Mother’s Day is less than two weeks away! If “a flowered card with a cotton-candy-fluff sentiment penned in careful cursive” doesn’t seem like quite the right way to celebrate your mom, then I think you’ll enjoy this guest blog by Ashley Dickens, my friend and colleague at HOPE International.

By Ashley Dickens

When I think about my mom, I think about the Marines.

It’s an unlikely pairing, given that the only uniform my mother has ever worn is a cringe-worthy little number from her high school cheerleading days. However, several years ago my husband’s dog-eared copy of It Happened on the Way to War by former Marine Rye Barcott radically altered the way I thought about motherhood. It’s a gripping read that made me forget to breathe more than once, arresting my attention with the repeated refrain, “Marines move toward the sound of guns.”

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The fierce imagery of that captivated me. The defiant, almost irrational courage of unquestioningly running toward what others are running away from makes my heart beat wildly. I see that same unflinching courage in so many mothers across the globe—women who run toward danger simply because that’s where they’re needed. It’s a universal truth that transcends culture, race, and socioeconomic status—from suburbia to the Sahara, where you find a mother you will find a woman fighting fiercely for her children.

My mom isn’t a Marine. She’s a world traveler, an unapologetic risk taker, a passionate activist, and a killer chocolate-cake baker. Pint-sized and with an unflappable conviction that both zebra stripes and sequins are neutrals, she imparted the delicate art of sarcasm to me like it was a precious family heirloom and taught me that walking with Jesus is about infinitely more than being a “nice girl.” You’re far more likely to find her in a pair of feisty red heels than combat boots and fatigues—and she is the single bravest woman I’ve ever known.

Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, Hallmark tells me to buy her a flowered card with a cotton-candy-fluff sentiment penned in careful cursive—something the Ingalls sisters might have given to Ma. The absurdity of it puzzles me—something about a generic pink card has never quite seemed right for my mom. Or, I think, a lot of moms.

My mama is a force to be reckoned with. I remember standing wide-eyed and nauseated in our kitchen as a little girl when, without warning, I began to projectile vomit all over the white-tiled floor. The whole scene looked like something from The Exorcist—minus a Catholic priest or two. Indelibly etched into my mind is the memory of my mom running toward me, her hands irrationally cupped open.

She’s been running toward me my entire life.

My mother’s unflinching bravery carried her from the comfortable little town she grew up in to a doll-sized apartment in the post-communist city of Kiev, Ukraine. She packed up three children under the age of six and as much Jiffy peanut butter as she could stuff into her carry-on and moved our lives to a place where the only thing she knew how to say was a hopeful, “Do you speak English?” In a city with no workable educational options, where those who had come before her had thrown up their hands in surrender and left, she opted to start a brand-new school for her children to attend—one that still exists today. Her bravery has carried her into crumbling refugee camps and crumbling marriages—to the places that looked irreparably dark and broken. Very hardest of all, two years ago it carried her into a dark ICU where she held her 21-year-old baby’s hand as he died of cancer.

It’s what mamas do, isn’t it? They run toward the hard, the ugly—they run toward the sound of guns. Our mothers bravely dive into dark and splintering brokenness with us and show us who Jesus is over and over again. They’re the first on the scene when our bones and hearts are shattered, when savage insecurities rear their ugly heads and our dreams feel worn out and hollowed. They hold the midnight watch beside cribs and cancer beds, speaking life over our dead places and believing on our behalves when nobody else will. Our mamas love wildly and fiercely, mirroring the God who runs toward us as they teach us to be like Him—second-chance-givers, hope-bringers, restorers.

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My belief in the power of motherhood is an enormous part of why I love HOPE International so much. Through the power of the gospel, HOPE empowers mothers around the world to keep running toward hard and holy things, to keep bravely fighting for their children, their communities, and the broken world around them. At HOPE, we have the breathtaking privilege of watching mothers trapped in poverty harness the power of a small loan and a safe place to save their money, and run toward the most broken places in their communities. Day after day, they courageously step into the hard work of building stronger families, neighborhoods, and churches, one person at a time.

Mamas and marines—they have more in common than I ever imagined. This Mother’s day, if a generic pink card doesn’t quite reflect the valor of your mom, consider joining me in framing this for her instead. “There is no fear in love”—moms across the globe put flesh and bone on it every day.

