Monique Zackery, has been convicting for me. This is no feel good self-help book on the shelves of your local Christian bookstore. I am trudging my way through it, painfully aware of how short my life falls from complete surrender to Christ.

I've often scorned the rich young man found in the book of Mark. While reading Radical, I'm seeing how closely my life has resembled his. This young man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus mentions the Ten Commandments; the man claims to have kept all of God's commandments since he was a boy. So Jesus raises the stakes.
"Jesus looked at him and loved him. 'One thing you lack,' he said. 'Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.' At this the man's face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, 'How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!'" Mark 10:21-23
I've had to examine my own heart in this regard. Would I sell everything I have and give to the poor? Do I sacrificially give to the poor or only out of my abundance? If I'm honest, I've got more of the rich young man in my heart than I'd want to admit. How about you?

Are we American Christians approaching our faith in the way God's calling us to? I believe we're spending most of our time, money, gifts and talents on ourselves and our families, rather than spending them on those around us. People all around the world are dying, while we spend our weekends at the mall. Even worse, people all around the world -- and around the corner -- are dying and spending an eternity separated from God... while we spend our weekends at the mall.

Here's what Platt has to say about that:
"Based on what we have heard from Jesus in the Gospels, we would have to agree that the cost of discipleship is great. But I wonder if the cost of nondiscipleship is even greater. The price is certainly high for people who don't know Christ and who live in a world where Christians shrink back from self-denying faith and settle into self-indulging faith. While Christians choose to spend their lives fulfilling the American dream instead of giving their lives to proclaiming the kingdom of God, literally billions in need of the gospel remain in the dark."
I won't belabor this point, folks. I'm not sure if I can handle any more conviction over this myself. But if we're going to follow Christ wholeheartedly and pursue His purpose for us, we've got to dream His dreams, not the American dream.

I want to take my faith back from the American dream. Will you take yours back too?

Purposed For Him,

Carla

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 28: Purpose Stealers - The worship of me



My husband Anthony and I are history buffs, but we differ in the way we approach history. Ant spends hours watching the History Channel as they recount countless facts surrounding World War II or the Cold War. On the other hand, I love the stories behind history. I enjoy discovering the facts within the confines of a compelling story. He wants to know the facts. I want to know the people and how those facts affected their lives.

So with that backdrop, I'll admit to a little trivia about me. Titanic is one of my favorite movie. Even though the story of Rose DeWitt Bukater and Jack Dawson is completely fictitious, I love the brilliance behind the weaving of their story into true occurrences of the Titanic.

Rose, a feisty young woman, boards the Titanic with her mother and her fiance Cal, son of a steel tycoon. Her mother insists that Rose's impending marriage to Cal is necessary for their financial survival and social standing, but Rose despises her fate. Cal is arrogant and obnoxious, although his insecurities conspicuously seep through. Rose dreads the life she faces with this self-absorbed man who uses intimidation to demand respect and honor from her.

In Cal's mind, it's all about him.

If there's one thing you should remember from "31 Days of Purpose" it's this: our lives are not all about us. We cannot follow God's purpose for our lives if we focus entirely on ourselves. You can call it what you want -- selfishness, self-centeredness, egocentricity. It all boils down to "the worship of me."

How can we commit our lives to God's purposes for us and this world, if we're consumed with our own needs and desires? How can He use us to effect change in our culture and even the world, if we can't stop worrying about ourselves, our own families or our own bank accounts? How can we focus on Him and His will when we can't get our eyes off ourselves?

In Kay Warren's (wife of Pastor Rick Warren) Dangerous Surrender, she calls her proclivity to self-centeredness "The Kingdom of Me."
"If I was going to begin to care about those who were infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, some things were going to have to change. However, I liked my life; it was comfortable, safe, predictable yet exciting -- and on top of that, I had enough problems of my own. My reluctant thoughts may resonate with you. Are you asking yourself the same questions? I think you will find the same ugly reality I found: what stands in the way of your surrender to God's plan to engage with hurting people is simply that you care more about yourself than you do about the suffering of others."
Ouch.

Now what did Jesus have to say about this concept of the worship of me?
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it." Luke 9:23-24.
What can the worship of me lead to?
  • Sin - The worship of me is a sin within itself, but it can lead to other sins. Extramarital sex, be it adultery or sex before marriage, stems out of the desire to please oneself over pleasing God. Most people steal out of this same desire to please self. List almost any outward sin, and it can usually be traced to this worship of self.
  • Lack of fellowship with God - If I'm most concerned with myself, I can't possibly give God his due praise and worship. If I believe my time belongs to me, I'll find little time to spend with God in His Word. If I'm most concerned with what I want, I won't consult Him much on life decisions, big or small.
  • Short-sighted view - If my vision stops at the tip of my own nose, I won't be able to see the needs of others. If I walk around with blinders on my eyes, I won't see the huge material, psychological and spiritual neediness of others. Even worse, I won't care.
What does the worship of me look like?
  • Lack of giving - If I'm most concerned about myself, I'm probably not going to give much of my money or resources to others. I'll turn the television channel when I see the Asian or African child with the bloated belly swarmed by flies. I won't consider giving to parachurch ministries and missionaries. And I'll give a bare minimum to my church offering, if that much.
  • Squandered gifts and talents - If I'm focused on me and mine, I won't invest my most precious resources on others. I'll use my gifts and talents to make a living, but I won't use them to serve other people or my community. 
  • Wasted time - When I've completed my day at work or school, I'll see the rest of my time as "me-time." I'll spend hours and hours watching reality television and sitcoms. Or I'll spend all my extra time reading romance novels. Or I'll surf the internet all day long, watching you-tube, updating my facebook status, tweeting, or God forbid, watching pornography.
Now, there's nothing wrong with television, novels or the internet. I personally love watching movies, reading novels and surfing the 'net. We can use these mediums as a social outlet, career enhancement and entertainment, but we must use them with balance.

I'm committed to worship my Lord and Savior above all else, including myself. Will you commit to the same?

Purposed For Him,

Carla

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 27: Purpose Stealers - Fear of the Unknown



This weekend, my husband Anthony and I rented the action-drama Unknown. This new release stars Liam Neeson, and has a record fast pace from beginning to end. Scientist Dr. Martin Harris travels to Berlin with his wife Liz to attend a biotechnology summit, and by all appearances, they are a happily-married couple.

After a series of peculiar events, Martin succumbs to a cab wreck. When he awakens from a four-day coma, Martin frantically sets off to reunite with his wife. However, when he finally reconnects with her, he's stunned to find she doesn't know him. Baffled, he questions his own sanity. He resolves to recapture his old life, convinced that there's an evil plot against him and his wife. Throughout the film, he wages a battle against the unidentified person that has devised this plot.

His larger battle is against the unknown.

