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Beautiful Resilience

I am a proud survivor of this year’s family camping trip. You remember I mentioned a glorious trek into the Emigrant Wilderness last week. Perhaps I should have printed T-shirts with a giant mosquito on the front and the simple statement “I survived Wood Lake 2020.” I thought the hike to our campsite was twelve miles. I had water for about that much. Turns out it’s more like sixteen miles but who’s counting? (Uhh, me actually)

It was so 2020! This must be the year of doing hard things. I didn’t realize the altitude would affect me so greatly. My feet blistering wasn’t quite in my plan, either. I got worn out, honestly. Then the mosquitoes took it to a whole new level of uncomfortable. But maybe life is feeling that way for many of us: a whole new level of uncomfortable. The economy, marriage, parenting, working from home, feeling lonely have worn us down. Are you struggling my friend?  Maybe the road you are on has taken an unfortunate twist. But once you head into that wilderness there’s just no turning back now, is there? You may find in the strenuous journey that you emerge a different person: stronger, wiser, more compassionate, and flexible.

Here’s the scripture that carried me through that sixteen-mile hike: “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persevering in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) I figure that if the apostle Paul can write this admonition as one who suffered much, surely it can nourish and support me with my daily struggles. Seriously, when your marriage aches with pain and baggage, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persevering in prayer.” Are medical issues weighing heavy on your heart, my friend? Are you wondering if anyone sees your life? Whatever struggle, whatever long ass journey you are on, be joyful in hope, don’t give up! Be patient in difficulty. Persevere in prayer. When this truth is your compass, the strength of God guides you. He will surely answer the cry of your heart. With each step, be joyful in hope, another step, patient in affliction, more steps, persevering in prayer, step by step. Joyful in hope. Patient in affliction. Persevering in prayer. As the trail grows steep so does your hopefulness. Resilience is invigorating. People will wonder at your patience and strength of character. Prayerfulness will steady your life and create a beautiful culture all around. The bottom line is love. When we are joyful, persevering, and prayerful we are actually loving ourselves, loving others, and even loving God.

On the journey, I had people cheering me on. I hope you do too. Either way, you are a proud survivor. Keep moving forward! Resilience feels great and it looks good on you too. Romans 12:12 is a guide; let it direct you no matter how long the journey. When you overcome difficulties this week, congratulate yourself on hanging in there! Appreciate what God is carefully crafting in your life.

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Do you need resources right now to come alongside your spiritual journey? Go to MargaretAllen.org to get Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion.

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Spiritual Life Prep

Today I will be twelve miles into the Emigrant Wilderness in California. A group of us will hike into the wilderness to set up camp at Woods lake.  We will be the only group around, as this 112,000 acre wilderness keeps us all socially distanced. Our flyrods are ready, axes sharpened, and all camping gadgets are packed. Hammock? Check. First aid kit? Check. Solar shower? Hell yes. Tents, sleeping bags, sleeping pads, sleeping meds, and sleeping buddies. Yessiree Bob. Every possible scenario of wilderness survival has been considered. Ah, the camping life!

Somewhere in the packing for this trip I felt God nudging me, what if you approached your spiritual life this way? I paused to hear what He was saying. I felt a loving curiosity, what if you applied that same interest, passion, and detail to some of Our life together? Ahh fair question.

What if I applied diligence and excellence to my walk with God? Not a performance thing but a heart thing.  Paul exhorted Timothy, his spiritual son in the faith, “Take pains with these things; be absorbed in them, so that your progress will be evident to all.” (1 Timothy 4:15) I’ve read scripture every day for years but is my progress evident to all?  Am I just kind of wandering through my spiritual life or does God hold my full attention?

