March 24, 2017

Ruth Chou Simons on Hurts in Friendship

I have been a fan of Ruth Chou Simons for a long time now, so it was with great joy that I received this endorsement from her regarding my forthcoming book, Messy Beautiful Friendship: "This book inspires us toward more meaningful friendships and a deeper understanding of the God who brings us together. I'm personally grateful for Christine's gentle and helpful exhortation."
It was perhaps even a greater treat to interview Ruth yesterday on the subject of friendship. Ruth is a writer, artist, and shoppe owner at GraceLaced. She's also a wife and a mom to six boys (yes, I asked her about food, laundry, and keeping the bathroom clean!). Her first book, GraceLaced, releases in September, and it combines her beautiful artistry with profound truths about God.

When I chatted with Ruth, I wanted to hear specifically about how she's dealt with the "messy" in her friendships. How has she responded to wounds? How has she learned to forgive? How has she known when she's needed to address offenses and when she's needed to overlook them? We chatted about all this and more, including why we need to know the distinction between relationships and friendships, and what her greatest piece of advice is regarding friendship. Watch our chat below or click here to watch it on YouTube:



As Ruth and I talked about together, hurt is inevitable in friendship, and friendship isn't as easy as we often believe it should be. These are themes I explore in my book, which is coming out in just a few more weeks! Don't miss out on the preorder goodies, including the first two chapters immediately in your inbox, an interview I did with Jen Wilkin on friendship, and a few videos with my real life friends and my real life husband (not that I have an online one..). Get all the preorder details here, and while you're preordering Messy Beautiful Friendship, grab Ruth's as well. It's like a gift for your future self in April and September!

March 16, 2017

Jess Connolly on Comparison in Friendship

Jess Connolly joined me yesterday to chat about comparison and competition between women, especially those women who are beside us in our real, everyday lives (although we did touch on social media use as well).
Jess is a champion of women and for Jesus. In fact, she's encouraged me--even though we've never met in person--by endorsing my second book, From Good to GraceShe's labored alongside many women, so I wanted to hear from her how she's faced those sneaky temptations of comparison and competition, and what she's learned about friendship in the process. Listen to the audio of our chat or read the transcript below. (I transcribed it for you, dear reader, because there is a bit of a reverberation when Jess speaks....we were on the fly since our Facebook Live chat didn't work.)

CH: Thanks so much for your time. I can't wait to hear everything you have to say about friendship, women, and comparison. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

JC: I have four kids and am married to a church planter. We live in Charleston, SC, and we're church people. I'm your biggest fan, because your first book changed my life. Everyone gave it to me, and I became a big Christine Hoover fan.

CH: That's how I feel about talking to you! I was nervous! But I wanted to talk to you because I see you celebrating women so well. You've been a huge champion for me, even though you don't even know me. I've always appreciated that about you. Because you work so much with other women and you are that way is why I wanted to talk to you today about friendship and comparison. You've probably learned so much through working with other women. You were a co-founder of Influence Network, a co-founder of She Reads Truth, and you co-wrote a book for women, Wild and Free. That's a lot of "co's." I'm sure there have been times where you've struggled with comparison and competing.

I have absolutely struggled with it. I think we all have our own flavor of comparison. I will say that mine isn't social media, but you talk about close up women? That's a different story. I compare myself  most to other women that I'm in close proximity with specifically regarding their gifting. I am a "friend" girl, I'm a lover of women, I'm the kind of person who when you tell your dream to, I say, "Let's do it! I'll do it with you! What do you want to do? Let's make it happen!" I find that this beautiful thing that God's put in me--seeing how He's gifted His daughters--can turn into a gross thing where their gifting is all I can look at.

One of the earliest relationships God used to root out comparison for me is my sister. I have two sisters, one who is three years older than me and one who is 11 years younger than me. My older sister on the outside is seemingly everything that I'm not. I'm 5'4" and curvy with blonde hair, and she's 5'9" and 100 pounds soaking wet with brown hair. We are totally different looking things. We think we're really alike, because we know each other, but if you met us, most people think we're really different. I"m really structured, a big planner, and she's a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants kinda gal. We're really different mothers: she never raises her voice. She's super sweet. I always say she's like Snow White. She's not put on, but always happy. I'm melancholy and heavy and a deep thinker. When I was growing up, all I wanted to be was Katie. God used it to lead me to the Lord because she loved Jesus and said, "He's the way," and I said, "Great! I'm in! I'll follow Him too."

