Do you ever feel like you are just not enough? Like everyone else has something that you seem to be missing? Do you ever feel like you have no idea what you can contribute to the world? Thoughts like that are not thoughts that come from God. They are put in our heads by the people in and experiences of our lives.
God says we are created in His image. He says we are made exactly how He planned us to be. The definitions of beauty and value in this world and in our society are shallow and short-lived. We tend to want to be around people we find attractive, and will even shortchange our own needs and overlook a world of hurtful actions in order to stay close to them. When we do that, we become smaller inside. We say what's on the inside of people is what counts, but we don't really live like we believe that. Our attention is held, quite often, by what we see on the outside and it is easy focus on the things we feel we are lacking.
It can be pretty easy these days to get caught up in comparing ourselves to others. Heaven knows, we see the perfect moments in their lives on their social media. Suddenly, we can find ourselves trapped in a cycle of thoughts that tell us we have nothing as beautiful or amazing or interesting to contribute as anyone else.
That, Beloved Friends, is a lie. We live in a society of distractions, fears, and arguments that can work together to prevent us from doing the things we can do to change the world. As long as we are focused on feeling bad about ourselves, we are less likely take that step to help someone else. We convince ourselves it won't matter, anyway. The truth is, we have tremendous power to affect this world for good by doing good.
When we started The Torch, I truly did not believe I had anything good to offer the world. I started out meek and afraid, doing one little thing at a time, and God proved me wrong. He will do that for you, too. I encourage you to stop letting the lies dominate your thoughts and start living the truth. Change the world.
You are ENOUGH!
There is a powerful force inside that drives dreamers to dream dreams. The desire to change the world for good can supersede all logical thought processes. When dreamers are also doers - the combination of the forces of dreaming along with the casting aside of logical thought can lead them to forge ahead, neglectful of their own physical, mental and emotional well-being. Living for dreams causes suspension of time and space - and a determination to show a world that doesn't always understand, or sometimes even care, that the dream is worth pursuing, and the change it will bring about must happen.
So dreamers who both dream and do - paint visions and take action to bring them to life, ignoring the costs to themselves sometimes for days or weeks or months or even years. So consumed are they by the dream and the vision of how the world could be better they don't often take time to stop and rest. They move forward and hope and pray and do whatever it takes to make their dreams happen.
And dreamers make the world different. They make it a better place. Their determination to fulfill their dreams leads them to a plane of life where they feel untouchable, unshakable, and full of hope that sustains for a long time.
But, there come times when sudden reality crashes through the blind pursuit of what the dreamer knows is her right and true destiny. The collision comes in the form of an attack on health - mental, physical, or emotional. Or it comes in the form of nasty negativity and hatefulness that pierce the vision and hurt the dreamer. Sometimes, it's the sudden realization of how far the dreamer has come, and the nearness of another huge step toward the culmination of everything the dreamer has relentlessly pursued. Doubt can set in and attack, and dreamers find themselves crashing hard.
And they notice how tired they are. How broken their bodies are. How there are still so many people who don't seem to understand. How not everyone sees the world the way it could be. Criticisms and complaints seem ten times worse than they really are when reality tries to shatter the dreams and the dreamer. For a time, quitting seems like a viable option, indeed, an escape into a regular life with a regular, predictable routine, away from destructive forces and the physical, mental and emotional pain that living out dreams can bring.
And wise dreamers pull back. They stop for a time. They rest. They refuel. They block out the dream crushers and are drawn to visionaries and encouragers. They heal. They restore. They begin to dream again, and the dreams overtake the reality because for dreamers life is not really lived by staying safely in line with the status quo. It's lived by getting back up when they are knocked down. It's lived when the naysayers are nothing but hot air blowing in the wind. It's lived when the yearning to continue pursuit of the dream is so powerful reality begins to fade - and hours pass quickly as, together, they paint visions of what could be and how to get there.
Courage is restored. Hope is renewed. And the vision moves forward, always growing, changing, and responding - and never, ever, crushed.
Recently, I find myself at moments when I am overcome with joy. It's something I have never felt like I deserve to have, and yet, here it is. After a long hot day full of hard, dirty labor, I took the best shower ever. I sat down on my couch and felt joy flood my soul and fill my very being. It was unlike anything I have experienced before, and I marveled and wondered about it. Why now? What has happened in my life that fills my heart so completely?
