Fulfilling God-Sized Dreams
By Susan Vanselow
How often have you thought, “This just doesn’t make any sense?” How many times have you been on a path that seemed solid and, suddenly, the earth rumbled and the path beneath your feet was destroyed? How do you summon the strength and courage to find the path again and fulfill the dream God asked of you?
Anita Carman, founder and president of Inspire Women, a ministry in Houston, Texas, that educates and equips women from across ethnicities, denominations, and economic levels to serve in missions and ministry, is no stranger to those feelings. Anita grew up in 1960s Hong Kong, when it was still under British rule. In the midst of Communist uprisings, she clung to her mother as a place of safety.
Then, Anita experienced a devastating emotional upheaval when she lost her mother at the age of 17 to suicide. “I felt abandoned by the only person in the world I trusted,” she said. “Relationships forged in crisis situations are abnormally intense. I was forever trying to fill that missing person in my heart.” Thankfully, Anita knew God and began turning to Him.
Shortly after her mother’s death, Anita and her older sister moved to the United States. During that time, Anita put her full trust in God. “I was doing well with just God and me until He entrusted me with building a ministry that required overcoming all my vulnerabilities.”
Like many of us, Anita’s vulnerabilities had deep roots. “With my mom’s suicide, I always felt rejected,” she admitted. “I don’t handle rejection well.” God further put her vulnerabilities to the test when He put her in the field of theology — a dramatic change from the corporate world where she had thrived.
In 2003, Anita left the College of Biblical studies at Dallas Theological Seminary to launch Inspire Women, a ministry which had zero in the bank, no infrastructure, but had a clear vision from God to come alongside women who had no means to be educated and trained for ministry. In this new field, Anita was doing the work God led her to pursue, but found herself “surrounded by leaders who don’t always believe in the potential of women… I faced rejection often.” God, ever-loving and encouraging, gave Anita a spiritual mentor who journeyed on the path with her for 12 years, providing daily prayer coverage and accountability.
But the ground buckled again when Anita learned her mentor had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Once again, Anita found herself questioning, trying to make sense of the heartbreaking news. “I felt the same fear as when I lost my mom,” she stated. Anita was at a terribly rough spot and felt like she couldn’t move ahead to complete the path God had set her on with Inspire Women. At the same time, she realized that she needed to finish the dream, and that is when she wrote her latest book Making Sense of Your Life – Breakthroughs to Finish the Dream.
“God used it to heal my heart,” Anita explains. “He took me to the book of John to learn from the disciple who doted on Jesus, but was able to keep going when Jesus was no longer physically present. In studying the beginning chapters, I discovered seven principles that helped me find my passion again.”
To date, Inspire Women has reached over 23,000 women and has invested over $1 million dollars in scholarships, biblical resources, and ministry grants to empower God’s servant leaders to step into their divine appointments to accomplish their dreams.
Just Between Us had the opportunity to catch up with Anita and find out just where God has taken her and Inspire Women.
JBU: How did your personal tragedy motivate you to reach out to God and learn how to triumph over life’s struggles?
Anita: I had no one but God. After my Mom’s suicide, I was uprooted from my own country and became a student in a different country. I begged God to carry me through my loneliness and to give me a purpose that no human or event could rob from me. King David spoke of never being shaken. I begged God to get me to a place where I would never be shaken again!
JBU: What encouragement do you have for women in tragic situations?
Anita: When we were in our mother’s womb, God was there. Though we may not have known Him, He knows us. He has a plan for our lives. Life is not so much a question of finding ourselves, but finding God. It is a question of discovering what God has already designed. When we find His purpose, we then understand how our uniqueness and gifts fit into what God is accomplishing. It’s like a dramatic play that unfolds. The light is on us. Here’s our cue! Most people miss their cues and they never realize they were in the middle of a divine appointment.
JBU: Your life is a testament of fulfilling God-sized dreams. How do we do this?
Anita: God-sized dreams are not man-made, they are God designed. No one volunteers for a God-sized dream. If you find yourself coming up with a plan, the dream is too small. When God chooses to confront a situation, He is a big thinker. When He looks at you, He already knows your background. He is not asking you for your resume, He is asking you to be a servant He can trust. If you can be committed enough to do whatever it takes, that is what God wants. You can’t give what you don’t have. You can only give God your loaves and fishes. But most people hide their loaves because they don’t really trust God. In order to fulfill God-sized dreams, you need to be able to trust.
JBU: How did you learn to cultivate a daily dependence on God?
Anita: I learned that unless you have a God-sized goal, you won’t feel the need to go to your knees. So whenever I find myself being too casual, it’s usually because I have forgotten God’s command to reach the world. When my goals are God-sized, I need daily guidance to help achieve those goals.
JBU: How did you deal with your fears as you fulfilled God-sized dreams?
Anita: I reminded myself that this is God’s dream, and He is fully able to finish the dream. The question is whether I will finish with Him, but God provides trust and strength.
JBU: What does it mean to serve in God’s power verses your own?
Anita: It means being a holy vessel and not allowing anything unholy in my life that will block God’s spirit from working.
JBU: In your first book, you talk about women’s emotions. How did God help you overcome loneliness, rejection, and fear?
Anita: God reminded me I was the daughter of a King. A King’s daughter follows a royal family code of behavior. I don’t have the luxury to be an emotional basket case. It is not fitting for one who comes from royalty!
JBU: Why is it so important that women overcome loneliness, rejection, and fear to maximize their impact in their life and world?
