Monday, September 28, 2015

Life Hack

Almost every day, but particularly every Monday morning, my first conscious thought is a taunt. I'm not quite awake enough to be able to quote it verbatim, but it goes something like this: "What are you going to do today to prove you're valuable?"

I wrestle to live according to the truth that I am a person of worth apart from what I produce or contribute, apart from my ability to perform. As I complained to a friend about not being able to create enough content for this space three times a week, she said, "Jenn, you have higher standards than anyone I know. By that I mean I don't know anyone who has standards like you have for yourself. You're going to have to learn how to lower them or you're going to burn out." She was right but I didn't like looking at that in the mirror.

My high standards were taking me to a very different place than I intended them to. They were breeding fear, not faith.

Brene Brown is a researcher who studies vulnerability and shame. In her latest book Rising Strong, she shares what she calls a "life hack" to help us discover the truth about something we're perceiving inside our heads when we begin to hear a message--like I did this morning--that triggers self-doubt, shame, and other negative thinking.

"The story I'm making up" can be inserted into any moment to give voice to inner turmoil and confusion. This morning, "the story I'm making up" is that I'm starting yet another Monday without a post ready and that I didn't have direction for the day. I was feeling afraid and worthless because I hadn't produced.

When I inserted "the story I'm making up" into this destructive swirl of self-doubt, the lies were interrupted and truth began to rewrite reality:

+"You are loved with an everlasting love, and underneath are the Everlasting Arms" (Deut. 33:27 and Elisabeth Elliott).
+"He delights over you with singing" (Zeph. 3:17).
+"I never ever have to be afraid" from a song I'd sung the day before about God's enduring, unfailing love.

Truth set me free.

This life hack works for me because The Truth (John 14:6) that came to mind was given to me when I accepted Jesus' invitation into a personal connection with Him. My perfectionistic standards would have taken me to a very dark place today if I didn't know Him,  and He invites you into this same unconditional love relationship. If you'd like to know more, I'd love to have a conversation with you. You can contact me at

Friday, September 25, 2015

Leveraging Me for You

How can I leverage me for you? I’d scribbled this on a stray piece of notebook paper next to my laptop a week ago and it caught my eye after I hung up the phone with Pam.

She had just shared with me about the hot mess she had walked into when visiting a refugee friend she and her church have been walking alongside for years. I listened as she tried to wrap her head around the complexity of the situation and how she and the team were going to address the current crisis. She felt overwhelmed, a bit flabbergasted, and more than a bit uncomfortable. She wanted to get some space from something she couldn’t figure out, let alone fix.

The idea of leveraging me for you sounds so generous, so world conscious, so noble, so catchy. The reality I’m beginning to bump up against is that there’s a real cost to truly embracing and living out this soundbite.

I leverage me for you every time I choose to use what I have--my skills, my resources, my time, my emotional energy, my prayers--for you before I use it to benefit me. If you can look me in the eye and tell me this is easy or that it comes naturally, I think you’ve either never tried this experiment before or you’re fooling yourself.

The times I find it easy to be “all in” for leveraging me for you are when I get to swoop in and be the heroine. I love being your fixer. But when leveraging me means stepping in shoulder-to-shoulder, close enough for you to smell the stink of my fear and for me to come away with your snot on my shoulder, it gets real, really fast. And when I can’t find a solution because my mind’s reeling from the life of yours that has become ours--suddenly all I want to leverage me for is getting as far away from you as possible. I want to separate you from your mess, but I it’s hard. It hits me: I might be in for a very long haul with you. It might require me leveraging me for you for the rest of my life so that maybe you can some day experience wholeness.

And then I’m struck by another reality. The reality of Whose example I’m trying to follow. When man was barely “hot off the press” and the world had just been created, the whole perfect paradise went to hell in a handbasket. Did God decide to wash His hands of that hot mess and leave us to our stinky, sin-filled selves?


He didn’t hesitate, but declared right then and there His commitment to the marathon of redemption, justification, and sanctification. God has been leveraging Himself for us ever since. In the fullness of time He sent Jesus to move into the neighborhood so that we could experience Him and be changed by shoulder-to-shoulder encounters.

