At Gateway Church in South Austin we continued our series called “Working With All Your Heart.”
Sometimes our career success can overshadow what we are really going through. Lindsay Ronga, one of our Gateway North volunteers shares her story that will show us how we can trust God with our hardships and know that God is writing an even better story.
Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
The last two weeks we’ve had the privilege of hearing from people just like you. Two men who embody the values of Gateway and whose transformed lives also impact others in the workplace. Aman and Phil did so amazing that we encourage you to go back and watch those messages if you missed them.
Today, we get to hear from a woman who also calls Gateway home. Lindsay Ronga has a resume that most people want for themselves and/or their children. An original Austinite who attended a large public university, found her niche in finance, added to her resume at an Ivy League school and then became CEO of a company in the Mecca of finance (New York City) and worked with a famous social media business leader.
All the while she was dealing with a personal growing crisis that she would have to come to terms with. What Lindsay faced is something that we ALL will face at some point, a moment where we ask ourselves, “is this worth it?” That question, along with other questions, has a different meaning and context for each one of us, but it still stares us in the face.
Before we hear from Lindsay, I want to briefly look at a passage.
Mark chapter 8 brings a challenge directly from the words of Jesus, and it hits home pretty hard:
“34 Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? 37 Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” – Mark 8:34-37
The word disciple means learner or follower. What brings you here today or any Sunday? Are you wanting to explore a relationship with God? Are you coming wanting to learn how to follow Jesus more closely? Are you coming to try to save your life? Jesus gives us a counter intuitive and counter cultural perspective to these questions. The world tries to get us to focus on our selves, but we find life in dying to self and serving others. If we aren’t careful, good things can become our gods – like our jobs. Our pursuit of purpose or even a calling can become the pursuit of a career that actually takes away from who God wants us to be or how He wants us to spend our time, talents, and treasure.
As you think about these questions Jesus asked and prepare for the message that will be brought today, ask God to help you see any blind spots you may have. With that, let’s listen to Lindsay tell her story.
Welcome to all of you here joining us…I’m excited (and a little nervous) to be here
I’ve spoken publicly in front of large groups several times. And anytime I commit to public speaking I go through an important process. First in my process is immediate regret and imagining myself going back in time and saying no thank you. Next in my process, like most Godly people do, I turn to Youtube and want to know how others do it. Finally after a couple solid weeks of procrastinating, I genuinely turn to god and say “I need you. help me – help me share the message you think is needed. Let me honor you in my words.”
That’s what I hope to do today and there are three part that I’ll share.
First I’m going to share part of my background and my story. Next I’ll share two powerful shifts I made (and continue to work at) that helped me find a more peaceful life and richer relationship with Jesus. Finally I’ll leave you with some homework. There are two questions I’d like you to answer at the end.
First, here’s a bit of my story – it’s the highlight reel version:
I was born and raised in Austin and had an amazing group of Christian friends that led to a rich spiritual life in my MS / HS years. After undergrad in Boulder, CO, I moved to Palo Alto, CA for a job in tech investment banking. I worked A LOT of hours and it was high stress. That didn’t deter me, I took on an even more stressful job in Boston, two years later, in private equity. I traveled a lot and quickly became a top associate. While I was working 100 hour weeks, I applied to some intense graduate business schools – Harvard, Stanford, Wharton. I went to Harvard Business School where I was elected president of the largest club on campus (I know – I almost struggle to get this out because it sounds so arrogant – bare with me, it’s the highlight reel version and I’m almost finished). After graduating from HBS, I was hired by Gary Vaynerchuk, some of you may know him as simply Gary V the popular social media entrepreneur, to be CEO of one his companies in NYC. I lived and worked in NYC for five years before I came back to Austin where a former boss convinced me to work in private equity again.
Sounds like a good resume or the “perfect” LinkedIn bio
Here’s the story you don’t won’t see on LinkedIn which happened over the same time period.
At 24yo while I was applying to MBA programs, I developed a life-threatening eating disorder. It felt as if it came out of nowhere. I had no idea how to undo it and I hid it because it didn’t fit with my external persona. A couple years into it, I was diagnosed with osteopenia and was told I wouldn’t have kids. I spent way too much time getting lab work for someone in my 20s. I went to residential treatment the summer in between my two years at Harvard and was hanging on by a thread trying to survive the eating disorder and maintain the ‘successful’ life that looked so good to others.
