The Power of Choice

I remember the first time I saw my mom cry. I’ve talked with a lot of friends as we all have begun to realize the fact that our parents are, in fact, human–and all of us can remember the first time we saw (read: made) our mothers cry. For me, I was in the backseat of the van and we were headed to school, driving up the big curvy hill past the donut shop and pizza parlor we frequented. She was clearly unhappy that morning and when I asked why, she told me that it would be nice to be thanked once in a while–and teared up. I said, “Mom, are you crying?” She said that she was; that she felt sometimes she was taken for granted.

I don’t know if my mom remembers that moment, but it formed a part of my heart. This was the first time I think I understood that my actions actually do affect the people around me. And a choice that I had made had made my mom–the most important person in my world and woman I loved more than anything–sad. I realized that the choices I make every single day have an impact on the world I’m a part of. Since then, I’ve made a sincere effort in my life to make sure family, friends, and coworkers know how valued and appreciated they are.

Choice is a powerful thing.

We choose material things, like our clothes and cars and homes. We choose the people we associate with, like our friends and even our coworkers. We choose the person we want to be, how we want to be perceived, and what we want to share with the world. One of my favorite quotes from one of my favorite books says this:

I don’t think it should be socially acceptable for people to say they are “bad with names.” No one is bad with names. That is not a real thing. Not knowing people’s names isn’t a neurological condition; it’s a choice. You choose not to make learning people’s names a priority. It’s like saying, “Hey, a disclaimer about me: I’m rude.”

Mindy Kaling, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?

The first time I read this, I laughed out loud. I have always prided myself on being great with names. I choose to be. I choose to remember names, important dates, and important information that people tell me. I have used the argument many times that if people wanted to be better friends, better colleagues, better networkers, better anything–all they have to do is choose to be.

Rest assured: by now, I’ve been taken down a peg or two. Because sometimes, as a single woman, it can be all too easy for me to slip into a selfish place with my decisions. I get drunk on power. It’s up to me what I want to eat and when; what to spend my money on; how I want to spend my time–there are very few choices I make that affect anyone directly. And many times, that’s how I end up living each day.

I have gotten to a point where I feel like I am a good person simply because I don’t choose to be mean. But I’ve also lost the part of me that chooses to go out of my way to be kind. At the Global Leadership Summit this year, once of the speakers said:

The opposite of bad isn’t good. It’s just . . . not bad.

I was seriously impacted by that. It’s been swirling around in my mind since I heard it. I see it in action everywhere. And I’ve realized lately that I’m falling victim to it. But I’m choosing to make a fresh start.

A friend of work has inspired me to pay more attention to my choices and the decisions I make. Toni is, in a word, thoughtful. She’s incredibly conscientious, and I’m in awe of how she integrates empathy into her everyday decisions. She buys her clothes and jewelry and everything else she can through fair trade organizations. She is always sharing opportunities to get involved, to learn more, to find your own unique way to generate change.

Recently I was asking her about how she found so many ways to give back–both to our local community and to the global one. She said, “I look for opportunities to change the way I do everyday things.” She said she has to eat; she has to wear clothing; she has to live and work and shop in the world–so she actively seeks out places and vendors that will take her business and turn it around for good.

I look for opportunities to change the way I do everyday things.

When I was in college, I was involved and active and was constantly berating my Facebook friends with my take on the world. As an adult, activism in my world is going to look different. Thanks to Toni, I have found two ways to start small.

Dressember

One of the choices I make every day is what to wear. As someone who rocked a uniform for 13 years, this decision is not one I take lightly. I’m very careful to choose every piece of my look each morning. You can bet your sweet bippy that even on the days I am in a t-shirt, jeans, and a messy bun that this particular bun was “messed” to perfection and that t-shirt was just the right amount of casual.

Look at this little charmer.

