Watching and Learning

I grew up in a faith tradition that didn't have a model for a woman with leadership and teaching gifts. The roles available for women revolved around the kitchen and the home. In the church, women could display leadership by organizing potlocks and teaching children until they reached puberty. From an early age, I absorbed what would be my future. Until God surprisingly called me into youth ministry when I was 16 years old.

There was zero framework for that calling. That didn't happen where I came from. And it didn't fit anywhere in my experience, or what I saw other women doing in their lives.

By the grace of God, my parents and others began affirming my calling and I was swept into pursuing that calling. The first stop of my training began at Willow Creek Community Church.

I was 18 years old.

In those formative early days of leadership, my first boss in the church was a woman, who's since become one of my dearest friends. I also watched two Nancy's use their gifts to lead teams and ministries, teach on Sunday mornings (gasp!), serve on the management team and elder board. It was revolutionary to me.

Nancy Beach is one of those Nancy's.

Nancy's been a pioneer in her generation and mine. She was a founding leader at Willow Creek. She created and lead an arts team that revolutionized creativity in the church. People weren't using drama and so many other creative mediums before Nancy did. She was invited to teach at churches and conferences all over the world on matters of creativity and leadership. She's been one of the key women on the forefront in the evangelical church for three decades. That's a long time to pioneer something.

For nearly 20 years, I've watched Nancy from a distance. I was astounded to see a woman - a mom even - providing such significant and important public service in the church. I couldn't believe the anointing she carried when she preached on Sunday morning (and not just on Mother's Day!). It rattled my thinking to know her voice actually influenced Bill Hybels, the senior pastor. I remember her carrying a critical role in the church as they set out to raise a bazillion dollars. I stood in awe when I saw her year after year pastor a Global Leadership Summit with tens of thousands of leaders. I remember her speaking at staff meetings, giving pastoral care to a staff of over 500 men and women.

I remember Nancy's voice in my life as a young woman when she told me that my leadership and teaching mattered. It changed me. She showed me what was possible when the Holy Spirit intentionally gives you a gift.

In the past couple years, Nancy has provide a much more up close and personal role in my life. I count her among my wise counsel and I love her deeply. She's provided perspective, wisdom, care, intimate personal experience, hope, challenge, and better skills for me in challenging leadership and personal seasons. She's been quick to say "yes" to my request for a quick phone call or Skype conversation. She's been generous with me in every way.

She's shown and taught me to stay the course as a woman in leadership, even when it's so.very.hard.

Yet with all of Nancy's investment and influence - and hundreds running along beside her - there's still a gap in the church. She so articulately laments,

Women church leaders tell me stories of small ways, and larger ways, in which they have felt overlooked, excluded, diminished, unfairly compensated, and misunderstood. There are also many stories of churches where the opposite is true, where women feel valued and empowered. Yet most female leaders who cross my path feel somewhat alone in their journey, and are occasionally or often tempted to just give up, bury their gifts, and quiet their voice.

This is why the Women in Youth Ministry Campference is so important. We need each other as we journey through these challenges. We need to be reminded we aren't alone. We need our gifts to be emboldened so the church becomes all she must be. And we need to get better, stronger, smarter, more soulful as we faithfully lead and teach in our churches.

And this is why I'm beyond thrilled Nancy agreed to speak at WYMC this Spring. She was quick to say "yes" to coming and speaking and coaching to this next generation of female leaders and teachers. She's so deeply committed to pouring her life into ours and this is just one of the ways she's living it out.

What a gift to have Nancy with us. I know you'll soak up all she has to offer. I hope to see you there.

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April L. Diaz

April has been a visionary activist her entire life. She has made it her mission to lead high performing teams and develop leaders in the margins of society while caring for our bodies, mind, and spirit. Secretly, she’s a mix of a total girly girl and a tomboy, and is still crazy about her high school sweetheart, Brian. Together, they co-parent 3 fabulous kiddos and live in Orange County, CA.

A Review of Bread & Wine (better late than never)

A few months ago I was invited to read Shauna Niequist's newest book, Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table, with Recipes. I jumped at the opportunity because 1) I adored (!!) her first two books, 2) I'm always looking for a good read outside of leadership and spiritual formation books, and 3) who doesn't love a free book?!? 

