When My Nightmare (Thankfully) Came True: Why Missions is Nothing Like Most People Imagine It to Be


The story of how I became a missionary is an odd one. Not your normal “I’ve-always-felt-a-burden-to-the-nations” calling.

I had three fears as a child. Drowning was one. Being lost in space was the second. (When I saw the trailer for “Gravity,” I nearly wet myself as I saw my childhood nightmare float across the screen.)

And my third, most terrifying of all fears was that God would call me to be a missionary.

I was an avid reader as a child and at the very emotionally mature age of seven came across a book on my parents’ bookshelf called, “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs.” I curiously opened the book and was shocked to read the stories of Christians and missionaries being brutally, brutally murdered for their faith.

My little girl self was scarred. I laid awake at night imagining what I would do if I was asked to chose between being flayed and denying my faith and I would cry, because I knew I couldn’t withstand that kind of torture and would probably deny my faith.

That was my first exposure to missions.

Add to that the fact that I grew up an insanely picky eater, a child addicted to routine and stability and predictability, and I did NOT like bugs.

What did I think being a missionary was? Like most people, I thought it was someone who lived in a hut (bugs!!), ate horrible food (probably bugs!!), and who would most likely have to die for their faith by torture (maybe death by bugs!!).

Now there are people who DO live that reality as missionaries and I am blown away by the grace God has given them to serve in that capacity, but the reality is that most missions is nothing like that. The jungle hut images that most people have in their minds when they think of missions only constitutes a small percentage of what actually takes place overseas. This is what missions used to primarily be, but no longer is.

Let me paint a new reality for you. 

We live in a very, very modern world. A world in which cities are exploding. A world in which people are leaving rural areas and flooding to urban ones.

In 1951, when my father and mother-in-law were children growing up in Lima, the population was 835,000. By 1981 it had reached 3,573,000. The extreme terrorism in the 1980s and early 90s led to a population explosion and by 1997, it had nearly doubled and was almost 6,000,000. Today, Lima has hit nine million and shows no sight of slowing down.(1)

And Lima isn’t the only city to experience this kind of growth. Around the world, cities are exploding with growth.

What does this mean for missions? So, so many things. But let me mention just a few.

1. More than anything else, we need urban missionaries.

People who feel called to missions need to completely change their expectations of what serving abroad looks like. Lima has NINE MILLION people. The need is HERE and in major cities around the world. We need less to go to the jungle, because the jungle is coming to us. The urban jungle is full of people in dire poverty, both spiritually and physically. Cities need to be reached like never before.

2. People who support missions need change their expectations of missionaries and support them in this new reality.

Let’s face it, it feels more exciting to support missions that is filled with the traditional images we’ve held on to. What makes for a better picture visually? A missionary eating bugs and sweating for Jesus among the nearly naked natives, or a missionary sitting down in an urban cafe, drinking coffee, mentoring young people deeply damaged by the family abuse they experienced growing up? Let me say that BOTH are needed. BOTH are valuable. BOTH are the heart of Jesus. It is critical that we value the work that all kinds of missionaries are doing, whether they are wearing grass skirts or ripped jeans. 

3. Missions is becoming increasingly expensive, because urban environments simply cost more to live in.

Think of the U.S. It’s easy for us to understand that living in New York City, for example, costs significantly more than living in a farming city of northern Minnesota. The same is true overseas. This is a shocking reality for people who choose to do urban missions and can be a disincentive and huge challenge. We feel that everything overseas should just cost less – and some things do, like the insanely good food here! – but other things cost dramatically more. Of course, it’s extremely important for missionaries to stay accountable for how their funds are spent, but we must realize that their expenses will be significantly more than what missions used to cost. Support them, financially, emotionally and spiritually.

4. We need more young people in missions.

Here’s the deal. Never before in the history of the world have you been able put young people from around the world all together in a room and have them find SO much in common. Sure, they have their cultural differences, but if they are all from urban settings, there’s a great chance most of them are on Facebook or Instagram…or they send their friends Snapchats or texts on What’s App or make Vine videos…or they watch similar movies…or have a smart phone… or they’re reading some of the same world news and know about some of the same celebrities and listen to some of the same music.

Our world is shrinking and our young people get that. They can adapt in ways that previous generations would have never imagined possible.

This coming March, the Gutierrez family will celebrate five years living on the mission field. And I thank God that he brought us here. I thank God that I let go of the nightmares of my childhood that defined what I thought missions was to explore the new reality that missions is. God turned my nightmare into one of the best things that has ever happened to me.