I think the biggest contributor is that I stopped looking for it. I had a preconceived notion about what joy and happiness were and are, and I had them linked together with each other and with the circumstances of my life. I thought material things and comforts would bring me joy. The problem is material things are temporary, and I was mistaking pleasure for joy. I have discovered a profound truth about joy - it has nothing to do with outward circumstances and possessions, successes and failures.
Joy resides completely inside my mind, my heart, my soul, and my spirit. It awakens and floods me when my life touches the heart, soul, mind and spirit of another human being. All the securities and material articles and items I used to cling to have been removed. My life started over with nothing a few years ago. It wasn't the plan I had, or the future I had envisioned. I always believed as I got older, life would get easier - I would be able to afford the things I needed and many of the things I wanted, I would be more equipped to handle when circumstances went wrong because joy and happiness were just beyond the next obstacle.
So, I was wrong about all that. I was looking too hard and in the wrong places to find joy. I realized this recently after a deep conversation with a gentleman who came to the food truck. We were shooting the breeze about the weather and the food and other generalities, when the conversation turned more serious. He began to tell me about his life - the life he had before a terrible car accident left him disabled and disfigured. What the accident didn't do, was take away his gentle, kind spirit. He made a statement to me, ever so softly, before he went to sit down to eat. He said, "I'm not even sure why the wife and I are still here on this Earth. Only God knows."
And I know. He is here for people like me, who need to learn that joy happens when two souls collide and profound truths are embraced and shared. Financially, for where I am in life, I am a failure. I have not attained the wealth or status or house or anything else I thought would come along naturally as I grew older. There was a time when I would have dwelt on that a lot, and been worried about it a lot. But not anymore. Whatever my financial and social status might be at this stage of the game, I understand they have no power to bring real joy.
As I think about the gentleman, and many other people who come to the food truck, I realize how we are truly not about food. We are about human connections. We are about knowing people who are unwanted, discarded, ignored and dismissed in this society. We are about understanding how deeply connected we all really are, and how it actually hardens us to joy when we avoid reaching out to those who are different.
Joy comes from relationships, from serving, from listening, from truly seeing the other human beings in our lives, from accepting wherever God has us, and from allowing ourselves to care. When we find true joy, it is overwhelming. It bubbles up inside us and spills out everywhere. And nothing can take it away.
As we are out and about with The Torch and Torch 180, Sarah and I meet with a lot of people who are interested in learning more about what we do, and, usually, why we do it. What we do has a pretty straightforward explanation - it's not hard to describe the act of taking out the food truck or instructing students. The why can be more challenging for people to understand. We were recently in a conversation with someone, and we spent probably a half hour or more talking about how we wanted to love people unconditionally with the food truck and our classes. We explained how we felt God calling us to reach out to people with love - and no strings attached. We shared how repeatedly God has answered prayers and removed impossible obstacles. And how deeply we believe people need and deserve to be loved and accepted.
As we were winding up the conversation, we were asked, "Where does Jesus fit in all of this?" I have to admit, not much leaves me speechless, but I was dumbfounded by that question. It took me a minute to regroup and I think I stuttered out something about how we are always willing to pray for the needs of the people we are privileged to meet. But I have thought about that conversation a lot recently.
I'm afraid of a Christianity that no longer believes love is enough. Jesus Himself said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” A long time ago, when I first began to explore the Christian world, there was controversy at my church about the New International Version Bible, which was gaining popularity over the King James Version. One night, a gentleman was explaining to me why he believed true Christians only used the King James Version - he said, "If it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me." Even someone brand new to faith like I was saw the flaws in that statement. But, Jesus is the One who tells us to love. As far as I'm concerned, the statement fits this situation - if it's good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me.
Sometimes I think our human desire to categorize, organize and control is taking over our ability to follow God in faith. We want to know how many people were in church, how many people attended our event, how many people signed up, how many people were converted... and on and on and on. Then we can easily compare success and failure. But if faith is supernatural and surreal, we can't fit it into categorized boxes. Sure, we love hearing feedback from people who feel loved by us, but we don't discount the fact that there are a lot of people out there who need community, need to feel loved, or are just watching us express our caring for others - people who may never tell us. We just have faith that God is using love to touch lives. We have faith that He can do that.
Faith and love go hand in hand, because people are very skeptical when others say they are doing something out of love. They are skeptical when we change the status quo, because the status quo can fit neatly into our box of understanding, whereas categorizing things that happen by faith is like trying to hold onto fog. Since people don't believe that others are really trying to act out of love, it takes faith sometimes to keep going.
When people ask "where does Jesus fit into all of this?" it can be discouraging, but through faith we keep on going. And so many unexpected and supernatural blessings come our way - our encouragement is not of this world.
