Confession 381:When God Uses Spending Too Much at the Gap to Tell You You’re a Snob

“Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged. You’ll receive the same judgment you give. Whatever you deal out will be dealt out to you. Why do you see the splinter that’s in your brother’s or sister’s eye, but don’t notice the log in your own eye?” Matthew 7:1-3 (CEB)

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It all started with the coupons.  You know the ones–spend fifty dollars and get twenty-five dollars off.  It sounds like a good deal.  I mean, who doesn’t like a bargain?  I had two of these coupons.  And, lo and behold, it was the last day to use them.  My boys had outgrown all of their fall and winter clothes from last year, and their sizes are such that passing down pants from one to the other is no longer an option.  They needed some new duds, and I had the coupons.

Thirty minutes later at the Gap Factory Store, I was standing in line with a pile of clothes that would make a Black Friday  maven blush.  A sinking feeling began to grow in my gut.  My boys bolted from the store–fearful that their notoriously cheap mother was going to implode when the “total” button was hit.  I took a deep breath, clutched my coupons to my chest, and smiled at the cashier.

Two hundred dollars later, I sat in the van as waves of guilt washed over me.  What had I done?  How could I be so irresponsible?  Think of all the children in the world who are under-clothed!  Think of the food that money could buy for a family in need!  My kids don’t wear name-brand clothes.  Why didn’t I go to Old Navy instead?

The guilt lasted awhile.  My husband was very nice about the ridiculous expenditure, but I couldn’t let it go.  What was wrong with me?

I decided to ask God the answer to this question.  I think he laughed and said, “Where do I start?”

The truth of the matter is, I’m not adverse to spending money.  In fact, my husband and I just returned from a week in London where I spent a ridiculous amount of money on a cashmere red and tartan cloak.

The real issue, God reminded me, was not the money (although I should probably work on being more intentional with that).  Had I walked into an off-brand store and spent the same amount of money on the same amount of clothes, I wouldn’t have felt bad at all.  It was the Gap that was the issue, and my complete and total disdain for what I perceive to be capitalistic elitism.

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In short, God told me I’m a snob.  And, he’s right.  I do look down my nose at name-brand wearing, nice car driving, professionally coiffed people.  I somehow think that my bargain-brand t-shirts and ugly cheap shorts make me a better person.  In essence, I judge people on their outward expenditures rather than understanding their hearts.

I condescend to call others condescending.  And that, my friends, is irony.

It is no coincidence that I find myself reading these words written by the apostle Paul today:

This saying is reliable and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I’m the biggest sinner of all.” 1 Timothy 1:15

The truth is, we’re all guilty of something.  I’m guilty of judging others.  I’m also guilty of neglecting the needy, being self-centered, pride and laziness.  The list most likely could go on and on.  However, in spite of all of my failures as a person, God continually shows me mercy and offers up his grace.

He does the same for you.  You just need to accept it.

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Tomorrow morning, when my youngest zips up his Gap sweater jacket, I will remember my judgmental nature.  I will give a wry smile and nod my head in acceptance of the lesson God is teaching me.  And then, I will accept his grace that allows me to go forth and proclaim his Word despite my overwhelming human nature.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 380: Embracing the “Other”

Each of you is now a new person. You are becoming more and more like your Creator, and you will understand him better.  It doesn’t matter if you are a Greek or a Jew, or if you are circumcised or not. You may even be a barbarian or a Scythian, and you may be a slave or a free person. Yet Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. Colossians 3:10-11 (CEV)

My husband and I just returned from a week in London.  It was our first time in London, and I have to say londonit is an absolutely fabulous city.  There is a perfect balance between the historic and contemporary within the city.  You can walk along the Thames and see a 3,000 year old stone obelisk juxtaposed with a glass-covered tower reaching into the sky.
The diversity of the architecture is reflected in the diversity of the people.  Walk down any city street and you will hear several different languages spoken and encounter a plethora of different English-speaking dialects.  Women shrouded in burkhas walked side by side with women in sundresses.  Men in business suits mingled with men wearing African tribal shirts and pants.

