Radical Simplicity and a Beautiful, Messy Life

Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is a lie. (And Grace is the Truth)

Nobody pulls themselves up by their bootstraps

I was a new wife and mom, still feeling the sting of the uglier turns in my own story of grace, desperate to connect with other mom's in my church. I sat at a 16 dollar breakfast buffet I couldn't afford and listened as they talked about pool cleanings and dealer warranties and other things that didn't mean much to me and my young one-income family.

The conversation turned to homelessness, and together the table of otherwise godly women spoke harshly of homeless people in our own town, of friends and neighbours who were struggling with poverty, mental health issues, broken relationships and substance abuse. Why can't they just pick themselves up by their bootstraps and act right, like so-and-so did? And why should they get free help when everyone else had to earn their way. I cringed inside, and then I cried.

I explained through tears that I've been the sin scarred addict making bad choice after bad choice. Their harsh words were directed at me.

I've learned a lot since that day at the overpriced buffet. I've learned that I must speak with grace to the graceless or else I quickly become a hypocrite. I've learned that sometimes people speak from their culture and not their hearts. I've learned not to cry at fancy restaurants, for the most part. And I've learned to forgive. But I still cringe when I hear the word "bootstraps."

Our culture values independence, self sufficiency. Any need for people, community, help is seen as weakness.

But we are a God-sufficient people. And he made us to need each other. The truth is, not one of us has fixed ourselves. None of us have pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps.

The self-made man is a lie. You and I? We had people who spoke life giving words of love and encouragement into us. Or maybe we had people who picked us up when we fell down, set boundaries, challenged us, invited us in, prayed for us. We are all broken, sin-scarred people. The fact that our own struggles and hurts and choices haven't left us on the sidewalk in desperate need is the grace of God in our lives, not our own doing.

We are a people of grace. Scandalous, unfathomable grace. We have received something infinitely better than what we deserve. And we don't receive things so abundantly from the hand of God so that we can hoard them up. We receive so that we can give away. That includes grace.

We are the bootstraps. If our brothers and sisters in this world are to lift themselves up out of poverty or despair or homelessness or addiction or any difficulty by their bootstraps, then you and I need to be the bootstraps. The something sturdy to hold on to, the friend who forgives, the warm place to turn, the physical help, the emotional support, the 3 am phone call and the spare change in the bucket. Let us be the bootstraps.

Not because we have it all together. Not because we have it all figured out. But because there are people who have been, and still are, that support in our own lives. Because we had bootstraps when we needed them most.

Because ultimately there is no "us" and "them", just people experiencing poverty in different areas of their life in this broken world. We are all in need.

And because it is in a community of open need that we find Christ moving among us.

Friends, this is what we need to know about bootstraps: it is impossible to stand up holding onto the loops on the backs of your boots. But in community, together, we do the impossible everyday. When we stand together with one another we create the space where miracles happen and lives are changed. We become the bootstraps.

Let's lift one another up.

Will you take a moment to follow me on facebook, twitter, or instagram? And thank you for reading my words, I'm honoured.


  1. Kelly, your raw honesty and truth calls to the innocence and fairness in each one that reads this. Please continue sharing your honesty and truth. Keep reminding us that we are all bootstraps and we can pull each other up! Write on girl! xoxo

    1. Thanks so much, Heather, for your kind and encouraging words!

  2. Kelly, I just found your blog through Micah. Wow. You write what's on my heart. Thank you for your words!

  3. Kelly, your thoughts are amazingly eloquent, insightful, and cut-to-the-quick grace-filled. You don't know me in fact, but your story says otherwise. You've got a new follower, promoter, and friend. Keep up the good, hard work of loving.

  4. i just read through it..... i am not sure what to say...... I am someone who is really socially isolated due to lack of social skills, which also made me an easy target for bullying due to the fact it is obviously i don't have any friends, hence i have less social capital..... On top of it, i have discovered over and over again in the most painful when one does not have social capital, people have more social capital often use slander as a weapon against you, you literally could not defend yourself and in mine experience, i was never given a chance to give my side of the events or defend myself..... I don't know how to describe it, it is like your hands are tied and having the crap beaten the crap out of you all the while being treated like you deserved it..... It is like recently i attended this church, i was new there. Half way through, i cast mine eyes down (it had nothing to do with him and his sermon) he saw that, sure enough, he shot vindictive glare in mine direction every chance he get. At first i tried to act normal and even clapped every time other started doing so. Vindictive people will be vindictive people when they are in power. He still does it every chance. In the past, when this happens, you often get people in the audience who want to take up the cause and "punish" the perceive offender, including resort to slander.... At one point i finally had enough with that pastor, so yes, i give him a quick middle finger and stopped clapping for him, and people like him DESERVED it. I hate people like him who think he is entitled to behave in a way that will encourage bullying on the part of his groupies, who think he is entitled to keep being disrespectful towards others other an misunderstanding that the other person already attempted to clear up..... Sure enough one of this groupies did take up the cause.... not only that, once his buddy pastor got to the front, he took up on this buddy's cause and shot vindictive glare in mine direction. As i was walking out of the church that night, 3 people from that church literally blocked mine way and made me walk around them as i was trying to get out.

    may God repay them in full and more. i have been destroyed more than once by this type of behaviors.

    anyway, i am getting off track here...

    I think this is just the way it is, this is how the world works. for someone who is at rock bottom, which means power difference will always exist between them and those around them, you just have to learn to pick yourself up by your bootstrap with God's help. Alternatively, you can ask for help, but they will force you to do it on their own terms and stepped all over you...

    so i don't know, maybe one just have to ask God to give them the strength to endure all the mistreatment with a smile as the price one have to pay in order to pull themselves up, whoever says life is going to be fair right?

    before reading this article, i just read one where the pastor emphasize God may not bring justice in this life, very hurtful read for me...