This is a battle we too must face. When we set out on the road to God-given purpose, we seldom know the end result. Sure, we formulate a plan. Of course God gives us vision. But how many of us fulfill our purposes in a way that looks exactly the way we thought it would?

When Anthony and I left Tennessee to begin a new multi-ethnic church plant, we set out to plant in Northern Virginia. But God had another plan. He wanted us to help build a multi-ethnic church plant in Conway, Arkansas, a town we had never heard of!

God will often set us on a course to pursue His purposes, then change our course as He wills. Anthony and I aren't the first to experience what I call a "flipping of the script."

Abram, who later became Abraham, was living amongst his family and his people in Ur of the Chaldeans when God called him to go to a land that He would show him. Though God promised to make him into a great nation and bless him, He set Abram on a course to a land that He didn't reveal until he got moving.

Ruth, from the pagan country Moab, lost her Hebrew husband at a young age. Instead of returning to her parents' home in Moab, as her mother-in-law Naomi insisted, she allowed God to change the course of her life. She chose to follow Naomi back to her home of Bethlehem, turned her back on the pagan gods and practices of her people and chose to follow Naomi's God.

Saul, who had persecuted Christians for their faith, set out for Damascus to find believers to imprison. During his journey, God interrupted him, calling Saul to follow Him. God changes his name to Paul and completely changes the course of his life. Instead of persecuting Christians, Paul became one of the most persecuted Christians in history.

Mary, while a mere teenager, listened to the angel Gabriel tell of a calling she'd never dreamed of. While pledged to be married to Joseph, she would become impregnated by the Holy Spirit, resulting in the birth of the Savior of the world. God had set her life on an amazing course, and her heart responded in humility and obedience.

Did Abraham know that he would one day be asked to sacrifice the son of promise that he had waited the majority of his life for? Did Ruth know that she would live the difficult life of a widow in Bethlehem, laboring in the fields until her marriage to Boaz? Did Paul know that following Christ would instantly make him a marked man? Did Mary know that her sweet baby boy would be brutally beaten and crucified on a cross like a common criminal?

On the other hand...
Abraham couldn't have fully understood that through him, people of every tribe and nation would receive the offer of eternal salvation. Ruth didn't know that through her marriage to Boaz, she would be planted into the family tree of the Messiah. Paul didn't know that his life and his letters would be read and studied for millenniums to come. Mary didn't know her son's death would pave a way to the true and living God. She didn't know his death would mean her very own salvation.

They didn't have a clue. And I'd venture to say that on this side of the cross, none of them would change one iota of God's amazing plan. Thank God none of them allowed fear of the unknown to keep them from accepting God's plan, no matter how much it differed from their own plans.

And we mustn't allow fear of the unknown to keep us from God's plan for us. No matter how much it differs from our own plans.

So how do we do this? We walk in FAITH.
"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Hebrews 11:1
Faith is believing that if I'm following in God's will, He is there for me. He will climb with me to the peaks of the mountains of my life. He will walk with me through the depths of the valleys of my life. He even walks with me through the dry desert places, when I feel all alone. He will never leave nor forsake me. He loves me. He has a plan and a purpose, even in the pain. Even when I can't see the plan, I believe He still has one for me. And His plan is always greater than mine, even if I can't see it on this side of heaven.

I love the song "Mary Did You Know?" It speaks to the mother's heart deep inside of me. I can only imagine the pain of watching the son that I carried in my womb be beaten mercilessly and hung on a cross to die. I can only imagine how every ounce of Mary's being wanted to take her promise back from God. How much she wanted to renege on the plan. How she wanted to beg God to use someone else's son to die for the world.

But, I'm so glad for a heavenly Father's heart. A heart that stuck with the plan, no matter how much pain it caused. A heart that considered your life and my life over His own Son's life. A heart that went the distance and stayed the course.

I'm committed to follow God's plan, even when it includes pain and fear of the unknown. Will you?

Purposed For Him,

Carla

* To watch the video "Mary Did You Know," click here. Please be advised that this video contains graphic and violent footage from The Passion of the Christ.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 26: Purpose Stealers - Living in the Past




In Pixar's 2009 animated film Up, we watch young Carl Fredricksen grow from a quiet little boy with an adventurous spirit into an endearing husband and balloon vendor. Over the years we see Carl's dreams burst like the balloons he sells. He never completes an expedition around the world. He and his wife Ellie never have the children they've hoped for. And once he finally arranges their dream-trip to "Paradise Falls," Ellie becomes very ill and dies.

When a series of unfortunate events sends him to court, a judge orders Carl to move to a retirement home. Fighting this fate, he travels in his house (being lifted by thousands of helium balloons) to Paradise Falls. Paradise Falls proves to be less than paradise in reality, and in the end, he must choose to let go of his house -- and his past -- in order to save those that matter around him.

Like Carl, we too have a tendency to hold on to the past.


Getting stuck in the past can be very destructive to walking in our God-given purpose. To quote Monique Zackery, my 31 Days blogger sister, from her Day 23 post, 31 Days of Victory: The Present Glory: "When our thoughts are fixed on the past, we can become quickly consumed by the 'shoulda, coulda, woulda's'. We might find ourselves chained to regret, guilt or shame. From another perspective, we can also be consumed by our past victories, or 'the good ol' days', taking our mind off the present glory."

 I've struggled on both sides of the shoulda, coulda, woulda mentality. Just today, I had the most interesting conversation with Anthony that went something like this:

"You know, I really wish I had studied Print Journalism in college, instead of broadcast journalism," I rambled. "I mean, I would have gained so much more by studying journalism instead of television production. And just think how much farther I would be in my writing career by now if I'd done that."

And then it happened. As if God Himself had literally, but lovingly, shaken me by my shoulders, I shut up long enough to process my own words. My own thinking.

What was I talking about? Why was I dwelling on a decision I made decades ago? It's entirely too late to change my undergraduate major, don't you think? After all, I graduated from college exactly twenty years ago!

So believe me when I say this. I'm writing this post out of my own weakness today. I am famous for the "shoulda, coulda, woulda" syndrome. (I hear that Amen, Anthony.) I, like many of you, am growing to learn from the past, while living in the present.

If we get stuck in the past, it's impossible to move forward in our purpose.

When I was pregnant with my first child, Kalin, I had a slew of medical issues. I'll spare you most of the gory details, except that I spent half the pregnancy on strict bed rest. I was in and out of the hospital, and eventually suffered a blood clot. To say it was a scary eight months is an understatement. Every time I visited my obstetrician I expected bad news. Oftentimes, she didn't disappoint.

Well, fast forward ten years.  I had suffered two miscarriages (I discussed this period of my life at length on Day 18: Purpose In Pain), and Anthony and I had adopted twice.

Then came Miss Jada.

