Leading a Courageous Girls group can be overwhelming at times. Let’s be honest, there will be times when everyone does NOT see eye to eye. Moms may question a monthly topic or daughters might experience tension due to issues flaring up at school or in friendship circles. While CG groups are bound to experience road blocks that attempt to throw us off track, remember that one of the most unique aspects of this group is that you will be traveling a lengthy journey together to grow character that can only be fostered over time and difficulties. It’s not a season-by-season activity where participants are coming and going. But, this reality will also be difficult. After all, many people are not accustomed to sticking anything out for the long haul. Challenges and struggle often tempt us to jump ship to avoid having to wade through the murkiness and discomfort that commitment brings with it. And wouldn’t the Enemy LOVE to de-rail your group and disconnect the relationships that have been cultivated?
As your group settles into a rhythm, take some time to consider these five suggestions that will help you keep the LONG VIEW in mind as you lead your group well:
- NEVER STOP PRAYING. Seek God’s word on every issue and topic that your group discusses and every hiccup that may arise over time. It’s tempting to wait until we get to a point where we have no other options and THEN turn to God’s Word for help, but Courageous Girls turn to His guidance FIRST, trusting that God’s plan is the best plan. Be mindful of how God moves, grows or changes your group over the years. Change is inevitable. In fact, it will likely be a great thing in your CG group because change will often signify growth and maturity. However, as your girls (and moms) grow up and mature, you will need to listen to God’s guidance and prompting for how to stay in tune with the girls and moms as well as how to continue supporting and challenging them in healthy and helpful ways. Remember that CG is only a vehicle and that your group is unique, made up of many individual wirings, backgrounds, and stories. As a result, it’s important to avoid feeling locked into a proscribed outline that may have worked for another group. Though the guidelines, curriculum, and leader resources provide you with relational wisdom, allow God to lead your group and trust the process.
- KEEP THE STAGES OF GROUP FORMATION IN MIND. Every group goes through 4 stages of development; each stage takes a different amount of time for every group. Keeping this in mind, consider what stage your group is currently in and then prepare for the next stage coming up. Be on the lookout for signs that your group is transitioning into the next stage and be ready to nurture the development that will occur.
- STAGE 1 — FORMING. This stage can take place for the entire first year of your CG group. During this stage individuals are getting to know each other, figuring out the schedule and determining expectations. This is an important time to be very clear about the group guidelines (see CG website). Establish healthy boundaries for the group as well as monthly patterns like keeping snacks simple to keep the focus on the relationships and quality time of the gathering. Try to avoid cancelling regardless of who can make a meeting. This will set a tone of commitment and the importance of valuing every member of your group. In fact, sometimes the smaller gatherings are the most profound.
- STAGE 2 — STORMING. During the storming phase, the group can feel “off.” Tensions might seem higher than normal as everyone is still figuring out how to meet the group expectations as well as how their commitment to the CG group will impact their own personal and family lives. During this stage, moms might question their roles within the group or whether they even fit in (these are common doubts and insecurities that rise to the surface with any group that sticks together more than a short time). Time has not yet allowed trust to fully form amongst the group, leaving individuals feeling tentative and unsure. They may still be questioning the cost/benefit of being a part of CG: What are we getting out of this monthly time together? Is it what I was expecting? These aren’t the people I typically do life with. These questions and more can often leave the momentum of the group stagnant for a period of time while trust continues to build and relationships are established. This is a great time to gather the moms together for a “mama treat” or a get together where they can talk without daughters present in order to go deeper together as moms. Do not be afraid to pursue moms outside of the group or to start a book study together. This can build safety and a feeling of being “known,” both of which will help get your group to the next stage of development.
- STAGE 3 — NORMING. Norming is pretty much just what it sounds like — the period of time when a group finally figures out their individual roles/strengths/goals/etc. and can get down to business. With CG groups, this may look like moms remembering to send out the email reminders a week or so before the next gathering (without needing to be reminded) or following up with one another afterwards to make sure everyone is connecting. These little signs are easy to take for granted (after all, they are part of the basic expectations of CG groups), but it takes time for these to become routine habits for new groups. One of the things we’ve noticed is that groups settle into the norming stage faster when more moms are vested in the group as discussion leaders. In other words, the quicker you can get moms to lead monthly gatherings, host in their homes, etc., the faster your group can move from the storming phase into the norming phase. CG founder, Terra Mattson, says that this is one of the essentials to the CG movement. She asks every CG leader to prayerfully assign monthly topics to moms, rather than waiting for moms to sign up. This helps all moms grow in trust, collective ownership, modeling, and intimacy as they contribute. Each mom will feel valued and their daughters will benefit. Giving each person a specific role within the group and ensuring that each member of your “team” feels purposeful will help you build traction to propel you further into the final stage of group development.
- STAGE 4 — PERFORMING. This final stage of group development is the sweet spot for CG groups. You’ll know your group is in the performing stage when things start to feel less like pulling teeth and more like well-oiled machine. You and other moms will have the group rhythm down and will be able to rely on one another regularly. The girls will pick up on the unity between the moms and will feel more comfortable and open themselves. This usually leads to more open sharing during discussions, more risk-taking, and ultimately, more connection – both between the moms, the daughters and the mom/daughter pairs. Don’t assume this phase means it will be smooth sailing, though. Once groups attain this stage of performance, there will still be challenges to work through. You’ll surely hit bumps along the way, especially since CG groups remain together for multiple years, but you will also grow more adept at working through issues that arise so that you can continue functioning well as a group despite individual set backs and personal conflicts. In the end, remember that CG is ultimately for the mom and daughter relationship.
