Inspiration Report

JanetJacksonUnbreakableTourSanFran2015Janet Jackson made history on Sunday, May 20, 2018, when she became the first black woman to win the Icon Award at the Billboard Music Awards in Las Vegas. Jackson owned the stage with her performances of a number of her hit songs. Among them were “Nasty” and “If.” She was preceded by a video introduction that touched on the social and political importance of her work, especially her albums “Control” and “Rhythm Nation 1814.”

Jackson stepped up to give her acceptance speech. Before she could get more than a few words out, however, her soft spoken words were drowned out by the audience ecstatically chanting “Janet! Janet! Janet!” When the cheers and applause had finally died down, Jackson began her speech. She expressed her thanks for the award and declared that “for all the challenges, for all our challenges, we live at a glorious moment in history.” Jackson went on to proclaim her solidarity with the #MeToo movement by stating that this was a time when “at long last, women have made it clear that we will no longer be controlled, manipulated or abused. I stand with those women and with those men equally outraged by discrimination who support us in heart and mind.”

After the reference to #MeToo, Jackson’s speech took a slightly unexpected turn. “This is also a moment when our public discourse is loud and harsh,” she said. “My prayer is that, weary of such noise, we turn back to the source of all calmness. That source, that source is God. Everything we lack, God has in abundance: compassion, sensitivity, patience and a boundless love.”

Jackson’s speech took a few minutes to complete as she was repeatedly interrupted by the audience applauding and cheering her words. Once she did finish, however, she had taken her place beside such legends as Stevie Wonder and Neil Diamond as an Icon award winner.

The 52 year old was far from the only star who made an impression at the Billboard Music Awards. The Chainsmokers and Halsey spoke out about mental health, and Kelly Clarkson brought the audience nearly to tears when she spoke about the recent school shooting in Santa Fe. “I’m so sick of moments of silence,” Clarkson said in reference to a request that she lead a moment of silence in remembrance of the victims. “It’s not working…Why don’t we do a moment of action? Why don’t we do a moment of change? Why don’t we change what’s happening?”

Despite the many causes on display, it was Jackson’s heartfelt words that stayed with many people the longest as she gave thanks to God in the closing words of her speech. “I thank God for giving me the precious energy that lets me live my life as an artist that every single day seeks to expand my capacity to love.” Powerful words from an artist with an awful lot of star power.

pexels-photo-59894Every expecting mother’s worst nightmare is to learn that there is something wrong with her unborn child. When Heather Garrity faced that fear, she was told that she might lose not one of her children but both. Garrity was 22 weeks pregnant when her doctor informed her that her twin babies were suffering from twin-twin transfusion syndrome. Twin-twin transfusion syndrome is a serious medical disease of the placenta that can occur when identical twins share the effected placenta. Over time, abnormal blood vessels connections form in the placenta and cause blood so start flowing unevenly between the babies. This leads to one twin becoming dehydrated and not producing enough urine which results in a low level of amniotic fluid and poor fetal growth. The other twin, however, is overwhelmed by too much fluid resulting in too much urine, an enlarged bladder and excess amniotic fluid. The excess fluid strains the twin’s heart and can result in high blood pressure and heart failure. Twin-twin transfer syndrome can be fatal for both twins without specialized treatment that sometimes requires fetal surgery.

The prognosis for Heather Garrity’s twins was so grim that doctors advised her to terminate her pregnancy and abort the twins. Garrity refused and gave birth to two boys, Ethan and Dominic. The two boys overcame their early brush with death and have grown into accomplished young men. The eighteen year old twins are both on the football team at Nevada Union High School and will be graduating at the top of their class. Their football coach, Scott Wheeler, commented, “[The twins] are about as impressive as you can get, both 5.0 students. As many [colleges] as they’ve gotten into, and the list is amazing, they remain two of the most humble high school students I’ve met.”

The twins’ own comments support Wheeler’s assessment. The two boys credit their success to hard work, luck and a whole lot of support. “Throughout our lives and throughout adversity, we’ve had a very strong support system,” said Dominic. “We’re very grateful for that.”

That support system has seen the twins accepted into some very impressive colleges. Ethan’s top five schools include the Air Force Academy, Dartmouth and UC-Berkley while Dominic favors West Point, the U.S. Naval Academy and Johns Hopkins. Such wild success is about the farthest thing doctors would have expected from a pair of twins facing a terminal diagnosis and a stubborn mother who loved them too much to refuse to give her babies a chance.

raise-3338589_640 (1)Modern culture is full of contradictory messages, especially for women. Women are told to love fiercely, but they are also informed that it is unhealthy to care about someone more than they care about themselves. Women are told to embrace their emotions, but tears and giggles are looked down upon in equal measure. Women are told to make time for those people who are important to them, but they are also cautioned against always being willing to do what someone else wants to do. The complete madness that is women’s fashion and body image is even more confusion. Dressing to impress simultaneously means that a woman has taken control of her image and sexuality and that she is a slave to “a culture centered on men’s gazes.” She is told that she should be fit and healthy, but she is shamed for admitting she wants to lose a few pounds. Social media legions announce that women should love their bodies no matter how they look and then social media sites immediately post an image of a thin woman with the snarky caption of “get her a freaking sandwich.”

