All posts by Traci Stead

To the Work

No matter how good you think you are as a leader, my goodness, the people around you will have all kinds of ideas for how you can get better. So for me, the most fundamental thing about leadership is to have the humility to continue to get feedback and to try to get better – because your job is to try to help everybody else get better. ~Jim Yong Kim

“Some people hold up signs saying ‘Will work for food’. If you think about it, that’s like slavery.”

It was a conversation with an eleven year old and he was talking about things to be thankful for. I’m guessing he isn’t thankful for work. I know he’d rather play video games or watch a football game than finish his schoolwork.

The thing is, a lot of people feel like their work, their job, is slavery. Toil, struggle, unfulfilling, just a paycheck.

Jesus tells his followers that their work is to believe in the one he has sent.

Hardly seems like work, right?

Until you start to understand what believing in him means.

Belief in Jesus means that you care for the sick. You visit the widow and give to the poor. You pray for your enemy. You have compassion even when you are tired. You carry your cross daily.

Belief is a lot of work. And belief is something you do all the time. Even at work- your job.

Are you a nurse or doctor? Do you pray with or for your patients? Do you go the extra mile to make sure they are taken care of once they are home?

Teachers, do you show your students how to care for others? Do they see you check on other teachers and offer a helping hand?

Mechanics, do you help neighbors with repairs?

Artists, film makers, and authors do you insist on quality that glorifies God? Do you share your talents with nonprofits, the church, or kids’ summer camps?

Waiters, are you patient with the noisy couple and their toddlers? Do you offer smiles and encouragement?

Prison guards, do you extend Christ’s love to your wards?

Peter tells us to live as free people, but not to take advantage of our freedom. We are to live as slaves to Christ. (1 Peter 2:16)

Are you a slave of the Master? Even at work?

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. Ephesians 6:5-8 NIV


We treasure the word of God not only by reading the words of the scriptures, but by studying them. We may be nourished more by pondering a few words, allowing the Holy Ghost to make them treasures to us, than to pass quickly and superficially over whole chapters of scripture. ~Henry B. Eyring

“These are two or three hundred years old.”

“And your mother lets you touch them!?”

I was teaching one of my ESL students about the idea of “passing down” things from one generation to another. He showed he understood by sharing some articles his family has in a box. He shuffled through the box as if he touched 300 year old items every day.

Well, he lives in China; perhaps he does.

Hilkiah the high priest found a book in the Temple. He knew it was the Book of the Law and very important. When the king sent his secretary to check on business at the Temple, Hilkiah passed the book along to Shaphan, the secretary.

Shaphan recognized its importance and passed it along to the king.

King Josiah also understood its importance. He feared for his people because they had not kept the Law for many generations. King Josiah sent men to the prophetess Huldah to find out what they should do.

How long had the book survived?

Hundreds of years.

How long had it been since anyone read it?

Hundreds of years.

So how did the men know to go visit Huldah?

Some people had hidden the Book of the Law in their hearts. They had saved it, passing it from one generation to another. A treasure not hidden away, but opened for children’s hands to thumb through, to play with, to ask questions about, to learn from and to teach.

Huldah was one of those people. She knew the ancient words.

Where do you keep the ancient treasure? Is it collecting dust on a shelf?

Do your children know where to find it? Do they play with it and thumb through it with confidence?

Do people look for you to share the ancient wisdom? Are you known as a prophet who knows the Lord?

Have you obeyed the command of God . . .

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” Joshua 1:8 ESV

The treasure is waiting to be opened.

“Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.” Mt 24:35 ISV

Break Your Heart

Nothing is as important as passion. No matter what you want to do with your life, be passionate. ~Jon Bon Jovi

The crying Indian. Say it to anyone over 40 and they will know what you are talking about. It was a television PSA commercial featuring an American Indian canoeing, horseback riding, or walking through trash.

“People start pollution; people can stop it.” That was the theme.  He could be seen every Saturday while America’s youth watched Scooby Doo and Bugs Bunny. The different commercials always ended with a tear rolling down the Indian’s weathered face. His heart was broken.