In a society that is becoming increasingly self-focused and xenophobic, this mingling of “others” was refreshing.  London reminded me that though we are many, we are one; though we are different, we are same.

westminster-abbeyThis was driven home to me in a very profound way during the communion service at Westminster Abbey.  Sitting in chairs under the great domed ceiling where worshipers have been sharing the sacraments for over one thousand years, I realized how wonderfully diverse the body of Christ truly is.  To my left was a family from France.  To my right, a family from Great Britain.  In front of me were two older women from Italy.  And behind me, a man from the Netherlands.  Spread out across the chapel were others from around the world.  And yet, we were all there to participate in the Great Thanksgiving.  We were all there to praise, worship and honor God.

How absurd it is to think that because of our nationality, race, socio-economic status or gender we are the be all and end all of humanity.  How arrogant it is to think that how we live and the traditions we hold dear are the only ones that matter.  How dangerous it is to think that we should fear and shun the “other”.

The truth is, we are all the “other”.  And, in the eyes of God who created all people of all races and who is the supreme authority over all people and all nations, we are all his beloved children.  As we draw closer to the one who created us, those differences between people become less important.  We see the oneness of all humanity.

So, as Paul writes in Colossians 3:8-9, we must “quit being angry, hateful, and evil. [We] must no longer say insulting or cruel things about others. And stop lying to each other. [We] have given up [our] old way of life with its habits.”

This week, I would challenge you to think about the habits you have developed in regard sustaining and maintaining your own way of life.  Consider ways in which you can give up some of these habits in order to embrace those who are different from you, and to see the love of God in the face of another.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 379:Finding Your Mission Field

They realized that God had sent me with the good news for Gentiles, and that he had sent Peter with the same message for Jews.  God, who had sent Peter on a mission to the Jews, was now using me to preach to the Gentiles. Galatians 2:7-8 (CEV)

I read an article in Good Housekeeping the other day about the most inspiring women of 2016.  These women ran the gamet in age, lifestyle, income and occupation.  From celebrity activists to stay at home moms; creating beauty products and giving micro loans to women in developing countries, each woman in the article is contributing something meaningful to the world and making a big impact.

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When I read inspiring stories about women making a difference in a big way, I can’t help but think, “Man…I am so lazy!”

There’s a part of me that feels like I should be making more of a difference.  I should be establishing start-up corporations in developing nations, working with farmers to grow fresh produce in the heart of concrete jungles, starting an institute to study the effects of immigration laws on the children of illegal immigrants.

The problem is, I have no business sense, do not live in an urban area or have agricultural experience and have no money to start an institute.

It’s easy to compare ourselves to those who are shooting for the stars.  We see their success and think we should be doing the same.  Galatians 2 is a good reminder to me that we are not all called to the same mission field (Thank goodness!  Can you imagine how crowded that would be?).  For most of us, our mission opportunities occur within the confines of our own communities.  Many of Jesus’ disciples stayed within the surrounding areas of Jerusalem as they worked to share the knowledge of Christ.  Paul, in his letters, writes of individuals in communities like Philippi and Colossus who heard the gospel message and then brought it back to their hometowns.

No one likely thought Epaphras was a person of great note, but it is because of him that we have Paul’s letter to the Colossians.  (See Colossians 1)

missions-harvestPaul was aware of the fact that his mission field was decidedly different than those of the other apostles.  God called Paul to preach to the Gentiles.  Peter, James and John had no interest in that work, as they felt led to preach to the Jews.  God called and equipped each of these men to a specific field of work.  And, God continues to call and equip each of us to different fields of work.

God does indeed call some of us to work that includes significant investment capital, political savvy and personal influence.  You’re not going to build a medical clinic in rural Nicaragua without those things.  However, others of us (most of us) are called to make a difference in  smaller, but equally impactful, ways.

  • Being a mentor to an at-risk youth
  • Volunteering at a local food bank
  • Preparing meals for a shelter or hospital
  • Rescuing abandoned pets
  • Helping to build a Habitat for Humanity house
  • Participating in Operation Shoebox
  • Collecting school supplies/clothes/toys/shoes for local or international organizations
  • Delivering Meals on Wheels
  • Opening your home to foster children

The list goes on and on.  The key is to identify what your mission field is and then to get working!  Over the past few years, I’ve found the following steps to be helpful in identifying where I need to be working.

