The End of Your Comfort Zone

When was the last time you felt God nudge you out of your comfort zone? How’d you respond? Speaking as a plotter, planner, safety-lover, it can be sooooooo hard to step out into the unknown or challenging, but it’s when we do that God opens our eyes and blesses our hearts abundantly.

This is when we discover and grab hold of the abundant life Jesus promises.

Today’s incredibly beautiful post by Carrie Schmidt inspired and challenged me to a deeper level of surrender and love.

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Moving Out of the Zone
by Carrie Schmidt

They say that life begins at the end of your comfort zone. This has certainly been true for my life.

Pre-comfort-zone-obliteration, I was uncomfortable with discomfort.  I avoided activities that could cause awkwardness. I stayed as far away as possible from hospitals or poverty or homeless-1070399_640people who believed differently than me. Absolutely, under no circumstances, did I share my Jesus with those people of different belief unless forced, and then it rarely ended well.

Pre-comfort-zone-obliteration, I liked my day to proceed according to plan. Anything – or anyone – that dared to intrude on my carefully guarded schedule was looked upon with great frustration, as an inconvenience of the highest sort.

Are you getting a good picture of my “safely-ensconced-in-my-comfort-zone” life?

Yeah.

Awkward. Nervous. Kinda prickly. Selfish for sure. Picky, picky eater. Often paralyzed by fear. A loner. Miserable.

And then 2003 arrived. The beginning of the end of my comfort zone.

My brother – my baby brother – traveled to Iraq on a missions trip in December. If you recall, Iraq in 2003 was not the safest place to be. Their convoy of vehicles had to drive intoJosh Booth Photography: IRAQ &emdash; Iraq under the cloak of night at 100 mph in the best attempt to avoid being targeted by

IEDs and other deadly missiles. If you’ll also recall, December 2003 marked the capture of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Yeah. My brother was within a few miles of his hideout. I was, in a word, terrified, and God and I began the process of breaking some long-held chains of fear during those weeks that Josh was in Iraq.  And then Josh came back with this treasure trove of images (he was the team photographer; you can see his photos at http://www.joshboothphoto.com/iraq), of faces that gazed back at me and captured my heart.

I could not get them out of my system. I didn’t want to get them out of my system.

So when a friend asked me almost a year later if I would be interested in teaching at a local church’s English as a Second Language ministry, I thought about it for maybe a half-second before jumping at the chance.

Y’all.  It’s been 10 years and I haven’t once looked back.

What. A. Ride.

That comfort zone? Completely GONE. My life? Completely BLESSED.

blackboard-209152_640I had no idea when I started teaching ESL that I would experience even a tenth of the memories I now cherish close to my heart.  My involvement isn’t limited to the hours I teach in the classroom – it extends to lunch invitations, doctor appointments, hospital visits, mail interpretation, errands, tutoring, homework help for the kids, etc. And while I’ve lost count of how many students I’ve taught over the last ten years (our program averages about 100 students spread across several different level-specfic classes), their faces and friendships are etched on my heart forever.

Like Olga, my 70-something-year-old Peruvian student, who absolutely delighted me every single second I was in her presence. She and her husband became some of my dearest friends, and I had the honor of attending each of their naturalization ceremonies when they became US citizens.

Olga is with Jesus now, and I still miss her. But I smile at her memory every single time I log on to social media because my “handle” is in her honor.  She always, always always called me “Miss Carrie,” no matter how many times I told her that I didn’t need the term of respect from her.  In her precious accent, it sounded more like “Meez Carrie,” and thus my social media identity was born.

Or like my Ukrainian bestie (also in her seventies) and my Iranian brother (another seventy-year-old) who text me on a regular basis just to say hi. My precious Lucy from Ukraine calls me “my heart” and we frequently get into trouble together with a myriad of shenanigans. My Iranian brother never forgets a birthday or a holiday, and his face lights up with the Joy that now lives inside him.

Or like my dear Muslim girlfriends, who open up their homes and their hearts and their lives to me on a regular basis.  We laugh with each other. We cry for each other. They’ve been to my family’s funerals. I’ve been to theirs. We actually have a lot in common, but our differences have led to some really meaningful discussions about Jesus. Which have, in turn, made me love Jesus – and my Muslim friends – even more.