I feel like because I had to fight so early on for my own identity and to know who God made me to be, that relationship helped me a ton.

I think the world's answer to comparison is to tell you why you're OK. Oh, your friend has a big house! Well, that's OK, you have a dog. Or your friend is really pretty. Well, that's OK because you're really smart.

The Lord's answer, I think, is to take it too far. When you see something in a woman, encourage her in it. And if you see that attribute and you don't have it, you can think, "Am I supposed to have it?" And if I'm not supposed to have it, then be blessed that she does. We could be so jealous of it, or we could let her bring it into our life. Go to her and say, "You seem to be so joyful. Could you help me with that?'

CH: Don't you think, though, that our common response to people in our life that we really admire is to shrink back from them because they seem to have it so together?

JC: I think that's one response. Hayley and I wrote about this in Wild and Free. She said, "I tend to shrink back and get small." I said "I make noise." When I feel insecure, I enter a room and am like, "Look at me over here!" So I have to watch the other end of the spectrum. If there is a woman that I believe is going to reject me or there is something about her that I feel a tiny bit insecure about, it's my tendency to think, "I don't need you! I'll go over here and make a bunch of noise and it's fine. No big deal!" Instead, I need to get quiet and calm and find out what is going on in my heart and ask myself if I'm loving her well.

CH: Flipping that, are there times when you realize other women are intimidated by you because of your success and your giftedness? How have you handled that?

JC: I don't always do it right. I do struggle with that a lot. And not even because I'm so gifted but because I'm the kind of girl that doesn't have a filter. I have a harder time keeping quiet and buttoned up. I think sometimes specifically with a business, I'm online a lot and that can look like success, but really I'm just sort of saying what's happening.

If people seem intimidated, my response has been two things at the same time: First, I must go to the Lord and ask Him, "Who am I made to be and why am I here?" I'm not made for their praise or their acceptance. Sometimes I cry to my husband about how women might think I'm too Jesus-y. Or I don't always know who I can celebrate wins with. Even with my husband sometimes, I don't want to be too much, because church planting is so slow and arduous and there's no launch day. There is, but it's not extreme. So I have to constantly go to the Lord and say, "Well, this is for you anyway. It's not for them. It's for you."

The second thing is putting on a massive dose of gentleness and humility. The newest thing the Lord's been teaching me is that I'm not too much for Him. Sometimes I actually am too much for people. I shouldn't feel insecure about leaning more into who God made me to be, but sometimes my voice is too loud. Sometimes I do need to get quiet and get gentle and not say everything. Sometimes it is too much for other people.

CH: What do you mean?

JC: Let's put it this way: If I have a friend struggling with infertility, she's not the first person I'm going to send a picture of a positive pregnancy test to, you know? And so I would say that we need to apply that to all areas of our life. We wouldn't call that "shrinking back" or "hiding our joy." We could call that loving her well.

I don't think we hide what God is doing. I don't think we hide our praise of Him. I just think we love people well.

CH: So how do you specifically celebrate friends and draw out what God is doing in them, even if they would think, "Oh, I look at Jess and I think what I'm doing is very small?" Are there specific ways that you try to celebrate others?

JC: Success for me in life is knowing my friends' coffee drink. If sometime in the last six months or so, I've brought it to them without them asking, that's success for me. If I have three women whose coffee order I know and on a random Tuesday can pop in with it, then we're winning.

On top of that, there are two ways I celebrate friends and invite friendship: I ask them how their hearts are, and I confess to them how my heart is doing, even if they don't ask.

Especially in church ministry, that's often an issue--that others don't ask the leader how their heart is. Many women ask, "How do I find women who love me well?" I say, "You love them well and you ask them to love you well." When I get done with a conversation and they stand up to go, I say, "Next time, it would mean a lot to me if you asked me how my heart is."

CH: Do you actually say that?

JC: I literally do.

CH: I love that. I would be afraid to say that, but that's what I want people to know sometimes.

