Clean hearts or clean hands?

We bought a house back in February. It's a cute little place that suites our family well. It's in an older neighborhood with big trees and each modest little home looks different from it's neighbor. Some are kept, some are not. Ours currently might be considered to be a part of the 'unkept' category. At least on the outside. Weeds are overtaking our yard, the driveway is shot, and big mature trees are in need of some major trimming. But those things are going to have to wait because we're still working on the inside and I'd pick fresh paint colors and pictures hung, over the front yard being immaculately landscaped any day. So the weeds will have to wait.

I care more about the inside of our home than the outside because the inside is where life happens.

The inside is where people grow.

And learn.
And struggle.
And love.
And belong.
And fight.
And forgive.

The outside matters, a little. If the landscaping of my house is SO overgrown that no one can see my front door then that's kind of a problem. And maybe even a distraction. Who will want to come in if they have to wade through a jungle to get there? Only a few may be brave enough to attempt that. The people who REALLY love me. The people who KNOW me. The people who know that once they make it inside they'll find safety and a place where they'll feel at home.

But most of us know the INSIDE matters more. And sometimes we're too busy tending to the outside that we neglect the inside and it gets ugly. It gets selfish, and prideful, and bitter. I struggle with the outside stuff a lot. I struggle with wanting new clothes that make me feel good about myself, and having a nice car that's not dented (because ours is), and making sure my family looks "put together" when we are out in public. But what does all that matter if my heart looks like a dirty, empty, discarded coffee cup? Jesus says it so well in Matthew 23...

"What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy - full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too." 

We live in a world that values the outside over the inside. A world that values success over integrity and looks over character. But there's always a choice. We always have a choice.

May we clean our hearts before we clean our hands. And may God pour out His grace on us when we don't. 

The Risk of Motherhood

Risk-taking looks different for all of us, doesn't us? For some, jumping out of an airplane would seem like a huge risk while for others it's considered adventurous and exhilarating. For some, meeting a new friend for coffee feels like a risk, while for others it's exciting and comes naturally. Whether we're talking extreme sports, traveling the world, giving a speech, or taking a relational plunge, I believe risk-taking is all relative to the one taking the risk. 

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending the IF: Gathering in Austin, TX. It was a great weekend for so many reasons. It was my first time to Austin (which turns out to be a very cool city), it was MUCH warmer than the frigid Chicagoland climate I'm used to, and I was able to enjoy some alone time out of my normal day-to-day routine. The speakers were top notch and I met many women who shared similar passions and desires for God to move in their hearts as well as in the hearts of the people they do life with in their communities. The seating at the conference was a little different than most conferences I've been to in that rather than "stadium style" seating, we were all sat at long farm tables which sat 40-50 women each. We were facing each other. People we didn't know. And there were questions laid out of the table. I can imagine that for some of the women who attended the IF:Gathering, just getting there was a risk. The thought of opening up your heart in whatever condition it might be in, to a bunch of women you've never met, can be scary.

There were times through out the weekend where we were to discuss some of the questions laid out at our tables. We grouped into fours or fives and dove head first into some raw, heart-revealing conversation with complete strangers. One of the questions asked that weekend hit me a little more than all the others. The question was this:

"What is one area of your life where you feel like God is asking you to risk?"

As the ladies around me started to answer I knew that my response probably wasn't going to be like theirs. Most said things like, "reaching out to my neighbors who don't know Jesus", or "getting to a place where I can say "God I'll go anywhere you want me to go". Some were afraid that if they loosened the grip of control they had on their own lives, God might tell them to move to a mud hut in Africa. 

For many of us we feel like in order to truly live a life of risk means our loving father is going to ask us to do the very thing we are terrified to do, and we have no choice but to say yes. And maybe sometimes that's the case. We often learn and grow the most when we are in a situation where we feel the least equipped or qualified. (Because it forces God to be in charge. And He's really good at that.) But risk doesn't always look like that. Sometimes it looks like the mundane, the day-to-day, the things that challenge us to persevere and test our level of faithfulness. A difficult friendship, a messy marriage, a wandering child, a role in which we don't experience meaning or purpose, those too can be times where God can ask us to step into risk. And often the risk is to just keep going. To keep loving. To keep obeying. Even though there may be pain and heartache ahead. 

The "big" risks tend to be easy for me. If God wanted my family to move to some third world country, I'd say "Let's Go!". Those are the kinds of things I dream about. Just ask my husband. It's not hard for me to say "God, I'll go where you send me." (Unless of course it some not-so-desirable place like Nebraska or Montana in which case God and I would have to sit down for a chat.) 

The risk I struggle with is the RISK OF MOTHERHOOD. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE being a mom and I LOVE my son and daughter more than I could've ever imagined I could love someone but I didn't grow up as a little girl dreaming to one day be a mother. I'm not naturally a nurturer and I often feel like the mom role doesn't fit me so well. I learned this in a painful way when my husband and I had a foster child live with us for about three months. It was a disaster. And mostly because of me.

The risks of motherhood for me are many. Being intentional, being present, being consistent, being selfless, embracing my weaknesses, asking for help, being physically run down, showing Jesus to my kids, and giving grace to those around me. 

I think anytime we feel like we might fail at something, that's when it becomes a risk. If the idea of failure isn't in sight, then it's probably not a risk. 

So there I sat at the IF: Gathering with my new friends and I knew that Motherhood was the area in which God was asking me to risk. Because I feel so inadequate and ill-equipped and because so often failure seems to be too close in view. But when it does I remind myself that Grace is bigger and jumping into the risk of motherhood just might be one of the most rewarding risks of all. 

I want to risk. Risk to love my kids well. Risk to show them Jesus. And risk to let Grace be bigger than the fear of failure. Here we go.

3 reasons why I love going to conferences

Some would say I'm a bit of a conference junkie. I'd prefer not to be called that because, well, it makes me sound like a junkie but I did go to a handful of conferences last year. Going to a conference, whether it's an all weekend thing or just a one-day event, always refreshes me in a variety of ways. Here's what I mean...

  • It's AWAY time. Away from my normal routine, away from my family (whom I love very much of course), and maybe even away from my city. I love to travel so being in a new place is exciting and inspiring for me. If I get to drive rather than fly, that's even better. Getting out of my normal environment even just for a day or two can do good things for my soul. I come back refreshed and in a healthier place to love my family. 
  • It's GOD time. I often go to conferences alone, sometimes on purpose, sometimes not. Being by myself for a couple of days allows me to hear God in a different way than I normally would in my every day routine. I often do a lot of crying if I go alone and not the sad kind of crying, more like the cleansing kind of crying. 
  • It's LEARNING time. There are a handful of female authors/speakers that I have loads of respect for and I cherish any time I get to sit under their teaching and learn. Enough said. 
Here are the conferences I hit in 2013:

January - Crowns Conference // Marion, IL
February - The Justice Conference // Phildelphia, PA
August - Women of Faith // Peoria, IL
September - Revive Our Hearts // Schaumburg, IL
September - The Influence Conference // Indianapolis, IN

2013 was an abnormal conference going year for me. I don't usually hit that many conferences in a year but all of them were great and I came away with lots of new insight and many new friendships. 

There's only a couple on the schedule for 2014 so far and it'll probably stay that way since I'll be having a baby in June and my husband and I are planting a church in August. But I'm super excited to be attending:

The IF: Gathering in Austin, TX this month and probably The Influence Conference in Indianapolis, IN again in September. A couple local things might pop up through out the year so we'll keep an open mind to those:) 

Do you have a favorite conference? Are there any that you're planning on going to this year?