Lima no longer feels like the mission field to me. It just feels like home.

My heart burns for the nine million people of Lima who need hope and healing and restoration and help. It is one of the greatest joys of my life that our family gets to live here and be a part of it. Is it hard? Some days, heck yeah. Life is just hard sometimes no matter where you live. But other days I just have to stop, look up to heaven with tears of joy and give thanks that God would let us be a part of his plan here.

Whether you are called to serve abroad as a missionary, called to support missions financially or called to pray for people around the world, I encourage you to open your eyes to the new thing God is doing in the earth, both where you live and abroad. I encourage you to live on mission – to live intentionally, authentically, purposefully and with a deep love for God’s people. That is the cry of my heart. I suppose that’s why we often refer ourselves as “The Gutierrez Family on Mission.”

Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, let your life be on mission.

I have a question for you. Are you a young person who feels they might be called to missions but you aren’t sure? Or do you know a young person who feels they may be called to missions?

If your heart skips a beat each time you hear the word “missions” and you’ve been wondering what it would be like to live and serve abroad for longer then a short-term missions trip, we want to invite you to apply for the missionary internship at the church we serve at, Camino de Vida, in Lima, Peru. 

This past August, six young people came to Lima as Camino de Vida’s very first interns. Their lives have been rocked by what they have seen and experienced. Several of them plan on returning as full-time missionaries and several will go back to their home churches with a new and real perspective of what urban missions is and carry the adventures and lessons they’ve learned with them for the rest of their lives. 

This February 2016, our second cohort begins. If you are interested in finding out more about the internship, we encourage you to visit caminodevida.com/cdvintership and begin your application process as the deadline is quickly approaching for this next semester. You can also follow us and Instagram at @intershipcdv and on the hashtag #MiCDVPeru .

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(1) http://www.limaeasy.com/lima-info/the-population-development-in-lima#population-development

We’ll Be in Minnesota NEXT WEEK. Craziness! Here’s where you can find us.


I’m always amazed by how I think of my Minnesota friends and family all year long and our summer trip feels SO far away…and then suddenly – BAM! – it’s here!

I looked at my calendar this weekend and realized we fly up NEXT WEEK.

As always, we’d love to have individual hang out times with so, so many of you, our dear friends, but I’ve found that trying to live a year in three and a half weeks is sadly impossible. Realistically, we’ll be spending most of our time with our family, trying to soak up precious moments with grandparents, parents, siblings and cousins – and also connecting with local churches and supporters that help make our work in Peru possible.

That said, WE WANT TO SEE YOU! Hugs from you fill our hearts with so much joy and recharge the batteries of our hearts for another year ahead.

We’d love to see you at one of the churches Danny will be sharing at! Here’s where you can find us:

We also want to plan a chance for our kids to get to spend time with their friends, so if you’ve got kids who are friends with my kids, come hang with me and the girls! You can meet up with us on:

We cannot wait to see each and every one of you!

        ♥ Stephanie

P.S. There are always some of you WONDERFUL people who ask us if there is anything we need. We do have things we like to stock up on while in the States, but rather than give you a boring and embarrassing list filled with deodorant and underwear and mouthguards (we are all psycho teeth-grinders while we sleep), I put together a list that’s a little more fun. It has some practical needs mixed with some fun wants. So, for those of you who always ask, here’s the list :) http://amzn.com/w/AKCVYMX68EZ4

And, as always, you can donate online here: http://www.modernday.org/field-workers/danny-and-stephanie-gutierrez/

Why You Should Make the Big Ask

Some pretty crazy things happened this week. Crazy in a good way.

My mom raised me with the saying, “You have not because you ask not.” Mom has always encouraged us, “Why not ask? What’s the worst thing they can say?” And with her cute smile, twinkly eyes and fun, outgoing personality, she hears yes a lot.

Then I married this fearless man who sees things so simply and clearly: if there is a need, just ask! He’s bold, brave, unafraid of rejection, and because of it, has been able to accomplish phenomenal things for God and for others.

And then there’s me. The girl who would rather almost faint from having to pee so bad than ask someone where their bathroom is. The girl who would rather freeze in the car than ask someone to roll up their windows. The girl who breaks out into sweats at the thought of asking someone for a favor.

I’ve really been working on being more brave! And I’ve made huge strides…but still, that fear of rejection or inconveniencing others has held me back.

This week something clicked.

I have this friend named Ben Arment. He’s one of the most inspiring and encouraging people I have ever met. He takes risks that blow me away. He makes asks that are impossible. And he’s changing the world around him. You should know him.