- RESOLVE CONFLICT. Remind mamas in your group that discomfort and conflict is going to occur — it’s a given! In fact, it’s one of the aspects of CG groups that make them so much more than most activities we do with out girls. If we are going to teach our daughters how to be in real, committed relationships with God and others, we must prepare them for the uncomfortable task of moving through conflict well. Here’s a little equation to break it down for your group: Relationships + Conflicts = Growth (so long as the conflict is addressed and reconciled). When the moms are prepared for this and are equipped to lean into one another when conflict arises, the chance of working through it successfully is much higher (See Year 5 on the website for some clear conflict resolution skills).
Talk it out. This is mentioned several times in the leader notes on the CG website, but we can’t over-state this. When an issue arises within your group (either between mamas, daughters or any combination thereof), encourage your moms and girls to go directly to the source of the issue. As the group leader, you may need to do some coaching or advocating to help this happen. At times, you may even need to help navigate a difficult conversation as a neutral mediator. Other times, you may need to personally address an individual in the group whose behavior is impacting others (especially if it’s happening routinely and/or she is not aware of the implications of her behavior). Avoid gossiping and talking about it with others (this only leads to more hurt, confusion, and group break-down).
Finally, make GRACE (and LISTENING) your main focus. It’s very possible that the conflict resulted from miscommunication, different wirings, or unmet expectations, and not from maliciousness or ill-will. By going directly to the source fo the conflict, you can avoid unnecessary escalation and hopefully move toward reconciliation faster. By operating from a position of grace, you’re going to assume the best about someone, not the worst. This is true for all parties involved. Approach with grace AND receive feedback with grace, too. Grace reminds another mom who missed the monthly gathering that it certainly isn’t the end of the world, no matter how long you spent preparing for the lesson. Grace calls us to be honorable and act with integrity even when we may have been wronged in the first place. Grace is the foundation of what we desire to teach our girls because it is the greatest form of love we experience from God; it is wanting our daughters to know deeply that they are loved just as they are. Though maturing is a goal, we cannot mature if we do not experience love. Ultimately, we want to model what we want to pass on to our girls.
- HONOR EVERYONE. Celebration is important. Look for opportunities to honor each person in your CG group individually and encourage everyone to do the same. Can you support a CG friend by showing up to her play (either on your own or as a group) and cheering her on? Perhaps you have a simple but special way to recognize each person’s birthday? Does your group have an annual service project that highlights and supports an individual’s personal struggle or challenge (ie: walking as a team for a local cancer fundraiser in honor of a group member who has battled this disease herself). If not, consider finding something that would elevate that person’s cause to the group level and follow through with it. There are countless ways to honor others. In a culture where “everyone’s a winner” and no one really stands out, it is special to cultivate the uniqueness of the stories represented amongst your group members. Paying tribute to that uniqueness will not only build good will among your group, but will unify you for the long haul.
- USE ALL GIFTS. Everyone has gifts to offer. Your CG group is no exception. In order to really make this group sustainable, it is imperative that you figure out what people’s gifts are and then create “lanes” for them to work within. For those who have the gift of hospitality, lean on them them to host retreats, holiday meals, special activities and other tokens that will remind your group that they are loved and cared for. For those with the gift of prayer, call on them to pray regularly for group and individual needs and to reach out to others in the group during times of grief or loss. There are many more gifts surely represented within your CG group; take inventory of what those are and then capitalize on ways to allow people to work within those areas so it doesn’t feel like extra ‘work’ for anyone. When we operate from our natural gifting, the work is a joy and is much more sustainable than trying to muster up the motivation to do something outside our gifting…especially for the long haul.
Often, a little perspective can really help us see the best direction to guide our groups. There is a misconception that CG groups should end up feeling like a group of BFFs that get together to chat each month. We actually disagree; the more uniqueness and individuality represented within your group (which can sometimes feel like people coming from many different walks of life), the more potential your group has to grow in empathy, vulnerability, confidence, courage and grace.
By: Aimee Eckley
Terra Mattson wrote a great post as a guest blogger over at joyofit.org
. The title is Living with Courage
and here is the intro:
When I reflect on the idea of courage, a particular moment from high school stands out in my mind.
Two of my close friends (both of whom happened to be large, broad-shouldered, football players) were physically brawling in front of our school. Upon realizing what was happening, I marched my 5’6” frame through the crowd that had gathered to watch, and positioned myself right in between the two boys yelling, “Stop!” By the grace of God, and my cat like reflexes, I ducked just as one of my friends threw a powerful fist at the other, ignoring the fact that I was standing between them.