However, for the month of December, I am donating my choice and offering it up for women and children living in slavery. Of all the things I take for granted every day, freedom is one of the most grave. I’m living here, using my power of choice to opt for one shirt over another because it’s slightly closer to the casual look I’m going for, and some women in the world have lost all choice in regard to their own bodies–not just what’s put on it, but what happens to it. For those women, I’m participating in Dressember, a way to raise awareness and money to aid people in enslaved populations gain true autonomy in their lives.

  • Learn more about Dressember here.
  • See my profile or donate to my Dressember page here.
  • Or, if you’d just like to lend me a dress (because I do not have 31) just let me know.

Follow me on instagram this December to see all the dresses I sport (and their cardigans. Because it will be winter in Missouri.)

Noonday

As long as we’re talking fashion, I’m also going to give a shoutout to Noonday. Check them out here. This past week, I hosted a little party. The proceeds raised go back to the women crafting the jewelry, all over the world and in different countries, to make sure they earn a fair and living wage. The pieces are gorgeous (plus you can see what country you’re buying from!). And Toni generously donated her commission to the charity of my choice, which was Wyandotte Pregnancy Clinic in KCK.

Toni’s decision to sell, then to donate her commission inspired my decision to host a party and participate in the purchasing (not just because of the pretty necklaces). Our choices not only affect just the community at large, but they also impact the way that other people make choices. We’re in an endless loop of decisions that form the world we’re a part of. We have way more influence that we realize. This is just the beginning. And with that in mind, I’m posing this question to you this week, reader: how will you make one decision differently this week that in turn will impact our world?

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The Weirdest Prayer Ever

Dear Reader,

I will not lie to you; it’s been a rough few weeks. It’s one of those times where nothing seems to be going how I planned; and I’m a little bit on spiritual autopilot. Yesterday a friend asked what had me down and I rattled off a laundry list of all the things on my mind, and I wrapped it up with a succinct and practiced, “But God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” As if that somehow justified the pain I’m going through. But I didn’t feel peace in that thought.

This morning those words rattled around in my head. God doesn’t give you more than you can handle. Followed by another thought a friend shared a few weeks ago. Good parents challenge their children to help them become better versions of themselves. And it occurred to me:

Of course God gives us more than we can handle.

We cannot live our lives as if we’re bound and defined by the best we’ve ever been, brothers and sisters, because it keeps us from becoming the best we’ll ever be. Imagine for a second what you could “handle” when you were in kindergarten. Or high school. Or college. Or at your first job. Now think of yourself today. Can you handle more? Are you capable of doing even better things, generating more change, making more informed decisions, cultivating better results, and learning more fruitful lessons? Absolutely you are.

But that didn’t happen because someone coddled you. Somewhere along the line someone looked at you and said, “She can do more.” And challenged you to it.

When we start believing that we’ve got our lives under control, or that we’re past the difficult part, we’re in trouble. I love the story of Peter trying to walk on water. When his eyes are on Jesus, he’s fine; he’s literally defying the laws of nature and gravity and he’s walking on water. But then he loses focus. He forgets that it’s Jesus he’s after and realizes he is walking on water. The second it becomes about himself, he falls. And as he thrashes beneath the water, the hand of his savior rescues him.

We need to recognize our need for a savior.

Because life is hard. It’s designed that way on purpose. It’s not as if once we have a savior, life is much simpler and the sky is much bluer; it’s the opposite. We’re never going to find what we can “handle.” And we’re not supposed to. Pope Benedict XVI is famously quoted saying:

The world promises you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.

A life without constant challenge and struggle is just not what this existence is made for. We’re made for something much bigger, and every day we get closer. God is our Father, and he’s imploring us to grow. He gives us challenges not as punishment but as opportunity. To learn to lean on him (like Peter did), to share our stories, to live out our call.

My old friend and spiritual mentor Fr. Bill used to share his struggles joyfully. His journey in the priesthood came with many trials–he was expelled from the order for drunkenness and ended up on the streets for a time. He was eventually led back to the Church, to sobriety, to the priesthood, and eventually to the college campus where I met him. He shared those scary, heart-wrenching, and personal tales with everyone who would listen. At his funeral, hundreds of people came, and we all knew his story.