After suffering two miscarriages and a tumultuous first pregnancy, I was elated to be pregnant. I was also scared to death. At first I watched vigilantly for signs of miscarriage. Then I waited for signs that I would have to go on bed rest again. And whenever I felt the slightest discomfort in either leg, I was sure I was suffering another blood clot.

I'll never forget the day the Lord spoke lovingly to me from Proverbs.
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?" Isaiah 43:18-19
I knew God was speaking directly to me that day. This pregnancy would be different than the first three, and He was going to receive glory for it. From that day on, I walked in faith, knowing that I would carry my baby to term and that she and I were going to be fine.

Can you think of past mistakes that you've wasted time wanting to erase? Can you recall past pains that you've feared might reoccur?

God's speaking lovingly to you today. He's telling you to forget the former things. He's wanting you to stop dwelling on the past. Open your spiritual eyes. He's doing a new thing!

There's a woman in the Bible who got stuck in her past. Naomi experienced her share of heartache. She, her husband and her two sons had escaped a famine by moving to the pagan country of Moab. While in Moab, Naomi's husband died. Her two sons married Moabite women, and after ten years in that foreign country, both sons died as well.

Naomi was beside herself with grief. She returned home so downtrodden, the ten years must have looked like thirty on her. The townswomen barely recognized her. Listen to her words to them:
"'Don't call me Naomi,' she told them. 'Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? the LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.'" Ruth 1:20-21 (Note: Mara means bitter)
Now I'm not belittling the pain Naomi must have felt. I cannot imagine the pain of losing my husband, then a son, and then another son. For those who have lost loved ones, we know you never get over the pain. But I am convinced that with God, we can get through the pain. And we can relearn to live our lives with purpose, and eventually joy. I believe our deceased loved ones would want no different for us.

But Naomi had become comfortable in her grief. She chooses to psychologically die along with her husband and sons. She is stuck in the past, and she can't seem to break through. She can't even experience the joy of her daughter-in-law that has turned away from her biological family and her country to follow Naomi, and Naomi's God. She can't see the jewel of a woman God's placed right in front of her face. And she can't see the love that God still has for her, despite the great pain she has experienced.

What great blessings have you missed because you're stuck in the past of your life? What pain is blinding you from the people God's brought into your life to bless you? What jewels have you missed right in front of your face?

More importantly, how is the mess of your life blinding your view of God?

Needless to say, I'm a huge fan of Mandisa. Read these lyrics from the single "Say Goodbye" from her What If We Were Real? CD: (click here to listen)

To the voice, to the liar in the mirror
Saying you can't ever change
To the guilt that's sitting on your shoulder
Always keeping you wrapped in shame
To the past that you can't undo
To the pain that you're walking through
To the small and the big mistakes
This is what love wants to say

Say goodbye, say goodbye
To the one that you used to be
Say goodbye, say goodbye
Everyday is a brand new mercy

We can choose to learn from the past, then move through it to the present. We can live a life of purpose today, instead of a life of regret and shame. God wants so much for us. But we've got to move from the past in order to embrace it.

I'm saying goodbye to the past and embracing the today God has for me. Will you say goodbye too?

Purposed For Him,

Carla

Monday, July 25, 2011

Day 25: Purpose Stealers - Pride



Have you watched movies that create energy in your spirit? The Devil Wears Prada, a 2006 comedy-drama, does this for me. I love watching the drama unfold between fashion magazine editor Miranda Priestly and her fledgling assistant Andrea Sachs. Intelligent and talented, Andrea has recently graduated from college, and now she must graduate from the Miranda Priestly School of Hard Knocks.

We watch Andrea succeed and fail at work, and we watch her fail miserably in her personal life. Wanting so much to prove her worth to herself and the world (with Miranda consuming the majority of her world), Andrea loses her man, her friends and herself.

There's a scene that immediately came to mind when I thought of the issue of pride. Miranda and Andrea are in Paris discussing Miranda's decision to sell out loyal employees and friends in order to stay on top of the fashion business. Miranda (played by the phenomenal Meryl Streep) speaks with an air that matches her "Queen Bee" status. When Andrea questions whether she really wants the life she'd begun in the fashion industry, Miranda dismisses her uncertainty.

"What if this isn't what I want?" says Andrea, doubt peeking through her big brown eyes. "What if I don't want to live the way you live?"

"Oh, don't be ridiculous, Andrea," responds Miranda, in her chilly, condescending manner. "Everyone wants this. Everyone wants to be us."

(Watch the movie scene by clicking here)

Everyone wants to be us. What a prideful statement. What a prideful attitude. What an easy attitude to fall into when things are going our way.

Have you known that feeling? Life is going as planned. The sky is blue, the sun is beaming through, and everything is well in the world. At least in our world.

Yesterday, in Purpose Stealers: Insecurity, I discussed insecurity and its ravaging effects on our psyche and our purpose. The exact antithesis of insecurity is pride, which can be just as damaging to our purpose in Christ. When we succumb to insecurity, we believe the negative things being said about us. We believe the lies of the enemy, ourselves and naysayers around us. Pride, on the other hand, takes on an opposite effect. We begin to believe "our own press." We believe we're pretty amazing, and we struggle with those who don't recognize our amazingness. (Made up a new word, y'all.)

I know what some of you are thinking. Well, doesn't God think I'm amazing? After all, I'm the apple of His eye, right?

Yes, God does think you're amazing. God does think I'm amazing. As a matter of fact, check out what Jesus spoke to his disciples:
"I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." (John 14:12)
Though Jesus said we would do even "greater things," He knows that we are only able to do greater things through His work on the cross. It is through His redemptive death on Calvary that we are able to do anything worth anything. So our greatest works -- be they an amazing sermon or a New York bestselling book or a chart-busting song -- ultimately give credit back to our Savior.

In the issue of pride, it all boils down to balance in perspective. I see my immeasurable value, but I realize my value comes from my Creator. Let's take a look at how the Apostle Paul works this thing out.
"Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners -- of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life." 1 Timothy 1:15b-16
 "If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eight day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ." Philippians 3:4b-7
 "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus." Philippians 3:12-14
Do you see all those "buts"? To fight the purpose stealer of pride, we've got to walk the balance beam of God's perspective of us. We've got to maintain a "but" mentality. We're not all that we want to be, but thank God, we're not what we used to be.



I've been loving Kirk Franklin's new CD, Hello Fear. The lyrics in Kirk's songs display incredible spiritual growth in this talented songwriter. His fourth track, "I Am," ministers like a good sermon. Sometimes when I listen to it in my car, I want to get out of my car and commence to doing a "holy dance" in the middle of the street. I would if I could without 1. causing a major accident or 2. risk a police officer immediately carting me off to the nearest mental health facility.