It seems like Christians have become comfortable attaching conditions and strings to love. If we try hard to love others unconditionally, we can't put conditions or strings or expectations of a reaction from them on our love. Loving people unconditionally can only happen when we are willing to go the extra mile in reaching out and encouraging and helping others without expecting ANYTHING in return. They don't have to become just like us. They don't have to attend a certain church, or sign onto a specific political affiliation. They don't have to treat us with love. They don't have to give us money. They don't have to listen to us talk about God.
They just have to be human. And we just have to love them as they are in faith that God, in His supernatural way, is capable of doing whatever it is He is going to do in their lives. We get criticized for that. We get slammed for it. And yet, we are continuously blessed in surreal ways.
We are commanded to love. And it is enough.
Our society is making me sad. It feels like we are a group of human beings who share space, but not lives. We often don't respect or care about the humanity of our fellow citizens. Maybe it's just me, but I feel like we pride ourselves on being individuals - so much that we forget we are people who need community.
I live right near a very busy expressway, US 23, where they are doing extensive, long term construction. The speed limit is 60 mph through the construction and 45 mph where workers are present - which I assume means if human beings are out there on the expressway working on the construction, then drivers should only drive 45 mph. But they don't. I play a game with myself that Torch and 180 get a $125 donation for every car that drives through the construction zone above the posted speed limit. I am on that stretch for about ten minutes at a time three days per week. We are up well over $10,000. That's a lot of speeding. The thing is, as drivers, we seem to weigh our desire to hustle to where we want to be as more important than the safety of the human beings who are working on the road that gets us where we are going. Things can go wrong very quickly on an expressway, that's why there are speed limits. And driving is not a right. It's a privilege that we can take for granted.
Recently, there have been several fatal car accidents in the area. They are often caused by distracted or impaired drivers - who disregard the laws that give us the privilege of driving. It's unsettling that people so casually get behind the wheel of a machine capable of killing others.
Where is our compassion? Where is our ability to care about others more than ourselves? I see people talking about poverty in our country, and it's discussed as if it is a race problem and dismissed as if that's that. But poverty is a socio-economic problem, and people who live in poverty need our compassion, our understanding. They need to know that people care, and they matter. They need to be heard and understood, not callously lumped together as one stereotypical group and then criticized. They are people.
Sarah and I were in a meeting recently with some officials from the local health department. They were being very complimentary and appreciative of what we do at Torch and 180. It was nice to hear, but it's uncomfortable for us to receive compliments. We aren't doing what we do so that people will compliment us and it can feel awkward. The reality, too, is that often we hear more negative feedback than positive.
We have had to make some tough decisions as leaders of these organizations. We have made some mistakes, as well. What we have found is that even if we apologize, sometimes people would prefer to hold a grudge and try to undermine what we do in the community. But, we are just human and are doing our best to do our best with Torch and 180. And we have found a little grace, a little understanding, a little acceptance can go a long way in building community and in helping us all remember we are all human beings with lives that matter. And we need each other.
Meghan, Makayla, Preston, Jackson, Nikole, Courtney and Abbey making history - March 23, 2017!
Ever since Sarah and I founded The Torch and Torch 180, we have experienced a multitude of surreal moments. Those are the moments that take on a dreamlike quality and transport us from this earth and the reality of how tough life sometimes is to a place of joy and excitement with insights to how life could be. The surreal experiences we have had have all stemmed from a similar beginning. One of us said something like, "I wonder if we could...". And those words were followed by a lot of prayer and action and even sometimes, doubt, but we always just kept moving forward. And sometimes, like this past week, it wasn't until we were past the work and the stress and the struggles of making things happen that we actually stopped and caught our breath and were overwhelmed with the surreal nature of what just happened.
This moment actually began with some dreaming and a conversation last spring with a teacher at Howell High School, Carolyn Bishop, who wanted to know if it would be possible for her Jet 2 class to open and run a sandwich shop serving staff and students at the high school. Sarah and I didn't know if it would be possible or not, but we started to dream and to plan and we entered into an agreement with Carolyn that we would come to her class and work with the students, teaching them kitchen safety and basic culinary skills - AND employability soft skills and how to run a business.
And there were times when we looked at each other and said, "Is this going to work?" To our knowledge, nobody has done this before with a group of high school students. But we believed, even though it was difficult sometimes, that the students COULD learn how to do it. We believed they COULD overcome their own doubts and fears. We believed they COULD do it. We didn't always know the "how" part, but we decided that could be figured out. So we trained, and consulted, and prayed and worked to get the students ready.