Was it difficult for Jesus? Oh, I think so. He spent a lot of time in prayer with the Father so that He could do the work He was sent to do. That work was the ultimate leveraging me for you exchange, and it cost Him His life.

And that’s what He’s calling me to. Will I be willing to leverage myself for others, following His example and relying on His strength, even if it costs me everything? Oh, Lord; help me not to walk away from this hard yes. Show me how to leverage me for You, for their sake.

And mine.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Today is my birthday. My last year as a fortysomething.

In 2011, I wanted to have a different kind of birthday. I didn't want to spend the day thinking about myself, so I drafted this email and posted something similar on Facebook:

Dear Friends and Family--Today is my birthday, and I want to spend it in a different way than I have in years past. Because I have the entire day free, I'd like to spend this time praying for you. 

You all mean so much to me, and I want to celebrate what you mean to me by carrying your burden for a while or rejoicing with you about something good that God is doing in your life.

My prayers aren't anything special. This is just a way that I can give back to you for all that you've given me, and it helps me focus less on myself and more on the power and might and love and care of our Lord Jesus.

It was a fantastic way to spend the day! I heard from people I hadn't connected with in years and real concerns were shared and shouldered. 

Today, I'm bringing it back! I'd be honored if you'd share something with me. Please post your concerns in the comments, email me at, or private message me on Facebook. 

Friday, September 18, 2015

Writing with Four Legs: Doing Business

Author's Note: Today I have a guest blogger. Dakota is my 2-year-old yellow lab. She was a 2014 April Fool's joke that quickly turned into a foster situation. Her peaceful, honey-colored eyes and sweet, quiet temperament ultimately won us over and she became a permanent member of the Nahrstadt family.

Occasionally she'll have thoughts to share. Here's her second post...from under the Blue Table. Click here to read her first.

This stick will provide hours of good chewing.

I do business with Jenn every day. I like to eat first thing in the morning. Then, Jenn puts on my leash and we head out for a walk. About halfway through our walk I do my business. I’m very good at it. Jenn always says, “Gooooood business, Dakota. Gooooood business.” 

Sometimes though, I get so wound up in all the smells and sticks and other neighbor dogs that I forget I'm supposed to be doing business. Jenn will gently remind me, “Dakota, do business.”  I’m grateful for the reminder because sometimes I’m home alone for a few hours after our walk. I know that doing business in the house is risky business. 

The other day, I had no business to do on our walk. It was a little chilly, and way too early in the morning. Bob walked me later the same morning, but again--no business. Bob made sure to tell Jenn. Bob is very serious about business. He owns his own business and listens to a business talk show in the car every morning. 

Sometimes I don’t do business, not because I'm distracted, but because I’m just not ready.  Lucky for me, I have two amazing people who are committed to the success of my business and take full responsibility for helping me. They walk beside me, encourage me, and cheer me on when I do my business well. Jenn doesn’t gets angry if business is slow; she simply lets Bob know that I’ll need to go “walking” again later...but I what I really think she means is “business.” 

Am I the only one with such good business partners?

Writing with four legs,


Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Redefining Myself

Jennie Allen, IF Founder and Visionary, speaking to IF:Local Leaders Tuesday in Orlando.
Since my son Michael graduated from high school two years ago, I have been exploring how to redefine myself as someone other than full-time mom.

I worked with a life coach for a year, and what came from that period of self-examination and exploration was very surprising.

I am a leader.

What was obvious to everyone wasn't to me. I've always seen myself more as an encourager, someone who comes alongside others who are leading.

But tests don't lie, and just because I struggle with the moniker doesn't mean it isn't true.

In fact, I'm still getting used to hearing myself reply, "I'm a leader" when someone asks me who I am.

I've been learning to lead with a movement known as IF:Gathering. IF exists to gather, equip, and unleash the next generation of women to live out their purposes. Purposes such as leading. Since Sunday, I have been in Orlando at an IF:Leaders Summit.

