Making Connections. Growing in Faith: Get Your Spirit in Shape

Tiffany Bluhm, a podcaster, speaker and author of a new book called She Dreams: Live the Life You Were Created For, has a gift for bringing people together to grow as followers of Jesus. In this conversation, she shares some of the ways she helps others make connections that help their discipleship. We also talk about how her new book was inspired by the stories of those in the Bible who never gave up on who God called them to be.

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Tiffany's faith and passion are an inspiration that will encourage you today.

Tiffany Bluhm

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This episode posted on January 11, 2019.


Transcript

Prologue

Joe: Welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape, United Methodist Communications and UMC.org’s podcast to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino.

My guest today is author, speaker and podcaster Tiffany Bluhm. As you will hear in this conversation, Tiffany has a wonderful gift of bringing people together to help them grow in their faith. From ministries that reach out to women in the sex industry to a study group called Sip, she shares the love of Jesus in unique and wonderful ways.

Tiffany has a new book coming out on February 5 called She Dreams: Live the Life You Were Created For where she encourages us to follow our God-given dreams even if we’ve delayed them for a seasons in our lives.

Tiffany’s faith and passion are an inspiration that I pray will encourage you today.

Our conversation

Joe: Tiffany Bluhm, welcome to Get Your Spirit in Shape.

Tiffany Bluhm: Thanks for having me, Joe.

Joe: I met you a little bit ago when you were here recording at United Methodist Communications. And I was intrigued by something that I read in your bio about how you got into ministry with women. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Tiffany: I really dove into fulltime ministry right after college. And I found my place among marginalized women. I felt like if I was gonna spend my life on something, that was gonna be it. And in prayer and just spending time in the Scriptures I just felt a constant, regular conviction about reaching out to women who didn’t feel like they had a place at the table. And so inviting them, whether it was single mommas, teen mommas, women involved in the sex industry, women abroad in the developing world who felt forgotten, I felt like if I’m gonna spend my life on behalf of the gospel, that’s gonna be my target.

Joe: What are some of the ways that you are reaching out to women today?

Tiffany: Before I get into what I’ve done today, I will just give a little snippet into some programs I’ve had the privilege of helping start in the past.

One of them being an outreach ministry to women in the sex industry. Where I live in the Seattle area, we have a very high rate of trafficking and I imagine it’s high in the southeast, in different parts of the southeast of America as well. Due to being on a border of Canada, we have a lot of the track, if you will, Vancouver to Seattle to Portland, down to San Francisco, L.A., San Diego and back up. So these girls, whether they’re in strip clubs or whether they’re in brothels, if you will, there’s just such a need to reach out to these women and invite them to safety and invite them to just a different way of living, and for some who are attracted it obviously that takes a lot more resources, to do so. But for…especially for women who are in strip clubs…

I got some girlfriends and I together to visit strip clubs once a month. And go in with just a simple gift, whether it was a lipstick or something like that, with also a business card of how they could connect with us if they ever wanted help or if they ever needed somebody to talk to, we would be there. We had a mentorship program built into that so women would have someone to disciple them on their journey in the faith, and someone to help them with job retraining to apply to jobs outside of the sex industry. It was a really beautiful way to reach women right where they’re at.

In this season of my life, a way I reach women right where they’re at is called Sip. And Sip started with about twelve women, just a little Bible study. A very good friend of mine owns a swanky restaurant in town, and he’s closed on Sundays. On a busy Friday night when he had hardly opened, I went up to him and I said, “Hey, I can tell you’re busy.” He was extremely busy. Not a spare seat in the restaurant that night. I said, “Could I have Bible study here on Sunday nights since you’re closed?” And he didn’t even look at me. And he walked away and said, “I’ll make you a key.”

Joe: Wow.