For some reason or other, Mom’s voice and Danny’s voice and Ben’s voice all were stirring around inside of me this week. I volunteer as a team leader each year at an event for creators, dreamers and storytellers called STORY Chicago. Ben is the event creator and director. I love watching creatives in all kinds of fields gather together each fall in Chicago and have their worlds rocked by the experiences and ideas shared at this event, and it is such an honor to get to serve on the lead team.

However, as a missionary with limited funds and a long way to fly, it’s always a stretch to make it. This year, once again, I put it before God.

This time, He put it right back in my lap. Make the ask.

I thought of the stories I’ve heard from mom…and Danny…and Ben…and for the first time, I was shocked to realize I felt no fear as I began to type out some requests.

I wrote a friend and asked if I could stay with her for a few days while in Chicago. She wrote right back and said yes.

I posted on Facebook and Twitter, asking if anyone had airlines miles they’d be willing to donate. A friend wrote right back and said yes.

And suddenly, I find myself in a position to be able to give of my time again this year.

Because people said yes to me, I’m able to say yes to others.

The whole experience was so exhilarating that I woke up feeling inspired by make another ask. I saw some friends in need and knew some other friends who had just what they needed. I asked…and heard another yes. (This story is so exciting and still in the making, so I’ll have to update you on it once it’s all done :) )

I’m realizing a few things.

1. The risk is worth it. Sure, you’re going to hear no sometimes, and when you do, you can get hit with initial feelings of embarrassment and rejection. But the feeling you get when you hear yes? Nothing like it. The more yes’s you hear, the more confidence it gives you. And the more no’s you hear, the tougher it makes you.

2. You’ll be surprised. The impossible will happen. People will say yes to things you never dreamed possible, and you’ll often be surprised by those who step up and respond.

3. People like saying yes. Heck, I like saying yes! It’s a phenomenal feeling when you see that someone has a need and you think, I can help with that! Danny and I have opportunities to say yes to so many people all of the time, and the feeling that follows is like nothing else.

4. Yes’s inspire other yes’s. It’s our 15th wedding anniversary this July, and Danny and I were recently blessed with a two night hotel stay here in Lima to celebrate. A while back, a couple had mentioned to Danny that they wanted to give us a few nights away. (We spent our 10 year anniversary in a retirement home for nuns. True story.) So Danny called them and asked if the offer still stood. They said yes.

A few weeks later, we saw a couple we know who works extremely hard, is very busy with their family and we knew could really, really use some time away. We were inspired by what our friends had done for us and decided to give them a night away. They were floored. He asked us what he could do for us. We said nothing – instead do something sometime for someone else.

When you say yes, it inspires others to say yes.

Do you have an idea or dream but need help with making it happen? Do you see someone else in need and you’d love to help by rallying others to the cause? Make the ask.

Brace yourself for rejection while, at the same time, wrapping your heart tightly with hope. Let go of your fear and take the risk. Wipe your sweaty palms on your pants, take a deep breath, imagine what could happen if you hear yes…and ASK.

Just remember, “You have not because you ask not.”

What dreams are in your heart? What needs would you love to see met in someone else’s life?


P.S. I’ve got one big ask left to make – and it’s of you! Would you consider helping us continue to say yes, here in Peru? You can find out more about us and give online here: http://www.modernday.org/field-workers/danny-and-stephanie-gutierrez/

You can also find us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/GsOverseas

Also, we’ll be up in Minnesota for a visit this July, and I’ll post when and where we’ll be soon!

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4 Ways I Choose Happiness Over Heartache

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For those of you who don’t know me personally, I’m a happy person. Like, really happy. Not all the time. Not every day. But overall, I just prefer to be happy over being sad. One of my top five StrengthsFinder strengths is positivity, so I love trying to find the silver lining in the clouds and seeing how good can come out of negative situations.

There are four things I do that help me stay happy, and I thought, why not share them and see if they benefit anyone else?

Like all of you who are reading this, I’ve experienced some major heartache in my life. And some of the greatest heartache happens when others hurt us. Or when misunderstandings happen in our relationships with others.

Any of these things ever happened to you?

  • You planned a coffee date with a friend…and got stood up.
  • The people most important to you were silent on the day of your birthday.
  • You did an amazing job on a big project at work…and your boss didn’t say a word.
  • You got unfollowed on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram.
  • You posted on social media about a huge thing that happened to you…and hardly anyone acknowledged it.
  • You missed church for a few Sundays…or book club…or your mom’s group…and no one seemed to even notice.
  • You texted or emailed someone important to you…and never received a response.