So here's a sampling of the lyrics from "I Am" (and click here to listen):

How do you do?
I am a sinner
Born into sin and shaped in iniquity
Now I believe, not who I was but still not what I shall be
You found me and gave me your name and
Things I desired have changed, but
Inside you'll see it's still broken pieces
Deep in me reaches for you

I am so far from perfect
I thought life is worthless
Until you showed me who I am
Not here by mistake
Not luck, only grace
I'm on my way to
Who I am


Praise God, we're still far from perfect, but by His grace He still wants to use us mightily! If the Spirit's moving you, go on and do a holy dance!!!

I'm resting on God's grace and goodness in me, not my own merits and achievements. How about you?

Purposed For Him,

Carla

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Day 24: Purpose Stealers - Insecurity



Acclaimed author Alice Walker wrote The Color Purple in 1982 for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction just a year later. A few years later, Steven Spielberg directed The Color Purple for the wide screen, and now Walker's amazing story can be seen on theater stages around the world.

The story follows the life of Celie, an African American female in the rural South during the 1930's. Celie spends the majority of her life being misused, rejected and overlooked. Sexually abused by the man she believes to be her father, she marries into a loveless, abusive relationship with "Mister." Without a shred of respect for his wife, Mister invites his mistress, Shug Avery, to stay in their home while she recovers from an illness. In a famous scene, Shug lays eyes on Celie for the first time, breaks into a wide grin and yells, "You sho' is ugly!"

After years and years of emotional and physical abuse from those around her, Celie believes the insults others hurl at her. She believes she is ugly and worthless. She believes she is stupid and good for nothing. For many, many years she believes she is unlovable. She is unstable and insecure, and her insecurity leads her to believe lies about herself.

Like Celie, insecurity has impeded my journey to purpose more times than I'd like to admit. It's impeded great men and women in the Bible too. Just ask the great leader Moses.

During the time of Moses' birth, the Pharoah of Egypt had ordered all Hebrew boys to be killed. In order to preserve her son's life, Moses' mother places him in a basket in the Nile River, where Pharoah's daughter finds him. After he is weened, Moses grows up in Pharoah's palace until he reaches adulthood. His life takes a turn, however, when Moses sees an Egyptian guard mercilessly beating a Hebrew slave. Moses kills the Egyptian guard, and attempts to cover it up. Yet his crime is discovered, and a furious Pharoah tries to kill Moses.

Moses escapes Pharoah and flees to Midian, where he hides out as a shepherd. It is while "under the radar" in Midian that God speaks to Moses through the miraculous burning bush. God commands Moses to return to Egypt, go to Pharoah and bring His people out of slavery.

So what's Moses' response? Surely, he's amazed at this awesome calling by the one True God. Surely he's anxious to obey God, and go deliver his people out of Egypt. Surely he's humbled, but ready for the challenge.

Not exactly. Here's what he actually said:
"Who am I, that I should go to Pharoah and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" And later he said, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, 'The LORD did not appear to you'?" He even went on to say, "O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue." Exodus 3:11, 4:1,10
Moses had a serious problem with insecurity. But check out God's response (and imagine a thunderous force and volume behind it):
"Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say." Exodus 4:11-12
All Moses had to do was "go." God promised to do the rest. He'd fill in the blanks. But Moses still resisted his calling, and God named Moses' brother Aaron spokesperson. Moses forfeited God's complete purpose for his life because of fear and insecurity. How often have you and I done the same?

In So Long, Insecurity, Bible teacher Beth Moore examines today's purpose stealer in-depth. I highly recommend this book to any woman (and man for that matter) who has ever struggled in this area. I don't usually jump on the bandwagon of every popular Christian self-help book, but honestly, this one was life-changing for me. It ministered to me in such great lengths, I felt like I'd had several sessions with a Christian counselor by the time I reached the back cover of the book.

Here's an excerpt from Beth's first chapter "Mad Enough to Change":

"I'm seriously ticked. Not just for myself. I'm feeling ticked for the whole mess of us born with a pair of X chromosomes. After a quarter of a century surrounded by girls ranging all the way from kindergarteners to those resting in pink liners inside caskets, I've come to this loving conclusion: we need help. I need help. Something more than what we're getting.
Honestly, is there no validation for our womanhood apart from a man? I say this with respect and great compassion: we're attempting to get our security from a gender that doesn't really have much to spare. Our culture is just as merciless on men as it is on women. Their insecurities take different shapes, but make no mistake: they've got them. You know it. I know it.
"Are we honestly going to insist on drawing our security from people -- men or women -- who are oblivious to the inordinate amount of weight we give to their estimation of us? Seriously? The thought is exhausting. The reality is ultimately debilitating.
"I want some soul-deep security drawn from a source that never runs dry and never disparages us for requiring it. We need a place we can go when, as much as we loath it, we are needy and hysterical. I don't know about you, but I need someone who will love me when I hate myself. And yes someone who will love me again and again until I kiss this terrestrial sod good-bye."
Who is this source we can go to that never runs dry? Who is this someone that will love us when we hate ourselves -- the someone that will love us again and again, forever and ever?

That Someone is Jesus. He says we're enough. He says we're fearfully and wonderfully made. He says he loves us with an everlasting love. And He says that nothing, and that means nothing, can separate us from His love.

If He loves us, we should love ourselves. If He accepts us, we should accept ourselves. If He believes we're precious, we should see our amazing worth.

I love the song on Mandisa's What If We Were Real? CD entitled "The Truth About Me." (Click here to listen to this song)

Here's a sampling of the first verse and chorus:

If only I could see me as you see me
And understand the way that I am loved
Would it give a whole new meaning to my purpose
Change the way I see the world?
Would I sparkle like a star in the night sky
Would I give a little more instead of take?
If I understood I'm precious like a diamond
Of a worth no one could estimate

You say lovely, I say broken
I say guilty, you say forgiven
I feel lonely, You say You're with me
We both know it would change everything
If only I believed
The truth about me

I'm believing the truth about me found in God's precious word. Will you believe the truth about you?

Purposed For Him,

Carla

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 23: Purpose Stealers - Approval addiction


In the 1988 comedy film Coming To America, Prince Akeem, son of a wealthy king in a fictitious African country, learns that he will soon marry a beautiful princess. His excitement quickly wanes when he discovers that his bride-to-be, a young woman raised from birth to complement him perfectly, has no mind of her own. When he inquires about her personal likes and dislikes, she repeats the same answer every time.

"What kind of food do you like?" Akeem asks.

"Whatever kind of food you like," she answers, with a bow.

He tries again. "What kind of music do you like?"

"Whatever kind of music you like," she says again, with a bow.

And on and on their discussion goes. Whenever he attempts to discover what she likes, she repeats, "Whatever ________ you like." Oh, and she always follows her answer with a bow.