God’s heart has been broken so many times. Cain killed Abel and the blood that spilled on the ground came from God’s own heart as well. People built the Tower of Babble because God wasn’t enough for them. Even as the walls of the tower cracked and split, God’s own chest heaved and shuddered. The hundred years before the flood must have tormented the Father as he prepared for what was coming. The rains fell and the water rose with the tears of the one who wished he could start all over. Then came the blackest day of all when they killed his Son, the Christ. Even the angels joined in the lament.

There are so many things that break God’s heart. Starving children. War. Hatred, racism, prejudice, bigotry. Lies, affairs, embezzlement.

Dishonest judges, crooked lawyers, and dirty officials.

God’s heart breaks when his creation is mistreated, when his children are cruel, and when his church is unholy.

Our hearts should break for what breaks the Father’s heart, but our hearts are so much smaller than his. We can’t have our hearts broken over everything, or we would never find the joy that God promises is ours.

Because of that, God gives each of us passion- that one thing that breaks our heart into action.

Does your news feed make you physically ill? Do you find yourself praying for politicians and leaders? Do you get updates from the UN, research and vote in every election, become frustrated with government? God has gifted you with a passion for politics and it’s time to run for office.

Maybe your gift is a passion for children. You hurt to see a neglected neighborhood child. You turn the tv off when “those commercials” come on because you just can’t watch. You surf adoption sites and support the children’s hospital. Is God calling you to social work or teaching in the inner city or a rural area, or maybe he’s calling you farther?

Perhaps you are at the other end of the life cycle. You are concerned about the elderly. You know who is alone in your neighborhood, their children live far away and can’t help. You hold doors for women with walkers and move aside for men with canes. You find yourself smiling and singing along with the dementia patient at the dentist’s office. Is God calling you to fight for elder rights or to volunteer at a rest home?

You can be sure God has asked you to do something. You are his hands and feet in a broken world. What are you doing to fix it?

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it . . . Luke 19:41 ESV

A Mother’s Love

I remember my mother’s prayers and they have always followed me. They have clung to me all my life. ~Abraham Lincoln

I used to help with a group that packed weekend food bags for needy school children. We filled backpacks with easy to open, child-friendly foods. Fruit cups, granola bars, and little boxes of cereal were favorites. The bags were sent home over the weekend when the children might not get to eat.

One backpack was replaced with a nondescript, plastic shopping bag. The child asked us to not send the food in the backpack anymore. His mother knew what was in it and would eat the food herself.

I was stunned.

Mothers are supposed to take care of their children, give them the last bite, look after their needs, put them first.

2 Kings 4 tells the story of two good mothers.

The first is a citizen of Israel, a poor widow whose husband had been a prophet with Elisha. After her husband’s death she had debts to pay and she and her two sons were left without anything- no food, no money, no nothing.

She called on Elisha to help her. He told her to collect jars and containers from her friends and neighbors then fill them with the little bit of olive oil she did have. She filled all of the containers and then sold the oil to pay off the debts. She even had enough left over to support herself and her sons.

The second story is about a rich foreigner. Elisha passed through her country on his travels and she noticed him. She asked her husband to build him a room over their house. In return, Elisha asked God to send her a son, but sadly when the boy was young he died suddenly.

The woman placed the boy in the guest room and hurried off to find Elisha. He traveled back to her house and raised him from the dead.

One woman was a citizen, the other a foreigner. One woman was single, the other married. One woman was poor, the other rich. But both women wanted to save their children. That’s what made them good mothers.

Are your children starving? Are their spirits underfed and malnourished? Perhaps your children are even dying from some unknown physical or spiritual malady that has you worried and afraid.

Your race, economic level, and marital status do not make you a bad mother. The trials your children are suffering do not make you a bad mother. No matter what your friends or your own mind might tell you.

Take to heart the example of the women in 2 Kings. These good mothers went to God for advice, for comfort, for help. They went begging, crying, running, gasping for help.

They were not denied.

Neither will God deny you.