Let’s be real. These things all sound small, but they can feel very, very big and the hurt can go very, very deep.

Sure, one of the best ways by far is just to ask that person what happened. Being honest about your feelings and giving them the opportunity to let you know what happened is really your best option. If you can muscle up and do it, go for it!

That said, here’s me being really honest with you: I’m usually too big of a wuss to do that. I get all shy, and sometimes I don’t want to know the real answer, because what if it’s actually really hurtful and they were intending to be mean? There are times where I do need to know what happened, and then I gear myself up and force myself to ask. And 9 times out of 10, it was an accident, and I’m really glad I got up the courage to kindly confront. If you can ask, by all means, DO IT!

But if you can’t, I’ve got a Plan B. I have four ways I choose to think that get me happy again almost every time.

First, I have a motto in life: Everyone likes me. I know it’s not true, but I don’t care. It’s much easier to go through life assuming people like you. You have more confidence and it’s easier to believe the best about them when they screw up.

I’ll give you an example: I walk into a birthday party at a friend’s house. I see a person I know who is usually very friendly. She seems to be avoiding me. I wait for a while then go up and say hi. She gives me a lame hug, no eye contact, then turns back to the people she was talking to.

First feeling? A sting of rejection. First thought? What happened? Why is she acting that way?

But then I remember! Everybody likes me! So, no worries.

I don’t stop there. The next thing I do is make excuses for people. Maybe she’s not feeling well. Maybe she really wants to catch up with the people she was talking to. Maybe she had a hard day and is feeling distracted. Maybe she’s just not in the mood to talk a lot tonight and just wants to stick to people she knows really well. Maybe she’s an introvert. Maybe she got dragged to this party and doesn’t really want to be here.

I don’t even bother to analyze whether my excuses are good ones or not. I just make them up. And then I feel better!

The third thing I do is imagine myself in that person’s shoes, otherwise known as empathy. What if I had a hard day? I bet I wouldn’t want to talk to a lot of people either. I bet next time I see her, we’ll have a great conversation!

Voila! Ok, but truth be told, it’s not always that simple. Sometimes I really feel tempted to get hurt. But then I think, getting hurt stinks! When I get offended or my feelings are hurt, I lose my confidence and feel all shy and want to be alone and feel sad. If I can just believe the best, I’ll have a great night! And odds are, she didn’t even mean to ignore me and would feel terrible if she knew how rudely she just came across.

The last thing I do is think of all the ways I’ve messed up in my relationships with others. I am a massive daydreamer. I have offended SO many people by walking right past them without even acknowledging them. I can look straight through someone without seeing them. It’s terrible. (Those who know me well can attest to my horrible tunnel vision.)

A few people have had the guts to admit to me that I offended them in this way. Because they were brave enough to speak up, I was able to apologize and tell them how lost in thought or super focused I sometimes get.. We smiled, we laughed, we hugged, and all is well. Yay for those people! But for all the rest, I hope they are choosing to believe the best about me!

So when others do seemingly offensive things, I think, Hey, Steph, you sure aren’t perfect! Think of all the times you’ve offended people on accident! Assume that they just made a mistake too.

Got unfollowed on Facebook or Instagram? Maybe they clicked the unfollow button on accident! (Done that.) Or maybe they are just making their list way smaller so they can focus more on their family.

No phone calls on your birthday? Maybe they just plain forgot or were relying on their calendar to remind them, but they weren’t online today. (Done that!)

Someone not respond to your text? Maybe their phone is broken! (My phone has broken for weeks at a time at least three times within the past year and I REALLY hope people are believing the best as they send me messages I’m not receiving.)

So, that’s my big secret. Decide everyone likes you, then act like everyone likes you! And when you get hurt, either speak up or decide to forgive by believing the best. How can you believe the best? Give people the benefit of the doubt. Put yourself in their shoes. Remember how imperfect you are and be grateful for the grace that others have extended to you when you needed it.

I suppose you can also choose to get offended, get angry, get revenge, or get sad, but that just takes too much work! I have so many other things I’d rather do with my time. You can’t do it always, but when you can, choose happiness instead of heartache. Life is a lot more fun that way :)

[Love] bears up under everything; believes the best in all; there is no limit to her hope, and never will she fall.- I Corinthians 13:7 (ISV)


Standing Up to Adult Bullies


There’s no one right way to stand up to bullies, because all bullies are different, all those who are bullied are different, and people are bullied in many different ways. Some bullies are sly and use passive aggressiveness, some use intimidation and threats, some use snide and cutting remarks, and some withhold love and affection.