Fr. Bill wasn’t looking for kudos or awe; he always ended by encouraging us to share the stories of how the Lord has challenged us. Without struggle, he would say, you cannot truly understand mercy. For that reason, he wished hardship on us; he prayed for us the strangest prayer I’ve ever heard:

“I hope life breaks you.”

Because Fr. Bill knew the power of a God who could tend you back to health.

It’s not a matter of giving in to the pain or the struggle; or resolving that this is just “where you’re at in life.” Because that’s easy. I’ve thought that many times over the last few weeks–tempted to just resign myself to my bed until this stormy cloud passes overhead. But then I remember that this is a fight worth fighting. Because I’m not fighting it alone. In Exodus, we read:

The Lord himself will fight for you. You need only to be still. (Exodus 14:14)

And in first Corinthians, we’re reassured:

No trial has come to you but what is human. God is faithful and will not let you be tried beyond your strength; but with the trial he will also provide a way out, so that you may be able to bear it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

It’s not a call to give up; it’s a call to remember that when you’re drowning, there’s a hand there, plunging into the cold, treacherous waters, waiting to pull you up to the surface. So I pray that God keeps on giving me more than I can handle. And to you, reader, I pray life breaks you.

True Prayer Takes Courage

Have you ever found yourself so obsessed with an idea that your prayer becomes like the monologue of a villain in a cartoon?

Because I do that constantly.

In my season of life, so many of my prayers are a reflection of my desire to live out my vocation. I pray a great deal for my future husband and what my life will and should look like when I meet him; and this causes a great blindness in my spiritual journey. Tunnel vision overcomes me to the point where I become the proud earthly patroness of the high and mighty. Lord, I scoff, pacing around my lair, striking up some divine deal, I know you’re the omniscient one, but trust me. I know I could change the world if I had a partner. Just give me one and you’ll see. Oh. You’ll see. 

It’s because of this radical notion that I know better than the Lord who created me–whose own breath gives me life itself–that I so often end up disappointed and wondering if He really is listening at all. Because I get to a point that I’m not praying for His guidance or His will; I’m asking Him to use His power to create the life I envision for myself. And that isn’t the surrender we’re called to. This is a lesson I learn often, and each time I learn it, it comes packed with more pain and more punch. But also, more power.

Here’s what happened this week (already, and it’s only Tuesday night). I found this old prayer I used to pray all the time. It goes like this:

Lord, I am willing for you to make me willing. For your will to be the desire of my heart.

And I thought to myself, Gosh, that’s a great prayer. Why did I ever stop saying it? So I scribbled it onto a sticky note and I posted it on my bedside lamp, knowing I would see it the minute I woke up and I could pray it immediately. This prayer would guide my day. Monday morning came, I opened my eyes, read the prayer . . . and in the course of the next 24 hours, my world turned over. Prayers I’ve been offering up for the life I wanted God to be giving me were suddenly, gloriously revealed to be not part of my path at all. In a spectacularly terrible day, friendships and plans and prayers that I’d been hanging my hat on for months were all pulled out from under me; and I remembered why I stopped praying that prayer above.

Because true prayer takes courage. And I am afraid.

It’s true; prayer takes faith, and patience, and quiet, and time, and intention. But the truth that I forget so often is that prayer–true, authentic, reckless abandon-type prayer–takes courage. There is a divine bravery that all of us are called to when we give our hearts over to God. A friend and I spoke today about the heart when it comes to faith–we cannot and are not called to give only a part of our heart. We’re meant to give the whole heart over.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart; on your own intelligence, rely not.

Proverbs 3:5

Intelligence is a currency in our world. It’s how we prove so much of our earthly worth. We tie a lot of our value into how smart we are; how much we know about things; how little we need the help or insight of the people around us. And it’s this obsession with being right and being informed that leads us to a place where we are calling the shots in our prayer life, instead of praying for an abandonment to God’s plan for us.