Then, Wednesday, March 22, Howell High School's Jet 2 class opened "The Sandwich Club" to the staff. It was official and real - and the staff responded with amazing support. I have to say, if you are perhaps thinking something like: making sandwiches is easy. Please allow me to correct you. It's not. In fact there really isn't anything about working in a commercial kitchen that is easy. It makes me crazy when people think a dish washing job, for example, is easy. That is very wrong thinking. It is not easy to properly wash dishes. I would eat from dishes my students washed over those most other people wash any day, because people often have unsanitary methods when they wash dishes. And when you break down running a sandwich shop into all the steps and moving parts that have to flow together - it can appear daunting. So, just know, making sandwiches for a shop is NOT easy. But this blog is not about that soap box, so I will step down.
This blog about the feeling of amazement, joy and hope that flooded my soul Thursday evening when I finally had a moment to sit down and reflect on the two days The Sandwich Club students made history at Howell High School. In the moment, while the shop was open for business, I felt intense and involved and, sometimes, stressed. But, when I relive those hours in my memory, they feel surreal. I'm so deeply proud of the students who stepped up and took control of their kitchen, who solved what seemed like a million problems, who set aside their personal differences, and overcame obstacles their disabilities could have potentially given them, and they worked hard - as a TEAM - and they did it.
They did it!
Sarah and I are cogs in the wheels with these students. We believe they can do these things - and then they show us they can, and I don't even know why it feels surreal, because I really do believe in the students. But I do know one thing. Moments like these keep us working and praying and planning and moving forward - and saying, "I wonder if we could...".
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Over the course of the past two months, since I published "Praying Crazy Prayers", I have become aware of a prevalent phenomenon among the many women I know. It is the occurrence of lingering depression which is compounded by repetitive negative self-talk. Due to the nature of this book, and the nature of The Torch and Torch 180, I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of women. I hear them present at different events we attend. I receive emails and Facebook Friend Requests from them, I work with them professionally through the two organizations, and I have many opportunities to observe them as they live their lives.
It shocks and dismays me when I engage in personal conversations with the many wonderful ladies I know, and I hear how they struggle to feel good about themselves. These stunning lady friends of mine are in all walks of life. Some stay at home and care for their children. Some have pursued higher and higher education and have established themselves in the world of academia. Some are business women, and others are doing the best they can working at jobs they may or may not love. Some are incredibly generous to non-profit organizations - with their money or time or talents. Some are deeply involved with family issues or other time-consuming situations in their lives.
Without a doubt, we all hear a lot of negativity and criticism directed at us on a daily basis. We are too fat, too thin, not pretty enough, not rich enough, not accomplished enough, don't have well-behaved-enough kids, don't contribute enough, don't live int he right neighborhood, don't participate in the right programs or sports or events ... we are fed the message over and over again that we are not enough.
So it's no wonder I have observed the habit of negative self-talk in so many different women, and I was thinking about it a lot today. It is debilitating and painful to constantly feel bad about ourselves. And, as I thought about all that, it made me feel weepy. I started to wonder what I might be able to do to help counter some of it? Then, I realized that I don't always tell the ladies in my life how much I admire them. I don't remember to send a word of encouragement, or to say how wonderful I think they are.
All of you ladies out there - YOU ARE STUNNING! You are absolutely, stunningly beautiful in so many ways! You are intelligent - all of you! Every one of you has aspects of intelligence I so deeply admire. You are great cooks, bakers, encouragers, scholars, parents, friends, volunteers, hair stylists, social workers, nurses, physical therapists, home health care workers, teachers, principals, and on and on and on! You do so many things I can't do, and I admire you in so many ways. As a person who finds it difficult to open up and share with others, I am blessed beyond belief when you share with me. I learn so much from all of you. I love to see your pictures on Facebook, and to read about what's going on in your lives. I love knowing when your birthdays are, because I love knowing YOU! All of you stunning, beautiful, precious beloved ladies.
I just want you to know I am sorry that I have not been good about telling you that I admire you and am proud of all the many things you do for your families and communities. I am proud of how you persevere. I am proud and honored you are the ladies in my life, because YOU keep me going!
The negative self-talk has to stop, because I don't know one single lady who should waste time feeling badly about herself - there is just too much good in all of you! YOU are stunning! YOU are wonderful! YOU matter! And YOUR LIFE blesses my life!