I’m not going to pretend that I’m an expert on handling bullies. I’m just a girl who’s been bullied (as have most of us at some time or another) who is finally, at age 33, finding her voice. (If you didn’t get a chance to read my last post on bullying, you can find it here.)

Where is the bullying happening? A little bit of research online and some informal surveying on my Facebook page gave me some answers. Roughly a third of employees have experienced bullying in their workplaces, and this was the number one place friends of mine mentioned they were being bullied. Other top places people told me they had been bullied (as adults) were in their relationships with family members, with “friends,” and in church.

As an adult, I have found less bullies in my grown-up world, but when I have encountered them, they’ve been just as scary. And adult bullies are incredibly powerful. They can have the potential to screw up your job, to destroy your confidence as a parent, to steal away your spouse or friends, or just flat-out squash your personality and cause you to live out only half of who you are instead of all of you.

But they can’t do it unless you let them.

Easier said than done, but true. We have to decide: are we willing to finally stand up for ourselves, or are we too terrified of the consequences, deciding instead to choose the consequences of living a less than full life?

So what can we do?

Sometimes the answer to breaking free from bullying is to leave. To walk away. To quit the job where your boss cruelly mocks your every effort. To leave the book club whose members roll their eyes behind your back when you offer your opinion. To unfriend the person on Facebook who feels the need to write a snide comment each time you post.

But other times, walking away isn’t that simple. You can’t avoid an ex when you have shared custody. You might not be able to quit a job for a while until you’re able to find a new one. And if you’re on a sports team you love, you might not want the bullying of one person to ruin the rest of the enjoyment for you. So then what?

Remember how in my last post I mentioned my top three StrengthsFinder strengths were Harmony, Empathy and Positivity? As I shared before, these aspects of my personality used to be the perfect recipe for bully fodder. But I’ve now realized how to flip them on their head and actually use them to make me stronger.

1. Harmony

I used to let my desire for harmony keep me from speaking up. Now, I realize that true harmony exists when people are honest and open with one another. A relationship built on one person bullying and the other taking it isn’t harmony. Harmony isn’t the absence of conflict. It’s being able to talk about and work through tough issues and find a true peace.

As you seek harmony and “make every effort to live in peace with everyone,” as Hebrews 12:14 says, realize that at some point the best way to seek harmony is to distance yourself from a person. Never stop loving them, never stop praying for them, but do stop letting them hurt you.

2. Empathy

I love to try and understand why people do what they do. I’m the person who always feels sad for the “bad guy” in the movie when he finally comes to his destruction. In fact, I don’t even let our kids use the terms “bad guy” and “good guy” in our house. We say “the person who made bad/good choices.”

Why? I believe that all people contain the potential for good and bad in them, and their choices and life experiences determine which side of them develops. My goal, as a parent, is to nurture the beauty in my children and through showing them how much God loves them, cultivate a desire in them to love him and love others.

We often repeat the saying, “Hurt people hurt people,” when my daughter comes home from school and has been bullied. This helps us understand, forgive and pray for the person. Our empathy helps us imagine that they might have parents who are distant or an older sibling who is bullying them or they might be be struggling in school.

But we don’t let it stop there. We then practice ways she can stand up for herself. My daughter’s personality is a lot like mine, so I want to teach her both compassion and self-confidence. When she brought up the idea of participating in after school debate club, we supported her in it.

At home, we talk about not giving bullies power by showing them that they’ve hurt your feelings. We talk about standing up for others who are being bullied, even when it puts us at risk. And we practice quick retorts back to rude things bullies might say – not mean retorts, but smart ones. We talk about putting on a nonchalant, indifferent face and simply walking away, because many bullies feed off of emotional responses. And we talk about always loving and not letting our anger convert into hate.

3. Positivity

Bullies can break you down or make you feel jaded. My positivity beforehand used to be a naive “believe the best.” A believing that “next time will be better.” Or thinking that the next time they pretended to be nice to me, maybe they actually meant it this time! This kind of positivity gets you burned. After a while, you began to distrust people and think they’re all out to get you.

A healthy positivity says, “I believe there is hope for this person. I believe God has a beautiful plan for his or her life and someday I look forward to seeing this person healthy and whole. But in the meantime, while I will continue to love, I will not continue to be stepped on.” Healthy positivity chooses to not be jaded or distrustful but believes that there is love and goodness and kindness in the world. They always believe the best but also learn from their past. They fully forgive, but don’t quite forget. They forget enough to trust again but not so much that they aren’t more careful about who they trust next time.