JC: They always say, "Oh, I just assumed you have people who ask you that. You have your husband and you're in ministry." I say, "I want to give you the eggs in my basket." That's the phrase I use. "I want you to be able to hold them with me. I want to tell you how I'm doing, and that I need you." I think we empower people by being needy with them, by saying how we could use prayer, or asking them to take our kids, or asking them to pick something up for us at the store. When you say that to a friend, they're usually more than glad to do it.

CH: As women, I think that's our biggest struggle in friendship. We're afraid to say, "I'm in need." You just wrote an Instagram post where you talked about almost berating yourself in the middle of running a marathon because you needed help from others. How do we get past that thought that says, "Don't be that person. Don't be needy. Be a giver, not a needy person?"

JC: By acting on it a few times and realizing that it blesses people. We all know people who know how to be needy. I think we're all scared that we're that person. I think we ask our friends: "Am I being that person? Did I take it too far?" Then let them speak into it.

The marathon is such a great example because I was saying inwardly to myself, "I don't want anyone to feel this." I don't want anyone else to feel the weight of it. I wonder if you've felt that way about writing books?

CH: This is how I feel about everything. Why would you hide the weight you're carrying? I know why I do it, but why do you do it?

JC: I think I didn't want my friends to have to cheer me on. I didn't want to be the needy one. I think anytime we're stepping out in leadership, we don't anyone to say, "Maybe you can't handle this." The truth is I can't handle it. I have to do it in community. The marathon is the perfect example. I was going to run it with the friends I'd planned to run it with and not tell anyone else. It was going to be no big deal. I'll have a meeting right afterwards, it will totally be fine. I have a photo shoot in the afternoon, no big deal, it's great. That's what I told myself.

The Lord knew better. He let me have a complete emotional breakdown in the middle of the marathon. My husband of course said, "I'm coming, no matter what." My friend Rachel said, "I'm coming, no matter what." Sure enough, ten miles in, I was weeping and asked them to run the whole rest of the way with me. It was a great reminder. If we're going to do things for the Lord that are outside of ourselves, we're going to be needy.

CH: A lot of times we look at others who are doing a lot and think they have it all together. I think it's good for everyone to realize that we're all in the same boat. It's just that we have different giftings. If we can look at other people like that and say, "Jess has these giftings and God is using her. I need to use my giftings, though they may be different." But we all need each other's support in that, no competition, no shrinking back. We also need to tell each other the truth about what it's like to walk in those giftings.

JC: Yes, if anyone is listening and they think, "Oh, I'm just doing laundry," well I need that too. I need the people on a random Tuesday maybe more than I need someone during a marathon.

We have to continually praise the Lord for what we have. If we really believe God, even if we have less in comparison in an area, can we just say, "God, I have you! You've redeemed me. You've given me a purpose and a hope, and I'm going to call this blessed and I'm going to call this abundance." When I look at another woman, I want to love her well. And I'm not loving her well if I'm saying, "She shouldn't have that," or "She has that, but why don't I?"

With social media comparison, people say, "Just don't follow that person on social media." But I say maybe press in and look at her life and thank God for it. Or maybe ask God for eyes to really see her as a human. Press into why you're comparing yourself. Know this isn't an Instagram issue that can be solved when you unfollow, because then when you go to church, you'll compare yourself to the person right next to you. We need to press in and see why we're responding the way we are.

CH: We all have the same hopes and hurts. We're the same. It doesn't matter what our lifestage  is or whether we're married or not. I think pressing in to actually getting to know people who you've assumed things about really helps. Jess, any last words about friendship? What is your biggest piece of advice to women about friendship?

JC: Be the friend you want. If you want a friend, don't spend one moment bemoaning that you don't have them; go be one! If you want someone to speak life into you, go speak life into someone else. If you say, "No one's asked me how they can pray for me in the last six months," ask someone else how you can pray for them. If you need someone to help you with your kids, go serve someone else and help with theirs.

I don't think that's a cop out. I don't think that's pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. I think that's how we build community. Someone has to start. We're all leaders. We're all ambassadors.