  1. Assess the needs of your community.
  2. Make a list of all the things you enjoy doing.
  3. Find the point where the needs and your talents intersect.

rainbownetwork074Finally, look for organizations that are already working in the field you feel called to.  For example, I am passionate about education.  The Rainbow Network is an organization that provides educational opportunity for youth in Nicaragua.  Supporting that organization is a way for me to engage in a field I feel called to serve.

Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Maybe you’ve been hesitant about answering the call to missions because you feel like your work can’t compare to others who are doing big and bold things.  The truth is, God needs us all to be an active part of his work.  You don’t need to go big or go home.  You just need to go.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

 

Confession 378: Skate Night (Or, How I Learned to Embrace the Future)

You know the Lord is God! He created us, and we belong to him; we are his people, the sheep in his pasture. Psalm 100:3 (CEV)

Lately, I have been wrestling with those demons of insecurity.  If you’re a woman, you probably know what I’m talking about–those voices inside your head that tell you you’re not thin enough, hip enough, smart enough, outgoing enough, blah, blah, blah.

At a week away from 40 (yikes!) I thought I would be past all of that.  However, our recent move has brought it all back with a vengeance.  I’m struggling to fit into this new community.  I don’t walk into the grocery store and know people by name.  I don’t have friends to hang out with. I don’t have a coffee shop.

 

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All of this came to a head at our new school’s PTA skate night.  Standing in the middle of a crowded room, unsteady on feet that were wearing wheels for shoes, I found myself thinking, “I miss our old community.  I miss having friends.”  In our old community, I knew a lot of people.  PTA events were fun because I was part of the group.  I knew lots of other parents, I knew the teachers and school staff.  I had friends I could laugh with as I attempted to skate.  Now, I look around and recognize no one.  I feel out of place in my graphic t’s and Converse sneaks.  I wonder if I should wear make-up and shop at the Gap.  I might need to upgrade my mini-van.

Before going too far down this dark and windy self-pity road, I decided to pull off the skates (really, I was just a danger to myself and others) and help my oldest move past the wall to the middle of the rink.  As we skated around the rink, something incredible happened.  A classmate of my son’s came over and started skating with us.  I looked across the rink toward my husband and our youngest son.  Miracle of miracles, he had a classmate skating with him, too!  I suddenly realized, our boys have friends!  And, the best part of all, they didn’t feel the need to change themselves to make that happen!!

Both of our boys march to the beat of their own drums.  Our oldest will proudly proclaim, “I’m weird!”  And our youngest, well, he just doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.

 

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Seeing our boys thrive in the midst of this new situation opened my eyes to the idea that, maybe, I don’t have to change either to fit in.  Maybe being me is okay.

I’d love to tell you that all of my insecurities vanished overnight after skate night, but that’s just not true.  However, I am being more open with God about how I’m feeling.  And, I’m respecting the fact that God loves me regardless of whether or not I coordinate my outfits.  God has work that he’s created me to do, and if I do that, I’m fitting in just where I need to be.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 377: Being Christ’s Body

 

God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church,  which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way. Ephesians 1:22-23 (CEB)

When I was a kid, there was a little rhyme we learned to act out with our hands.  Maybe you’ve heard it:

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Here’s the church

Here’s the steeple

Open the doors

Here’s the people

This rhyme demonstrates the fact that people are the church.  But, what is the church?

Scripturally, the church is the body of Christ.  In Ephesians, Paul writes that the church is the fullness of Christ.

Stop here for a moment.  This is one of those phrases many people are accustomed to hearing and therefore stop considering.  Read this sentence again, out loud.  Fully take it in.

The church is the fullness of Christ.

When I read Ephesians 1:22-23, I was absolutely convicted.  The church is the fullness of Christ?  The church is the fullness of CHRIST!

The American church is struggling.  Mainstream denominations are in decline.  Younger generations find church to be an irrelevant pastime that usually includes some sort of Confession 284: Why We Go To Churchjudginess or bigotry.  Churches are scrambling to figure out how to draw people back in.  We try to put on a really good show, full of digital spectacle and pageantry.  We want church to be hip, fun and cool.  It’s especially great when it doesn’t last more than 45 minutes and includes free coffee and snacks.