This conversation gets old really quick. Akeem begs his parents to allow him to venture to the United States before his wedding. He doesn't tell him that his journey includes a quest to find his real queen. He wants no part of marriage to the "doormat" princess back home. He wants a woman with her own mind, her own will.

A funny movie (though definitely R-rated, due to profanity and other elements), we can learn something from Akeem's desire for a self-aware queen. People-pleasing is very unattractive. Oftentimes the people that seek the approval of others above all else end up repelling those very people. Why? Because people-pleasing goes against God's will.

During the teen years, people-pleasing is often at an all-time high. We call it peer pressure. Many teenagers do anything to fit in. Some get involved in drugs and alcohol. Some become promiscuous. Some "dumb down" and sabotage their own educations. Anything to fit in. Anything to make others like them. Anything for friends.

Unfortunately, many of us enter into our adult lives with grownup bodies, but the immature thinking of adolescence. The people-pleaser continues to make decisions based solely or primarily on the approval of others. I'm no psychologist, but I believe this need for approval stems largely from a lack of approval as a child. Oftentimes, the approval addict failed to receive a healthy amount of parental approval.

Listen to an excerpt from The Oprah Magazine quiz entitled "What's Holding You Back?" (See yesterday's post, Day 22: Purpose Stealers - The Fear of Me for more background)
"Fear of Disapproval: You seek permission before you make changes, and you can get stuck when you think it won't be granted. [People] who are addicted to approval often didn't get enough of it when they were younger. As adults they tend to look to titles and salary for validation. People in this category also shy away from asking for help, to avoid rejection. This can be a crippling fear, because pursuing your dreams requires support, whether it's financial or emotional. "
Not pretty huh? And trust me. It hasn't been pretty in my life either.

Through the years, God has given me great victory in this area, but every now and then I'm tempted to fall into the vicious cycle of people-pleasing. I don't know y'all. To be honest, sometimes God's approval of me just doesn't feel like enough.

How do I, and you, overcome this staggering purpose stealer? We must have a heart like Paul's.

The Apostle Paul, a zealot for Christ, wrote fourteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books. Throughout Paul's books, which were actually letters to various groups of believers, he spoke much about pleasing God, and not man. Here are just a few of his words:

"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." Galatians 1:10
"...We speak as men approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts." 1 Thessalonians 2:4
"Paul, an apostle -- sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead..." Galatians 1:1
 As we're living according to our God-given purposes, we've got to focus on this bottom line: It's all about God. If you don't remember anything else from my blog this month, please remember those words. It's not about us. It's not about the people we most want to please. It's not about anyone else in this world.

The last scripture above speaks clearly to our purpose and this issue of people pleasing. We can only live out our purposes in full joy and fulfillment when we recognize and remember that it's Christ that has made us who we are. Not ourselves. Not our parents. Not anyone else in this world.

There are many people I can thank for helping me become a writer today. My parents did a wonderful job guiding me and providing me with an excellent education -- and countless books during my childhood. (Thanks, Mommy and Daddy!) Several of my teachers have been influential. (Thank you, Mrs. Simms, my English teacher from Western High School!) My husband has been extremely supportive. (Thank you, Honey, allowing me time to shut out the world around me to write this blog daily!) And I can't begin to thank all the family members and friends that have cheered me on from the sidelines.

But it's Christ that's made me the writer that I am. So it is Christ that I must please.

Now, you fill in the blank:

It's Christ that's made me the ________ that I am. So it is Christ that I must please.

Your blank may read "artist" or "teacher" or "real estate agent." Whatever your blank reads, remember it's all about Him. He's the One that we must please first and foremost.

I'm seeking to please Christ above all. How about you?

Purposed For Him,

Carla

Friday, July 22, 2011

Day 22: Purpose Stealers - The Fear of Me



In the 2006 film Akeelah and the Bee, young Akeelah faces the opportunity of a lifetime. An African American girl from Crenshaw, California, and the product of a single-parent home, she goes all the way to the national spelling bee. During her ascent to the bee, however, Akeelah must overcome fear, insecurity and peer pressure in order to win the spelling bee.

A former UCLA English professor steps in as Akeelah's mentor or "Great Bellini." (Read my July 20th post Creating a Legacy of Purpose to discover this Bellini.) He coaches her in the art of language, not settling for his protegee simply learning how to spell big words. He teaches her to break words down into bite size pieces to discover their meaning. With Dr. Larabee's help, Akeelah becomes a master of words.

In my favorite scene, Dr. Larabee asks Akeelah to read a poem that he has displayed on the wall. Here's the poem, written by Marianne Williamson, in its entirety:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

After Akeelah reads the poem, Dr. Larabee asks her, "What does it mean?" She struggles to find an answer, and he challenges her. "It's written in plain English. What does it mean?"

"I shouldn't be afraid," she replies.

"Afraid of what?"

"Afraid of --" She turns away from the wall and faces her teacher. "Of me?"

Akeelah's biggest fear is not that she will embarrass herself or not live up to others' expectations or lose the spelling bee. Failure is not what she fears most.

Her greatest fear is success. (watch this clip from the movie by clicking here)

At first glance that might sound ridiculous. Fear of failure is pretty obvious, but fear of success? Who would be afraid of success?

One word: Me.

The November 2010 issue of The Oprah Magazine examines the theme: "What's Your True Calling?" (A great resource if you're attempting to lead people of multiple spiritual beliefs to their purpose. Thankfully we've got the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to guide us!) Well, that issue included a quiz entitled, "What's Holding You Back?" There were eight sets of questions designed to lead readers to their greatest fear: fear of failure, fear of success or fear of disapproval.

Mind you, I had answers in that quiz that revealed fear in all three categories. But much to my surprise, I largely fell in the "fear of success" category. Here's a short excerpt from the quiz's explanation of the fear of success:
"You're fairly confident in your abilities, but you balk at the pressure of maintaining success once you have it. You know that your achievements will breed higher expectations, and you worry that you won't be able to meet them. You may even be experiencing what psychologists call impostor syndrome, the fear that those around you will discover you're not really as talented or competent as they think."
Ouch. It hurts just typing this out. But it's true. Those of us with a fear of success enjoy success for a moment, then wait for the fallout. We're afraid we'll be asked to perform again, and we won't do nearly as well as we did the first time. Or, even scarier, someone finds out we're not as smart and talented as everyone else thinks.

Well, here's a newsflash for myself, and anyone else struggling underneath this crushing fear. We don't have to rely on our smarts or looks or creativity or talent to pursue our purpose. We have CHRIST to rely on. We have Christ that we must rely on. And it's by His grace that we experience any victory in the area of purpose.

In Rising To the Occasion (Day 10) we peered into the life of Esther, wife of King Xerxes of Persia. Storybooks and movies often depict Esther as a brave heroine, waiting for the opportunity to step to the plate and save her people. But if we look at Esther honestly we see great fear in her heart.