Listen, if the prep and excitement around a weekend getaway can put our spiritual life prep and excitement to shame, let’s consider making a few adjustments:

  1. God is speaking every day. We must position our heart to be quiet enough and focused enough to hear Him. What is he saying to you this morning?  
  2. Spiritual questions? Research your questions as diligently as assessing an Airbnb for a weekend away! List questions, consider all the options, talk to experts, get clarity. God is not a God of confusion, nor will He cave under your scrutiny. 
  3. Read a first century biography about Jesus.  Study what He said and did as recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John. His life story is deeply compelling.
  4. Be absorbed in knowing and loving Jesus Christ, the King.

My friend, what a beautiful adventure we have walking with God! I know of no other relationship or destination that satisfies my heart so completely. “In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” (Psalm 16:11)

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Hey I am loving this Gracious Living journey we are on together! Thank you for following my blog. Get the book Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion at MargaretAllen.org. The kindle version is available on Amazon.

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Self-Talk

What’s the conversation sound like in your head these days? The harsh rhetoric in our world today seems to have leeched into my self-talk. Having just published my first book, I’m on a steep learning curve with publishing, marketing, social media, shipping and so on. My brain hurts! But I’ve caught myself being self-critical and exaggerating negative predictions like you’ll never figure this out! Why did you even think you could… you fill in the blanks. My daughter heard some of my stinkin’thinkin’ and she started quoting my book to me. In her sweet, young voice she read: 

Do the conversations in your head sound like someone who is deeply loved and secure? Is your self-talk filled with compassion and gentleness? Would you hope your daughters talk about themselves in similar ways? Small changes produce significant results.  Thinking of yourself and talking to yourself with affection and appreciation may seem insignificant, but it cascades into a more gracious environment all around. Silencing the harsh voice of self-criticism and speaking to yourself with grace is sunshine for your soul, my friend.  You’ll feel the warmth—and so will others.” (Gracious Living, p. 37) God bless that child and our kitchen conversations!

The turn-around for me was quick. At the next obstacle, instead of berating myself, I purposely declared there’s a lot to learn here, and I’m new to this, be patient. You see, if I had a friend entering a new profession, I wouldn’t call her stupid for not knowing things. No, I would call her brave for trying something new. I would say things like hang in there, you’re just learning, be patient with yourself and with the process. It is a gracious choice to speak kindly to oneself as well as others.

How do you keep the conversation in your head bright and true?  Do you struggle with negative predictions? In this season where we are all grieving some sort of loss, intentionality is key. The Apostle Paul wrote that we are to “bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5) Ruminating on negative, fearful, or critical thoughts doesn’t produce goodness in us.  The wisdom writings in Proverbs state “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21) I’m learning to speak life over myself and others. My goal is to release resilience, hope, and peace through my words.

Don’t let negativity creep into your language! Take those thoughts captive and replace them with truth and love. We each carry tremendous power to speak life and love—over ourselves, our friends and family, our community and nation. Use your words to create a culture of honor. You, and those around you, will be lifted up.  

You can buy the book Gracious Living, creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion today at MargaretAllen.org or the Kindle version on Amazon.

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Hopefulness

What do you see when you look at this picture? A young groom and a minister watch as the bride walked down the aisle. It was a lovely day in June. In spite of a pandemic the small group that gathered for this occasion was filled with joy.

A picture is worth a thousand words, isn’t it? I see prayers fulfilled. It turns out this precious groom, Gabriel Paxton Smith, is the young man I started praying for 24 years ago. I look back at the things I prayed for my daughter’s husband to be and Gabe is every bit of that and more! Given that their wedding occurred in the middle of a pandemic and racial crisis, I feel that their marriage will be used to bring healing and restoration in their generation. 

I see hope. The bride and groom are filled with hope when they dream about their future. They vowed to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.

But I see prayer fulfilled in our minister, the Reverend Eriq K Truitt-Reed as well. I’ve prayed for greater inclusion in the diversity of our spiritual leaders. Eriq is a spirit-filled leader and minister to me. I look to him as a model of one who has suffered racism and yet lives from honor. I grew up hearing “Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood” from MLK’s “I have a Dream” speech. My children grew up reading from “Martin’s Big Words” by Doreen Rappaport of how one day little black boys and black girls will join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. I’ve been praying not only for our nation, but also our community and family to cherish people around us, honoring our differences and welcoming deep friendships. Eriq reminds me that my life is better because of that solid rock of brotherhood.