Head over to read the blog post and leave a comment! Living with Courage by Terra Mattson
How to Foster a Committed CG Group in a FOMO, Uncommitted Culture
I have been married to my husband, an avid fly fisherman, for nearly two decades. I have learned a few things about trout, whether I wanted to or not. If you see a trout moving downstream for more than a few seconds, it’s likely injured or dying. Trout are made to move upstream against the current, and those that do are healthy and strong. I think Courageous Girls are like trout. We are made to go against the grain — to grow muscles we are unaware we have so that we can stand firmly like mighty oaks of righteousness in the midst of a hurting world (see Isaiah 61).
When I started my first Courageous Girls group in 2012, the growing trends of surface relationships, lack of commitment, and the rise of FOMO (fear of missing out) felt like currents I did not want my girls to die in. New to Sherwood, Oregon, I was ready to trust God to build a small tribe that could test the status quo. During the first year of our CG gatherings, I remember feeling so vulnerable after each month of Courageous Girls. I expected moms to change their minds, find something better to do, or slowly lose momentum and bail. When I invited everyone back the second year with the hopes of making this “thing” a three year commitment, I was floored when every mom agreed to continue.
Year two was a little harder, as our casual relationships grew on us like a comfortable pair of jeans and conflicts began to naturally emerge. I had MANY conversations with moms about the dynamics between daughters, their own insecurities about being in the group, and the disappointments of unmet expectations. With every conversation, I found myself turning toward God with a deep inhale, and then exhaling His courage back out to continue on. My own conviction in knowing that all healthy relationships are built over a long period of time, through the struggle of conflicts, helped me to gently encourage us all to hold tight to what God was doing through our hesitant commitment to one another. This is was for our girls. And, this was also for the little girl in each of us.
Based on years of experience leading women, I decided to assign each mom a specific month and lesson to facilitate before the CG year even began. Prayerfully considering which CG conversation might be the right fit for each woman to guide, every mom had a place to contribute and to practice courage. You are welcome! This type of intentional preparation has helped every mom know the plan in advance and settle into the pace of our monthly gatherings together. In early Fall, we took a mom and daughter retreat to catapult us into community, offering only what a retreat can do: awkward depth in a confined space and time. The rhythm of our annual retreat continues to bring the needed glue that now holds us together each year as school life picks up and us moms notice a few more gray hairs.
Even better, I invited moms to get away with me mid-year (without our girls) to dig deeper into our own relationships, adding a slow and steady drip of vulnerability between moms. Now, after six years together, we are taking time to write and pray intentional words over every daughter on the morning of her thirteenth birthday. We now have history and are starting to see the ways in which God has ordained our relationships for His purposes and for each of our lives as our daughters quickly move from tweens to teens.
Everyone gets weary at some point during any journey we commit to. Starting is half the battle, but finishing well is the other half. Commitment is an ‘old school’ virtue we are trying to bring back to the next generation. It holds a vital role in EVERY RELATIONSHIP we have in our lives, and is a hidden ingredient in healthy adults. Remember that when a mama wants to cancel a CG gathering, skip a month, or not participate in leading, we indirectly communicate to our daughters that something else is a priority. That is NEVER our heart’s intent when we decide to stay home this month, and yet, our daughters feel a loss. These groups are not for us. They are for her.
In contrast, our daughters feel our love every time we make this special gathering count, and place the scheduled meetings at the top of our priority list in the midst of all the other activities in our lives. And yes, there is ALWAYS grace for the occasional missed gathering, but the pattern of not being consistent speaks loud and clear to our girls. What a simple way to speak deep love and loyalty into our daughters’ souls! To say to them, “Today, our time spent together at CG is more important to me than anyone else or anything else! I want to be with YOU!” It is so important to keep the bigger vision of these CG gatherings in our minds when we start to feel the daily grind of life. Our daughters are worth our time and energy, and these once a month gatherings help her FEEL our love. Play Therapy research tells us that children need to have prioritized, undivided attention on a regular basis in order to believe the words, “I love you.”
Consistency and commitment are two characteristics we are desperately in need of in an attention-deficient culture. The only way to attain them is through time and practice. Courageous Girls was designed to be as little of an effort as possible for a pretty big return. With only one meeting a month, rotating homes, and only leading one gathering a year, CG is doable! Even more, when each mom takes a turn to lead group discussions, we model to all our daughters the power of community, the variety of gifts we bring, and what courage looks like in ordinary moments. It changes a daughter’s perspective of her own mom when she sees her leading the way. We have tried to make facilitating a group as simple as reading the curriculum and trusting God to do the rest.
Courageous Girls is not a quick fix, nor is it a clique of best friends. We are not taking short cuts to any unrealistic expectations or overnight miracles, but rather, are leaning into a process of grace and trust in God. God seems to have the habit (see the Bible) of taking broken and not-so-likely candidates in order to use them to change the world. I think Jesus was the only one that really saw the potential in his disciples, so that gives us great hope when we wonder why we are in the groups we are in. Who am I to say that God will not use the women and daughters in each of our groups to transform not only our own lives, but the lives of our families and our communities? I believe all God needs is you and a willing heart. I often see the sign in the corner of the Living Wholehearted Lodge & Retreat that reads, “Shortcuts never lead to anything worth it. Never.” It reminds me to be a like a trout who swims upstream, when I’d rather coast with the flow of the river. Let’s swim beside our daughters and help them learn the ways of the river — let’s lean into the depths of their souls and trust that God created all of us to be strong and courageous!