Or like my sweet Chinese friend who had just had a baby and was trying to figure out how to work her pump. I, having had no children, was not terribly helpful but I could at least attempt the directions.  We laughed a lot that day. Laughter and love transcend language barriers, and Jesus works through both in crazy awesome ways.

Do you remember my life inside my comfort zone? Awkward. Nervous. Kinda prickly. Selfish for sure. Picky, picky eater. Often paralyzed by fear. A loner. Miserable.smile-191626_640

Life after my comfort zone? Thanks to Jesus and my internationals … laughter. So much laughter.  JOY. Grace. LOVE overflowing. Still working on the selfish thing but it’s not my go-to response anymore, at least. Completely different food experiences (that’s for another blog post, lol!). Fear no longer enslaves me. Extroverted introvert. Head over heels in love with Jesus and how He changes lives.

Including mine.

Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far? (I Samuel 7:18, NLT)

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IMG_4522Carrie Schmidt (aka MeezCarrie) is an avid reader, a book reviewer, a story addict, a KissingBooks fan and a book boyfriend collector. She also loves Jesus and THE Story a whole lot. Her passion in blogging/reviewing is to connect readers with a new favorite author or book, especially in the Christian fiction genre. Carrie lives in central Kentucky with her hubby Eric and their quirky dog Zuzu and is the long distance cool aunt to nine nieces and nephews. When she’s not reading or reviewing or “cool-aunting”, Carrie teaches English as a Second/Other Language to international adults. Learn more about Carrie at http://readingismysuperpower.org.

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Let’s talk about this: Carrie spoke about being moved beyond her comfort zone and what God has taught her through that move. How has He moved you out of your comfort zone? What did you experience when you were out of your comfort zone? How did it change your life? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

As a fun aside, I learned of all the wonderful, life-changing things Carrie is doing during a phone conversation while researching my next novel. I’m still in the preliminary planning stages, but I’m excited to say Alana, my heroine, is a Carrie! She’s a missionary home on medical leave, serving as an ESL teacher, and wondering if God can still use her. I’m. So. Excited. About. This. Story! 🙂

If God used Carrie’s post to nudge you a bit this morning, I encourage you to listen to a powerful sermon my pastor gave last Sunday. Then find your have to. Your life will never be the same, promise. When Hearts Break, Everyone Wins. 

Before you go, if you’re in the Omaha-Metro area, I would love for you to stop by my book  signing today at Divine Truth Christian Bookstore in La Vista!

Divine Truth April 23

And if you’re within driving distance, I do hope you’ll join me at the Wordsowers Conference  next weekend (April 29th and 30th) where I’ll be teaching how one can craft characters that grab hold of readers on a deeply emotional level.

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Restored Joy

Photo by David Castillo Dominici taken from freedigitalphotos.net
Photo by David Castillo Dominici taken from freedigitalphotos.net

Do you ever feel like your salvation has become just another thing? Has it become so deeply embedded in you that it no longer is fresh and exciting, as it was when you first came to know Christ? Join Dawn Cahill today as she tells us how God restored the joy in her salvation through writing fiction.

But first, a giveaway! Through the end of the week, Dawn is hosting a giveaway for one lucky new subscriber to her blog. She’ll draw the name on Sunday. So sign up soon for your chance to win!

How God Restored the Joy of My Salvation Through Fiction Writing

by Dawn Cahill

You’ve probably known some “churched” kids who, despite their families’ best efforts, simply have no interest in Christianity. They hang out with scary-looking peers and grow tough veneers. They judge others, not by their character, but by their “cool factor.”

I was one of those kids.

Raised in church. Heard the gospel all my life. Went through all the right motions.

But the gospel never penetrated my heart.

woman-570883_640Then, at age 30, after years of substance abuse and a stint in alcohol treatment, God grabbed me by the collar and didn’t let go.

And it felt wonderful! Like my newly-saved protagonist Livy experienced in Sapphire Secrets:

Livy awoke with a new, overpowering sensation. An awareness of the presence of God filled her to bursting.