A positive person looks life in the face honestly and says, “Man, this is tough! But it is NOT going to hold me down. I CAN do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me. I CAN somehow be strong and loving at the same time. I CAN show my children what speaking the truth in love looks like. I CAN surround myself with people who love me and make me feel valued. I CAN find my worth in what God says about me instead of what others say.”

I speak from recent experience.

I’ve never been one to come up with fast retorts. I’m the girl who goes home and replays the conversation and imagines all of the things I could have said. Or have you ever had an imaginary conversation in the mirror where you rehearsed all the things you were going to say next time? Me too. However, when it came down to the next face to face interaction, I almost always chickened out.

But in the last year and a half, I’ve found the courage to stand up for myself twice. (That may not sound like a lot, but it was for me!) The first time I was terrified and shaking like a leaf, but I was so glad I honestly shared my feelings because I discovered the bullying had been unintentional and the person was shocked to realize what their actions and words had really been.

The second time I chose to speak the truth in love, the person mocked my feelings and shut me down. I told the person I loved them but refused to be treated this way any longer. Sadly, things don’t always end in reconciliation. I haven’t lost hope for our relationship to one day be restored, but I refuse to let it continue on the way it was.

Finally, thanks to all of you who wrote me and shared your stories of bullying. Some of you have made it through to the other side and finally found the courage to stand up for yourselves. Some of you are still struggling and wondering how you’ll be able to break free from the oppression. But it helps to know we’re not in this alone.

If you’ve found your voice, help others to find theirs. If you’re still searching for courage, find strength in the stories of others. And let’s determine to not let our experiences be in vain, but together, to teach our kids and our friends the right way to treat others. Let the end of bullying begin with you.

I know this post is focused on adult bullying, but I just found out about this incredibly impacting silent short film on YouTube that addresses bullying in schools. My cousin, Michelle Page, is an actress and stars as the girl who is bullied. It’s worth the watch.

Bullies Aren’t Just Kids – Sometimes They’re Adults

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Were you one of those kids in middle school or high school who got picked on by bullies? I was. And it sucked.

I was a sweet, little introverted kid who was every bully’s dream target. I cried easily and wasn’t quick on my feet, so I didn’t know how to stick up for myself. And if I dared to try and respond, it was always such a weak answer that I was instantly humiliated as the bully shot back his or her sharp, cutting retort.

I learned quickly that it wasn’t worth it to try and stand up to bullies. The more you tried to defend yourself, the worse it got.

There are moments I’ll never forget, such as wearing a new dress my mom had bought me to school in seventh grade and having a bully whisper behind my back to the whole class that I looked like a slut. Or sitting at the lunch table eating an apple, and a bully loudly mocking the way I ate my food. Or when a bully masqueraded as my friend on and off for a few years, getting close enough to me to find out my deepest secrets and then promptly passing them along the middle school gossip train. The list goes on.

But as a good Christian girl who also happened to be an introvert, I continued to believe the best. I forgave and forgot. I didn’t learn from my lessons and continued to trust those who hurt me the instant they pretended to be my friend again. I always wanted so desperately to believe the best and see the good in everyone. Rather than stop the bullying and recognize it for what it was, I wondered if something was wrong with me and let it squash huge portions of who I was, hiding some of my true self for fear of being mocked.

I found out a few year ago that three of my top strengths in the StrengthsFinder test are Harmony, Empathy and Positivity. Growing up, I desperately didn’t want conflict, I always tried to see things from the perspective of the bully (rather than my own), and I tried to just suck it up and stay positive. But the bullying took its toll.

When I graduated from high school, honestly I was relieved. I thought that chapter of my life was closed. That bullies were born and died in school. In the real world, certainly people just grew up and understood that life was more than who was cool and who was not, right?

Oh, if only it was that way. For the most part, I’ve been fortunate to have been surrounded by beautiful individuals who have left the pettiness found in school behind. I was relieved to find that bullying does exist less after school than in it. But it doesn’t completely go away.

Because it’s not just kids who gets bullied – it happens to grownups too. In so many ways, we’re really just kids on the inside who now live in bigger bodies. And the cool kids in school are suddenly the cool kids at work, or in your parent play group, or at church, or in your book club, or at your gym, or in your neighborhood, or in your family.

And it’s not ok. It never was ok. But as an adult, the stakes are higher. You need to be able to succeed at work. You need to be able to parent your children from a place of strength and model for them what a strong, healthy, loving adult looks like. You need to finally be confident in who you are and not let anyone take that away from you.

It’s time to say enough is enough.