I was masterful at wearing this mask, pretending like things were fine and on the outside things looked great, but on the inside, I was dying (quite literally) exhausted and caught on this never ending hamster wheel seeking more and more only to feel empty.
Can any of you relate to this – putting on a mask pretending like things are fine so no one really sees your struggle?
It’s like I had this thought on repeat in my mind saying “you’re not enough – do more”.
No surprise – “MY plan” wasn’t working out too well and I needed a change.
It wasn’t until I took time off from work and took a trip to India where was disconnected form work and everything else that I finally found myself reconnected with God and my spiritual life.
One day in India, we were hiking in the Himalayas and it was impossible to not feel God’s presence all around. We went to Ganges river and at this particular spot, people would hold onto a chain and lower themselves into this powerful river. I remember lowering myself into the river, tightly gripping the chain and submerging myself under the water. As I came up for air, I had chills (and it wasn’t from the temperature of the water). It felt like a rebirth and I immediately thought of when I chose to get baptized in middle school and chose to put Jesus at the center of my life.
I then hiked up a trail by myself and sat on a rock looking at God’s beauty. I called out to God, crying asking for healing. I asked Jesus to release me from the pain and suffering of the ED.
I also prayed something I hadn’t prayed about in decades. When i was in middle school, I was in a bible study and I used to pray for my future husband. That god prepare me and prepare him to love each other well. Well almost instinctively hear in India, I began to pray this again, many years later and it felt familiar and comforting.
I’d love to tell you that I heard GOD speak – that I had this John Burke moment, but God must have been talking to John on top of the Santa Barbara mountain bc I didn’t hear a message from god. I did feel a peace and God without a doubt put me on a path to making two major shifts.
I’d like to share those shifts with you
The FIRST shift I worked at was to:
1) Put GOD the center of my life (and I have to continually work at this).
Part of putting God at the center is removing whatever is currently at the center. In my case it was removing myself from the center, removing “my plan” and letting go of my definition of success and instead inviting God’s idea of success.
I’d like to think if Jesus could define success it would look like KNOWING GOD well, loving him and living in his image. God doesn’t care how much money we make or about our treasures on earth. He cares that we are us focused on HIM and an eternal life with him and WHO we are.
As I grew to really know GOD, the voice that said I wasn’t enough got weaker. And it was replaced with a different message (I believe it was from god) that said “slow down, rest, focus on ME.”
Slowing down was crucial for me not only in finding freedom from the eating disorder (which I did) but also in getting off the hamster wheel of pleasing others and instead trying to please my creator.
The SECOND shift I worked at was to:
2) reassess how I found my worth and identity.
For most of my life, I much found my worth and my identity in the world – in money, achievement, where I went to school – that entire highlight reel version I shared earlier and also in my appearance, how often I exercised, the foods I ate and a number on the scale. And where we find our worth is what we’ll give the most energy to.
I did this exercise in recovery where I wrote out what I CURRENTLY valued on one page and on another page I force ranked what I WANTED to value. These were very different lists.
At the top of my new list? PEACE. Because my mind was like a battlefield. The bible mentions peace hundreds of times but one verse that I revisit often:
john 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
As I focused on these two shifts, my values changed gradually and so did my life.
In fact, turns out the doctor who told me I couldn’t have children was wrong. God had a different plan – I had three kids and the husband I prayed for, the one he chose for me was someone I went to the same elementary, middle and high school with. And he is the best DAD to our kids.
My life also took a turn one day after a conversation with my father. For context we hadn’t spoken of the eating disorder for years and with tears in his eyes, he told me how proud he was of me for recovering from the eating disorder when there was no roadmap, no ‘how to’. This meant so much to me and it got me thinking why is there no roadmap? Should I create one?
I remember going home that night and praying on it. God, if you want me to do something with this, give me a sign. No kidding, later that week, a friend of mine who I knew from residential treatment reached out to me and asked me how I recovered. But like most people, I’m like no GOD, if you really mean it, give me another sign.