Throughout the day, she saw God everywhere. DeeDee helped her bathe with her cast wrapped in plastic and propped on the tub’s side. The comfort of the warm water made her think of God. As she struggled into her clothes, His presence filled her room. As she plodded along in the chilly winter sunshine, the majesty of the trees, the green of the grass, the jagged outline of the mountains all shouted of a Creator. The sky itself spilled over with God. She could almost see Him superimposed over the blue backdrop. Yet nobody marveled over it. The people she passed on the sidewalk appeared oblivious.

Feeling an intense need to commune with Him, she sat outside in the sun with her new Bible, basking in His presence and slurping up Scriptures like a thirsty woman at an oasis.

She avoided DeeDee, knowing her twin couldn’t possibly understand the things going on in her heart. She would assume, since she hadn’t experienced God for herself, He must not be real.

Livy’s favorite Friedrich Nietzsche quote kept running through her head. “Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” A simple paraphrase showed her a profound new truth: Those who were seen worshiping God were thought to be insane by those who could not see Him.

Last year, when I wrote this, the memories of my conversion kept me inspired and motivated, compelling me to put my testimony on paper. I remembered what that newborn “glow” felt like. And how the Bible came alive. Like it did for Livy:

Livy— “I thought the Bible would be dull, but it’s really compelling…I feel like I’m at a feast with a never-ending supply of food.”

Christian friend Scott– “I remember what that’s like. Before I knew Christ, reading the Bible was like reading a textbook. After I found Him, it came alive.”

But today, twenty-plus years after my first taste of true joy…reading the Bible is often like reading a textbook. I no longer notice God everywhere I look. And reliving my conversion experience through my protagonist’s eyes brought home the truth that I’d lost that lovin’ feeling.

book-506481_640Writing this novel was an intense spiritual exercise, as I put myself in the shoes of various characters: Paula, the mature Christian who disciples Livy and always has the right verse for every situation; Scott, fairly new Christian who obeys God’s prompting by praying for Livy’s salvation; and brand-new convert Livy, who gets flak from her anti-religion family for her faith. It made me realize I’ve morphed from Livy, to Scott, and now to Paula.

Sure, the glow has changed, but into something more solid. I find that, like Paula, I know how to biblically answer questions thrown at me. The Bible still vibrates with truth, even though it’s harder now for me to focus on it. And my relationship with God is like a long-term marriage—I don’t want to say I take Him for granted, but there’s a sense of security that I didn’t have as a new believer. And I’ll take that over warm fuzzies any day.

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Saphhire Secrets

Sapphire Secrets:

Twins Livy and DeeDee McCreary open a dance studio in honor of their late mother, whom they lost when they were six. Problem is, Livy remembers nothing of the day her mother died. The more she questions her family about that awful day, the more she suspects she’s been lied to all her life. While she’s seeking answers to what really happened, she keeps crossing paths with handsome engineer Scott Lorenzo, who compels her to question the New Age philosophy she was raised on. What if there is a personal God out there who cares about her?
Before Livy can discover answers, a brutal accident interrupts her search. Her life flips upside down as she faces a future she is not prepared for. Yet the unanswered questions continue to haunt her. Can she find the strength to keep on with her quest, even if it means losing the two people most dear to her—her twin, and the man she loves? 2015 Finalist, ACFW First Impressions Contest. Find it on Amazon.

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Author Dawn V. Cahill pens “Stories of Victorious Faith for the 21st Century.” Seeing an unfilled niche in the Christian fiction market, Ms Cahill birthed Hot Topic Fiction at an intensive four-day writers conference. HTF isn’t afraid to explore the question, how does God want us to live out our faith in this not-so-brave new world? Without insulting the reader by offering pat or easy answers–because there aren’t any–HTF tells stories of ordinary Christians following hard after Christ in a world of terror and violence, of upside-down morality, of hostility to Judeo-Christian values.

Email her at dawn(at)dawnvcahill(dot)com, or find her on Facebook. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW).

Let’s talk about this: How do you maintain the joy of your salvation? Do you read more, dive into a new Bible study, or pull away for quiet time with the Lord? Post in the comments below. We can all use some fresh ideas and encouragement.

6But before you go, I wanted to share a fun tidbit of my next novel, Breaking Free, releasing online next month and in bookstores in early April. You can read the first 30 or so pages, free, HERE.