Tiffany: And so after I got that key, and he made all the food and paired the wine, and I invited women. We had about between 12 and 20 that first season. And it was so sweet and just…. I would teach through different series of …on relationships or forgiveness or grace, or various topics. Eventually, women started to invite their friends, word got out and in about a year’s time we went from 12 to about 140, and then from there we served about a hundred…excuse me, about 400 women a year. We’re in our 4th year.

Women come. It’s like a night out—going out to dinner and Bible study. It’s a really sweet combination of the two. So women are able to break bread and have a beautiful, beautiful meal with gorgeous food made by the restaurant. It’s called The Table—the name of the restaurant. So how fitting. “Find your space at The Table,” until we sell out and then there’s definitely not space for you at the table.

So women come and able to have a glass of wine and sit down with each other and connect and then move into a time of teaching. Then from there we provide a journal and we have our worship director pray and they just have about 10 or 15 minutes to journal what they sense the Lord is speaking to them in that moment. I have some journal prompts on the tables as well to get the juices flowing. In that moment, what is God inviting you to reflect on? What in your life are you struggling with? And what can you invite the Lord and to speak over that?

It takes some time built in, especially busy women who may not be journaling, or that may not be a practice that they have at home. After that we move into a time of discussion. Then we send them on their way until next week.

Each woman, before they leave, fills out a prayer card, first name, last name, and their phone number. And during the week we follow up every single woman, every single week to pray over them and their particular issue. So we have a pulse on how everyone’s doing and what everyone is going through. And that’s really been a great way for us to shape our series, our teaching, and how can we meet practical needs, and built-in opportunities to serve each other.

So, you know, if someone had a miscarriage or a divorce or something…you know…. Someone lost their mom recently. And so we all wrote cards and sent them to the hospital in New York City where she was with her mom. Just finding ways to meet practical needs, heartfelt needs, physical needs, emotional needs, relational needs.

It is so beautiful and so simple and so sacred. In fact, last night, I’m a little scratchy this morning, my voice…. My voice is naturally this low, but extra today because I was up late with our gals last night having Bible study. So, it’s been a really sweet way to invite women into the fullness of God and truly have it be a way that maybe is different from how they’ve done before.

It’s not part of any single church. We gather multiple churches, probably anywhere between 13 to 16 churches represented. And a large amount of women, Joe, this is their first introduction to the faith.

Joe: That’s wonderful.

Tiffany: They have never heard the gospel. We’re in a very unchurched region of America. To they’re thinking, ‘Oh, I have never been to church, but I would love to go to that.’ So, we’ve found a way to really reach women where they’re at…unintentionally. It was just the way I thought to myself, if I was ever gonna do Bible study this is how I would do it. And it’s been very attractive to women who’ve never put themselves in those kinds of places.

Joe: What are some of the topics that you’ve covered? What are some of the specific things you guys get to talk about?

Tiffany: Well, one of our most popular series has been Jesus’ encounters with the women in the New Testament, which ended up being the fodder for my first book in Bible study that I wrote, Abingdon Press. It was transformational to see how we can understand, contextually and historically, Jesus encountering women who had nothing to offer him, had no way to advance his agenda. But truly their situation was mocked or worthy of stoning in that time and day. But he saw them with dignity and respect and honor and equality. And they were never the same after they encountered him.

Many of our women, you know, although it was a few thousand years ago, women have got all kinds of baggage. And although the story might not be the same, the emotions are very much the same—the emotions of rejection, shame, fear, loneliness, isolation. Those feelings, we all feel those. And so being able to share the story where Jesus was able to address those feelings, however their story got them there to feel those feelings, he was able to address those and invite them to live a better story.

We journeyed through those and that was a very popular series we did.

Another popular series that we did was on relationships. Relationships seem to be very popular. We’ve cycled through a few of those. But the tag line was “when to lead in, when to wait it out and when to walk away.” And really talking about the role we play in relationships. We covered everything from co-dependency to enabling, to boundaries. It was a really powerful topic to see, okay, look in the way Jesus encountered people. Look in the way that we see healthy relationships in Scripture. And where healthy relationships turned into unhealthy relationships. You think of Job and his friends. They did lament. They did mourn with him as was the custom of the day. But then after that, they started to question him and so how our relationships can go from healthy place to manipulation or shaming each other. There’s not room for that when we’re looking to expose the nature of Jesus to one another.