Written by Terra Mattson, M.A., LMFT, LPC, Co-Founder of Living Wholehearted
Author of InCourage: Rooted In Grace, www.incouragebook.com
*We are hosting a Courageous Girls Leader’s Training on June 7th. Whether you are a seasoned CG leader or want to start a new group of your own, this half-day workshop will provide you with practical leadership skills to lead your group well. The day will also offer you personal time with founder and author, Terra Mattson, as you gain collective wisdom form other CG leaders and personal refreshment as we gather on five acres of old growth woods at the Living Wholehearted Lodge & Retreat in Sherwood, OR. This personalized workshop has limited space, so register early. Cost is $45 and includes retreat training, materials, lunch and coffee/tea/water. Food allergies are accommodated. Register at http://livingwholehearted.com/events/workshops.
In many ways, our culture would like us to believe that we don’t need anyone. To exemplify the superwoman in all ways! But is that really what God calls us to?
Written by Kelly Vlach
I finished the final page of InCourage on Feb 2nd. On Feb 3rd, I opened up to page 1 and began again. To write about what I have taken away from this book would be to rewrite the entire book. So I will focus on my biggest takeaway.
My husband and I tried to conceive our first child for 4 heartbreaking years before our miracle baby boy was born. And then another 4 years passed before our twins would be born. My big dream for so many years was to build a family. When it finally happened for us, the heavenly joy was palpable and I threw myself into mom’ing.
What InCourage has helped me realize is that somewhere along the way, I skipped a few steps. I had some healing to do, but had left that part of me untouched while focussing on raising my kids.
As moms, we need to heal our wounds before we can effectively prepare our kids for the battle of this life. Terra Mattson, author of InCourage, uses the example of oxygen masks on an airplane. There is a very practical reason they tell you to put your own mask on first. So at the beginning of the new year, about halfway through reading the book, I committed to morning quiet times; something I have NEVER been good at doing. My kids usually wake up at 7 am, so I set my alarm for 6 am. I haven’t set an alarm to wake up since before my first child was born. The first two mornings I was awakened by a dream 1 minute before my alarm went off – the dream was of God himself clicking the light on in my study room. Waiting for me. As if to say, “Well, it’s about time. I’ve been waiting for you.”
My morning quiet time has become like a spiritual spa day for me. Yes, there are many mornings that my kids wake up early and “interrupt” me. But now they know that instead of finding me in bed and waking me up, they’ll find me already up, in my cozy overstuffed chair, reading my Bible. Some mornings, my daughter grabs her sketch book, snuggles in next to me and asks me, “Mom, can I spend time with you and God?” Terra says that, “one of our main jobs as parents is to help our daughters discern the voice of God and create space for them to hear His voice repeatedly so that, like a baby in the womb, they can recognize it quickly” (InCourage).
I am quickly learning that we can’t just direct our kids, we are to lead them. We can’t just teach our kids, we need to learn first. We can’t just say, we need to do.
That brings me to Chapter 10: She Dreams…Big. “And not just any dream, but one birthed from the sacred spaces of intimacy with the God who loves and knows us like no other,” (182). I must admit that part of me rolled my eyes when I read that. I have been very vocal the past 8 years about not being a “goal setter” and about not being a “big dreamer.” I tried that once, and I got hurt because God had other plans. My walls were high and I was no longer going to hope for something that God may or may not have in His plans. I thought this was a good M.O. for my life. Plus, God had already given me my big dream – times 3! Three beautiful kids — how dare I dream for more than that? That would be irresponsible and selfish. But then I was hit with the truth that, “trauma and abuse have destroyed our ability to dream…fears keep us stuck….Trust and obedience seem too scary for someone who was deeply harmed, violated, or betrayed by someone they trusted” (183). That’s how I felt toward God, though I hardly realized it.
My trauma was infertility and I was still harboring mistrust toward God – my creator – and the creator of my children. I camped out on that page and that truth for several days. Terra goes on to say, “Our God is not abusive, and will never violate our will. He designed us for so much and will allow us to take as long as we need to heal. He is compassionate and patient. There is grace for where we are today, and He will help us take one step at a time toward dreaming” (183). So I started praying, a lot. I read Job. I read 1 Corinthians. I still have some walls to break down between me and God, but I’m working on it and we are rebuilding our relationship to be stronger and more intimate than ever.
Then, I started praying for a new dream. Terra asks, “If you could not fail, what would you do?” I didn’t have an answer except one that involved an island paradise and an umbrella drink. I asked my closest friends and family what their answers would be. My dad would play shortstop for the Yankees. My mom would join Samaritans Purse. My sister-in-law would teach. My sister would foster. A friend of mine said she was struggling with her answer, too. What was my answer? For so long my answer was “have kids.” Maybe that was it. I already answered the question and already accomplished my big dream.
In my morning quiet time, I read I Corinthians 9:22-23, “To the weak, I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might win some.” If you are familiar with the Core Value Index that Terra and Jeff Mattson use in their business, you’ll know what I mean when I say that my graph is a square. My core value is that of an Innovator, but not by much. I am nearly equal in all categories. I realized that I am uniquely wired for this verse. Maybe God did have a new dream for me. Maybe we don’t all just get one big dream. And then one quiet morning it came to me. I want all children to feel safe and important. If I could not fail, I would fix the foster care system so that all children would have a perfect system to turn to when their homes are not safe. That’s big, right? In fact, it’s really big. T
Terra says, “It’s not about us or producing anything. It’s about a relationship in which God loves us so much that he wants to partner with us to reach the world one person at a time.”