If someone is bullying you, of course pray for them, but DON’T LET IT CONTINUE. You may not have been strong enough in school to stand up to the cool kid, but you need to find that strength now.

I’m not talking about rocking the boat just to rock it, or snipping at someone every time they tease you, or freaking out because you found out someone talked behind your back. Life happens, we all make mistakes, and we should extend people grace, just as we’d hope they would extend it to us.

I’m talking about when someone’s passive aggressive cruelty is hindering you in your job. I’m talking about when you’re nervous to go to family reunions  because you don’t know if you’ll be made to feel like a fool once again. I’m talking about when another parent makes you feel so insecure that you find yourself feeling incapacitated and questioning everything you’re doing.

That is not safe. And it’s time to do something about it. (For more information on how to protect yourself from damaging relationships, check out the book Safe People.)

Some relationships we can remove ourselves from, and some we can’t. Sometimes bullies are people we truly love and might need to keep a relationship with, so what do we do in those cases?

To avoid making this post too long, I wrote a part two to this that I’ll post later this week. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on how to handle bullies. Have you been affected by bullying as an adult?

On Discovering I Have ADHD as an Adult


“Be still and know I am God.” Definitely my least favorite verse in Scripture.

Growing up, I used to hate it when pastors would quote that verse to us followed by the phrase “Focus and quiet your mind,” and then ask us to sit silently for ten minutes or more and listen for God’s voice. First of all, my body ached to sit still for that long without moving. Inevitably, I began to rotate my ankle in circles or wiggle my toes or play with my fingers.

Second, “Quiet your mind”?! Seriously? What does that even mean? I’ve never understood that phrase. My mind doesn’t know quiet. It knows two speeds: racing or sleeping. On or off. Flying or dreaming. But awake and quiet? Forget about it.

And focus? Yeah, right. I heard someone describe it perfectly once. My mind is like a computer screen with twelve windows open in the browser and six programs running at once. I skip from thought to thought and topic to topic like a hummingbird flitting from flower to flower. Unless something is intensely engaging, forget focus.

But I had always just figured my struggles were a quirk of my personality.

Thankfully I had parents who taught me life skills that helped me overcome my difficulties with focusing. When my mind began drifting and Mom saw me taking an hour to get ready in the morning, she’d chirp, “Pretend you’re in a hurry!” We created games and races and competitions in the house to motivate us to stay focused and complete tasks quickly. We would reward ourselves for jobs well done. We made lists. We had rules.  All of this order mixed with fun was an ideal environment for me to grow up and thrive in.

As a result, I made excellent grades, learned how to manage my time well, and generally succeeded in my school age years.

But then I got married. And the rules were gone. I was in charge. There was no one to prod me along and remind me of the strategies I needed to follow, and I began to struggle. Not terribly, but enough to frustrate me and confuse my new husband. Neither of us understood why it took me so long to get things done, why information so often flew in one ear and out the other, or how we could drive the same routes a thousand times past the same landmarks and I somehow never saw them.

(Side note. ((My brain thinks in side notes and parentheses.)) Ironically, do you know what inspired me to sit down and write this blog post right now? I read this phrase in a devotional: “Sit in a comfortable place. Close your eyes. Breathe deeply and slowly. LISTEN. What is God saying to you? Be still. Just listen.” That worked well. I sat still for all of three seconds and then decided to blog instead about how I couldn’t sit still.)

Back to the story. To keep it short, the strategies instilled in me by my parents in combination with a husband who brings out the best in me helped me to live a “successful life.” I put that in quotes because although technically my children were well taken care of, the house was clean, I finished my college degree and got a great job, and I even learned how to cook, I was constantly frustrated with myself. I could always see my shortcomings and felt like I wasn’t good enough. I knew I could do better but didn’t know how.

This past year, I began to notice patterns in my daughter and in myself that mirrored each other. One day, her teacher brought some of her behaviors to our attention (playing with her fingers, needing constant reminders to refocus, needing things to be repeated multiple times, etc.), and while I agreed that they needed to be addressed, they didn’t concern me. I sat down with some of our friends, one of whom is a psychologist, and began telling them what the teacher had said. Laughingly, I began to list off a number of my quirks that were similar to my daughter’s.

After listing off about eight of them, I suddenly stopped. It hit me as I watched their faces and listened to myself that perhaps these funny little behaviors had something to them.

I’d always known I had some quirks, but hey, we all do, so I brushed mine off for years, laughing at my odd idiosyncrasies. They had never interfered dramatically with my life, so why would I pay much attention?