In this utter maelstrom of contradictory ideas, it is easy for a woman to feel that she is at the same time too much and not enough. She loves too fiercely, but she is also too cold. She cares too much about her looks, but she also needs to work harder on her appearance. She is too focused on finding a relationship, but she is too distant to be able to find love. It is enough to drive a woman around the bend or have her ready to run screaming into the night. Christian women are not exempt from this insanity, especially as many churches have their own unspoken set of contradictory “rules.”

Women are desperate for answers on how to handle these contrary expectations and how to live a Godly life in the midst of the insanity. Thankfully, Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan have stood where women today stand and are ready and willing to help.

Connolly and Morgan’s new book, “Always Enough, Never Too Much,” is a flip book of 100 devotionals aimed at helping women deal with opposing expectations by rooting themselves deeply in Christ. With chapters such as “Even When You’re Sick,” “Even When You Rock the Boat,” “Even When You’re Ambitious” and “Even When You’re Goofy,” “Always Enough, Never Too Much” helps women develop a Jesus-centric worldview that simultaneously glorifies God and reaffirms that all women matter in Christ’s eyes, regardless of whether they are put together and solemn or a hysterically laughing hot mess. It is a must read for any woman who has ever felt that they both needed to be more and needed to scale back their personality or dreams. Aimed to help women who “struggle with constant comparison, hide because they are afraid, yet want to live a fulfilled life,” “Always Enough, Never Too Much” will help each woman to “take control of [her] life and emotions.”

For more information on the authors, visit Connolly at her blog and read about Morgan at her website. “Always Enough, Never Too Much” is available now on Amazon.

cancer-1455445_640Kate Bowler is a self-described “incurable optimist,” but at the age of 35, even her optimism was challenged. She had been having stomach cramps and thought they were caused by a faulty gallbladder. Instead, the diagnosis was Stage 4 cancer. Bowler did as many people would do. She cried, called her husband and made sure there were no words left unsaid.

Bowler also found herself dealing with a twisted sort of cosmic irony. Shortly before her diagnosis, she had written a book called “Blessed.” Bowler is a historian who specializes in the American prosperity gospel, the belief that God grants health and wellness to those who are faithful. This idea is born in part, as Bowler states, in “America’s addiction to self-rule.” The prosperity gospel implies that those who follow the rules or practice their faith in a certain way will be rewarded, healed or otherwise blessed by God. Bowler points out that this illusion of control can cause shame to compound grief when a person dies. According to the prosperity gospel, their faith was not strong enough, so they were not healed.

According to Bowler, the idea that God rewards the faithful with wealth and health takes “a religion based on the contemplation of a dying man and [strips] it of its call to surrender all. Perhaps worse,” she said in a New York Times piece, the prosperity gospel “[replaces] Christian faith with the most painful forms of certainty.”

It was when her diagnosis came back with the terrifying word “cancer” on it that Bowler realized she had been tacitly subscribing to the prosperity gospel despite finding it a “riddle” when she was younger. With her diagnosis, however, she was forced to confront the facts that “Life is so beautiful. Life is so hard.” This allowed her to feel, in some ways, more alive than she ever had as a healthy young woman. “Everything feels as if it is painted in bright colors,” she wrote.

Still, Bowler is not unaware of how some Christians will view her diagnosis. “I am very well aware that news of my cancer will be seen by many in the prosperity community as proof of something,” she wrote. “I have heard enough sermons about those who ‘speak against God’s anointed’ to know it is inevitable, despite the fact that the book I wrote [about the prosperity gospel} is very gentle.”

Despite her issues with the prosperity gospel, however, Bowler can see the value that such beliefs confer on those who hold them. “Mostly I find the daily lives of [prosperity gospel] believers remarkable and, often, inspirational. They face the impossible and demand that God make a way. They refuse to accept crippling debt as insurmountable. They stubbornly get out of their hospital beds and declare themselves healed, and every now and then, it works. This is surely an American God.”

Even with cancer breathing down her neck, Bowler is determined to face the rest of her life, however long it may be, “with gusto and not escapism.” She is embracing what she has, “trying to be open to wonder and joy” and continuing to love even though she know it will hurt.