Let's take a quick look at this story again:
"Then [Esther] instructed him to say to Mordecai, 'All the king's officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.'"
Esther wasn't just afraid for her life. She wasn't just afraid of offending the king. She was afraid that her sparkle had died. A lowly Jewish orphan girl had made it all the way to the King's Palace, but did she still have "it"? After all, the king hadn't called her into his bedroom in over a month. Had some concubine become the newest "it" girl? Maybe she'd been found out; she wasn't nearly as beautiful and fabulous as the king had once thought.

And what of this new calling? She didn't ask to be a heroine. When the king's eunuchs administered twelve full months of beauty treatments and pampering, they didn't train her to be superwoman - saving a nation of people. Surely, Esther longed for the days of obscurity. The days when no one asked much of her. The days when she was -- well, a lowly Jewish orphan girl.

But God had a higher purpose for Esther's life. And it really wasn't about her. It was about a nation of people, and ultimately, the Lord's renown.

The same goes for our purposes. It's really not about us. So we don't have to be perfect. We don't have to get it right every time. We don't have to outdo ourselves over and over again. We just have to glorify Him.

I'm going to follow God and His purpose for me despite the infamous "fear of me." Will you?

Purposed For Him,

Carla

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day 21: Purpose Stealers

(Graphic courtesy of my son Kalin, who insisted this was cool, not scary!)

We're two-thirds of the way to the finish line, and we've covered much ground here at "31 Days of Purpose." What's most exciting about this journey? I'm still discovering my God-given purpose, along with many of you. And while I've been writing this blog post over the last twenty days, God's given me more and more insight concerning this life-altering pursuit.

Today I'd like to switch gears for the last leg of our journey. For the next several days we'll discuss what I call "Purpose Stealers." These purpose stealers can prevent us from discovering our purpose. They are either sent by our enemy or lurk within our own hearts. These posts may be convicting at times, but just know that I'm receiving a double portion of conviction before you read them! So hang on for the ride. It's going to hurt so good!

Before I present our first Purpose Stealer, may I mention a few housekeeping issues? I have thoroughly enjoyed the two-way relationship with you during this month. Many of you have written encouraging comments on the very days I've needed it. So here's what I need: if you're following along with my blog, and plan to continue, would you add your name (and beautiful or handsome face) to my "Followers?" Also, feel free to share my blog with anyone that you think will be blessed by it. And lastly, if you'd like to receive my blog posts by email, you can subscribe today by clicking on the "follow by email" box to the right. It's super easy to unsubscribe if you choose to later on.

Okay, so enough of those boring details! On to Purpose Stealer #1: The Fear of...



Our first purpose stealer is the fear of failure. Now this one's a biggie. Who in the world likes failure? Failure is disappointing and painful and can completely change the trajectory of our lives.

When I graduated from Howard University, I was pretty pleased with myself. I'd maintained a great GPA and graduated with honors. I entered the job market confident that someone in the television world would want me. So I sent a group of glowing resumes out, answered want ads for any job remotely related and mentioned to anyone who cared that I was searching for a job in television production.

However, I faced a harsh reality very soon after graduation. The entry-level jobs at television stations around the country had already been snagged by my more aggressive counterparts. While I'd waited until the last semester of my senior year to begin searching for a job, the kids that found them had been searching since their sophomore and junior years. I found myself way behind the 8-ball, and therefore, a member of that humble social club: the unemployed college graduates.

There was a pretty notable guy in the Bible who experienced some failure too. Peter was a disciple, or follower, of Christ. He was a member of Jesus' in-crowd, the very first man Jesus personally called to follow Him. And even within this exclusive group, he is identified as one of three men closest to the Savior. He watched Jesus turn water to wine, feed more than five thousand people with just two pieces of fish and five loaves of bread, and heal countless lame, blind and ill people. He had even eye-witnessed Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.

And yet, when the time came for Peter to identify with his Teacher, Savior and Friend right before His undeserved death on the cross, what did Peter do? He blew it. When a group of townspeople identified him as one of Jesus' followers, he vehemently denied even knowing Jesus. And not just once, but three times.

Let's pick up the scene after Peter's second denial:
"About an hour later another asserted, 'Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.' Peter replied, 'Man, I don't know what you're talking about!' Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: 'Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly."
Now, that's failure to the nth degree. Surely, this is when Peter steps into obscurity. After all, who would care what he has to say now?

Jesus cared.

After Jesus had died and resurrected, the Bible records several times that He appears to his followers. During one of these appearances, Jesus singles Peter out, telling him, "Feed my sheep." By this Jesus was commanding him to give His people the Word of God.

Having grown from his failures, and having received the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter obeys Jesus to the nth degree. In Acts 2:14-41 Peter boldly preaches to a crowd of thousands (an amazing sermon, so check it out), and three thousand people placed their faith in Christ that day.

How's that for a come-back?

We have a major choice to make. We can choose to step back, accept status quo for ourselves and possibly never experience failure. Or we can step out on faith in Christ, strive for the best for ourselves and risk failure in a big way. The world will be a better place if we all choose the latter.

So let me finish my unemployment story. When I couldn't find a job in my field (which did happen a few years later) I began substitute teaching. After a few months I received a long term substitute position at an elementary school in inner-city Baltimore. That long-term position turned into three years as a prekindergarten and kindergarten teacher.

Through that teaching position, God gave me the opportunity to pour into children's lives in a way that I wouldn't have at a television station. Teaching little ones help prepare me for motherhood and the four years that I homeschooled my children. It gave me a glimpse into the strengths and weaknesses of the lower-income inner city. My three years of teaching afforded me experiences and opportunities I didn't know I needed.

What have your failures done to enhance your life? Probably more than you know.

I'm stepping out on faith in Christ, believing that when I fail, He will pick me up, dust me off, and help me take another step. Will you do the same?

Purposed For Him,

Carla

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 20: Creating a Legacy of Purpose



What's our greatest resource in this world? Is it oil or crops or solar energy? Think about it. What do we have with us today that will invest the most in our future as a nation and even the whole world?

Two words: our children.

Let's be honest.  If we're going to live life with God-given purpose as our priority, then we've got to nurture the same in our children.

Now when I say "our children," I'm not letting any of you off the hook. Years before I had children of my own, I had two nieces, lots of younger cousins, and countless children and teens in my church, neighborhood and community. If you're over the age of twenty-one, you've got influence -- and responsibility -- in the lives of young people around you. Please don't waste that influence.

As for my kiddos, my husband and I have already caught tiny glimpses of God's vision for them. (Notice I said God's vision, not our vision!) Each one is completely tailor-made with his or her own personality, talents, spiritual gifts and passions. I'll give you a quick introduction to each.