 

The thing is, the fullness of Christ isn’t necessarily represented by a fully stocked coffee bar.  The fullness of Christ is represented when fully committed followers of Jesus come together to praise, worship, pray and grow together.  The fullness of Christ is represented when fully committed followers of Christ open their hearts (and doors) to those who don’t know Jesus–embracing them and leading them into the light of grace and love.  The fullness of Christ is represented when the powers and authorities on earth look to the church as a beacon of light and wisdom and peace.

Those who are seeking purpose and meaning in their lives are looking for an authentic relationship–not a show.  If the church is going to represent the fullness of Christ, then all of its members need to commit to growing in their relationship with Jesus.  We need to put aside differences of theology, denomination, politics and even worship styles to focus again on being the body of Christ.

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When Jesus walked on this earth, his hands brought healing to those who had been written off as hopeless causes.  His feet brought news of hope and life to those who were living under oppression and fear.  His lips challenged the status quo and tore apart the hypocrisy of the religious elite.  His very blood was offered as a sacrifice for all of humankind.

What a powerful message!  And how might our communities be transformed if we, the church, fully became the body of Christ.

This week, my challenge is to think about what it means to be the body of Christ.  Are you representing God’s fullness?  Is your church acting as the body of Christ?  What can you do to better show God’s love, mercy and forgiveness?

The church is the fullness of Christ.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

 

 

Confession 376:Some Thoughts on Grief

In the same way, you have sorrow now; but I will see you again, and you will be overjoyed. No one takes away your joy. John 16:22 (CEB)

About a week ago, I received word that a childhood friend had passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly.  She left behind a husband, two middle school aged daughters, a twin sister and a younger brother.  And then there were copious friends and extended family who loved her much.

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This week, hundreds of memories have been flying through my head.  I remember playing hide and seek at church on Wednesday nights.  I remember birthday parties and sleepovers; laughter and silliness.  I remember summer nights laying in a driveway looking for shooting stars.  I remember road trips and vast hours of uninterrupted time to talk, laugh and sing.

Like many working moms, the past couple of years have brought about less talking and time together and more “liking” on Facebook or the occasional quick comment.  The demands of children, church and career called to me, and I always thought there would be time…time after the kids were older…time after the work slowed down…time…later.  But then, there wasn’t.

I’m not much of a crier.  It’s part ridiculous Midwestern stoicism, I think and part vanity because I’m an ugly crier.  Rather, grief tends to settle on my heart like a weighted blanket.  It’s a heaviness I carry with me.

This summer, beautiful and amazing with new adventures and roads to travel, has also been punctuated by grief.  We left our community of six years–the longest my husband and I have lived in any one place since leaving our childhood homes.  We lost my grandmother–the last of the “greatest generation” in our family.  And now, we’re saying goodbye to a friend.

Confession 271: Making Meaning

I’ve been thinking a lot about grief, and I’ve come to the conclusion that despite what our “happy at all costs” society says, grief is good.  Grief helps us to see how much we’ve loved.  When we feel loss, it is because we are letting go of someone or someplace we deeply love and, most likely, someone (or a whole community of people) who loved us, too.  Grief helps us keep this life in perspective, giving us the opportunity to remember that our current present is temporal and that there is a bigger journey beyond this lifetime.

I love Jesus’ words to his disciples in the upper room.  The disciples are grieving. They don’t like this unexpected turn in the conversation.  Jesus is leaving?  Jesus is going to die?  This wasn’t part of the plan!  But look at what Jesus says…

You have sorrow now, but I will see you again…

Jesus gets it.  This world is full of grief.  But, and here is the crux on which we Jesus people stand rooted, but I will see you again.

This is punctuated by even more good news.

In the world you have distress. But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.

What an amazing promise!  Jesus wasn’t abandoning his disciples when he left them, nor does he abandon us in our time of grief.  Jesus gives us the everlasting promise of his presence.  I will see you again…I have conquered the world.