My friends, this is just one little picture from one little backyard, but it speaks hope to me. It speaks honor, love, and righteousness. I’ve heard testimony recently that pictures and articles telling beautiful stories of reconciliation are being suppressed from social media. Good and hopeful stories are buried so that you can’t see them. Share this story. More importantly, keep building a culture around you of honor, love, and compassion. Pray for the future you want to see—in future sons-in-law as well as a brotherhood and sisterhood filling our lives with beautiful diversity. Pray for justice in our country; love in our homes.

Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne; Lovingkindness and truth go before You.” Psalms 89:14

Go to MargaretAllen.org to sign up to receive this blog in your email each week or to purchase the book, Gracious Living, Creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion

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Waking Up

I woke up sensing:  I have food to eat of which you do not know. Ok, that’s weird but I recognized it as something Jesus said in the Bible. Like a smooth stone in my hand, I turned the phrase over and over in my mind. God why are you saying this to me?

I have food to eat of which you do not know comes from the Biblical book of John, a first century biography of Jesus, chapter 4. The story describes mid-day during a long journey and Jesus’ disciples have gone into town for food. Jesus, sitting at a well encounters a Samaritan woman. He rips through social boundaries to experience a genuine conversation with her (normally it would be improper for a rabbi to speak to any woman in public, especially one of mixed race as the Samaritans. It was even greater impropriety to share a drink with her). The long story short is that He pretty much reads her mail! He indicates knowledge about her past with all of its disappointment and shame. He indicates knowledge of her future hope. Get this: He tells her that God is seeking true worshippers. She, a discarded Samaritan woman, mattered to God.  

What I love about Jesus is that He did not participate in racial bias. He refused to be hindered or held back from extending justice toward a woman of the lowest rung in society. He lived out a life of honor, love, and compassion rather than perpetuating fear, shame, and division. Do you know anyone like that today? Are you that person creating a beautiful culture in your community?

I haven’t even gotten to my favorite part of the story! When his disciples return with the food, He essentially says no thanks, I’m full. Besides being shocked that Jesus is speaking to a Samaritan woman, the disciples want to know where He got his grub! Jesus clarifies, My food is to do the will of God. And what was the will of God? To bring this woman into wholeness. To establish her worth, dignity, and purpose. To answer her deepest questions about friendship with God. 

When I woke up with the Spirit speaking those words, I have food to eat of which you do not know, He was reminding me there’s a feast in the Spirit of God. There’s a joyful sustenance bigger than my circumstances would want me to know. Jesus is seeking an encounter with each of us today. He wants to minister to our pain and our shame. He waits to release hope, purpose, and destiny to us! Dear friend, do you have food today that others can’t see?

Hey, if you’re digging these posts, feel free to share them on your social media! If you want to get these as an email every week, just go to MargaretAllen.org and click on Mondays with Margaret and sign up for emails at the bottom of that page. Buy the book Gracious Living for yourself or be crazy and buy 10 for your friends to read and discuss! 

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Power in Community

I think I’ve been doing it all wrong. I’m an independent woman. I try not to inconvenience anyone. I carry my own weight. It’s all good until it’s not.  Sometimes my independence shields me from connection and vulnerability. I’m afraid to trust people to come through for me. Sometimes I limit my life to what I can accomplish rather than open myself up to greater possibilities.

Women I barely know came through for me this weekend. If I remained the independent woman as I hosted a backyard wedding for my daughter it would have looked like a hillbilly affair with lawn chairs and poppin’ open a cold one! Instead, wonderfully talented gals came and created beautiful spaces.  The flowers were prettier than any I’ve ever seen–Anywhere. Sheree, you are an artist! A huge display of pictures of the bride and groom were artfully hung with cute ribbons and hummingbird cutouts and sweet little flowered twine. Anne, I don’t ever want to take it down! A woman from our high school heard that we needed a speaker and mic at the last minute and she drove an hour to deliver it to our house. Who does that?! Chrissy, I’m humbled by your generosity.