Joe: Yeah. One of the things I heard you say, when you talk about Sip, is that there’s a… lots of opportunities for the women to connect with one another. It’s not just about receiving information, but it’s a place where people are loving one another and supporting one another through difficult times in life and ordinary times as well.

Tiffany: Yeah. We had…we had a gal experience some of the worst days of her life. She found out her kids were no longer safe in her home with her husband.

Joe: Oh no.

Tiffany: Yeah, it was terrifying. One of those moments you never think it’s gonna be you.

We call them sippers, and sippers just stepped up. People lined up to watch her kids. People lined up to go to court and help her get legal counsel, and just stepped in to be the hands and feet. Meals and helping with job training—she’d never worked before. She was a stay-at-home mom.

So truly in the messiest of days we’re able to walk alongside her and hold up the burden with her and invite the light of Christ in the presence of Jesus, by their presence, there to help her with the kids and helpful with these hard days and just really walk with her.

A lot of women…. We are very close to a military base. And we have a lot of woman who are here for 2 years and then are stationed somewhere else. A lot of women, they said, I met my best friends, I met my soul sisters, the ones who I know that I’m gonna…that are gonna be walking alongside me for the next 10-20-30 years. I’ve met my best, my closest friend with it. So it’s been a really sweet way to be practical.

I mean, even just this week, Joe, we had a gal who was attacked and her face has been deformed. We’ve been able to just meet her, rally around her in prayer, help meet practical needs that she’s dealing with. Just all kinds of stuff that we had to face and just realize real life goes on. Being able to meet those needs has been really honoring. This feels like the kingdom, you know. This feels like what we signed up for.

Joe: What a great image of the church and gathered around the table and supporting one another in practical ways and spiritual ways and physical and emotional ways. Wow, what a blessing and what a great image of the kingdom, exactly that you’ve created there.

Tiffany: It’s a sobering thing to realize that there’s several women, as I’ve gotten to know them one-on-one, maybe their husband doesn’t want to go to church and so they feel shame showing up to church on a Sunday by themselves. But they’ll go to Sip because, “My husband’s not invited. It’s women only. He doesn’t shame me for going because it’s not something I want to drag him to.”

It’s been really eye-opening. For so many women, Sip is their church and I’m their shepherd. And I’m like, Oh, my gracious, this is…this is…it comes in all ways, doesn’t it? People finding their place in the kingdom in all ways.

Joe: You mentioned how a series at Sip kind of informed your first book. You have a new book coming out called She Dreams. What was the inspiration for that book?

Tiffany: Do you really want to know, Joe? Do you really want to know?

Joe: I think so.

Tiffany: Well, I’m so passionate about women working through their baggage, working through their struggles to get to a place of solid ground with the Lord so that they can walk in the dreams that God has called them to.

Two reasons why I felt called to write a hundred thousand words on this, between the book and Bible study.

First, because I was teaching at a women’s retreat and we were working through the story of Joseph. So many of this room, anywhere between 30, 40, 50s, many of them had sacrificed what they felt the dream that they always wanted to do for the right now. So many of us we feel like we have to sacrifice a big dream for the practical responsibilities of the season.

The truth is, I think, that there’s a part of our dream that we can always manifest no matter what road we walk down. So even if it’s not the big dream of being a singer/songwriter, how will there be opportunities along the way that that can still come to pass. I think that we feel like once we have to sacrifice the dream there’s no way God would give us a new one, or there’s no way God would resurrect an old one, because of the life choices or because of the sacrifices we’ve made in their lives.