A few years ago, I led a women’s group, and one of the most fruitful discussions came from this question:

What would your life today look like if God had answered every prayer the way you wanted him to?

That question is so powerful, it bears repeating.

What would your life today look like if God had answered every prayer the way you wanted him to?

And the thing is, I know it’s a jarring question because I remember the looks on the faces of all those women. The slow blinking of eyes as the magnitude of that question sunk in. By this point in our lives, none of us wanted what we had once prayed so fervently for. We collectively realized that despite our smartest, most thought-out plans and prayers we’d once cried and monologued for at the foot of the cross were actually nothing compared to the glory of what came when we didn’t get what we wanted.

Listen, I’m not saying that’s the case with all fervent prayer. In many cases, we pray for change or for people or for opportunities to come into our lives that really need to be there, and play an important role. But I think just as often, if not more often, we pray for what we believe is right for us in the moment. Even if the intentions are wonderful, it’s so easy to get caught up in the beauty of what we could do if God would only open that door. And just like I’ve written about before, there’s great joy in letting a God who loves us burn away the dead brush so that a new harvest can grow and thrive.

So, pray. Pray with conviction. Pray with courage. Pray when it’s difficult and it’s not going how you want, and it feels like your intellect is worthless. Pray with your heart. Not some of your heart, but your whole, entire heart. Not because it may yield something you really want, but because it will yield something that God really wants for you. And that, my sisters and brothers, is what we were created for.

Listening with Purpose

Earlier this summer, I was privileged to attend the Global Leadership Summit. If you aren’t familiar, don’t sweat it. This was my first time getting to go, so I was in the dark, too. It’s a two-day conference filled with faithful and practical tips for becoming a better leader, live-streamed to more than 40,000 people and featuring some of the world’s most influential leaders. Color me humbled to be a viewer at our Cape Girardeau satellite location!

Since that conference, I’ve been trying like heck to implement everything I learned. That’s that most difficult part of a seminar, class, or experience like this one, right? Hearing it is easy. Pinpointing exactly where these lessons apply to your own life is easy. But leaving the conference and plugging in these new methods of work and life into your rhythm? Uh, we’re creatures of habit for a reason.

Habit aside, I have been bound and determined to change my life and my leadership abilities based on what I learned. The lesson that comes up more often than any other is that of Whitespace. (Quick aside, Whitespace at Work is a movement created by Juliet Funt–you can (and should) learn all about it here.)

To paraphrase, whitespace is the idea of taking regular, purposeful moments of intentional silence. Get that? Both the time and the quiet are intentional! It’s not just using any quiet moment (like filling up your gas tank) to try and meditate on your life; and it’s not just scheduling five minutes a day to “not work.”

The purposeful pause serves to open your mind up to ideas and innovations that would otherwise go unheard amidst the nonstop clamoring of our daily lives.

The reason smart phones and tablets are so detrimental to our society isn’t because they ruin social moments, but because they ruin solitary ones. We have forgotten how to be alone, and how to foster that alone time into something wonderful. I read once that it is in these moments of quiet observation that we recognize the great potential around us–answers to questions that haven’t even been asked yet; ideas that are barely begun; solutions to problems we didn’t realize we had.

Of all the changes I have attempted in my adult life so far (eating healthy!, exercising more!, taking classes!, learning to drive stick shift!, reading a book a week!, etc, etc, etc) daily whitespace has been the most powerful, life-altering habit of them all. And I’ll illustrate why in a very, very basic story.

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Last week, my friend had her first baby. A beautiful little girl. Some unforeseen complications have kept the baby in the NICU for the last few days, and for the next few at least. She’s doing well–stronger each day–but as my many mom-friends can attest, there’s a lot of stress and worry that accompany a newborn, especially when you’re spending every moment in the hospital with her. So our gaggle of galpals decided to wrangle up some food–frozen meals, snacks, giftcards, and casseroles–and stock their kitchen so that upon their arrival home, they’ll have one less task on their to-do list.