Every now and then, the Bible states something so plainly it makes you smile. I could probably write the first three words of this scripture and you would be able to finish it: “Two are better…” Do you know it? “Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10) No duh, right?

At first glance this scripture is so basic it makes us smile. But then we realize the foundational beauty of it. People frequently resort to independence and isolation. Yet, at our core, we all understand that two are better than one. We need each other! In the New Testament we are instructed to “bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2) Fulfilling the law of Christ means living out His life of love toward others.

Yes, it is humbling to receive help. And yet beautiful and encouraging as well.  How many of us here in Silicon Valley long to know that we are not alone, that someone has our back? Who warms your community, my friend? Are there areas of your life where you would welcome some help? What are ways you can come alongside others?  We are better together. Let’s get off this independent track and love one another!

If creating a culture of honor is important to you right now, go to http://www.MargaretAllen.org to buy my book, Gracious Living: Creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion. Read it on your own or go through it with a group of friends, using the discussion questions at the end of each chapter.

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Sent

It seems like two days ago I was buckling my four precious kiddos into their seats in the tan minivan. This week the oldest is getting married and the youngest is graduating from high school. My sentimental feelings are wildly juxtaposed with feelings of sadness over our country’s systemic racism. Our family conversations have careened from George Floyd’s murder to decorating the wedding cake. And who the hell has time for Coronavirus right now?

My dad worked at M.D. Anderson hospital in the 1960’s. I remember asking him about racism back then. It turns out that M.D. Anderson had segregated bathrooms and water fountains in the ‘60’s. Being from the North, he was not familiar with these practices. My dad said he was reprimanded when he went into the “Black” bathroom or drank from a “colored only” water fountain. He told me, “As scientists, we thought it was ridiculous. We knew that under a microscope everyone’s blood looks the same.” Cautiously, I asked him what he did about it. I’ll never forget his answer: “I was working on my PhD. We were newly married and starting our family. Our life was so busy. I didn’t do anything about it. I was just living my life.” Sigh.

Am I really any different? I read works of black authors, support black businesses, push for diversity in my small circles of influence, but these are small gestures. And they cost me nothing. Again, deep sigh. In the midst of graduations and planning a backyard wedding, a new resolve has awakened in my heart to do better, to be more curious, more thoughtful, more honoring.

We watched the Netflix documentary 13th last night. I recommend it. If you have never heard Bryan Stevenson, check out his insightful Ted talk: “We need to talk about an Injustice” These are great starting points for discussion. We all have much listening and learning to do.

Hope came to me in a surprising way this week. With all these emotions swirling around me, of course I turned to scripture to find some insight. I looked and prayed and looked some more. Nothing stood out until I came across Psalms 127:4 “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth.” An arrow only fulfills its purpose when it is SENT. Each one of us as a child of God are sent into the world for a purpose. I have sent my children out as arrows—to fight injustice and oppression and to bring healing and light. Be a SENT one this week my friend. Create a culture of honor, love, compassion, and justice.

Go to MargaretAllen.org to buy my book, Gracious Living, Creating a culture of honor, love, and compassion. If you prefer an E version, go to Amazon or Barnes&Noble.

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Beginnings

Today is a big day for me. Maybe it’s a big day for you as well. June 1 is my day of beginnings. I became a Christ-follower on June 1, 1978. Huge deal. I married Andy Allen on June 1, 1991. Beautiful deal! And I chose that special date because my parent’s wedding anniversary is also June 1. Now, my book Gracious Living, serendipitously launches on June 1. I didn’t plan this availability date but I take it as a wink from God. He who knows the end from the beginning, who sat with me and encouraged me through many hours seated at a computer (not my favorite place), just wanted me to know that He is with me, ahead of me, for me.