It is an ambitious thing to think I can write a blog which will adequately describe how to develop strong, unwavering faith in God. Some things in life cannot be simply explained or described. I will say that developing strong faith in God requires work. If it didn't, everyone would have it and there would be no reason to discuss it. It would just be.
Faith requires me to suspend belief only in what is real and tangible and can be proven and to take a step into believing things I cannot prove, but I just know. People exhibit faith in everyday life. Think about flying in an airplane. I don't understand how something so large and heavy can hurtle through the air at astonishing speeds and get a whole bunch of people from one place to another. I know there is science and engineering in it and that makes it work. I also know that there is NO 100% guarentee that it will work every single time I fly. I have faith that I will arrive safely, and the odds are good, but there is always a chance of an accident. That's faith exhibited in everyday life. It could also apply to driving or riding in a car, or many other things I do. Because I have tried it and experienced it successfully so many times, I have faith it will continue to do so.
Maybe that explains in a small way how my faith in God works and has worked for many many years. I have seen what He does over and over again. Take my nonprofit organization The Torch, for instance. We had no idea what the process was for getting a 501(c)3 classification from the Internal Revenue Service, and we had no money to hire someone to help us fill out the application. We prayed and worked on it one piece at a time. When we submitted our application, it was with the knowledge that we would very likely have to reconfigure much of it in order to be approved. We were cautioned to be patient and expect the process to take up to three years.
We were astounded and blessed when our application was approved in one month! We could not have made that happen ourselves. Then we started raising funds and, four months after we launched our website, we had $4,000. Our research led us to believe we would need about $25,000 altogether to purchase a used food truck. Sarah sent an email to a company she saw advertised on Craigslist.
We received an immediate response from Craig, one of the owners who said he felt like God had put us together and that they would like to meet with us to talk about building a food truck. We met with Craig and Roger, the other owner of the company not long after that. Roger was listening to us talk about what we wanted to do, while flipping through an ebook we wrote. All of a sudden, he stopped us from talking and said, "You know, last week I was praying and God told me I was going to build a food truck and give the food away for free. And now, here you girls sit. We are going to build this truck!" And two months later, an amazing man of faith donated the remaining $20,000 we needed to finish the truck! I might add we have been told several times that the value of a truck like ours (because it has a COMPLETE kitchen inside) is $70,000 - $80,000. But God made it happen for us for far less.
Those are just a few of the amazing ways God showed up and has grown my faith throughout the years. I don't always know 100% that He will do exactly what I am asking Him to do, but I do know 100% that He will do something. He has never let me down once.
It does take work, though. I have to pray diligently and remind myself often of the things He has done. I'm such an imperfect being that I often forget and let myself worry, but the good thing about God is His acceptance of me is unconditional, and He continues to hear my prayers and answer no matter what.
Living my life based on faith is not easy, but the amazing things I witness God doing over and over again make it all worthwhile.
There have been an amazing number of events in my life that felt surreal. When Sarah drove the food truck home the 90 miles from Brown City Michigan to Brighton Michigan - that felt surreal. When Maddy and I moved into our very first apartment alone and safe, that felt surreal. The first time Sarah and I were interviewed on the radio - surreal. Seeing our pictures in Woman's Day magazine - ULTRA-surreal! And now this book. The fact that I actually saw it through and it is being published - feels surreal.
So, why do so many things feel surreal? I think because they are miraculous events that have happened to a very ordinary woman. They are resounding proof that, no matter how much I know I don't deserve to be loved and cared for by God, I am loved and cared for by God. I have lived a life in which the evidence of His presence has far outweighed any doubts I might have harbored in long ago days.
I don't take these things lightly, either. I am awed and hushed and overwhelmed sometimes by the magnitude of the miracles I have seen. Every single time I have a need - God fills it. Just this very week, we had to end an unfortunate partnership that had seemed so promising. We had a few good months, then realized it was not going to work out. We were sad and began the process of moving our supplies out of the building we were sharing. We were very much feeling a need and desire for our own space where we could continue teaching and working for our nonprofit, 180.
On September 9, the day before we had to have our belongings out of the building, I received a call from a friend about a potential new location. On September 10, we moved our stuff out. On the 11th, I called the gentleman who had a building, and he was delighted to talk to me and very eager to see how we could work together. It could potentially be a far stronger partnership than what we had in place before. Surreal. Even if it doesn't work out - I know there will be other opportunities for us to consider and grow.
I am so blessed. I am so excited at the thought of the new adventures that will accompany becoming a published author. I am so happy YOU are along for the ride. It's gonna be amazing!