Nine years ago, before my first son was born, I started the process to become a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer for kids in the foster care system. I completed the training and was sworn in before a judge. But then, life got crazy. My dream of having children was becoming a reality and CASA was put to the side – I never even took a case. But in my morning quiet times, I started praying about CASA again. Would that make sense as a first step? I have a tendency to false start in decision making, plowing forward when I think I have a good idea but ultimately having to halt for something unexpected that I hadn’t thought through. I didn’t want to do that this time. I was really trying to move slowly and prayerfully, especially since I had just begun reading Acts during my morning quiet time. I was struck by the apostles’ patience before Pentecost. I wanted to follow their example and wait for the spirit to move, but I couldn’t help myself. A few days later, I contacted the local CASA director and the very next day, I was at a desk with my volunteer workbook in front of me starting training. I’m not saying that I am going to revamp the foster care system and SAVE ALL THE BABIES! But I am going to make a difference for one child at a time. I will become weak to reach the weak (not only the children in harm’s way, but their families as well). From there, it is in God’s hands. When I explained to my children what I was doing, my 4-year-old son said, “Oh, so you’re like a superhero!” In some small way, maybe it does kind of feel like that.
My first time reading through InCourage was a healing process; it helped me grow. My second time through this book I will be reading it with new eyes, ready to lead the generation of kids in my house that God has entrusted to me.
“Imagine a generation of girls who know they are loved and love others well. Imagine a generation of girls who speak life and encouragement and hope into those around them. Imagine a generation of girls who not only stand up for their own value and worth but also for the value and worth of others. Imagine a generation of girls who lean into the mighty power of our God and live into their destiny – the one crafted for them for such a time as this!” (206). In the words of Terra, “Let’s empower our [sons and] daughters to dream and then be blown away by how they partner with God to participate in a greater cause” (185).
Kelly Vlach is a stay at home, work from home mom to an eight year-old boy and four year-old twins. She was born and raised in Lake Oswego – the daughter of a pastor – and moved to Bend when she married her mountain man husband, Travis. They have been married for 16 years and have worked together running their business, Vlach Bookkeeping, for the past 8 years. She enjoys taking advantage of all the Bend lifestyle has to offer including camping, fishing, golfing, running along the Deschutes river, playing cornhole in our yard with good friends and family and sharing laughs around the fire pit.
As I recently sat at the edge of the rock precipice, jutting out over the steep drop off 100 feet down, I remembered this warning that I had first heard nearly 30 years ago: “The first step is always the hardest.” The local climbing guide overseeing our tourist zip lining experience issued it several times as the nervous adults lined up to take their turns repelling off the Mexican cliff.
“The first step is always the hardest.”
I was ten years old and I was away at overnight camp three states away from home. I chose to go bouldering at a local climbing area just off property with a group of campers and counselors — skilled outdoors-people. Being a mall rat from the urban jungle of Dallas, Texas, I was anything but “outdoorsy.” However, I was usually up for a challenge and repelling off the wall fit the bill. I clearly remember the feeling in my body as I cautiously backed up to the edge of the cliff, nothing but my carabiner and a belayer down below keeping me safe. Despite the rush of adrenaline surging up through my core, I couldn’t make myself step off the edge. I tried to push my foot a bit farther out, like the instructor had coached me to do, but I simply couldn’t trust that the rope was going to support me.
With the ground a good 50+ feet below, I closed my eyes and allowed myself to sit down into my harness so that the weight shifted out of my feet and into the seat of the girdle tied around my waist. It worked. With hardly any weight left in my toes, I allowed them to dangle off the edge until my feet had completely cleared the side of the wall. I was airborne but I was not falling! As quickly as I took that first step, the feeling in my stomach changed from total fear and anxiety to freedom and elation.
With small bounces off the wall, my feet propelled me slowly toward the ground with each progressive push and release. It only took a matter of minutes, but the confidence I gained during my descent would last the rest of my life.
Nowadays, courage looks different. Most days are not filled with dare-devil stunts and jumping off cliffs, but in many ways, life’s work requires faith similar to what I remember feeling growing up from inside my gut at the edge of that wall.
When I reached out to Terra Mattson, clinician and founder of Courageous Girls, to see if she wanted to create curriculum that could be used by moms anywhere to start Courageous Girls groups of their own, it took courage. Courage to boldly ask her if I could help, and courage in her response to a complete stranger. Our share desire was to give other moms the opportunity to experience the joy and connection that we feel each month as we gather with our daughters and several other friends to talk about relevant topics that our kids experience daily.
Like that first step off the rock ledge, gathering together in these small groups requires great courage. We have recently had moms share with us that they sometimes feel “vulnerability hangovers” after a monthly discussion. It’s hard! We are not accustomed to doing life skin-on-skin with others, our scars, open wounds and fears in plain view. In many ways, it’s like the first feeling I had when I realized I was dangling 50 feet above ground with very little to protect me. It’s hard and awkward, like a climbing harness, and sometimes oh-so-uncomfortable.