God placed a cool story in front of my face this week. It comes from the biblical book of Joshua in chapter 3. God informs Joshua that he is to lead the people across the Jordan river into the promised land. “And it shall come to pass, as soon as the soles of the feet of the priests who bear the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, that the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off, the waters that come down from upstream, and they shall stand as a heap.” (Joshua 3:13) And sure enough, a few verses later it says, “and as those who bore the ark came to the Jordan, and the feet of the priests who bore the ark dipped in the edge of the water (for the Jordan overflows all its banks during the whole time of harvest), that the waters which came down from upstream stood still, and rose in a heap…” (v. 15-16) The priests, carrying the precious Ark of the Covenant, end up standing on dry ground smack in the middle of the Jordan riverbed until the entire nation could cross over on dry ground.

Come on! Can you imagine what those priests were thinking as they walked up to a rushing river with their precious cargo? The miracle didn’t occur until their feet were in the water. And that’s where God got my attention: the miracle didn’t occur until their feet were in the water!

Is there a rushing river you need to cross today? A dream, a promise, a change to make? We all cling to safety, to guarantees, to smooth sailing. My friend, it takes faith to step into the water. It takes a bold faith in God’s goodness to move toward that dream or promise. I don’t know about you, but I’m facing a rushing river. I just wrote a book and now it’s out there! Am I afraid, vulnerable, uncertain? Yes, I am! I don’t know what is going to happen next or how I am to cross this rushing river in front of me, but I’m steppin’ in!

God will not put a dream in your heart without also empowering you to fulfill it. What obstacles are you facing today? I encourage you to lock eyes with God, get His vision for your life, and step in! Will you be frightened and vulnerable? Probably yes, but there’s a promised land waiting for you on the other side.

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What We Feed Grows

Where our attention goes, energy follows. If we feed any habit, good or bad, it grows with the feeding. To create culture, we must focus on the things we want. Right now, we have the incredible opportunity to slow down and choose our focus. We can clarify what really matters and shift our attention to make it happen! Are you interested in creating a culture where the people in your life feel honored and understood, valued and appreciated?

This coming Sunday is a scheduled day of focusing honor on one person: our moms. I believe in going all out on Mother’s Day, and here’s why: I believe in creating a culture filled with honor, love, and compassion. I believe we must intentionally foster honor for women as our society often marginalizes or objectifies them. In many households it is the mom who serves the family the most, and yet receives the least amount of thanks. I believe in creating a culture that honors service and responds with gratitude.

What happens when Mother’s Day is no big deal? Everyone loses! Our children don’t learn how to demonstrate honor and respect. A watching community fails to perceive the value of motherhood. And let’s face it, us moms are giving it all we’ve got 24/7 and a genuine expression of love would be like oxygen to our soul!

But let’s get practical, what does going all out look like? This is a day to hit all the love languages. Don’t hold back! Encourage her with words of affirmation in what you say or write. Create quality time together. Make or buy a gift that shows your thoughtfulness toward her. Find a chore that could be done without her having to ask. And hug her! We all long to know that we are loved and appreciated for who we are, not just what we do.

It took me a few years as a mother to realize that I need to communicate in the week leading up to Mother’s Day what I would like to see happen. Moms, set the expectations for your day! No one can read your mind or guess what feels honoring to you. Let your family know ahead of time what makes you feel uniquely loved, appreciated, and honored.

One of the many, many things I love about Jesus is that He provided for His mother at the end of His life. Hanging on the cross, Jesus looked at His mother and committed her care and provision to His closest disciple, John. (See John 19:26-27) Throughout His life on earth, and even while He was dying, Jesus created a culture of honor toward women. Women were the least and last in the society of His time and women continue to be the least in our society. I believe in following Jesus’ example of honor, love, compassion toward all women, but especially the women in our life today. Bless you this week my friend, and may you create a beautiful, honoring culture in your home.