Find Jess on Instagram (@jessaconnolly), Twitter (@jessaconnolly), or at www.jessconnolly.com. You can also order her book, "Wild and Free" here: http://amzn.to/2msVGcH


The release date for my book is a month away! Preorder Messy Beautiful Friendship and then head here to grab preorder goodies, including an interview with Jen Wilkin on when friendship goes wrong and the first two chapters of the book!

March 8, 2017

The Spark Community Requires

For the first 8 years of our ministry at an established church, I didn’t have a friend to my name. In those same years, I birthed and stayed home with three children, and I remember willing myself not to get sick because I didn’t know who I would call for help if I did. Community was something I created for other people, not something I enjoyed myself. At least that’s how I felt.
When we prepared to plant out of that church, my husband gathered prospective core team members in our living room and asked, “When you dream of what church could be, what is it that you think of?” For me, the answer was simple, and I timidly spoke out loud what I’d held inside for so long: “I don’t want to feel as if I’m standing outside of community, helping it happen but not enjoying it myself. I want our church to be the kind where I get to enjoy the inside. I want to have friends.” 

What I didn’t yet realize is that community isn’t something that comes to us; it’s something that we go toward. We make choices that either invites community or hinders the very thing we so long for. The reasons I’d struggled in friendship were many--my lack of initiation, the very specific parameters I’d placed around what type of friend I wanted and how they would relate to me, time constraints that I used as an excuse--but primary among them is that I chose not to take the risk of vulnerability with other women. I wanted close community, but I resisted revealing myself or asking for help. I even resisted spending time with other women.

God gave me a do-over with church planting, because the difficult nature of the work made it nearly impossible to hide behind carefully maintained facades or self-sufficiency. My spiritual, physical, and emotional neediness pointed like arrows toward asking wise and faithful women for help and depending on friends. And so I did. 

Vulnerability is the spark for us to enjoy and help cultivate true community. Only through vulnerability can we fulfill the “one anothers” of Scripture--pray for one another, confess to one another, forgive one another, bear one another’s burdens--because only then do we know the burdens of others and only then do they know ours.

Vulnerability happens when we trust others with the sensitive areas of our lives, those aspects about us that feel fragile or reveal our imperfections. Sometimes it even feels vulnerable to extend an invitation or ask a probing question to someone we've only known on the surface. 

Revealing ourselves feels risky because it involves embracing weakness and imperfection. Image-keeping feels far less risky because we believe it protects our sensitive areas from the judgment of others. For some reason, we believe impressing other women will lead to connection and community, so we expend effort on building an image rather than revealing ourselves. But until we lay down our defenses, until we stop trying to shield our insecurities and shame from the eyes of others, we will not experience the friendship that goes beyond the surface level, the kind we so long for.

Do you want to know a secret? People can see through our defenses anyway. We're not hiding as much as we think.

Vulnerability is the way we lay down our arms. Vulnerability takes a weakness and makes it a strength, a bonding agent, because acknowledging our need for God and others attracts fellow vulnerable sojourners like a magnet. Perfection-striving may impress from a distance, but it is vulnerability that wins friends.

I'm not talking about constantly gushing out our every emotion or thought or struggle to everyone we meet. I'm talking about nudging new friendships deeper by having women in our lives in an informal way. I'm talking about sharing our sin and how God has redeemed it. I'm talking about asking a friend to watch our kids so we can go to marriage counseling. I'm talking about calling a friend when we're having a bad day and asking them to pray for us. I'm talking about being the first one in our small group to share a deeply personal prayer request. I'm talking about letting safe people see us cry. I'm talking about confessing sin to a godly friend. I'm talking about letting people into the private areas of our lives, both our physical spaces and our emotional and spiritual spaces. I'm talking about asking for help when we're in over our heads.

Community requires this vulnerability.

I look back at those first 8 years of marriage and ministry, and I see that I did in fact have fledgling friendships. All those prayers I’d prayed to God for a friend? He’d actually answered it with Kelly, Jamee, Ashley, and Niki, but I’d never taken the risk of vulnerability with them. I’d been more concerned with impressing them than knowing them or letting them know me. As a result, the friendships had faltered before they’d even truly started. I had been my own worst enemy all along.

Dear one, don’t be your own worst enemy. Resist making excuses or thinking of yourself as “other." Yes, be wise, but don’t let fear and severe self-protection hinder the very thing that you long for. Take that risk of vulnerability.