I had a group of women just weeping as we read the story of Joseph, that God would still be so faithful to a man who was confident in the faithfulness of God. It was just a beautiful moment to realize that no matter what happens, no matter what we’ve gone through, it’s not our deficiency, and it’s not the breaking of us in our past and in journey.

The hard parts that disqualify us from our dream, they could well be the making of us. They could well be the things that give us a voice, and give us a vision to dream even bigger dreams because of the hard things we’ve walked through perhaps they were the best training ground to see our dreams come true. Because without the hard parts of our story we may never have the tenderness or compassion to see that dream come to pass in a way that would affect people so positively.

Sitting with those women and the various times I’ve had the opportunity to sit with women, dreams are a tender subject, Joe. Dreams are a real tender subject, especially if a woman dropped out of school to raise her kids or if she gave up something to take a better paying job or she felt like her dreams are indulgent. For many of us we feel like that is…that’s childish to go after our dreams because there’s so much we have to get done. Then you know we’re crying ourselves to sleep because we feel like we missed it. We love everything going on in our lives, but there’s something missing.

I just believe that everyone was built to dream. Nobody has to sit on the bench for this one. Every woman gets skin in the game.

Joe: Joseph is a great model of that, as I heard you say. He had those dreams early on, and there were many opportunities along the way where he could of just kind of chucked it all and just said, Maybe I was wrong about what I had seen earlier, what I had seen in the dreams. And that idea of persevering seems to be something that you’re kind of latching onto to help women continue to dream.

Tiffany: And there’s countless biblical heroes who demonstrated this so well for us of just even their beginnings were not what we would think would be the making of a great dreamer, making of a great prophet or priest or king. But it was. It was.

In She Dreams, in the study portion of it, I highlight Moses and how nobody would expect a little guy born a crime in a time of genocide would be the right fit to lead a mass exodus of over a million people out of Egypt to freedom from slavery. But he was. He was.

His situation and his eventual knowledge of what it meant to be a royal and having access to the best professors, educators, teachers and religious leaders of Egyptian culture. He had access to all that. He knew the Egyptian culture in and out, but also he had a bleeding heart for his people that he share DNA with. That he shared a bloodline with.

There’s reluctancy, and there’s bound to be fear and doubt in our dreams. But as you said and as I very much point out in the book and the study, perseverance plays a huge role in that.

Why can we persevere? Because God is for us and he’s with us along the way.

Countless times when Moses was fearful. “Oh, God, I can’t do this. I can’t keep going on. I can’t…I can’t do this.” God reminds Moses, “I will be with you. I will be with you, Moses. I will go before you, Moses. Do not fear. I will be with you.”

Joe: Yeah.

Tiffany: Just this reminder that whatever the dream may be, we’re not alone as we pursue it.

Joe: In the book you talk about some practices we can do to help nurture our dreams. Can you share a couple of those and how those work to help us moving forward?

Tiffany: Absolutely. I am so passionate about this.

A little back story on me. I grew up in a youth ministry that was just life-transformational, and gave me in my teen years practices that I have carried on to this day. Obviously, they’ve matured and modified in ways but, as I sat down to write this book I couldn’t help but think of the seeds that were planted, you know, 15, 20 years ago, that really helped me become the dreamer I am today. And it helped me continue to dream.

So let me… A few practices that I want to highlight.

One is really just a kind of meditation. I know that might seem something your listeners have heard over and over again. But it bears repeating, Joe. It really bears repeating. Because through meditation, just spending time in the Word, God’s faithfulness and presence, becomes our confidence. We are not boasting or believing that we can accomplish things in our own right. It’s because of the goodness and the gracious presence and sovereignty of Jesus in our lives. That is why we can see dreams accomplished. That is why heaven can come to earth. Because so many of our dreams are gonna be a blessing to the people around us. So if we can meditate, if we can be in his Word, I think that’s a great place to see who God is and his nature.