It continued to remain on my heart and felt called to this. So I went to my husband. Keep in mind we had a toddler and I was pregnant with our second child and we both had very stable, predictable jobs (like salary and insurance). I said honey, I think I want to quit my job in private equity and start a business to help people with eating disorders. If you really want to spice up a marriage, try that on your spouse J
With my husband’s support and god’s direction, I took steps towards this new life and ultimately did build a coaching business to help others with eating disorders. I now have seven other coaches on my team and it is the best “job” I’ve ever had. We’ve helped hundreds in their eating disorder recovery.
Looking back of course I can connect the dots and see HIS hand in all of this.
I can see that sometimes when things feel like they’re falling apart, they may actually be falling into place. I’m constantly reminded that the hardest times in my life were an essential part of God’s plan and led me to the best things in life.
I’ll end with 2 questions that I need to ask myself regularly. And I ask myself these because I am sinner and i mess up and i don’t believe I’ll ever arrive at knowing GOD and these questions help me focus.
I encourage you to be thoughtful about your answers and maybe even write them out. And yes this is the homework!
1) First question – what is at the center of your life?
From experience I know GOD doesn’t naturally fall to the center. In fact it’s quite the opposite. I’ve been asking myself this question again recently as I work to invite God back to the center.
2) Second question – Where are you finding your worth and identity? Is it in your achievements, your kids, your marriage, how much money you make, your weight, or the things you own? It’s not wrong to want to make money or achieve in life, but if these values dominate your heart, you’ll find your worth there too.
Or are you finding your worth and identity in HIM and being a child of GOD. In the mere fact that you’re HIS and that God knows your name, the number of hairs on your head and that God created YOU with a specific purpose in mind.
Reflection Song: No Longer Slaves
Did you pick up on what just happened over the last few minutes? You were asked two questions: How can I put God at the center of my life? AND Where am I finding my worth/my identity?
Then we just sang a song that reminds us that we are God’s sons and daughters, we are free in God and not slaves to our fear, or slaves to the ugly answers coming from life’s questions.
When we put all of that together, it begs us to come before God and recognize our humanity and our opportunity. It begs us to pray with sincerity, “God here’s my issue, here’s why I don’t have you at the center, here’s where I’m finding my worth, BUT God I find safety in you, I find comfort and peace IN YOU.”
Do you turn to God at work? When circumstances are difficult at home? With family? Or with friends?
A Genuine Miracle
Two weeks ago I shared about how at one point when my Dad was near the end of his life in a moment of doubt, I prayed: “God, I need what I say I believe to be true!”
I need what Jesus did on the cross to count for my Dad. I needed comfort that there is life after death, and that my Dad will be there.
Two weeks ago, I shared how God miraculously answered that prayer in what I consider one of the greatest miracles I have ever experienced in my life. If you missed it, you can still hear it at our Gateway South facebook, youtube, or soundcloud pages.
But I have to share another miraculous way God answered that very specific prayer.
In our last staff meeting, our pastor of prayer Tara Browder led us through an exercise that you learn to do in the Hearing God Workshop. She had us write our name on a piece of paper, fold the piece of paper and put it in an envelope then seal the envelope. She then picked up all the envelopes and shuffled them up before redistributing them.
Now, these were supposed to be encouraging messages from God to the person receiving them. What a person who happens to be new to staff and new to this exercise wrote was amazing to me. She started with a Bible verse that was not something you would think anyone would write. She wrote:
“Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.” Mark 9:24
This is from one of my favorite stories in the Gospels, the books written about the life and ministry of Jesus, some of them written by eyewitnesses!
A man with a sick son comes to Jesus and asks for help. Then Jesus asks him how long his son has been affected by this.
“From childhood,” he answered. “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Then Jesus goes on to heal the son.
I love this story because the father is caught in a moment of honesty. “I do believe!” Then he probably realizes Jesus may be able to tell I am struggle to believe so he immediately adds: “Help me with my unbelief!”
That was exactly how I felt in that moment. This envelope proved God saw me and heard me. Listen to the next words that my fellow staff member were God’s words to me:
“I love you so much, my child. I am with you. Trust me.”
That was exactly what I needed to hear.
I may not understand why God allowed my dad to go when he did and how he did, but I can trust God.
I may not understand all that happens in life, but I can trust the One who gives me life.
I believe that is God’s message to you today as well. He is saying to you:
“I love you so much, my child. I am with you. Trust me.”