But it’s also real. And it’s working. Our girls are talking, sharing in more vibrant detail than they did before. They are leaning into others with a kind of trust and faith that took many of us moms decades to develop. We are all leaning into God’s word and direction more. We look to Him to declare our worth and to define our purpose. He does. He is a faithful and redemptive God who uses our hurts and our hiccups to lead others and to see beauty on the horizon more clearly.
And yes, the first step can often times still be the hardest. One must put herself out there to extend an invitation and commit to shepherding a group for the long haul. But just like repelling off the cliff 30 years ago, the feeling of being “caught” by God’s grace is unlike any other feeling. The lightness of legs without gravity holding me in one spot allows for immense growth and positive change, for my own life, and for my relationship with my daughter and others. What started with fear, grows into long-term trust, fueled by grace and courage, so that doubts and insecurities are not so paralyzing anymore, and eventually you realize, anyone can do it.
Written by Aimee Eckley, co-curriculum developer; editor
written by Amy Oliver
I didn’t ever plan to be a “single mom”. It wasn’t a label I ever wanted to wear. At the time of my divorce, I was running a ministry whose mission is to bring women and children into the body of Christ through gospel centered teaching, relationship and service. I stood on stage and proclaimed the beauty of God’s design for family and to be honest, in a way that was my idol. We talked about how to raise children in stable loving households. And I “failed”. Or at least that’s what it felt like when my husband walked away. I’ve been on quite a journey into single parenthood and have been humbled in the most beautiful of ways. I wish I could sit down with you, look you in the eye and tell you how loved you are, how brave you are and how much I respect you. That I know your pain and what it feels like to be “that mom” sitting at the soccer game alone watching other families who seemingly have something you don’t. But I would also tell you this….you are NOT a “single mom”…that is NOT your identity. You are a mom, chosen by God to raise your children in God’s power. You are not broken, defective, less capable or doomed. Your children and you have the same heavenly father. Celebrate that, share it with your kids and allow that truth to remind you that ultimately we are all children of a single parent…one God….whose love will be abundantly more than enough for you and for your children.
I have two girls who are now 13 and 10. I worried that they’d be scarred for life by the break up of our family. I read the scary articles about how divorce affects kids. But can I tell you something those articles didn’t say? My kids are strong, resilient and courageous BECAUSE of what we’ve gone through. We’ve had to learn together how to weather storms, talk about difficult emotions and lean on God together when life just doesn’t look like we thought it would. My kids can set boundaries like a boss! They can see below the surface of a situation and find the truth like detectives. They trust their feelings and are not afraid to say what they mean (which sometimes isn’t fun to be on the receiving end of, but I’ll take it). Together, we’ve rebuilt our little family! We even gave ourselves a new name…the Truth Love Trio! Having different last names felt a little awkward for all of us, so we decided we’d come up with a new name for our little threesome. We wrote up a definition of who we are, unique to us and our circumstances. We love when we see 3:33 on a clock. When one of us sees it, we all yell out, “333” and the others echo it back. To us that is a reminder that God sees our little Trio and loves us. All of us.
Listen closely…this is important. You CAN raise your kiddos on your own, but you don’t need to! You’re not alone even though it can feel like you are. I’m a “do it yourself” kind-of-gal and had a lot of pride about being capable of raising these girls alone. But the reality is my girls need other perspectives, other people pouring into their lives. And I’ve been immensely blessed by letting go of my pride and allowing others to come alongside me. For us, that looked like families having us over for dinner and not allowing myself to feel uncomfortable because I’m sitting at a table with a mom and dad. My girls have benefited greatly by watching healthy two parent families operate. I hope this for their future, so of course I want them to experience it now. We’ve also invited families to come eat with us, which felt a little awkward at first, but again, it reminds us that we are not on the outside looking in.
At the same time, I want my girls to know they are not the only ones without a dad in the house, so I’ve cultivated great friendships with other single moms and their kids. A healthy balance of both has been just what our family needed. Same thing goes for vacations. We have invited families to come with us and been invited to go with others. I’ve found that many of my married girlfriends have loved the opportunity to go away for a weekend without their spouse and we’ve had great times having their kids with us. Recently, my girls and I went on a vacation and at the last minute another married couple and their 3 boys came with us. It was so much fun for my girls to experience all that boy time! God’s blessed my girls with lots of bonus moms and dads; we talk about that all the time. I want my girls to see how God’s filled the gap with lots of amazing men and women who model for them the love of the Father in unique ways. Coaches, teachers, youth leaders and parents of their friends have really loved on my girls and I’m so grateful for that. Once I let go of my shame over what I thought our family should look like, God built a family I could never have imagined.
Same holds true for a Courageous Girls group. Do not think you are exempt because you are not married. You are a mom with girls and that’s all you need to be. Consider that the other girls in the group NEED to see a single mom and understand that she’s no different than a mom who’s married. Single parenthood is a reality, whether by choice, divorce, death or adoption. Your courage and strength will bless the members of your group. You are not defined by your marital status, you are defined by a God of love. And the married moms aren’t defined by their marital status, either. In actuality, some of them may be struggling in their marriage or have a husband who’s uninvolved. Don’t assume everyone else has a perfect family, because those don’t exist. We all have challenges and sharing that is the point of being in a Courageous Girls group. We’re teaching our girls how to take the challenges of life and trust God to bring healing and hope. And we do it together in community! Embrace that and allow God to use you in a unique way.