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:21-24 ESV

Keep On Walking

We may stumble and fall but shall rise again; it should be enough if we did not run away from the battle. ~Mahatma Gandhi

I was struggling to get to the end of the year.  It had been a class of crazy girls and my last nerve was shot.  I told a fellow teacher what was going on and that I wasn’t sure if I could get to the end of the term. She wondered whether we would be allowed to use the laminator next year.

We were both on a mission, but not the same one.

In Mark 8, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to suffer and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and teachers of the law. Not only will he be rejected by those in power, he is going to be killed.

Peter takes him aside and says stop talking like that; it’s not good for morale.

Then in chapter 9, Jesus tells his disciples again that he is going to be handed over and killed.

Their response? Which one of us is the greatest, perhaps next in line?

In chapter 10, they are on their way up to Jerusalem. Jesus explains again that he will be handed over to the leaders to be condemned, mocked, flogged, and killed.

James and John ask for the thrones to the right and left of Jesus. Power, they want power.

Jesus was surrounded by distracted and oblivious friends. He was telling them the mission God had given him, and they responded with their own interests and concerns. They weren’t listening, weren’t interested, weren’t capable . . . whatever is was, they weren’t.

What is the path God has placed you on?

Are you headed toward an overseas adoption surrounded by people who want to know why you don’t adopt domestically?

Are you moving your mother in with you while others show you pamphlets of nursing homes?

Are you buying a house on the “bad” side of town to serve others, while your friends leave crime stats on your seat at church?

Jesus continued walking uphill to Jerusalem, knowing his fate, knowing he wasn’t supported, knowing no one else understood – knowing God had placed him on that path.

God places each of us along the road to Him. Our route doesn’t look like anyone else’s, except for the potholes and obstacles. Jesus kept right on walking around them.

We are called to do the same.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. Colossians 1:9-12 ESV

Starving the Spirit

I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught. ~Winston Churchill

Matt and I were on a self-imposed exercise and diet regimen. We both had lost a lot of weight and were feeling good about ourselves, especially our health. So seeing a health fair advertised in Sam’s Club, we decided to get a little check up.

That was when we were directed to the pharmacy at the back. The pharmacist then directed us to the doctor, “and don’t delay!” Matt was diabetic, in most cases, he would have been hospitalized his blood sugar was so high.

The doctor talked to us about how to eat and exercise, but we already were doing what he said. I was afraid and read everything I could about the evils of carbohydrates.

Matt was allowed two ounces of pasta. I cooked the noodles, weighed them out, and nearly cried. Matt looked at his rinky, dinky plate of pasta and slumped.

Not long after, we headed to the nutritionist to learn more. Silly me- I should have weighed the pasta BEFORE I cooked it. Yes, that made more sense. She talked to us about substitutions, additions, and celebrations. She took my recipes and broke them down into grams of carbs so he could still enjoy cookies.

We saw possibilities and knew he wouldn’t starve.

24 Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.

27 When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.28 For he vigorously refuted his Jewish opponents in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah. Acts 18: 24-28 NIV

Apollos was doing the best he could with what he knew. He was exercising and eating right, but he didn’t know about carbs and blood sugar. It wasn’t his fault; he was trying to stay healthy, but he didn’t have all the information. He needed a nutritionist- enter Priscilla and Aquila.

What about you? Are you on a partial spiritual regimen? Are you praying but not studying? Are you worshiping but not serving? Are you vacillating between working too hard and resting too much?

Why not find a spiritual nutritionist? Someone who is farther along on the road to spiritual health than you are. Ask for help. Ask for advice. Be open to learning more, like Apollos.

Stop starving your spirit and be fed. Don’t delay!

Light in a messenger’s eyes brings joy to the heart, and good news gives health to the bones. Whoever heeds life-giving correction will be at home among the wise. Those who disregard discipline despise themselves, but the one who heeds correction gains understanding. Proverbs 15: 30-32 NIV

Fresh Bread Obedience

“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you.”  ~Annie Dillard

I used to read The Little Red Hen to my Kindergarten students.

You probably know the story. The hen wants to make bread, but first she has to put the work into it. She asks for help, but everyone has other things, better things, to do.