Because so many of us, we don’t decide who Jesus is when we’re sitting in the pew and the person behind the pulpit is talking. So many of us decide when we’re alone. Whether we’re working through the dark times, or whether we’re working through the hard times, it’s in those moments when we’re questioning who God is, what can he be to me? What can he accomplish in my life? What do I owe to him? What is this relationship gonna look like? Where is it there room to grow? It happens, I believe, when we meditate on his word and we discover his nature. I feel like it’s just the first way we can really get alone with him.

Another way, I think, is just finding a mentor. No matter what age or stage of life we’re at, I think we can easily feel like, ‘Oh, I don’t know somebody in my world or life who I can reach out to and spend time with,’ but for many of us we are who we are today because of the people who’ve spoken into us.

We’ve heard it said that we are the sum our five closest friends. We are kind of the sum of them. And I think the same could be said…. We are the product of the five people who’ve spoken into us, the five people who’ve mentored us and discipled us. We take a little bit of them along with us. Really sitting at their feet.

One of the ways that’s been really profound in my life… When I was in high school I was part of a little bit larger youth ministry. I joined…a student leadership team where we would read leadership and ministry books and books by theologians and scholars and understanding the scriptures. It was really powerful.

We’d write papers sometimes on them. We’d have discussions on them. We had opportunities to lead in small ways and in big ways. It was really beautiful. It really gave me a taste…a taste to love people, to really serve people, and understanding the power of leadership in the way that means you can serve people and that’s never a waste of time.

So one way that my youth pastor really gave me an opportunity. He saw that I had the gift of communication, and that would most likely play a large role in my future career and days. I remember one time on our weekend services of not just our youth ministry but our church at large, they were presenting a sermon on the power of the gospel to transform every generation. And so it was the senior pastor and the youth pastor. And then they picked somebody else to be the third person, and that third point that would make this message. And they chose me.

Joe: Wow.

Tiffany: I remember believing…even in that time…. I’m an immigrant East Indian woman. I was 17. And it had such a profound impact that … you don’t have to be the right color, the right gender, of the right socio-economic background to be worthy of being discipled, to be worthy of being mentored. You don’t have to be the shiniest, brightest, whip-smart person in the group.

Everyone deserves to have somebody calling out greatness. Everyone deserves to have somebody pointing out areas that they could grow, pointing out areas that they could find Christ in greater ways.

Moses had his father-in-law Jethro, and I think all of us, not only do we need it, we deserve it. I think that we’ll be better for it.

That’s a great practice in our lives to humble ourselves and share our lives vulnerably with another who could invite greatness and invite us to live differently and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. I think that’s another part of meditation, mentorship and

I think a practice that is…. Maybe…. I would teach it as a practice, Joe, risk taking. I think that in our faith and I think especially now so many of us don’t want to be loud about maybe a conviction we have because we will be demonized by it or we may be ostracized by it. But I can only imagine how Dr. King felt. I can only imagine how Joan of Arc felt when they were ostracized by a conviction that they believed God had stirred in them.

So in our time and space and day, I think that when we take risks in our dreams because we know someone else might be blessed, someone else might be encouraged. We have no idea who is watching us. We’ve no idea who’s watching our lives lived well, our lives well dreamt. So I think if we can be willing to take risks and, again, not knowing who’s watching, but knowing that if God is for us, then we can take some calculated risks.

We can take some calculated risks, if he’s leading and if we are listening, if we’re not going on, “Thus saith the Tiffany” or “Thus saith the Joe,” but “Thus saith the Lord.” If he is speaking into us, then speaking into our dreams, we’re making room for him, then we can take risks.

I think so many of us fall short because we so fear failure, and failure could be the gift at that point because there’s so much to learn in failure. That could be the next right step.

I think that there’s room for risk-taking. And so many of us avoid that. And we wonder why things never, never come to pass in our lives. Perhaps it could be because we failed to have a practice of calculated prayer, prayerfully-led risk taking

Joe: That idea of failure, I think is really interesting because we do often fear failure. But the two examples that you brought up biblically, and you can do this with pretty much every Bible character that you can think of. There’s a point of them not doing things exactly the way they were supposed to be done. Joseph had failures. Moses had his failures. Abraham.

