Monthly Archives

February 2016

Real with Self

Guarding My Heart

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9

Sometimes I feel like I live a double life. On the outside, I tend to come across as a very practical, logical, Type A planner. I delight in consistency and order. And let’s just say it – I’m a hard core rule-follower. Despite my uptight tendencies, I’ve always thought that following my heart sounds like a beautifully romantic way to go about life. On the inside I’m a closet romantic. My heart has some really deep longings that I just don’t know how to hold back some days. Who doesn’t want to be swept off her feet and get carried away sometimes?

So I remember distinctly the first time I heard my pastor say that following your heart can be one of the fastest ways to ruin your life. That really messed with me. The rule-follower in me certainly doesn’t want to ruin my life, and the romantic in me felt like all my fun just got taken away. When I did some reading on my own I saw that instead of telling us to follow our hearts, God tells us in his word to guard our hearts.

I’m into words and meanings and when I started to think about what it means to guard something, I realized there are two types of things that have to be guarded, those that are inherently dangerous and those that are inherently valuable. The more I think about it, the more I have come to see first-hand that my heart is both.

My heart is dangerous and deceitful. I am in my very nature a sinner, it’s the way I was born and it will be a fact of life for as long as I live in this body and in this world. My heart will seek its way above all else and pull me toward my own wants and desires and selfish ambitions.

I have to guard my heart because I often find myself believing that because I want something really, really badly, it must be because I’m supposed to have it.

As a single woman, this form of deceit on the part of my heart most often comes in the form of my interactions with guys. My personal life experience hasn’t come from learning to guard my heart from the advances of smooth-talking men, but instead from having to learn to guard my heart from an even more dangerous adversary – myself.

Time and time again I’ve watched my heart and mind team up to do some crazy things. I plan and scheme and try hard to get whatever it is that my heart so badly wants. And when things don’t happen according to my plans or desires I’m left angry and disappointed. Often not because of any foul-play on the part of someone else, but because I let my heart run unchecked.

But there is another side to my heart. This heart of mine is precious and fragile too. My heart is the part of me that lurches when I see others in pain, that stops everything around me to take in something beautiful. It longs to nurture and pursue, to give love and honor. I am thankful for this vulnerable side of my heart that wants to see the best in people and give them the benefit of the doubt.

I have to guard my heart because living in this broken, messed up world makes me want to harden it.

Life is easier when things don’t hurt. And things hurt the most when they’re close to the heart. A soft heart is able to respond with grace and compassion, but is vulnerable to attack and disappointment. Hardening my heart may help keep out the pain, but it will also keep me from loving the way Jesus has shown me to love.

I’ve seen the beauty and grace of a soft, gentle heart and I’ve seen the wrath and pain of a cold, hardened heart. When I don’t guard my heart from the natural tendency to self-protect, I find myself becoming cynical, judgmental and not at all likely to care for others.

The fact is I can’t keep either side of my heart guarded in my own strength. The more I try to tie it down to keep it from ruling my life, the more I shut it down for the purposes it’s made to fulfill. Instead I have to constantly hand my heart over to God, not in one grand gesture but moment by moment and decision by decision.

As a young woman, I need to remember that the decisions I make and the things I experience today will shape my heart for years to come. Every day I make decisions about what to think about, who to talk to, what to look into, what to let go of and what to pursue.

There have been many days where I feel like my heart is this wild animal on a leash, pulling and straining at the bounds placed on it as it begs and pleads to have a chance to feel something wonderful, something it was made for. In those moments, I want more than anything to believe that following my heart will be ok. But letting my heart run away with whatever may be in front of it at the moment means that this deceitful heart of mine is about to drag this fragile heart of mine straight out into traffic.

Handing my heart over to God means inviting him into moments like this. Moments where I have to decide if my heart is being deceitful or if it’s at risk of being hardened. His answer isn’t always the same. Sometimes I need to step back and away from wandering into dangerous territory, but sometimes I need to step forward and into a place of trusting God in the unknown.

Jesus tells us that in this life we will have trials. No matter how hard I will try to guard my heart, things will come along that will hurt it. But Jesus also tells us to take heart, to be encouraged, because he has overcome this hurtful world. When I make decisions with this in mind, I hand my heart over to Jesus to protect me and this powerful, dangerous and beautiful thing he has placed within me.


Stephanie Keen

Cultivate Truth

I Was Adopted

Adoption is not easy.

Adoption only exists because of trauma. A child is only available for adoption because the family unit that was supposed to care for them, didn’t. Or couldn’t. Adoption is messy. It is the choice to enter into someone else’s pain.