There was so so much to absorb in just two days, and while I've not begun to process all of what I heard and experienced, here are a few phrases that describe the time.

unexpected invitation
equipping experiment
purpose undefined
trust over fear
choosing faith amidst confusion
welcoming environment
worldwide representatives
expectant audience
enthusiastic worship
collegiate volunteers
challenging teaching
engaging peers
rainy driving
Cuban food
sharing stories
wiping tears
deep conversations
perspective altered
friendship strengthened
discipling a generation
intense learning
uniquely designed for influence
growing awareness
fueling for battle
beautiful sunrise
confident mentors
ideas abundant
profound encouragement
thought provoking
questions unable to articulate
prayers heard
answers provided
divine connections
memorable moments
transparent leaders
vulnerable testimony
internal transformation
God exalted
future to be revealed
one day at a time

Have you ever experienced a redefining moment? What new identity are you embracing? If you'd like more information about how to get involved with IF:Gathering locally, leave a comment!

New Post Coming Later

Friends, I've been at a conference since Sunday and just arrived home last night. I have thoughts to share, but I have to gather them! Watch for a post later today...

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Chicken Dancer

It’s been an emotional week. God is stirring things up inside me, inviting change. I wrote on Monday about my friend Vicky, on Wednesday about the refugee crisis, and yesterday I cried as I watched a bunch of little Haitian children do the Chicken Dance online.

They were dancing in honor of Aimee Fritz.

Aimee moved here (not too far from my neck of the woods in Georgia) this summer from Wheaton, Illinois, where I lived for 15 years. Aimee and I are both friends with Pam, and we’d met two years ago at a Christmas boutique at Pam's house.

At that time, Aimee and her family were raising money for Blood:Water Mission as part of a year-long, self-proclaimed Family Compassion Focus (FCF). They were selling pallet stars wrapped in Christmas tree lights and other handmade items. Pam’s sale was the final push to meet their goal. I’d never heard of a FCF, but I admired Aimee’s desire to help her children understand that every single person--no matter how old--can change somebody’s world with small actions.

Fast forward to three weeks ago. Aimee’s children had the cruelest trick known to school-aged kids played on them by the state of Georgia: their move had robbed them of three weeks of their summer vacation. The one upside? Now the kids had the choice to take the bus to school after years of walking or being driven by their parents. For Greta, the youngest, it was a small novelty in the midst of a lot of challenging change.

But novelty quickly wears thin when you have to experience it at o-dark-thirty, and each day Greta had to get on the bus and look into the eyes of all those kids and not know a single one by name.

One day, in the spirit of “ whatever it takes to make your child smile,” Aimee did what any mother would do: something to make her smile. But Aimee chose to do something I’m not sure most other mothers would have. She did the Chicken Dance at the bus stop! After all, it was dark...

Ah, the things we do for love.

It worked. Greta smiled, the dance became a daily tradition, and it began to gain a following. Each day the kids on the bus pressed their faces to the windows to see if that crazy mother would shake her proverbial tail feathers and flap her arms.

So she did.

The things we do for love.

Then an idea came to her. Aimee's own friends had begun to ask to see the Chicken Dancer. So Aimee decided someone else besides her friends, Greta, and her bus mates should benefit from this request. She decided that "someone" was the Fritz FCF for this year--the people of Haiti.

At the time of the Chicken Dance, Haiti Partners was in the middle of a “back to school” fundraising campaign to provide 50 scholarships for needy students. So Aimee presented a challenge on Facebook: for $1500 in donations to Haiti Partners, she’d not only do the Chicken Dance at the bus stop again, she’d dress up in a chicken suit and allow a video of it to be posted on Facebook!

After three days of social media hype, chagrined self-promotion, and lots of laughs, that goal was met. Then--why not?--she upped the ante to $3600. THAT goal was met about 12 hours before she danced this past Wednesday!

The thing Aimee did for love, for her daughter Greta, and for her sons and daughters in Haiti who she has never met personally, raised over $10,000 for Haiti Partners!

When I found that out yesterday, I was moved to tears.

