Is It Time to Give Up Your Ordinary?

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By Lucinda Secrest McDowell

She could not have been more ordinary.

Gladys was also a poor student and had quit school by age fourteen. She grew up to be a London parlor maid with few prospects. But then God got hold of her heart and after hearing about the needs in China, she was determined to serve Him there.

Only no mission board would accept her.gladys_aylward

In 1929 China Inland Mission declared she was not qualified and her educational background was too limited. So Gladys Aylward decided to reserve a one-way train ticket to China and every month made a small payment to the travel agency. By age thirty, she was on her way, not knowing where, what or with whom she would minister, but determined to serve God.

Through a miraculous journey across Russia and many war zones, Gladys arrived in this very foreign country, ready to take on the world. Years later she said: “I had two childhood heartaches: 1. Everyone else had golden curls and I had short dark hair 2. Everyone else kept growing but I stopped at four foot ten inches. I always wished things were different. But when I got off the train in China I was shocked to discover that everyone else around me was short with dark hair. I was home.”

Gladys’ first mission was at “The Inn of the Eight Happinesses” where she watched over orphans and had a government job of inspecting feet to help educate women on the new law banning foot binding. This gave her an ‘in’ with the community and from then on, she became one of them.

By the time war came, she had adopted several children and bravely escorted hundreds of orphans safely across the mountains and the Yellow River. Throughout the Shanxi Province there were churches and believers when she finally left China.

An ordinary woman living an ordinary life? Perhaps. But her story became a bestselling biography by Alan Burgess – “The Small Woman.” And none other than screen star Ingrid Bergman (who was definitely not short) played Gladys Aylward in the Hollywood movie “Inn of the Sixth Happiness.”

Gladys gave up her ordinary and left a legacy of faith and transformed lives.

Our God specializes in such things — taking an ordinary person and doing extraordinary things through them. Peter and John, for instance.

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4.13) People were amazed by these men and marveled that “they were unschooled, ordinary men.” What was the deciding factor that catapulted them into the extraordinary?

“These men had been with Jesus.” And it showed. The very act of drawing close to the Lover of their souls had changed them and empowered them.

What could an ordinary person do if we spent more time with Jesus? Short, dark haired parlor maid Gladys gives us one answer.

What will your story reveal?

September is traditionally a time when most of us pull out our calendars, prayer journals and Bibles – asking God to show us where to invest our time and energies this fall. We pray that we will say ‘yes’ to those endeavors that enhance our season and our calling. And that we will have the courage to say ‘no’ to those often tempting opportunities that, while good, are not God’s best for our current limits and responsibilities.

Is it harder for you to say ‘yes’ or harder to say ‘no?’ For those who hold back, may I encourage you to believe that though you may feel “ordinary,” God in you can accomplish extraordinary things – as you spend time with Him. And for those who jump ahead too quickly and tend to overload, my prayer is that you will learn to let go of a need for external affirmation and draw close to the One who knows you best and loves you most.

I truly believe He will use each of us in Kingdom work this fall – both within and without. Here in New England and beyond. May we be like Gladys Aylward and never stop offering hope to a broken world.

Receive God’s benediction over you as you begin a new fall season: My child, you may feel ordinary and nothing special, but I assure you that, to Me, you are uniquely gifted for the life I have planned. As you live out your story on the stage of human reality, you will be supernaturally empowered for extraordinary kingdom work. And others will notice that you are pointing to Me.

©2016 Lucinda Secrest McDowell

Adapted from “Dwelling Places – Words to Live in Every Season” by Lucinda Secrest McDowell, Abingdon Press, 2016 

lucinda-mcdowellLucinda Secrest McDowell is passionate about embracing life — both through deep soul care from drawing closer to God, as well as living courageously in order to touch a needy world. A storyteller who engages both heart and mind, she offers “Encouraging Words” to all on the journey. A graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Furman University, Cindy is the author of twelve books, including Dwelling Places, Live These Words, Refresh!, Amazed by Grace, Quilts from Heaven and Role of a Lifetime. Whether co-directing “reNEW ~ retreat for New England Writing,” ( mentoring young moms, or leading a restorative day of prayer, she is energized by investing in people of all ages. Cindy’s favorites include tea parties, good books, laughing friends, ancient prayers, country music, cozy quilts, musical theatre, and especially her family scattered around the world doing amazing things. She writes from “Sunnyside” cottage in New England and blogs weekly at