All these ideas are just that, not a formula for anyone to follow. The more important thing for you, friend, is to take good care of YOU! There are a lot of demands on your plate: Caring for children, running a household and likely a job (or two) thrown in there, too. Getting adequate sleep, eating well, caring for your body and having someone to talk through your deepest aches with is invaluable. The best thing you can “do” is to focus on your health – physically, emotionally and spiritually. For me, that looks like spending time alone in the morning with my journal and bible. It means taking the time to make myself a healthy meal even if my girls won’t eat it. It means yoga and taking every opportunity I can to go for a walk with a friend. It means being in counseling to address my wounds and acknowledge my hurt. Prioritizing myself is a discipline, not a selfish act. My girls need me to be healthy and whole so that I can love them from that place. And look, they’ve seen me grieve and struggle these last several years. They’ve seen friends show up with meals and watched me cry on the couch. I’m not hiding my pain, but I am allowing them to see God heal me through healthy relationships and healthy coping skills. I want them to know that I need God and others, that I’m not superwoman, because I want them to know they don’t have to be superwomen either.
I see you, single mom! I love you even though we’ve never met. I’m praying for you right now to know God’s love for you is immeasurable. Your girl(s) are blessed to have you as their courageous mama.
It always helps to have people we love (and trust) beside us when we have to do difficult things in life.
– Mr. Rodgers
Life is so much better with a few trusted friends by our sides. In fact, a Harvard study found in 2016, after 80 years of researching health, that there is no greater health benefit than having a community of people who know you, love you, and will stand with you throughout life. It’s even more beneficial than eating your veggies or working out several times a week! Eating chocolate cake with a trusted friend is actually better than running a 10k alone. (Okay, the study did not prove that, but it seems like a logical leap.) As you set goals for the year, consider focussing on moving deeper into community and developing greater trust with those who cross your path. In order to heighten your health in 2019, begin the journey of building ‘roots of trust.’
Now, this is a loaded word. It gets thrown around with little consideration of its power, impact, and the ripple effect it produces. Many of us think we trust others easily, sometimes even too easily. Others of us are fully aware of the walls we keep highly fortified so that no one, and I mean no one, will ever hurt us again. Here are a few principles I have learned over the years about trust — these principles have been gleaned from many wise leaders, but also from my clients who trust me with their hurts and from my own personal experiences along the way.
When I started my first Courageous Girls group in 2012, I had just experienced one of the biggest betrayals of my life. At that point, I thought I was done giving my heart away to girlfriends. I had shared my heart deeply with another to find it broken, betrayed, used and lied to without any attempts to repair. Do you have a story from your life that has caused you to guard your heart and vow, “I will never let that happen again?”
My broken heart longed to help my own daughters develop healthy relationships and navigate the sometimes shark-infested waters of female friendship. Yet, I knew that my girls could not do this without me modeling the way. My words would never match my actions if I did not allow myself to trust others again. But what would this look like in my life? How would I heal the pain that still lingered enough to open my heart back up again? I know far too many who have been violated, betrayed, judged, rejected, abandoned, used, and abused. This type of experience does not discriminate. No matter how much a person gives or how hard they try, the wounds from others may never be fully known until carnage appears.
If this has been a part of your life story, my heart aches with you. When this happens, trusting others feels like trying to hug a grizzly bear. Here, big grizzly bear…please don’t eat me! The thought of trusting again can sound stupid and naive. And yet, the truth is that not everyone is out to hurt you. Only some are untrustworthy, but not all. Learning to trust and also to be trustworthy is a part of being courageous and living whole-hearted. Let’s explore more.
Trust is only built over time and consistency.
Often times we naively believe that trust is a given. Innocent until proven guilty, right? Herein lies a problem: Predators thrive on using implied or quickly-granted trust as a means to do harm. Think about anyone in a leadership position who has taken advantage of others easily because of the inherent trust assumed with their role. Others incorrectly think that broken trust can be easily repaired with a flippant, “I’m sorry,” after promises are broken and inconsistent patterns emerge.
Perhaps you are like many people who say they trust others but have never fully let anyone see you. Do you really let anyone in on your darkest days? Would you know who to confide in when you are at your weakest? Studies show that it takes about two years before people start to really know one another. At that point, an individual is equipped with enough information to make a better judgment about who they are risking their personhood with. This is why time is such a crucial factor for all relationships. This is also part of the wisdom connected with showing up once a month for two to twelve years for Courageous Girls groups. Though it is so different than most of us experience in life, showing up is a vital ingredient in trusted relationships (visit mycourageousgirls.com for more). Faithfulness is the fruit that is produced through consistency. It demonstrates commitment, care, and integrity.