Ten thousand dollars because one woman was willing to do something, even something silly, for love.

Ten thousand dollars because one woman wants her children to grow up thinking of the needs of others and believing they are world changers.

Ten thousand dollars because God is softening hearts--like mine--for those He calls "the least of these."

And He says that whatever I do for them, I'm doing for Him--even if it’s the Chicken Dance.

The Chicken Dance challenge ends tonight at midnight. Click here to give!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I remember the first time this year that I heard about the Syrian refugee crisis. In February, our new pastor shared about the work his brother was doing with Syrian refugees living in camps in Iraq. He invited us to give money to help them survive the winter.

The story captured my attention for a moment, and then “out of sight” became “out of mind.”

In April, I watched, dumbfounded, as ISIS boldly beheaded 22 martyrs and read how Ann Voskamp met displaced Iraqi Christian women living in empty shipping containers without running water, electricity...or husbands. I gave money to help these women forge a new life and enroll their children in school.

And then I went on with my life.

A few weeks ago, my friend Pam shared a video on Facebook. It was a montage of a year in the life of a Syrian girl, created by Save The Children. I pay attention when she posts things like this because Pam hasn't just welcomed them into her neighborhood--she's invited them into her life

I was moved by what I saw, but only for a moment before I scrolled to the next post.

We eliminated cable in August, so we get our news from the car radio or read it online. I first heard about what was happening in Hungary last Wednesday.

A friend of mine told me that her daughter was due to start her semester abroad in London soon. She was concerned about her ability to get back in time for the start of classes because she was traveling via Eurorail and the trains were being held up in Budapest. There was some trouble with a large number of migrants there.

Rail traffic disrupted by frustrated migrants didn’t change the fact that I needed groceries. I strolled the aisles and bought everything on my list.

The next day I read Ann’s blog and saw the picture. A dead three-year-old boy isn't so easy to forget.

Even as I count up how many times I’ve heard about this crisis, I struggle to decide what to do. Social media urges me to snap a selfie with a sign that says #refugeeswelcomehere. Relief organizations seek donations for clothing, blankets, tarps, and baby food.

But what made my fingers pause over the keyboard as I read through the options at, was the opportunity presented to sponsor a family.

It’s one thing to post a picture or make a donation, but it’s something else entirely to say, “Yes, I’ll help a family adjust to life here.”

Talk about skin in the game.

Do I have the courage to say, “You’re homeless, hungry, jobless, and only have the clothes on your back? Come. My husband and I will help you”?

I am not naive about what it would look like to really do this. I’ve shaken hands with a few and watched Pam and her family intentionally walk out the Bible's command to "love your neighbor." 

And it is a command.
When asked what was the most important thing any serious God-fearing person could do, Jesus answered, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

As yourself.

Right now, what's going on with those refugees seems very removed from my life and I'm not sure how I'm going to respond. But to Jesus, there’s no ocean separating me from them, and He commands me to see them, to love them as I love myself. That doesn't allow them to be "out of sight, out of mind"--unless I want to try to separate me from myself. To accomplish that, I'd have to be out of my mind.

How are you processing what you’re reading, hearing, and seeing about the refugee crisis?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Strength Redefined

I’ve been experiencing some weakness in my right shoulder lately. I think it has something to do with a water buoy throwing lesson I had with Michael at the lake while we exercised Dakota. I’ve tried to rest it, but I haven’t asked for any kind of special treatment at work because I don’t want to be perceived as, you know, weak.

Then I read Vicky’s post. Vicky and I have been friends for four years. She lives in Minnesota and has had breast cancer the entire time we’ve known each other. Her transparent account of how this round of chemo is affecting her has haunted me for days.

Vicky can’t hide her weakness. In fact, when I talked about how each day is unique and how I feel challenged to experience all God has for me in today, she commented that she wondered how she could participate in God’s will for her life when she can’t clean, cook, or cheer on her boys as they play hockey.

Although I can't relate to her circumstance, I can relate to her question. When I can’t hide or deny my weakness, it makes me doubt my value--to my family, to my job, to God.