I've known Shauna from up close and from afar since circa 1998. We worked together and were in the same small group for a moment in time, but for the past decade I've admired and cheered her on from the West coast. I love the voice she's developed and the platform God's given her. I love women like her using their gifts in ways to make us all better.

I promised to review the book before it was officially released in mid-April. Oops. I wish it was because I've been consumed cooking myself through the recipes in the book, but it's merely life that delayed my review.

So, on to the official review. Let me be clear and frank with you about Bread & Wine: THIS IS HER BEST WORK TO DATE! To say I loved Bread & Wine would be an understatement. I gobbled up every word, disciplining myself to read slowly, savored in her carefully articulated words, chewed on the timeless truth told from everyday and exotic stories, and salivated the richness of those darn recipes. Perhaps the proof is that I intend to read it again and make every single recipe in this book. If that's not a commendation in the midst of this ridiculous season of my life, I don't know what is. You can order it here

As I read, a couple realities confronted me. To know me is to know that I am not oh-so domestic. I do not cook well; I throw meals together from the handful of "recipes" that are second nature to me. I do not bake; I buy my sweet treats. I'm not the most hospitable host. Our family motto is "mi casa es su casa", so make yourself at home when you take your shoes off at the door.

But through stories and Scripture and sensory experiences, Shauna casts a vision for life around the table - literally and figuratively - with those you love and those in need and those who need a safe space. I found myself compelled and challenged and called to extend the gift of hospitality, to be more mindful of who I invite into my life and space. My expectations are not unrealistic, but I appreciated these words, 

If you put in the time, the learning, the trying, the mess, and the failure, at the end you will have learned to feed yourself and the people you love, and that's a skill for life - like tennis or piano but yummier and far less expensive. I'm not talking about cooking as performance, or entertaining as a complicated choreography of competition and showing off. I'm talking about feeding someone with honesty and intimacy and love, about making your home a place where people are fiercely protected, even if just for a few hours, from the crust and cruelty of the day. (from the "start where you are" chapter)

I will start from where I am. That's a good reminder for most everything.

Of course, many of Shauna's stories are from a life I will not live (summers on Lake Michigan, a childhood with extensive international travel, multiple vacations a year), but that's not the point. These are great stories. Stories of vision and a calling to live deeply in the life you've been given. Still there are so many common stories - of miscarriage, jeans that don't fit postpartum, celebrating your mom's 50th birthday, living in the tension of being working mom, and grieving through death. These stories I can relate to and the other stories are simply fun.

I'm called to love and togetherness and caring for my body and the world. This book shows me how to do that just a little more. Cheers.




Shauna doing her thing!






More on Shauna
Shauna Niequist is the author of Cold Tangerines and Bittersweet, and Bread & Wine. Shauna grew up in Barrington, Illinois, and then studied English and French Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara. She is married to Aaron, who is a pianist and songwriter. Aaron is a worship leader at Willow Creek and is recording a project called A New Liturgy. Aaron & Shauna live outside Chicago with their sons, Henry and Mac. Shauna writes about the beautiful and broken moments of everyday life--friendship, family, faith, food, marriage, love, babies, books, celebration, heartache, and all the other things that shape us, delight us, and reveal to us the heart of God.
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April L. Diaz

April has been a visionary activist her entire life. She has made it her mission to lead high performing teams and develop leaders in the margins of society while caring for our bodies, mind, and spirit. Secretly, she’s a mix of a total girly girl and a tomboy, and is still crazy about her high school sweetheart, Brian. Together, they co-parent 3 fabulous kiddos and live in Orange County, CA.

C.S. Lewis

One of my little brother's [He's 6 feet tall, 29 year old brother. My "baby brother" is also nearly 6 feet and is 19 years old. Whatever you might say, I'm the 5'3", 31 year old BIG sister!] favorite philosphers/theologians/authors is C.S. Lewis. He loves him so much that his first born son's namesake is after C.S. Lewis - Lewis Samuel. For good reason. He's incredible. A couple years ago my mom bought me Lewis' A Grief Observed to help me grieve through my infertility. It was healing and validating.

Last night I was reading another book with these 2 C.S. Lewis quotes. Not sure where they're from. I hope they are nourishing and healing to you in you find yourself resonating with them...

"There is nothing we can do with suffering except suffer it."