Until suddenly they did. They began to interfere a lot. But still I managed and chocked it up to a difficult season in life. I just needed to step it up and push harder. I got angry with myself and did some self-talk: “Stephanie, get yourself together and make it happen!” And I did. Sort of.

About a year ago, I went to a retreat for missionary women here in Peru, and at the retreat we were given the opportunity to reflect, to think introspectively…and to see a counselor.

In my session with JoAnn (an incredible counselor and life coach based in Minnesota), I shared with her my frustrations. I told her how something felt wrong with my mind—how it flew at a million miles a minute, how I struggled so, so hard with focusing, how my brain flitted from task to thought to memory and back again 20 times in under 10 seconds. I thought perhaps it was a result of working in social media or just a natural by-product of today’s technology.

JoAnn had gently asked me if I had ever considered that I might have ADHD. I immediately said no, because the picture I had in my mind of ADHD was hyper kids running around, bouncing off the walls, who did poorly in school. Certainly that wasn’t me. Plus I’ll admit I’m a skeptic by nature and having been raised with three brothers, am quick to brush things off and try to muscle through things on my own.

But after that night with our friends, my conversation with JoAnn came back to me. I went home and my mind began filling with memories. Memories of getting up from the kitchen table five times during dinner. Or beginning ten tasks in the same day only to leave them all unfinished. Or misplacing things because I had set them down in odd places while wandering around the house, lost in thought. Or how I had always struggled with retaining information. (I can often read a book and the day after finishing it, forget the names of every character and most of the story’s details. A year later, I might not even remember reading it.) Or how in any type of lecture or sermon or talk, I had to have something in my hand or I’d panic. And without taking notes, there was no chance I’d remember what was said.

When I woke up the next morning, I cracked open my computer and began to do some research on ADHD. I was shocked to read the stories of others and find my own story written within theirs. It was so refreshing to read about other people’s struggles that so closely paralleled my own. Through some assessment and conversation with counselors, my diagnosis was confirmed.

Once I found out, I cried for about four minutes. No one likes hearing they have a “diagnosis.” But immediately after, to my surprise, I began to feel a sense of excitement. All of the sudden, I realized two things. First, without knowing about my diagnosis, I had been living a happy and successful life for the last 32 years. Second, now that I knew the name of what I was struggling with, I had new tools and strategies to live even better!

In fact, I met a friend who also has ADHD, and he describes it as his superpower. His sharp and fast-moving mind allows him to quickly move from subject to subject and carry tons of details in his mind at once. Another friend who also has ADHD is one of the funniest, smartest, most capable people I know. Both are my inspiration.

My Myers-Briggs type is an ISFJ, and I just think of ADHD as adding another letter to that. So, I’m an ISFJA. ADHD doesn’t need to limit me in what I can do. It simply describes another aspect of me that I wasn’t aware of. In fact, ADHD brings out the funny side of me, and that’s a side of me I love and that I wouldn’t trade away for anything. It helps me be spontaneous and fun and live in the moment.

And best of all, it helps me understand my daughter. I’ve noticed that many of the behaviors she has that frustrate me are ones that I have too. I am so much more patient with her now, because I get her on a much deeper level. Now I’m able to teach her the same strategies I was taught to help her succeed too, instead of just feeling impatient.

I now know to always carry something in my hand. (It keeps me calm and helps me focus.) I use lists with regularity. (They keep me on track.) I go to bed at a decent time. (When I’m well rested I’m able to focus better.)

Now I’m not perfect. I’ve been known to bust out of a routine or strategy. (That’s exactly what I’m doing right now as I’m blogging.) But for the most part, I’m choosing to stick to the strategies that help me be the best me.

At first, I hesitated to share the discovery of my diagnosis. But then I noticed as I occasionally mentioned it in conversations where it felt appropriate, that it brought relief to parents who had children with ADHD. It has brought understanding to those who may have shrugged it off as a fake diagnosis. And it has given encouragement and a sense of camaraderie to other adults who have also recently discovered they have ADHD.

ADHD doesn’t define me. It simply describes a side of me. I’m not your “ADHD friend,” I’m still just “your friend.” A friend who has a pretty hilarious side to her that yes, brings challenges with it, but also brings fun and adventure and randomness and joy.

When you think about it, no one is really “normal” or “regular.” We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. We all have different personalities and different interests. We all have different upbringings and life experiences. And all these things combined make us the unique and special individuals that we are.

Be yourself. You’re the only you there is. And you’re pretty awesome.

What are some of your strengths and weaknesses? How can some of your weaknesses actually be a strength? As you’ve gotten older, what are some things you’ve discovered about yourself?