Adoption is complicated. Not only is the legal process a challenge, but once placed in a home, a child’s brain connections that did not form properly literally need to be re-wired.

We were not planning to adopt a 7 year old. We had been waiting for 4 years to adopt a baby from Ethiopia. A baby. 3 years old. Tops. Then God brought a young boy to California and placed him in our path. He needed a home. We wanted a child. But this was not what we were expecting.

In the week when my husband and I were praying about whether or not to take this boy, I was afraid. I kept thinking, “Seven? Seven years old means He remembers life in a different culture, with different food and a different language. He remembers the biological parents he lost. He knows hurt and transition and instability… more than any kid should know. This kid has a lot of baggage.” And I wondered if I was strong enough to handle baggage like this.

And then God reminded me: He did not weigh my baggage before adopting me into His family.

You see, I was born estranged from Christ. I was born with a sinful nature that made me a liar, a cheater, a manipulator and a thief… to my very core.  Isaiah 59: 2 says that “my sins cut me off from God.” Aside the fact that I was born a Gentile (a non-Jew), the essence of my very being created a chasm between me and God. I was not part of His family.

And yet… He brought me in. He took the tantrums, the rages, the manipulation – and He made me His daughter. My identity is no longer that of a spiritual orphan. I have a Father. A Daddy who, not only did not count the weight of my baggage against me, He didn’t even consider it. Even better, I am not still being adopted. I WAS adopted. It is over. Finished. My adoption is finalized. I have new name, a new identity, I am a daughter of the Great King, an heir and co-heir to His kingdom.

“The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba,Father.”16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”  – Romans 8:15-17

Physical adoption mirrors our spiritual adoption in Christ. Adoption was the method by which our son came to be part of our family and although it is his story, it is not his identity. He is not still being adopted. He WAS adopted and now he is grafted into our family. Yes, we remember life before he received his new identity. Yes, we have years of healing ahead of us. But… his adoption is done. He is a Boganwright.

Adoption is worth it. Without it, I would not understand the gravity of what God did to bring me home. Without entering into the world of physical adoption, I would never have received this glimpse into the mystery of God’s redemptive power – how He can take something so broken and bring so much healing.

My adoption is finished. I needed healing and God gave it. I don’t have to live as a slave to my fear or my sin. I am a child of God.

Just as my son was chosen, so was I.
My Father has brought me home.


Rebecca Boganwright

Cultivate Kindness

Exceptional Kindness

So here is the truth. Exceptional Kindness.

I’m not even sure I believe in the idea of exceptional kindness among women. But I sure know I want to.

My friendships with other girls as I was growing up were the source of some of my greatest joys and my deepest sorrows. I want to talk about how as women we can empower and build each other up. We can realize we are better together. I do believe these things because they are true; they just haven’t been my experience. I don’t look back on those girl friendships as fondly as I’d like to. In elementary school, I remember having one very best friend, Heidi. We were inseparable, until we weren’t. Until someone way cooler than me hit the scene. I felt heartbroken, but as any 10 year old would do, I quickly pulled myself together and made a new best friend. A move across state quickly put a nail in that coffin, otherwise I’m quite sure we’d still be best friends today. Maybe.

And then came along junior high. Can I just say it? Junior High is wrong, just wrong! I had to experience junior high, plus be the new girl in a new school in a new city, all at the same time, deal with crisis at home. Junior high was equal parts relational instability, hormones and a lot of people who were still actually little inside acting like grown up ‘know it alls’ on the outside. One week, I was Jennifer’s best friend, but over the weekend her and Gina decided to be best friends and on Monday showed up wearing their newly purchased best friend bracelets. I, of course, pretended not to care. I simply decided to be best friends with Janel instead. And thus, this ferris wheel of friendship exchanges continued on.

In high school I switched schools to go to the “cooler” school. Be careful what you wish for! Being cooler for the most part was because everyone was very affluent, everyone except for me. High school brought slight changes to the friend cycle, but not many. Boys were now also added to the mix. I quickly made a new best friend and simultaneously had my first boy crush. I would, as teenage girls do, tell my best friend how incredible my crush was. I would go on and on until one day, and I kid you not, I found out they started dating. She said to me, “Well, I couldn’t help it, you kept talking about how incredible he was.” I still secretly hate her, just kidding, but ouch. Anyhow, girlfriends at this point for me were not only unstable but unsafe.  