Preorder Messy Beautiful Friendship now and gets loads of fun preorder goodies. 

February 27, 2017

Announcing the Messy Beautiful Friendship Launch Team!

I enthusiastically believe in the message of my new book, Messy Beautiful Friendship, and am praying that it helps, challenges, and encourages many women. My prayer is that the Lord might put it in the hands of those who need it--those who are struggling with some aspect of friendship, or those who feel like giving up because all they've done is try, try, try and nothing seems to be happening for them at the friendship level.

But here's the deal: I have a relatively small reach and need help getting the word out. Would you like to help? Announcing the Messy Beautiful Friendship launch team! I'm looking for 75 enthusiastic people who will read the book and share it with others. 

There are a whole lot of perks for those accepted to be on the launch team. Each team member will:
  • receive a hard copy of the book before it's released!
  • be automatically entered in our private MBF Facebook group, where I'll host private chats, give you a behind-the-scenes look at a book release, and be available to answer your questions.
  • have access to exclusive interview questions with me and fresh blog posts I've written on friendship that you can use on your blog or website as you wish.
  • have the fun opportunity to make new friends as we work together!
If you're enthusiastic about the subject of friendship and would like to help other women in this area, or if you just want to read an advance copy of the book, then you might be right for this team. Team members must be able to commit to:
  • Read the book prior to its release on April 18. Team members will receive their books in mid-to-late March.
  • Write a review or "inspired by" post on your blog and on one consumer site, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Christianbook.com.
  • Help spread the word on social media using your own words, or the graphics, tweets, and excerpts I give you. And I have lots to give you!
Have I convinced you? I hope so! Apply to be one of the 75 here. I will select and email the team by Thursday, March 2, so don't delay. Please put your name in my midnight EST on March 1. I can't wait to hear from you!

If you don't have capacity for a launch team right now, no worries! You can still take advantage of the preorder incentives I've put together. Click on the image below to find out more.

February 22, 2017

Friendship Across Racial Divides: A Story

Last July, at the height of the visible racial unrest in the United States, my husband Kyle preached a sermon about the very real problem, in light of who God is and what his gospel says, of racial division in our nation. In it he voiced the words I'd been whispering to myself and praying to God: "I want to do something, but I don't know what to do." I'd written about it on my blog, and I'd had a few conversations with African-American women online and in my personal life where I asked questions and listened, but I generally felt helpless.

There was a girl at church that day, sitting near the front. Her name is Macy. After church, she said to Kyle, "I want to do something." She wanted, she said, to partner with someone in our community who is working toward racial unity. Kyle said, "I don't know who that is or what is already happening, but I do have the card on my desk of an African-American pastor I recently met. Why don't you call him?"

So she did. This little firecracker of a girl made an appointment with Pastor Lehman Bates at Ebenezer Baptist Church, a 125-year-old church in the heart of our town, and said to him, "Whatever you're doing, I want in."

This is where I need to stop and tell you about where I live. I live in Charlottesville, Virginia. Most people don't know where that is or anything at all about our city, so I don't blame you for your blank stare. Charlottesville is in the mountains of central Virginia and, for its relatively small size, stars in much of our nation's history. Charlottesville was touched by both the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Three U.S. Presidents built their homes here: James Madison, James Monroe, and Thomas Jefferson.

As the writer of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson certainly stands out; he is our most famous citizen and continues to loom large over our town. The elite public school he founded, the University of Virginia, thrives still today. His home, Monticello, sits atop a mountain overlooking the city and draws thousands of visitors each year, where they hear about his ideas and his genius. At the local bookstores, one can purchase The Jefferson Bible, the Bible with the miracles removed, just as he thought it should be.

This is the history everyone talks about. I've been to all the president's homes, traipsed around the courthouse where Jefferson practiced law, and read books about Lewis and Clark's expedition from Charlottesville. I've toured UVA and viewed Edgar Allan Poe's dorm room on the Lawn. I can tell you the history of this place. Or at least I thought I could.

I can also tell you the general history of the churches in our community. I can tell you about how Vacation Bible School started at First Baptist Charlottesville and how Lottie Moon was saved and sent out from there and how the founder of Southern Seminary pastored there. I can tell you about the founding of the large Presbyterian church and about the church plants who came before and after us. I can tell you the church history of his place. Or at least I thought I could.