As I carried a heavy heart for Vicky all week, I came across a story in the Bible. The apostle Paul was sharing with some believers about an affliction that was tormenting him. He had asked God to remove it, but God didn’t. Instead, He told him, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you; it’s all you need. My power is made perfect in weakness.”

That is so upside-down to me.

In general, I see myself as strong and I’m proud of what I’m able to accomplish each day. I think to myself, Sure, my shoulder may be bugging me, but I can work around it. Nobody has to know about that. But what if it’s true that weakness is truly strength like orange is the new black? How do I go about identifying with my weaknesses, seeing them as assets, when all my life I’ve viewed them as liabilities?

Paul went on to share that he had experienced more of Christ’s power while dealing with his affliction than he had while he was strong. He went so far as to say he was at peace with his weakness--because that’s precisely when Christ’s power was fully evident.

My new friend Aimee once put it this way when trying to explain this concept to her daughter: When you think of something you want to do and actually do it, that's God allowing you to be strong. And maybe that happens about 10 percent of the time. But the other 90 percent of the time? When you feel like you can't do anything--at all--and it's scary? And you feel weak about it but it happens anyway? That's God.

So why do I avoid being perceived as weak? I want to experience Christ’s power, His strength! I think I’ve believed the lie that others will think less of me if they see me at less than my best. But that's when it hit me--I’ve never viewed Vicky as weak! Despite her physical limitations, she has displayed faith, courage, and strength so consistently that even if she didn’t say, I’d know it was coming from God. I love her for that and admire her so--she's like a modern day Paul and I want to be like her.

Weakness is unavoidable. At almost 49, my shoulder is telling me that, loud and clear. But how I choose to define it and Who I look to for strength in the big question that--depending on the answer--can redefine how I view myself and how others see Who my strength comes from. 

Whose life has impacted yours by how they're living it? Encourage them by telling them so today.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Introducing: Writing with Four Legs

Author's Note: Today I have a guest blogger. Dakota is my 2-year-old yellow lab. She was a 2014 April Fool's joke that quickly turned into a foster situation. Her peaceful, honey-colored eyes and sweet, quiet temperament ultimately won us over and she became a permanent member of the Nahrstadt family.

Occasionally she'll have thoughts to share. Here's her first post...from under the Blue Table.

I am feeling wonderful after a trip to the lake. Jenn takes me there every day to swim. Today, I rolled to my heart's content on a dead fish carcass. It was stink-a-licious! It's way better than rolling with dead worms on the driveway after a good rain. 

There is a blue table at our house. The blue table is very right for Jenn, but all wrong for Bob. For me, it's a great spot. 

Not roll-in-dead-fish-carcass great, but great, all the same. 

The table is the color of the sky and I feel like I'm outside when I'm really inside. And, of course, I can smell Jenn's feet while I lay there. {Sigh.}

I typically don't wade into the discussions between Jenn and Bob because sometimes a third opinion only makes things more confusing. Jenn didn't ask how I felt about the blue table, and I don't think she needed me to take her side. She simply wanted me to be nearby, and everyday since then I relax on my special place she created with Michael's old sleeping bag while she writes. 

On the day the blue table arrived, I could've taken Jenn's side and growled at Bob or chewed up one of his shoes. But it wasn't about pairing off. It wasn't about taking sides. It wasn't about protecting Jenn. She didn't need me to judge her decision or her taste in furniture. 

She just needed my support. 

And, for the record, Bob has changed his mind about the table. But he won't lay under it.

Do you find it hard to simply be near someone without judging their decisions? Is it harder for you when they smell like a dead fish? 

Under the Blue Table,


Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Serving, Thelma and Louise Style

Molly and I think of ourselves as Thelma and Louise. I’m not sure who’s who, but that’s not important. What is important is that we like to do things together. And this summer we were invited - together -  to share with a group of moms. They wanted to hear from us because we are “further down the road” of parenting. We were just glad they didn’t call us old.  

So one evening, we all gathered and Molly and I got to share our “mother hearts.”

I'm guest posting today over at the QPlace blog! Click HERE to continue reading...