Many, many times in the grief of the past several years, I heard people say that I should get over it. Move on. Count my blessings. Focus on God's goodness. Forget what's behind. Maybe they didn't say it directly, but it was roundabout. I heard it in their tone or saw it in their eyes. Maybe I just intuitively felt it. But I also intuitively felt what Lewis wrote here. You just gotta suffer through it. Live in it. Feel what I feel. Validate it. And trust that God is moving me from this place to a better, a holier place.

"We're not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us;
we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.
"


Even up until this past week when our first Embassy date was postponed, I wondered that exact thing. I sincerely believe that God will give me his best. "So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him." [Matthew 7, italics mine]. I used to sign all my emails "God's Best". I'm willing to go through the pain in order to receive his good gifts.

To the One who was well acquainted with sorrow, help me in my unbelief and trust you even when the pain seems unbearable. Thank you, Jesus, for the good gifts named Judah and Addise you are giving us this month! And thank you for grace through my doubts and sustenance in my greatest pain.

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April L. Diaz

April has been a visionary activist her entire life. She has made it her mission to lead high performing teams and develop leaders in the margins of society while caring for our bodies, mind, and spirit. Secretly, she’s a mix of a total girly girl and a tomboy, and is still crazy about her high school sweetheart, Brian. Together, they co-parent 3 fabulous kiddos and live in Orange County, CA.

My Highest Dream

"Shattered dreams are never random.
They are always a piece in a larger puzzle, a chapter in a larger story.
The Holy Spirit uses the pain of shattered dreams to help us discover our desire for God, to help us begin dreaming the highest dream. They are ordained opportunities for the Spirit to awaken, then to satisfy our highest dream."
~ Larry Crabb, Shattered Dreams


20 We put our hope in the Lord.
He is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
22 Let your unfailing love surround us, Lord,
for our hope is in you alone.
Psalm 33:20-22, NLT
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April L. Diaz

April has been a visionary activist her entire life. She has made it her mission to lead high performing teams and develop leaders in the margins of society while caring for our bodies, mind, and spirit. Secretly, she’s a mix of a total girly girl and a tomboy, and is still crazy about her high school sweetheart, Brian. Together, they co-parent 3 fabulous kiddos and live in Orange County, CA.

A Dream :: "Orphan" Becomes Personal

This is a message I got from one of my oldest friends, Laura. We have been friends since 8th grade. Although we've only lived in the same city for 1 year, God's knit our hearts together and bound us together for over half our lives. We were bridesmaids in each other's weddings. She sent me this dream God gave her a couple weeks ago about her 2 daughters. I absolutely LOVE how God personalizes the plight of orphans and vulnerable children for his people...


Kate and Ella were on some adventure which involved catching large sea slugs [don't think that even exists] and all sorts of other mayhem, but Ella was being sneaky and brought one of the sea creatures into the large room that she and Kate were sleeping in. In that room were a bunch of bunk beds lined up. They had nothing in their possession, Kate only had some silly bands on her arm. A woman entered the room where they were sleeping and saw that Ella had disobeyed a rule by bringing in the sea creature [ok strange I know], upon seeing this she kicked Ella and Kate out. At that moment I realized they were orphans...I weep as I write this. I saw the sweet amazing eyes of my Kate and the tender gentle spirit of her big sis, and there they were- all alone in the world. And I woke up.

It was 4:30 this morning and all I could do was run into their room and lay my hands on my 2 oldest girls. In that moment, the plight of orphans went from my head, past my heart, directly into my GUT! I literally felt sick. I realized that in a different place in the world or a different set of circumstances, that could by the life my daughters faced. The image of my sweet little 2yr old, w/ her big brown eyes, all alone in the world, was more than I could handle. And I pray that if they were in that circumstance, someone would scoop them up and love them, someone would choose them, someone would spend whatever money, sacrifice whatever it took, travel any distance to rescue my little loves.

I wonder how God's made adoption personal to you. I LOVE the private conversations I've had with so many readers about how God's expanded your heart toward adoption. Please share. It's so encouraging to hear and see how God's mobilizing his people toward orphan care!

2 Comments

April L. Diaz

April has been a visionary activist her entire life. She has made it her mission to lead high performing teams and develop leaders in the margins of society while caring for our bodies, mind, and spirit. Secretly, she’s a mix of a total girly girl and a tomboy, and is still crazy about her high school sweetheart, Brian. Together, they co-parent 3 fabulous kiddos and live in Orange County, CA.