There in the heart of our city is Ebenezer Baptist Church, and I didn't even know it was there, much less that it's been there for 125 years. It sits behind the Jefferson School, a building that used to house a segregated school for black children. And from its door step, one could look up toward the mountain where Monticello sits and imagine the slaves that once lived there, owned by Thomas Jefferson himself.

It seems there is a lot of history we don't like to talk about.

And so little firecracker Macy found herself across the desk from Pastor Lehman Bates, and after their conversation, he said, "How did you get my name?" She said, "My pastor. He just preached a sermon on racial division, and he gave me your name."

Pastor Bates didn't remember meeting Kyle, didn't remember giving Kyle his card, and didn't recall having heard the name of our church. He later said, "I knew the Lord had called me to answer every email or phone call that came my way from people wanting to talk about racial unity. Most never amount to anything, but my job is to answer every single time."

So little firecracker Macy started a fire because the Holy Spirit was a fire in her, and the Holy Spirit was a fire in Pastor Bates, and the Holy Spirit was a fire in Kyle.

Pastor Bates called Kyle and they got together to talk. Pastor Bates said, "I hear you preached a certain sermon, and I want you to preach it at my church." And Kyle said, "Maybe you better listen to it first." So he listened, and we were still invited over, and Pastor Bates was invited into our home and our church, and somewhere in there, the Holy Spirit started a fire of partnership and friendship between pastors and pastor's wives and churches and people.

The first time I went to Ebenezer, I sat in their sanctuary and listened as their 88-year-old Chairman of deacons, Mr. Page, began the service, and as a little girl, probably about 8 or 9, read Scripture at the microphone like she owned the place. The women in the choir sang so joyfully and so loud, their voices could have filled an arena. We were asked to stand and introduce ourselves, and the church called out greetings of warm welcome.

I looked around at their historic building and suddenly thought of how we've lived here all of 9 years, and how our church is a baby, and how faithful people have been tilling soil in Charlottesville long before us. Kyle was there to preach, but we were really there to listen and learn. We were there to extend and receive friendship.

Afterward, Mr. Page showed me the baptismal where he was baptized as a child, and I met a woman whose mother was the first black teacher to desegregate a local elementary school. I thought about all the history of Charlottesville I thought I knew and how, really, I had so much still to learn. I'd driven past buildings and schools for years and had not known their histories. Worse, I'd walked past people for years and not really seen them. My own short-sightedness and ignorance had kept me from seeing beauty, and I'd missed the bigger picture of what God was doing in our community. To be invited so warmly into a sacred space was pure grace.

The Holy Spirit is meeting the prayer in my heart with fire and water. That's what it feels like. The story is just beginning, but it feels like a fire has been lit, and I want to protect it so it doesn't flame out. However, I get a strong sense that this is a fire that God is protecting and even fanning.

And that's why it also feels like water, because we're all simply riding a wave of something God is doing. He's taken our little boats of boldness and thrown us into a current. He's up to something, building a partnership in our community to meet needs together and serve together and worship together and, I plead in prayer, to show the love of Christ to our city together. His work has only just begun.

He's up to something, and I'm just trying to take it all in. I'm trying to learn the full history of this town. I'm trying to ask questions, even the awkward and uncomfortable ones. I'm trying to see things to which I've never paid attention.

I'm trying to ride this current as far as God takes me.
Friends, there is so much to this story that I have had trouble putting it into words, but this is why I wanted to tell it: I want to encourage you to follow the Holy Spirit's leading in your life. If you have a prayer on your lips for racial unity, ask God to illuminate the path for you to walk toward real people in your everyday life. Learn the full history of your city. The Holy Spirit makes us bold, as He did Macy, Pastor Bates, and Kyle. He also humbles us and helps us love and listen, however imperfectly. I hope you'll pray today and ask God for boldness, as well as a tangible direction for that boldness. Will you also pray for us as we seek to love and serve one another here in Charlottesville? Pray for Ebenezer and for Pastor Bates and the work they're doing in our city, as well as my husband and our church. May God write a beautiful story with each of us.