Kalin is our oldest and quite the old soul. He is quiet, calm and creative. He is very compassionate, and hurts deeply for others in pain. (Wonder where he gets that from?) At fourteen, he is already writing christian rap music, poetry and books. He will soon be a published poet, having had a poem accepted by a Christian magazine publisher.

10-year-old Christian, affectionately known by his 3-year-old sister as Ray Lewis (from the Baltimore Ravens), is our jock. He's tough as nails, yet very caring. He carries a football around the house, plays Madden on Wii and watches the NFL channel all day long if we allow him. He dreams of playing in the NFL, and doesn't consider any other career choice. He's often said, "When I retire from the NFL, I think I want to be a police officer."

Joelle is my fashion diva. At a mere six, this girl loves dresses, makeup and nail polish. She is sassy and dramatic, but terribly sweet. When I style her hair, I twist it into one pink bow. Later, she fixes it by adding six more multicolored bows. This girlie-girl would find a cute barrette in a hay stack. When I'm dressed up to go out, she's the child that watches me with starry eyes and says, "Oooo Mommy, you look pretty!"

Jada, my 3-year-old, is the boss of the family. She pretty much keeps the rest of us in line. She's smart as a whip and sweet as pie. Whenever something is lost, Jada finds it. She's persistent and inquisitive. She's the kind of kid that just gets it. She loves to be read to, and memorizes books in a few readings. Our babysitter has said she'll be president one day.

So how do we inspire God-given purpose in the children in our lives? We must nurture our young people as the Great Bellini did.



In the beloved children's book Mirette On the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully, a young girl named Mirette helps her mother run a boarding house in Paris. She and her mother welcome travelers from all over the world, many of them acrobats, jugglers, actors and mimes. One evening a gentleman knocks; he is in need of lodging. He identifies himself as Bellini, a retired high wire walker.

In fact, he is the Great Bellini, who had crossed Niagara Falls on a thousand-foot wire in ten minutes and the Alps with baskets tied to his feet.

A day after Bellini arrives, Mirette spies him practicing on a high wire. Enchanted, she begs Bellini to teach her to walk the high wire. After protesting a bit, Bellini gives in, and daily trains his new young charge.

How did Bellini train Mirette? His words communicate a lot of wisdom to us:

After seeing Mirette walk the high wire after a week of practicing alone, he says, "In the beginning everyone falls. Most give up. But you kept trying. Perhaps you have talent as well."
  • He encourages her to keep trying and not to give up
  • He identifies her natural talent and affirms it
"Bellini was a strict master. 'Never let your eyes stray,' he told her day after day. 'Think only of the wire and of crossing to the end.'"
  • He stresses the importance of focusing on her purpose
  • He was a strict teacher, encouraging practice, practice, practice 

When she improved greatly, Mirette shouted, "I will never fall again!" To which Bellini answered, "Do not boast."
  • He reprimanded her when she became prideful
As her training progressed, Mirette heard tails of Bellini's past exploits on the high wire. She wants in, and begs to go with him on his next tour. But Bellini makes a sad confession. He has retired from his career on the high wire due to paralyzing fear.

After some time, and with the prompting of an ambitious talent agent, Bellini returns to the wire over a Paris city street. Mirette watches with baited breath as the Great Bellini takes a first step onto the wire and salutes the crowd. The crowd cheers wildly, but Mirette notices Bellini is frozen, refusing to take another step. Mirette freezes as well, then does what only a devoted protegee would do.

"She threw herself at the door behind her, ran inside, up flight after flight of stairs, and out through a skylight to the roof. She stretched her hands to Bellini. He smiled and began to walk toward her. She stepped onto the wire, and with the most intense pleasure, as she had always imagined it might be, she started to cross the sky.

"'Brava! Bravo!' roared the crowd.

"As for the master and his pupil, they were thinking only of the wire, and of crossing to the end."

Sometimes when we take the hand of a young protegee, he or she will one day reciprocate, guiding us across the high wire.

I'm committing to pour my life into the next generation. Will you join me in that?

Purposed For Him,

Carla

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 19: The Purpose Behind Closed Doors


"When God closes one door He opens another." For those of you new to faith in Christ or not well-versed in the Bible yet, don't rush to your Bibles to find these words. This saying is hardly a scripture verse, but I think it's kinda poetic. And it's often true. At least in my life. There have been several times in my life when I've been charging towards a doorway -- something that I just know God has for me -- and right when I hit the threshold -- BAM!!! The door shuts right in my face, just missing my nose.

This has happened in relationships, especially with the opposite sex during my dating years. It's happened with job opportunities. And it's happened while pursuing my purpose.

On May 29 in The Death and Rebirth of a Dream I shared at length about my recent experience at a writer's conference. I had attended the conference confident that I was the next breakout novelist. I was sure the editors and agents would be asking me to send them my full manuscript [book] when I got back home. I thought the conference would be a mere stepping stone to my first novel being published.

NOT!

While I was very well received as a fellow Christian writer by the editors and agents I met, my novel was flat out rejected. I was anything but the next breakout novelist. No one wanted to see the full manuscript. Not one soul. As for the conference being a stepping stone to getting published? Let's just say that at the end of the conference, I was ready to use my manuscript -- all 100,000 words of it -- as a stepping stool.

So why did I travel all the way to the West Coast for a writer's conference? First of all, to meet with God. Getting away from my husband and children afforded me the opportunity for some quiet time. This quiet time wasn't figurative. It was actual quiet time, with no threat of children waking up and coming into my space asking for breakfast. It was amazing.

Secondly, it was to get reacquainted with myself. God showed me who Carla, the writer, really is. He showed me a writer, called by Him to write what He wants her to write. He showed me a writer that He'd called to write with no agenda. He showed me a writer that needed to trust Him for her future. If this writer publishes a book one day, she will do so in His power, for His glory and according to His will.

So I returned home from the conference very humble. And it was in this humility that He reminded me that the writings for which I've received the most positive feedback have been nonfiction. It's been my true stories, rather than my created ones that have been best received over the years. I had sat through several sessions of a fiction tract at the conference, feeling inspired and enlightened, but out of place. Now I know why.

I'd walked to the threshold of a published novel, and the door had shut right in my face. But He opened another door for me: a door that has lead to a purpose that is still unfolding before my eyes. Soon after I returned from California, I began submitting articles to several Christian and mainstream publications. I've submitted a few devotionals. I've been written things I never would have written if God hadn't closed the novel door.

The most amazing door that God has opened for me is an article I recently wrote for AARP. To give you a bit of background, I was in casual conversation with my mother, and she began telling me about a new friend of hers. Treopia Green Washington, a sister of one of the Little Rock Nine, is originally from Little Rock, Arkansas, but now lives in Maryland. Treopia's mother, now deceased, had earned a master's degree from the University of Arkansas back in 1951. But because of segregation laws she, along with the other African American graduates, was not allowed to attend her own graduation.