It didn’t take long for my students to catch on to the repetition: “Not I,” said the dog. “Not I,” said the cat. “Not I,” said the duck. “Then I will,” said the Little Red Hen, and she did.

And then the bread is ready to eat.

“And who will eat the bread?” asks the Little Red Hen.

You know the answer; don’t you?

How many of us are the dog, cat, or duck? The bread smells wonderful, but the sweat that it takes stinks.

You know what it is going to take to help that single mother- your free nights turned into babysitting, your extra cash spent buying kids’ underwear and socks, your family Thanksgiving expanded to “outsiders”.

Or what about that college kid that seems so lost? You just got your own kids out of the house, but here is this one needing laundry, meals, rides to the pharmacy.

Maybe your story is an older neighbor who needs their lawn mowed, leaves raked, a hot meal, a sidewalk shoveled. He sits in the dark, a glowing television his only companion.

Genesis 11 and Joshua 24 gives us just a hint about what might have been.

Abram’s father, Terah, gathers together his family and sets off for Canaan, but they stop in Harran. Abram is with his father for 135 years before Terah dies. Joshua 24 tells us that Terah worshiped other gods.

Somewhere along the way, Terah didn’t do the work. Was he the intended one for the Promised Land? Was God asking him to begin a new nation? Did God instruct Terah, only to lose him to other gods?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that Terah never saw Canaan- the land of future promise. He never got to eat the bread.

It was given to someone who was willing to put in the work.

Has God called you to work?

What is your answer?

28 “What do you think? There was a man who had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work today in the vineyard.’

29 “‘I will not,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went.

30 “Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. He answered, ‘I will, sir,’ but he did not go.

31 “Which of the two did what his father wanted?”

“The first,” they answered. Matthew 21:28-31 NIV

Smart and Sexy?

My idea of sexy is that less is more. The less you reveal the more people can wonder. ~Emma Watson

Earlier this year Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame, was under fire for a photo in Vanity Fair. She was dressed in a sheer shirt with a crocheted shawl that draped suggestively, hiding enough of her breasts to make the copy permissible on most grocer’s shelves.

The arguments arose because Watson is often a voice for the feminist movement. Some leaders in the movement tweeted and shouted that showing your breasts silences your voice. Others returned the outrage with the argument that you can be both sexy and smart.

Being mostly uninterested in popular culture, I only noticed the kerfuffle last week. Since the photo didn’t startle me, I’m not sure why the article irritated me so much. I don’t really have a dog in this fight.

Except that I do.

I mentor young girls. I expect in a few years or so to have a couple of daughters-in-law. I have two nieces who are entering that stage of life when what they look like will speak louder than anything else.

And I believe both sides are right.

You can be smart and sexy. You also lose your voice when you allow sexy to speak.

The very idea of sexy is that you want to attract someone in an enticing manner. You want to be noticed in an exciting way.

Plain and simple, sexy is for the one you wish to have sex with.

Attractive, on the other hand, allows you to retain your voice. You can be noticed, will be noticed. But the first thought someone has of you is I’d like to get to know her better.

You have something to offer that lasts longer than a rumpus in the sack.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t send signals to someone that you are interested sexually. But don’t send them to the whole world.

And that’s all I have to say about that.

Your heart became proud on account of your beauty, and you corrupted your wisdom because of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings. Ezekiel 28:17 NIV

10 Things I Learned This Summer

Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time. ~John Lubbock

Watermelon flags are on clearance and candy corn can be found at the grocery. One season has unofficially ended and another begun. It’s time to look back over the summer and see if I am any better off than when it began.

  1. Every summer I travel a LOT and then decide that next year I will stay home more. This summer I once again learned that I would rather stay home. I love the trips while they are happening, but the return home to chaos and a lawn ready to winter a herd of cattle sends me into despair every time. Here’s to next summer when I will master the skill of staying home.