This evening, my close friend Alex and I went over to their home to drop off the food. Alex is staying with her own daughter at her parents’ house while her husband is out of town. I picked her up, we drove the food over, and I drove her back home. I went home, promptly ditched my work clothes for some pajamas and set about making my dinner-for-one specialty: spaghetti. I got a text from my friend while I cooked and saw it was a picture. Thinking it would be an adorable baby picture, I opened it while I was busy multi-tasking. It wasn’t, so I tossed the phone aside and forgot about it.

Hours went by, and I laid about like a lump on the couch binging The Office on Netflix as I do every autumn. I idly scrolled through instagram and saw a message from my mom about the power of being quiet in prayer. Spending time to listen to the Lord and cultivate a relationship. Whitespace. Moved by this, I turned the TV off and laid down with my eyes closed. Think the unthunk thought, Funt would say.

My brain went to all the usual places it does when you try to quiet your brain: you should put that laundry away; do your dinner dishes, slob; what are your top priorities for tomorrow’s workday; whose birthday is closest and have you gotten them a gift yet–and then: wait, if that wasn’t a baby picture, what did she send you a picture of?

I scrambled for my phone and re-opened the text. It was a picture of Alex’s car keys. On our friend’s counter. Alex’s husband out of town, her baby’s carseat in that car, her job as a teacher demanding early hours–all the perfect storm for losing her keys. I texted back frantically, “Yes, I know those keys! I’ll be right over to get them!” Twenty minutes all said and done, I retrieved the keys and took them to Alex, who will be much happier when she sets out to leave at 6:00 tomorrow morning for work.

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I don’t share this story to brag about my victory in friendship; it’s just good sense that if your friend lost her car keys, there’s no way she’s going to be able to pick them up! But because the moment was so much more profound to me.

In 30 seconds of being quiet, I was able to recall something that, for Alex, was of vital importance. Her daughter, her coworkers, and all of her students count on her every day to be in a certain place at a certain time.

And God would do so much more for so much less if we would just stop and listen with more intention.

I truly do not think that God talks to us less than He did to the people in Biblical times. I think they were just better listeners. We’re surrounded by noise all of the time. But imagine the profound and life-changing affect that fifteen minutes of uninterrupted quiet time could do for you. Would you understand His call better? Would you hear an answer your heart has been aching for? Would you find the peace you’ve been waiting for? What will God do if you give him just 15 minutes? I promise, if you give the Lord, who loves you and created you, your heart for a few moments of quiet and prayerful, intentional listening every day, what God will give you in return is everything.

The Art of Letting Go

A few weeks ago, I got a new tattoo of a compass on my foot. I read recently that the compass is a more powerful tool than a map, because a map has two fixed points to begin and end and a fixed route between them. A compass, on the other hand, allows you to change your direction and even your destination. Your journey can be fluid, and you can be free.

This idea resonated with me; I love the idea of following God wherever He calls me. I love the freedom of changing my path as I find it, which includes the freedom to fail and re-route and move forward over peaks and through valleys. There is so much movement in a strong faith journey.

But there was an element of journey that I did not consider: what you must leave behind.

I’ve spent a great deal of time praying about and meditating on the fact that many doors will not be opened to me, and some I believe are open will be closed. Since we’re pretty accustomed to instant gratification, it makes sense that we’d become a people who not only receive instantly, but also want instantly. That is to say, it’s not just enough to expect an immediate turnaround once we make a decision, but that our decisions are actually becoming quite immediate, too. If a friend is reading a book, I decide instantly that I also want to read it and order it on Amazon–all in about 40 seconds.

By that logic, it makes sense how many times a day I find a path that isn’t mine. I see a life I dream about, a vocation I know I’d like, a job I think I’d be good at, and I say immediately, “Lord, could that be what you’re calling me to!?” without any real thought or discernment. Just a whim of a prayer. To which the answer is obviously (usually), “No, Erin, eyes on the road.”