Each new friendship I entered into, I brought a heavy bag of stuff to the table. Am I good enough?  Fun enough? Likeable enough?  How can I make you pick me over the next cool girl, or better yet, over the next cute boy?  

Next, college came along; I met Matt the day I moved in. We quickly started dating and so he became my best friend. However, apparently I wasn’t the only girl who liked him and I quickly became the target for some “mean girls” on campus. They didn’t appreciate this blonde haired, blue eyed freshman coming onto campus and snatching up an upperclassman.

Right out of college, Matt and I were married and started Sandals Church. I met new friends, we became fast best friends and then just as suddenly, we weren’t. And so on it went, I wish I could say that as adults women friendships became easier and just all around better, but friendships with women can be just as painful in adulthood as in childhood and adolescence. We can still be dumped for the new sparkly shiny whatever, gossiped about and not included.

Fast forward 17 years and I now have 2 teenage girls of my own. I listen to their stories of “mean girls” at school, except this is a whole new level of mean girl. Social media now adds this horrible highlight reel flash before your eyes where you see an instant picture of your replacement. I did my best to hold their hearts well as they were sad, hurt, and sometimes crying from  being left out, gossiped about, dumped or replaced.

Don’t get me wrong, my girls, like myself, were contributors to all of this girl friendship drama too; we are not blameless. We have not always been the victim. I too am guilty of dumping an old friend for a cool, new shinier friend. I am guilty of choosing a boy over my best girlfriend and I am at fault for being mean spirited a time or two or five thousand. In my own day, I left some of my friends’ hearts such a sad mess they are probably still working out the damage in counseling today.

So what did it for me? What really made me want to draw a hard line where “mean girls,” (myself included) were concerned? It was when I began hearing my own advice to my girls that I became really bothered and convicted. “Girls are just mean! You just have to learn how to manage it” I’d tell them.

What kind of advice is this?! Especially because we are girls. This really began eating at me. Yes, this is what I actually believed, that girls are just mean, but the Holy Spirit began gnawing at me that it was neither right or true.

As I began stepping into a new season of ministry with women, I was excited and doe-eyed. I, of course, thought everyone was gonna want to come to a Bible Study for women, especially if we made it super pretty and cool. As I began spreading this news, I kept hearing the same thing, “I don’t want to be in a room full of women,” “Women are mean,” “I don’t like women,” and this was all coming from… women!

Here’s the deal, it has been my experience as I’ve ministered to women for the past 20 years that our outsides do not match our insides. On the inside we feel insecure, not worthy, not enough. We’ve been hurt, damaged and gone through some really hard stuff. So, on the outside, to protect ourselves, we criticize, we exclude, we replace, and so on. We want to belong, we want community with our own kind (we can’t even go to the bathroom alone for goodness sake,) we love talking, we love the idea of a best friend or friends, a place we are known, loved and accepted! We crave a place where we can be vulnerable and flawed and “in process.” We in fact need a place where we can confess so that we can experience the healing the Bible talks about. A place where our ugly messy can come out and we can be received. I’ve got ugly messy too and despite your ugly messy, you’re still valuable and worthy of love, acceptance and belonging.

I know this is what I want. I’m pretty sure it’s what all women want.

So then, what would exceptional kindness even look like? I think it begins by committing to practicing it in our individual lives. Be the first to be kind. Say hello first, forgive first, invite first and pursue first. Commit to stop comparing ourselves to other women’sbest version of themselves that we see on Instagram and then we secretly   hate them for because we compare their great looking highlight reel to our real life messy version. We then feel crappy and now somehow it’s their fault. I think it means we stop assuming the worst in each other’s motives because we know we both value the idea of exceptional kindness and want to make it a reality amongst women. We give each other that grace.I think it looks like an invitation  to other to have a seat at the table, and stop reading into our exteriors and making assumptions about what’s going on in our interiors. To have and give grace because we remember that we typically only see the tip of the iceberg of what’s truly going on with people. We acknowledge that not everything is personal, even though we all feel like it is.

I’m still reeling in the feeling, the doubt that maybe exceptional kindness amongst women is not possible, but I want sure want to pursue that dreamy possibility that it is, that it’s real, that we can pursue it and enjoy its inward and outward beauty. I want to see what beauty God will produce if we “cultivate exceptional kindness among women, and give it value in our lives.”

I have a serious concern to bring up with you, my SISTERS, using the authority of Jesus, our Master. I’ll put it as urgently as I can: You must get along with each other. You must learn to be considerate of one another, cultivating a life in common.  1 Corinthians 1:10


Tammy Brown