2. Practicing what you preach is difficult, but so necessary. This summer I gave a lecture on the importance of nature to nurture the soul. My ending suggestions were 30 minutes a day outside and once a week 2-3 hours. Once a month should include a day retreat- or at least half a day if you can’t find an entire day- of uninterrupted nature, rest, meditation, and reflection. I have successfully managed the daily and weekly, the monthly is getting better.  The solitude gives me peace, the outdoors gives me perspective.

3. Trees are astounding, amazing, stunning . . . I could go on forever. The Hidden Life of Trees was part of my research reading this summer, and it opened my mind and eyes to things beyond my imagination. Trees talk to each other, and even to trees of other species. They intentionally plan mass reproduction cycles, tell giraffes to go somewhere else, and kill off their enemies. Read it. You will not regret it.

4. Medical personnel no longer use real venom to counteract snake bites. The artificial ‘antivenin’ costs $3900 a bag and you will gladly pay more than that for your baby to survive. Some things you could do without learning.

5. Chinese students are given homework to do over the summer. Not little packets of busywork in case they get bored, but books of homework and online assignments. It is not wise to inform young Chinese children that this is not the habit of American schools. If there is a rebellion, it is not my fault.

6. Bureaucracy at universities is exasperating. An incorrect charge applied to my son’s bill took nearly FIVE months to get taken off of his account. This meant classes were dropped and registrations were denied. Even going in person and hand delivering letters will not guarantee that business gets taken care of.

7. Losing a loved one mentally does not lessen the pain when they actually leave you physically. It was hard to say goodbye to Grandma, but I know it’s only “See you later!”

8. Peaches at the Virginia Farmer’s Market peak in August. Oh. My.

9. It will take an entire year to fix a kitchen after the ceiling falls in. We still don’t have cupboard doors up.

10. The idea of writing a one-syllable essay sounds horribly monotone, but in actuality is a beautiful  form of art. I’m so excited that my essay was chosen for publication in Short and Sweet, Too. All proceeds benefit World Christian Broadcasting. I’ll let you know when it comes out.

It’s been a summer of reflection swimming in peaceful waters, sometimes deep and murky, other times shallow and clear. I’ve discovered that peace does not mean the absence of pain, and love provides unexpected strength.

What did you learn this summer?

While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, And cold and heat, And summer and winter, And day and night Shall not cease. Gen 8:22 NASB


Successful Failure

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts. ~Winston Churchill

I have written lots of things over the years. Some have been great and others have been tossed in the recycling tub before they ever fully developed. The only writing contest I ever won was in sixth grade. My first book, Devotions of a Gerbil, was sent to twenty or more publishers before it was picked up by a small press.

The failures outnumber the successes, but in spite of all these failures, I continue to write.

Peter was a professional fisherman. He had boats- plural!- so we have to assume that he was usually successful. Yet, after a night of fishing on the sea, he sometimes came up empty.

A stranger walking along the coast yelled out some great advice, “Try throwing the net on the other side of the boat.” Of course! He’d forgotten that fish only swim on one side of a boat. As ridiculous as it was, Peter threw the nets over to show this stranger that there were no fish to catch, but up came the net with a boatload of fish.

Peter spent the next three years or so learning about fishing for men. He had some successes, but he also had many failures- failures that have lived through thousands of years and been shared with millions of people. How do you like those fish?

After the resurrection, Peter went back to fishing for fish. He didn’t know what else to do.

On the dark sea he did all of the things that professional fishermen should do– out at night, good boats, strong nets, deep water–  BUT NOTHING. After throwing overboard three years of following Jesus, here was yet another failure.

Then, a stranger called out, “Try the other side of the boat.”

The water was shallow. The sun was up. It made no sense, but Peter did it anyway.

He pulled in 153 big fish and nearly sank.

What is Jesus calling you to do? Begin a clothing ministry? Clean people’s teeth in Honduras? Write songs? Start a neighborhood Bible study?

Will you throw your net out and be a successful failure? Or will you turn back to the boat you’ve been sailing in for years and keep on pulling in empty nets?

Only when we work with Jesus do we succeed. Even if we are trained and doing all the things right, true success takes a call from Jesus.

But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. Jeremiah 17:7 NIV