What I have far less experience with are the moments when the Lord gently reminds us that there are many choices in life that we cannot make if we also choose to follow His plan for us. And that it’s not always a matter of right or wrong, but right or wrong for you. In my life, opportunities, jobs, friendships, and relationships have all come and gone quite naturally, some with a more abrupt stop than others, but not frequently. However, the more I invest in the idea of following God’s plan for my life with fervor and intention, the more it seems that the number of challenges in my life–the things I’m being asked to give up–is increasing.

When God increases your leadership capacity, He gives you greater problems to solve.

Bill Hybels, Willowcreek Church

God is calling each of us to be a leader in some capacity. That means shaping us and growing us up strong and ready to live as He asks.

To grow new, healthy crops, first the old, dead brush must be burned away. Lately, it has felt like God is burning away the brush of my life to make room for a thriving beginning. In the book of Job, we read, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Lord.” (1:21). So my prayer has been not for healing or for answers, or even to get back what I once had; but for vision. Vision to see not the end of the road, but just the next step. Letting go takes a great deal of faith, but hands clenched around one thing cannot be open to receive another.

Because while burning is painful, the garden will one day be beautiful.

something resembling holiness

I love the Lord and choosing each day to attempt something resembling holiness, but I’m hardly an expert at getting it right.

One of my favorite stories to tell involves me and a library. At 9 or 10, I was small–a peanut of a kid. I wasn’t tall and I didn’t have very much meat on my bones. On this particular summer day, I was slotted with the very important job of running our library books back in to the counter. Mom dropped me at the curb and I went skittering towards the building, books in hand, and reached the door–which did not open.

I looked up at the motion censor but it did not look back down at me. It gazed on over my head into a world of fully-grown bookworms and college students, waiting eagerly for their arrival but unconcerned with my measly chapter books. I was a motivated, driven, and bossy kid (incidentally, I am a motivated, driven, and bossy adult) and I would not be undone by this door. It was too heavy for me to push, but I remembered being told once that some automatic doors are triggered by weight on the mat. So I did what any intellectual library-goer would do: I jumped.

I jumped up and down on the mat, thinking surely if the weight didn’t work then my bonus height from leaping as high into the air as I could would get the attention of the choosy door censor.

To be honest, I don’t remember how I ended up getting into the library that day. My memory ends at this moment: me, arms full of books, jumping up and down with fierce determination, in front of the library door.

I think about that day once every few months. In many ways, it’s how I see myself taking the course God is setting out before me. That the fervor with which I choose a path can actually blind me to a greater call. Perhaps I’m being gently called to try another way, another door, but I stand at the one I’m sure is right, and I jump and plea and beg for it to be opened to me.

Which is how I ended up here. I am trying to abandon any path and go wherever He calls me. In John 2:5, Mary the mother of Christ, tells the servants at the wedding at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.” And what happens when they do? Jesus’s first miracle and the beginning of his ministry on earth. What a powerful testament to following where you’re called in the moment, instead of trying to anticipate God’s next move. I love this verse because there are levels of faithful obedience. Mary doesn’t know what she’s asking of the servants specifically–she just knows that for Jesus to become the Savior he was born to be, he needs willing participants in the ministry; so she finds them. The servants don’t know what Jesus is going to do; just that they’ve been told by his mother to get it done.

In the recent weeks, I’ve felt a stirring to start sharing with people. I’m very passionate about a handful of things, but none of them have ever felt noble enough (or I’ve not felt worthy enough) to talk about them. I love to organize the world around me, but it seems boring to others. I enjoy crafting and creating, especially calligraphy and handlettering, and have a small Etsy shop, but I’m not a professional artist. And I love the Lord and choosing each day to attempt something resembling holiness, but I’m hardly an expert at getting it right.

And yet, I feel called to share now. So I’m going to step away from whatever mat I’m jumping on at the moment and I’m going to follow this new path. As they saying goes, “God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called.” I’m not sure whether I’m building a boat in the water or building the plane as I fly–but either way I’ll trust whatever blueprints He throws at me.

I’m Erin, and it’s nice to meet you. 🙂