Showing up for a friend’s birthday (even when a competing invitation arrives the day before), remembering a prayer request, meeting weekly for coffee, making it a priority to sit in the hard places with a neighbor — all of these illustrate faithfulness that builds trust. Laughing together, sharing life experiences, and meeting goals together are wonderful parts of relationships both at work and at home, but nothing compares to the slow drip of consistent, long-term, faithful people who show up again and again and again. After the seven years with the same moms and daughters in our Courageous Girls group, we have established trust and continue to build upon it. This kind of trust reminds us that we are not alone in this world. When storms come, as they always do, we have others to remind us who we are and who God is in the midst of the chaos. We cannot force trust to grow faster than it naturally does. It must be built one moment at a time, over time.
There is always a measure of risk in trusting another with ourselves.
Living Wholehearted and Courageous Girls are organizations full of brave souls who aim to be unafraid — unafraid of the risk we feel sometimes when trusting God; unafraid of trusting others, and unafraid of trusting ourselves. The practice is scary and the stakes are high. However, the reward is what we all are longing for — to be known, to be loved, and to be significant. Considering all the relationships you have, which ones are you willing to begin investing in a little more this year? Who in your life has proven to be consistently present and solid, perhaps even more than your own actions warrant? Consider pursuing a deeper level of trust with a few key individuals. Share a little piece of your childhood journey, perhaps the fears you have, or what you hope for in your friendship at a truthful and vulnerable level. You will likely feel some hesitancy as you take this step of risk, but don’t pull your foot back from the progress that can come from opening yourself up to the people who are earning your trust.
Trust is built on the other side of healthy conflict resolution.
Some of us thrive on conflict and drama, even at the cost of never finding resolution. Others thrive as peace-keepers, avoiding making waves by pleasing others, even at the expense of telling the truth. Both types of entanglements result in people missing out on what God intended for the human heart: resolution after conflict. Conflict is a necessary ingredient in the process of being known and building intimacy. Without it, relationships remain shallow, and one will never know if the other can be trusted in a storm. The very essence of the Christian faith is rooted in a narrative that trumps after conflict. It’s what happens after the conflict that helps us build trust in one another. Hang around someone long enough, and conflict is bound to happen. Deciding to be a trustworthy person means you can humbly say, “Let’s talk about it. How have I impacted you?” After listening well, maybe you can also share how they have impacted you, too. The cherry on top is when both parties can own something they did to contribute to the conflict, ask for forgiveness, and come up with a plan for how to do things differently the next time. Doing this can advance your relationship with people who desire to grow in trust and intimacy.
Trust is rare and fragile. It takes years to build (and only moments to shatter).
Shrinking the gap between who we say we are and how we live requires awareness and regular feedback from those around us. Being able to trust a person does not require perfection, but it is rare and it is also fragile. Trust at a basic level requires integrity, practiced with regularity. Integrity is the willingness to be honest and truthful with another and to also do the necessary work to repair where we have done wrong. It may sound difficult but that’s because it is, especially in the world we live in that has become accustomed to accepting partial-truths as the “norm.” Integrity means we speak the truth even when it seems “unimportant” or “not required.” It looks like telling your friend that you really can’t afford to buy her a birthday present this year rather than skipping her party at the last minute out of embarrassment. Trust grows when we insist (for ourselves) that our words and actions imbue care and precision. This is not easy, but settling for an “okay” grade on this aspect of our personal affairs is harder in the end.
I recall former CEO of World Vision, Rich Stearns, sharing how he spent six months on a “forgiveness tour.” Basically, he went to anyone impacted by a poor decision he had made, and, after coming face to face with the ripple effects of his decision, he owned his choices and took the time to make sure each person felt heard and a sense of resolution. Now that builds trust!
While a forgiveness tour may not be realistic for everyone, we can certainly take steps toward resolving broken trust that we have a part in. This might look like removing a mask of pride, ignorance, indifference or fear to step closer to another who provokes us to keep that mask on. When we stop “pretending” that everything is okay and allow others to see our frailty and weaknesses, we invite them to walk a bit closer with us in our journey. When we are honest with ourselves and others, we move closer toward being a person who others will trust with their true selves as well. Let me be clear: Not everyone is a person worth trusting at this level. This kind of trust and vulnerability is built over time and often times won’t occur with more than a handful of people in a lifetime.
Consider if you typically act like a trusted person—Are you someone who moves toward others rather than away in the midst of conflict? Do you receive feedback when others need to offer it? Do you speak the truth about your needs, emotions, and hopes, rather than appeasing others by acting as if you have no needs of your own?
Consider someone you want to build (or re-build) trust with this year and begin. Work on developing these characteristics steadily, one day at a time, asking God to help you every step of the way. If you stumble, don’t give up!
Choose to try vulnerability again. I did, and I can truly say that it has propelled my life in so many beautiful, meaningful ways over the last few years, in all my leadership roles and in my life as a mom and wife. In a heavily guarded world, it may feel easier and safer to stay closed off and rely only on yourself; know that God has more planned for you and for your heart.
A person with one or two trusted friends is truly rich. Trust is not an allusive mystical idea. It is a practical and fundamental part of any healthy relationship, producing the heart of what we all long for at the end of the day: to be known, to be loved, to be significant. This is courage.
For more on how to build trust with God and others, see InCourage: Raising Daughters Rooted in Grace by Terra A. Mattson or, Trust for Today, by Trueface Ministries.