But in the end of it God is able to use not only the things that we’ve done the way he would have liked us to, but also the things that maybe didn’t go exactly as he planned, and uses those to his glory as well. So I think that’s a great…. What a great practice and something I’m not good at, and I want to get better at. So I really appreciate you mentioning that today.

Tiffany: My pleasure.

Joe: On Get Your Spirit in Shape we like to talk about some new ideas which we consider the spiritual nutrition and we also talk about spiritual exercises and the things that we do that help keep our spirits in shape. What’s something that you do that helps keep you close to God?

Tiffany: Oh, I love that question. It’s beautiful.

You know what I do that’s really… so life-giving to me and I really believe it’s life-giving to other people. Once a week, I like to just take some time and sit with the Lord, and invite him to bring people to mind that I should be praying for, somebody…. You know, I might not know the details of what’s going on in their lives, but they might… But God does. And so I just like to take some time and…. I have a rule that in that moment…. It’s a very active prayer time. In that moment, whoever he brings to mind I have to send them a text, a little word I’m praying for them. Maybe it’s a passage. Maybe it’s a word of encouragement, a word of inspiration. Whatever it is…whoever he brings to mind, “Lord, who needs an encouragement from you today? Who needs to hear from you today? And I hear from you, how can I be a blessing to those around me?”

I think of a gal recently that I texted and she was going through some stuff She had a minute alone, and she was in a moment of fear, of feeling like—she wants to be a momma so bad, and she’s had a really hard journey to do that, and had lost a baby—just a moment of fear, and just encouraging her. I remember the text that said, “You are precious in his sight. The baby that you’ll have is precious in his sight.” She got that. And she had had some tests run the day before. And she was nervous because she hadn’t had the results. She kept checking her phone because she was waiting for these test results from her doctor. Instead, she got my text.

She said, “Man, your timing was perfect. It was a moment that I was fearful and waiting for this.” We don’t know what people are going through, but just making room to be a conduit, making room to be a vessel. That’s something that has been powerful for me. And as I’ve been present and spend my time in the presence that’s a way I can be an encouragement. That’s a way I’ve kept my spirit in shape because you have to have such a…such a quiet, quiet spirit and such a strong ear to hear as he’s speaking in those moments.

Joe: I really love that. One of the things I hear in your ministry…one of the themes I’m hearing in your ministry is that it’s very relational. You make a lot of connections with people from the days of going into the strip clubs, through Sip and through texting people because they come to mind. I love that. That’s an important part of our spiritual journeys, to be connected to other people of faith and to be the mentor or to be mentored by them. What a wonderful ministry that you have.

I’m really looking forward to She Dreams and all the wonderful things that are in store for that. We’ll put links on the website so that people can find it and pre-order it and be able to get it and possibly have a study in their church with the Bible study materials that are coming along with it.

Thank you so much, Tiffany. This has been just a wonderful conversation. Thank you.

Tiffany: Oh, thank you, Joe. Bless you.

Epilogue

Joe: That was author, speaker and podcaster Tiffany Bluhm. What a joy it was to talk with her, and what an inspiration she continues to be.

Her latest book She Dreams: Live the Life You Were Created For comes out February 5 and is available for preorder now at http://www.tiffanybluhm.com.

For more information about Tiffany, you can also come to UMC.org/podcasts and find the page for this episode of Get Your Spirit in Shape where we’ve posted some helpful links. You will also find links to more podcasts you might enjoy.

Remember that you can always write me your thoughts, comments and ideas for Get Your Spirit in Shape. We would also love to have you review Get Your Spirit in Shape on Apple Podcasts. Good reviews move us up in searches and help people find us.

Thanks for listening, downloading and subscribing. I’ll be back soon with another conversation to help us keep our souls as healthy as our bodies. I’m Joe Iovino. Peace.