Okay, so fast forward to May of this year. That month, Treopia attended University of Arkansas' commencement so she could accept her mother's diploma in a manner denied her mother sixty years ago. And God used me to tell her story. [click here to read article and watch video]

But enough about me. What doors has God closed in your life? Have you pursued one purpose to later discover that purpose was off-base? What we often see as failure is simply a rerouting of sorts. God is just getting our attention so we can get back on track with Him.

There's a young guy in the Bible who had a few doors closed in his face, yet he persevered. In Genesis 37-50, we find the story of Joseph, a boy with strange dreams. He dreams that one day his father and brothers would bow down to him. Furious about the report of these dreams and jealous of their father Jacob's favoritism of Joseph, his brothers plot to kill him. Instead, they choose to be merciful and sell him into slavery.

As an Egyptian slave, Joseph finds favor everywhere he serves. God's hand is still on him. He's elevated to overseer of the house of Potiphar, one of Pharoah's officers. Everything's going well until Potiphar's wife makes a pass at Joseph then accuses him of assaulting her. Joseph has done no wrong, yet goes to jail over her false accusations. The cell door slams right in his face.

While in jail, he rediscovers his gift of interpreting dreams. He interprets the dreams of two fellow inmates, and both dreams come true verbatim. Yet his gift is forgotten, and the cell door remains locked shut. Years later, however, Pharoah has a disturbing dream and the guy whose dream Joseph had interpreted finally remembers to mention Joseph's gift. Joseph interprets Pharoah's dream, a warning of impending famine in Egypt. Joseph's interpretation of God's message leads Pharoah to elevate Joseph to his second-hand man. Joseph's father and brothers, along with all of Egypt, eventually end up on their knees before him.


And what were Joseph's words to his brother when reunited with them?
"I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you." Genesis 45:4b-5
 "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Genesis 50:19-20
So, Joseph's dream wasn't so strange after all.

What strange dreams are you having today? Dedicate them to the Lord. Ask Him if those dreams line up with His. And when doors slam shut in your life, ask God to open the doors He planned for you before you were even born.

I'm committed to walk through only those doors He freely opens to me. Will you commit to the same?

Purposed For Him,

Carla

Monday, July 18, 2011

Day 18: Purpose in Pain


Okay, so there are probably two groups of people reading this post right now. Group #1 is saying, "What in the world possessed Carla to post that picture of the crazy woman? Is Carla losing her mind?" Group #2 is saying, "That's exactly how I feel today! How did Carla know I'm about to lose my mind (up in here, up in here)?"

Believe me, I've had my share of days when I've felt like the lady pictured above. I have both literally and figuratively almost lost my mind a few times in my life. Like I discussed yesterday, life can be challenging, trying and downright hard. I mentioned responsibilities, bills, jobs, kids, homes and all the things that daily loom over us, making it hard to pursue and even think about our God-given purpose.

But what about the times when you're dealing with extra-difficult pressures? What about when a major tragedy strikes you or a loved one?

I believe God doesn't waste pain. Through faith in Christ and His sustaining power, you can continue to live out your purpose while enduring hardship. Furthermore, He can even use your trials to infuse purpose into your life. In Christ, there is purpose in pain.

On July 6th, in Which Pill Will You Choose?, I gave a lengthy testimony of how Anthony and I began our journey in full-time ministry. Walk with me while I walk back down memory lane again, completing the story of that first year in ministry.

Needless to say, we were feeling pretty good about life. Granted I missed my hometown, my family and friends a bunch. But we loved Franklin, loved Strong Tower and the promise of our new life in ministry. And after just three days into our new life, we made an exciting discovery. I was expecting our second child. We were elated. We believed that the pregnancy was God's stamp of approval on our obedience and surrender to His will.

Imagine our despondency at thirteen weeks of pregnancy, when we watched the ultrasound of our deceased child. Imagine the pain of no longer seeing the periodic flashes of light that represented our baby's heartbeat. The heartbeat that we'd just recently seen for the first time.

Some of you don't have to imagine this pain. You've lived it.

I can't begin to describe the disillusionment that I felt during that period of my life. I can't begin to tell you how difficult it was to walk through that trial far away from all my family and closest friends. There were many sweet people that visited, brought meals and flowers during that time, and I thank God for them. But there's nothing like crying into the shoulder of a sister or a sister-friend that you've known for decades.

So far, 2001 continues to stand as the most challenging year of my life. Just three months after the miscarriage, I miscarried again. In 2002 we began to pursue another calling: adoption. And later that year we were chosen by a birth mother to adopt her daughter. However, the day we were scheduled to pick up our new "daughter" from the hospital, the birth mother changed her mind. Having given birth to a child already, I couldn't blame this young woman. I wasn't angry with her at all, but I was good and angry with God.

Years later, I can see the purpose in my pain. God birthed several things out of my losses:
  • We were led to adopt Christian from Russia, when we had never considered an international adoption before (By the way, Christian was born in January 2001, the same month I had discovered my pregnancy)
  • I became passionate about adoption, leading me to begin an orphan ministry at Strong Tower
  • Our marriage was strengthened as we learned to work through our grief together, and Anthony learned how to walk with me through emotional pain
  • After walking through disillusionment in my relationship with God, I learned to cling to Him through anything and everything

I Samuel begins with the story of another woman struggling through infertility. Hannah became so depressed over her childlessness that she wept continuously and refused to eat. In "bitterness of soul," she goes to the Lord's temple, weeping and praying for a child. She vows to God that if He blesses her with a son, she would give the boy back to him for his entire life.

In time, God "remembers" Hannah and blesses her with a son, whom she names Samuel. She dedicates Samuel to the service of the Lord in His temple, saying:

"I prayed for this child, and the LORD has granted me what I asked of him. So I now give him to the LORD. For his whole life he will be given over to the LORD." I Samuel 1:27-28

There was great purpose in Hannah's pain. God birthed many things out of her loss:
  • Hannah desired a son so much that she promised to commit his life to God's service
  • Samuel became a godly young man
  • He became the last judge, the first prophet and a godly leader
If Hannah had not endured years of infertility, she probably wouldn't have been led to so freely give Samuel over to live in the temple and serve God. Samuel probably wouldn't have become the great prophet and man of God that he did. He probably wouldn't have been the one chosen to anoint David, God's chosen king for the children of Israel. I'm no Bible scholar, but it seems to me, God created a lot of purpose from Hannah's pain.

And He can do the same with your pain today, yesterday and tomorrow.

I'm giving my pain over to God for Him to use for His great purpose in my life. Will you do the same?

Purposed For Him,

Carla