Anita: Our emotions can control us and God wants His Spirit to control us. God wants us to live by faith according to His Word. This is a choice, not a feeling.
JBU: Where do women in ministry go to find support and help in a safe environment when they are struggling?
Anita: The sad truth is, it’s not always safe to go to one’s own church because the gossip mill is dangerous. I have known few people who can keep things in confidence. It’s not that people are inherently bad—we are simply a flawed people saved by God’s grace.
When I’ve been struggling, God has been my counselor. His Word has been my counseling manual. In addition, God has given me mentors I can trust. But before you trust a mentor, you need evidence of faithfulness in their lives.
JBU: How does God transform us into a suitable vessel for His purpose?
Anita: God tests us by our trials. The more we bleed for God, the surer we become of the cause. It’s hard to bleed for a cause you don’t believe in!
JBU: How do we rise above our emotions and respond in the way that we should to difficult circumstances?
Anita: By going to God’s Word, finding parallel situations, and asking the question, “How did my faith siblings respond?” Then say, “let me go and do likewise as a member of the family.” Every time I follow the examples God has given me, I affirm my identity as one related to God.
JBU: How do we let God shape our emotions to guard and fulfill God’s purpose?
Anita: We let God conform our mind to the mind of Christ. We discipline ourselves so we do not think things that do not align with God’s character. We ask God to stop the lies so we don’t recycle old tapes and wrong self images. We choose what and how we think.
JBU: Are there some specific principles you adhere to when fulfilling God’s dreams?
Anita: I ask myself, “Am I operating as a holy vessel?” If there is bitterness or resentment, or any unforgiveness, then I am not ready yet to make a decision. Let every decision be made with a heart of a vessel totally surrendered to God.
JBU: What has been your greatest personal breakthrough?
Anita: To realize that life is more than what I do in my lifetime; it’s what I leave behind so those who come after me can do greater things. I have a responsibility to not just this, but future generations.
JBU: Tell us about a time when you were weary, burnt-out, facing failure, and ready to give up. What did you do? Who did you talk to? How did God intervene?
Anita: I talk to friends like Jill Briscoe, one of my mentors, whose work is harder than mine. Then I stopped bellyaching. God also intervenes by sending me what I need. I have said to God, “I just need to know you are still working through me. I don’t want to presume that you want to keep using me. Just show me your choice.” Then I see God do miraculous things to show me He still wants me to hold the staff that parts the waters.
JBU: How do you keep yourself fed spiritually?
Anita: I talk to God a lot—an awful lot! He is my lifeline.
JBU: Tell us about a remarkable woman you have met through your ministry.
Anita: Pam (fictitious name) was a single parent with one son. Her son contracted AIDS during a blood transfusion. After she lost her son to AIDS, Pam appealed to Inspire Women to complete a master’s degree in cross-cultural ministry. She then went to Africa to teach God’s Word in the villages where she met many families who have lost children to AIDS. She is just one of many women whose stories showcase how God transformed their suffering into a ministry to share His comfort with the world.
JBU: How do you balance your personal life and ministry life?
Anita: I love escaping into other people’s stories through movies. My friends and family know that when it’s a marathon movie night, it’s my way to disappear into someone else’s world.
JBU: How do you balance your personal life and your family with such a dynamic and demanding ministry?
Anita: I don’t assume what my husband or my children need from me. Instead, I ask them and conserve my energy by doing only what they need from me. My kids were given the opportunity to choose for God at an early age. So it’s not like Mom is in ministry and they are spectators. Instead, we lead the family as a family to determine how we will all sacrifice. I think sometimes women put a lot of pressure on themselves to create an idyllic world for their children. It’s like they don’t want the kids to suffer. God taught me that it’s okay for my kids to learn to sacrifice. For example, we tell them the implications of our choices. We say we don’t get to go on vacation because the ministry needs funds. Their attitude as always, “That’s okay, Mom, let God have the money. We’ll just do fun things around here.” Family and ministry became one by giving God priority.
JBU: Your latest book, Making Sense of Your Life: Breakthrough to Finish the Dream, was just released. What inspired you to write this book?
Anita: I was grieving the loss of a mentor and didn’t want to continue the mission without her. I observed the Apostle John who doted on Jesus kept going even after Jesus ascended into heaven. So I wanted to learn what John understood about life described in John 4:14 as a “spring of water welling up to eternal life.” By the time I finished the book, I found seven tangible principles that renewed my passion to keep going.
JBU: Do you have specific goals for Inspire Women for 2012?
Anita: We operate with an overall vision and then we let God show us the need. We respond as His servants of mercy. For instance, because the women asked for affordable materials they could share with others, I wrote Making Sense of Your Life – Breakthroughs to Finish the Dream. When the book launched in November, we distributed over 2,100 copies in one day. I never imagined God would use my writing as biblical resources. I see God opening doors for me to be on the radio daily and to speak at women’s and leadership events. I have learned to say, “Here I am God. Use anything.” God decides if, how, and when He will use your gifts. We will continue to focus on the overall objective to reach women across ethnicities and to invest in the potential of others, but we make ourselves available to be surprised by God.
JBU: What makes your heart sad or brings tears to your eyes when you think about what needs to be done in today’s world, particularly in women’s lives?
Anita: When a woman doesn’t know what dreams she has because no one ever gave her permission to dream. It breaks my heart to see women abused, oppressed, or belittled. I ask myself, “What would happen if we awakened the gifts in the other half of the church? What if all women were empowered to change the world with God’s message and mercy?” This is at the heart of what motivates me – to help women fulfill the dream God has for their lives.
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