If you’d like to join me in creatively honoring your mom this Mother’s Day, you can give her this digital print by visiting uncharity.org for a free download.


Ashley Dickens1Ashley Dickens serves as a Regional Representative for HOPE International. For more of Ashley’s amazing storytelling, please visit her blog.

There are few greater gifts than the gift of friendship. Today, I’m thankful to introduce my good friend Andrea Gurney. She’s a professor at Westmont College, Ph.D, psychologist, and friend for over two decades (how is that possible?). If you enjoy the following post on gratitude, be sure to check out Andrea’s blog, Stand in Love.

By Andrea Gurney

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A grateful heart changes everything.

It’s no surprise, then, that Jesus reminds us to be grateful 150 times in Scripture. Science is trying to catch up to Jesus (as often is the case!), and studies are beginning to reveal the importance of being grateful. Repeated empirical studies indicate that when we practice gratitude, we have higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, life satisfaction, vitality, and optimism and lower levels of depression and stress. It’s hard—if not impossible—to be stressed and grateful at the same time, after all! Practicing gratitude also leads to increased feelings of connectedness, improved relationships, greater empathy, and even altruism.As a clinical psychologist who has studied resiliency in children and families, I can attest to the power of gratefulness. Two people can undergo the same hardship, pain, or trauma, and their attitude can make all the difference in the world. I have seen this in my clinical office, and there is a burgeoning field of research indicating that gratitude mitigates the trials and tribulations of life.

When we follow Jesus’ call to gratitude, an inner shift of consciousness can occur as we focus on what we have, rather than what we have not. This is when hope emerges. And, in a 2004 study conducted with 5,299 adults, both hope and gratitude were found to be strongly correlated with life satisfaction.

How then do we cultivate gratitude in our own lives? Robert Emmons, a lead researcher in the study of gratitude, purports three simple steps:

  1. Look for the good.
    On a daily basis, we need to be mindful of the simple blessings that surround us. A call from a friend, chirping birds, a kind word, laughter among children, ladybugs, long walks, shared ideas . . . We live in a world that is full of both beauty and suffering, and we can readily become overwhelmed with what’s hard, painful, stressful, and tragic. It’s easy to focus on the clouds, but our challenge is to realize that it’s the sun that allows us to see the clouds. The simplest form of gratitude is joy.
  1. Receive the good.
    We need to take in, absorb, and savor the good. This is grace. We are so quick to move from one activity to the next these days that we forget to stop and see the wonder of this world. We need to slow down, breathe deeply, and savor the good around us. Next time you see something that makes your heart grateful, pause for one moment and relish in it. And then . . . share it!
  1. Give back the good.
    This is where we pass on the good by sharing it, speaking about it, and serving each other. This is one way we can love one another. When we speak of the good around us, it becomes more real and tangible. Unfortunately, our natural default is often to speak about the hassles and annoyances in our day, especially with those we are closest to. May we all be mindful, though, that when we make known the good, we are taking a step in the direction of mental health, blessing others, and following God’s call to be grateful.

So see it, savor it, and speak it on a daily basis. Try this for two weeks, and let me know if you see a difference in your own life!

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Andrea Gurney, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist, an associate professor at Westmont College, and an author. She lives in Santa Barbara, CA, with her husband and their two daughters.

Connect with Andrea: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Blog

5 More Words to Banish

March 31, 2015 — 1 Comment

A few months ago, I wrote about how HOPE was changing its mission statement to replace the language we use to describe “the poor,” a phrase that stuck in my throat whenever I tried to use it.

Since adapting the mission statement, I’ve been thinking about other words and phrases that might unintentionally dishonor friends. Our language matters—and I’ve found that there are a few more words that I’d like to delete from my vocabulary.