Grief comes to us all.  Maybe you’re not grieving now, but I’m sure you have at some point.  And, I know with certainty that grief is something we will feel again.  But, it’s okay.  Grief is something God has wired us to feel.  It is a sign of love.  If you’re feeling grief, don’t push it aside.  Don’t add things to your to-do list so you can push it away.  Instead, let the sorrow sit with you, and remember the love that brought it.  Remember, too, the wonderful promise of Jesus…I will see you again.  I have conquered the world.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

 

 

Confession 375: A Good Place

Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 (CEB)

The past few days, I have been frantically working to meet a deadline.  I’ve been up with the sun and gone to bed long after the moon has risen.  This morning, I was doing some Yoga to stretch my weary muscles before getting back to my laptop.  As I was laying on the floor, connecting my head, heart and pelvis, my great big Newfoundland stuck his big furry head in my face.

“Rrrr…” he started, and licked my hand.  I batted him away as I pulled my legs up one at a time.  In the stubbornness that marks his breed, he began again.

“Rrrr…” followed by a lick.

“Cut it out, Jo,” I said, as I closed my eyes to breathe.  Suddenly, I felt his cool, wet nose on the side of my next as he breathed in my scent.  Apparently, my neck always tells him everything he needs to know about me.  I reached up my hand to scratch the underside of his velvety muzzle.  With a big sigh of contentment, he plopped down next to me and rested his head on my arm.

As I cuddled next to my oversized and overstuffed living breathing pillow, I found myself thinking, this is a good place to be.  It wasn’t a productive place.  It wasn’t a useful place.  It wasn’t even where I felt I needed to be.  It was just a good place.

When I have a deadline to meet, I get a laser-like focus.  I ignore my husband eating his cereal beside me.  I ignore my children running, screaming and chasing the dogs in circles around the house.  I ignore my sister calling me.  I am solely focused on my work.

But sometimes, the places we feel like we need to be are not that places where it is good to be.  The stress and pressure of too much work makes me irritable, emotional and leaves me exhausted and depressed.  I need those green valleys God promised in Psalm 23!

So this morning, I took some time to sit in the good place God provided.  It wasn’t bright and green.  It wasn’t cool and refreshing.  It was black and fluffy.  It was good.

Today, I challenge you to find a good place.  Find a place where you can spend a few minutes resting, letting God fill you up.  Then, share your good place with me.  I’d love to hear about it!

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

Confession 374:Transforming Our Love

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As I was engaging in my daily Bible study time this morning, I found that my heart wasn’t in it.  You see, I had been reading some news articles about the latest mass shooting–the sixteenth in our current President’s almost eight years of leadership.

In the past, these tragedies have prompted me to  write about the incredible power and transformative nature of God’s love–the ability of love to shine a light in the darkness and to cast out all fear.

These tragedies have ignited in me a fire to show God’s love to others in real and meaningful ways.  These tragedies have driven me to seek out ways to live a life of love.

But this morning, as I read Paul’s words in 2nd Corinthians 3:18 regarding the transformative power of God, I was just sad and angry.  I’m sad because I feel like we, as the Church, are not being transformed.  And I’m angry because I feel like our society has just accepted these mass shootings as a new and unfortunate normal.  It’s like we collectively shrug our shoulders and sigh, “What are you gonna do?”  And the Church does this, too.

The truth is, there’s a lot we can do.  And I’d like to think that the Church could lead the charge.

First, as Jesus followers, we can stop politicizing our faith and understand that Jesus didn’t come to lead a political movement.  Jesus came from God, the Creator of all things.  He already had dominion over the Earth.  He recognized that political leadership is temporal, but that spiritual well-being lasts forever.  He circumvented politicians and brought healing, forgiveness and transformation to those who needed it most.  As his followers, we  need to do the same.

While our faith can and should inform our political decisions, our political beliefs should not define our faith.  Our actions, ultimately, should point back to Jesus, not a political party.

Second, as Jesus followers, we need to put aside our own theological differences of opinion and unite under a banner of God’s love.  The Bible is pretty clear on who sits in the seat of judgement, and it’s not you or me.  Our job is to make disciples, and if we use Jesus’ model, we do that by actively loving others–especially those who are marginalized and considered “unclean”.