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Here are some words that I’m working to banish:

  1. “Third World” (as well as “First World” and “Second World”)
    Coined in 1952, these phrases were created within the context of the Cold War, when countries were characterized by the degree of their alignment with communism. (See this piece from NPR for more on the history of these phrases, as well as a great explanation of their shortcomings!)Based on the original intent alone, these categories are no longer relevant.Beyond that, though, these labels reek of perceived superiority and often accompany a patronizing approach to global issues.
  1. “Those people”
    When a sentence begins by referring to others as “those people,” my guess is that the rest is going to be derogatory. “If only those people would . . . ” or “Why don’t those people just . . .?” We do a great disservice to ourselves and others when we elevate ourselves and categorize the neighbors we’re called to love merely as “those people.”
  1. “I’m starving!”
    Children (and adults) in North America have been claiming starvation for years—especially around dinnertime. Yet most of the time, when we say, “I’m starving,” we are far from it.Several years ago, in Haiti, I met several mothers who were making bread with dirt and a pinch of flour, so that they had something to feed their children. After meeting people who truly were nearing starvation, I promised I would never callously use the word “starving” again.
  1. “Helpless” or “Hopeless”
    For far too long, we’ve underestimated the power of people, especially those living in poverty. When we refer to a person as helpless, we reinforce some notion that they are incapable of putting forth effort and that they need someone else to intercede. Individuals have far more capacity than we might originally realize. (See What’s in your hands? or Watching Seeds Grow for evidence.)

    Similarly, when we refer to a “hopeless situation,” we forget that we serve a God of hope—that 4th-quarter comebacks are possible on the field and in life.

  1. “It’s not fair.”
    Most often used regarding some great injustice—like your sister getting a larger ice cream cone or your friend getting a promotion—these words tempt us to forget the exorbitant privilege we enjoy. If you use the phrase, at least use it in the context of, “It’s not fair how many privileges I’ve been given simply because of where I was born.”

What else am I missing? Which words do you feel unintentionally miscommunicate and should be replaced?

The Shadow Side of Success

February 27, 2015 — 1 Comment

Success tends to be a spiritually precarious place to be.

“My greatest failures in life often came on the heels of my greatest successes,” a friend recently shared.

Even the Apostle Peter’s greatest moment of revelation—“You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”—was followed just a few verses later by his greatest rebuke—“Get behind me, Satan.”—after he thought he knew best the way Jesus should accomplish His mission.

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We long for success, but if we don’t handle it well, we will be wishing we never experienced it in the first place. How do we keep our success from leading to our downfall?

A first step might be to understand the shadow side of success, those attitudes which often accompany success:

  1. Arrogance
    The moment that we begin to think that our gifts, our wisdom, or our expertise are the reasons for our success is the moment that the decline begins. Leadership expert and author Jim Collins calls it “hubris born of success.” Pride is the root upon which all other vices grow.
  2. Expectation
    Every investor knows that “past results are no guarantee of future results.” Yet if we experience success, we tend to expect that every indicator will forever be up and to the right, and we’re crushed when exponential growth doesn’t always follow our best effort. Organizations rise, and organizations fall; leaders rise, and leaders fall. Our only expectation should be that God will be present and faithful, whatever the circumstance.
  3. Complacency
    Thinking “we have arrived” can lead to complacency. Yet there is always more to be done—projects to begin and improve, relationships to build and deepen, goals to set and strive toward. It’s not that we become obsessed by doing more or that we don’t stop to celebrate achievements; it’s simply a recognition that there is always room for improvement in our pursuit of excellence. There is always room for more fully love God and love our neighbors.
  4. Insularity
    Success tends to bring greater isolation, propping some up on a precarious pedestal. When we cut ourselves off from others, we often miss opportunities to hear wise messages of caution, experience, and vision. We need to seek out connections with others, especially those who challenge us with different viewpoints and perspectives. Criticism may be hard to hear, but it’s crucial to our health.

In 2 Samuel, we see the shadow side of success in the story of King David. On the heels of his military victories, he stays behind to gaze upon Bathsheba. And later, despite the fact that there are no current threats to the nation of Israel, King David orders a census to count the number of men who could serve in his army.  This was not in preparation for battle but to be impressed by his own greatness. Ultimately, David’s hubris and unwillingness to listen to Joab’s warning results in a devastating plague.

When we forget the source of our success, there are always consequences—though, much less devastating than the ones King David experienced.

As followers of Christ, we aren’t called to success but to faithfulness. Faith leader J.R. Briggs writes this in his book, Fail: “Many of us long for the equation to a fruitful ministry. Fortunately, there is none to be found. Some will try to offer it—and may be ‘successful’ in the eyes of others—but it won’t last. Faithfulness is needed.”

Or, as King David put it in Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Being known as faithful is a far higher compliment than being known as successful.