If we, as Jesus followers, can unite under a banner of love, think of the changes we could bring!  The Church has a beautiful and powerful history of leading social change.  Under John Wesley, Sunday schools were created to teach illiterate adults how to read.  The Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. began in churches across the South as pastors like Martin Luther King, Jr. came together and demanded equality.

Today, it is time for the Church to reclaim that mission.  If the government isn’t willing to invest in mental health programs, our churches can.  If the government isn’t willing to invest in the education of all American children, regardless of race or class, our churches can.  Our churches have the resources necessary to transform our society.  Our churches have the almighty power of God waiting to be unleashed on a society in desperate need.  We just need to use it.

Finally, as human beings, we need to call for a change in gun policy.  Yes, I’m going there.  But, I’m not going there politically.  I understand and respect the rights of people to own guns.  But when that right infringes on another’s (or hundreds of others) right to peaceably assemble, go to school, go to church, go to a movie, or go to work then something has to give.  For me, that “give” is going to be working to get a ban on assault rifles.  The sale of these weapons creates in me the righteous anger that Jesus demonstrated when he drove the money changers from the Temple.  I think it’s the right thing to do.

Our society is in desperate need of transformation.  As Jesus people, we have the ability.  We just need to let God’s love lead the way.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara

 

Confession 373:Use Your Gifts

The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others.  1 Corinthians 12:7 (CEV)

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When I was a classroom teacher, I always tried to discover the different gifts and abilities of my students.  Knowing where their unique strengths and abilities helped me better understand how they learned.

As a parent, I believe that one of my roles is to identify and help develop the different gifts and abilities of my boys.

My boys tend to be fairly atypical.  They prefer playing with stuffed animals over action figures, legos over jungle gyms and doing Rainbow Loom rather than going outside for a pick-up baseball game.  This used to bother me.  Buying into cultural stereotypes about gender expectations, I wondered if I was doing something wrong.  Then I had a realization.

My boys are creative.  And that’s okay.  As a parent, my job is to nurture that desire for creativity.  When my youngest wants to get creative in the kitchen, I grit my teeth through the spilled salt and splattered eggs to help him create a one of a kind dish.

When my oldest wants to create yet another Disney Rainbow Loom charm on the computer, I give him time, my computer, and the entire dining room table to do so.

Nurturing gifts is important because God has imparted them to each of us for a reason.  Our gifts are not meant for us alone.  They are meant to benefit others.

The Spirit gives us gifts in order to serve others.

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Yet often in our busy and frenetic world, our spiritual gifts get neglected.  They lie dormant as we shuttle ourselves and our families through the daily grind.  We wait to use our gifts for a more convenient time, or after they’re better developed, or when we have more money to invest in them.

Sitting on our spiritual gifts is like leaving a Christmas present unopened.  There’s really no purpose in having it.  And, it sends a negative message to the one who gave it.

Instead, we need to open up our gifts.  We need to play with them, grow them, build on them and use them.

You might be thinking, “I don’t have any gifts.”  However, gifts come in all shapes and sizes.  What do you like to do?  What brings you joy?  Chances are, the answers to those questions point to a gift.

“Yeah,” you might be thinking.  “But what I like to do is… (read, listen to music, bowl, play baseball, garden).  How can that be a gift to others?”

Begin by assessing the needs of your community.

In our town of about 1200, there was a group of people who liked to read.  However, the nearest library was ten miles away.  This group worked to establish a community library, staffed by volunteers who wanted to share their love of reading with others.  Today, the library provides a variety of resources and services to the community, including summer reading programs for kids.  The gift of reading shared by a small group of people has impacted an entire town.

Using your gifts doesn’t have to be huge.  Small acts are equally important.  Small acts can change a life.

Several years ago I took a group of sixth graders to work on a Habitat for Humanity build.  The kids laid sod, painted, planted flowers and pushed wheelbarrows full of gravel.  They had a great time running around outside.  While their work seemed small, it was the finishing touch on a home that would provide much needed shelter to a family who had never had a home.

Big or small, using our gifts is important.  This week, I would encourage you to reflect on the gifts God has given you.  Then, ask God to open up some areas in your life to use those gifts for others.

Blessings and Peace,

Sara