Friday, August 12, 2016

That one time when I spoke at NYG about being single…

“Single and Almost 30. This could be you.”

Kids in the crowd go “awwww.”

“What?! Guys! It’s not THAT bad!”

We all giggled and had some fun as I shared several of the runner up titles for the session I led at the LCMS National Youth Gathering that was deemed, “In the Meantime: Singleness isn’t just Cat Ladies and Basement Dudes.”

It’s good to laugh. Especially about such a potentially sensitive topic, knowing that for high schoolers (and some adult leaders trying to keep a low profile), even choosing this session was risking awkwardness.

Several months ago, I thought “will anyone even come to a session on being single?”

A shocking response of “yes” from those attending, as well as so many people who have sent me emails, texts, and messages, saying they’re so glad the Church is talking about those among us who are not married. 

This may come as a surprise to you, but just-about-30 year old women don’t dream of speaking at a national conference about being single. It took me some time, good community, and God convincing me with the following reasons:
  1. I am so passionate about living a good, full story. Everyone is always waiting for something. I am committed to not wasting the gift of the meantime. Jesus’ promise to us for a life abundant, doesn’t come only in a velvet box attached to a ring. It’s for you and for me today. Right now.
  2. There is a lot of shame and awkwardness surrounding unmarried people in the church. The church doesn’t know what to do with us. Proof is in my hesitancy to want to have my face connected to this topic at NYG. But if putting myself out there and saying, “hey, life is good and I’m not even married!” Then maybe others will feel a bit more freedom, too. Jesus was single. We’re gonna be okay, people.
  3.  Unmarried people in the church, especially youth, cannot have “How I Met Your Mother” and “New Girl” as their only references for single life. Everyone will be unmarried for at least part of their life. We, as the church, must equip them to do that well.
We talked about a whole heap of things in those hour long sessions, but I’ve received some requests from folks asking for the jist. I’ll hit some highlights, with possible room for future unpacking. (If something resonates you want to hear more about, let me know.)

  1. Genesis 2:18 says, “it is not good for man to be alone.”
    1 Corinthians 7:1 says, “it is good for man not to marry.”

    Both are written, both are true.

    In a world designed for couples and families, from rides to phone plans, being uncoupled can feel like you’re wrong; not how and who you should be. Paul is responding to the inquiries of the unmarried and married people in Corinth who were trying to figure out how to navigate this very dynamic. Corinth being a success-driven society, where marriage and family was a pre-requisite for status, left the unmarried believers there lacking position or respect. On the other side of the spectrum, it was not uncommon for those married and unmarried alike to have unbridled sexual practices with numerous partners. The Christians in Corinth were seeking wisdom on how to approach such dynamics. Some tempted to abstain from physical intimacy, even in marriage, to not be tarnished by what was sometimes seen as a less than spiritual, carnal act. Paul brings clarity and lifts a burden of expectation for these people. You are okay. It’s good not to marry. It’s good to marry. It might even be better to not marry.

  2. Seek first his kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be added unto you. (Matthew 6:33) 
    This has been a pivotal passage in my life. I believe that God has made you and me on purpose, for a purpose. That purpose may be supported by, but isn’t defined by, whether or not you are married. Whether single for a season or your whole story, are you willing to seek God’s kingdom first, before even a spouse, and trust him to fill in the rest of the picture?

    This verse captures so well the heart of Paul’s message to the Corinthians and to all of us.

    And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. Don’t think I’m being harder on you than on the others. I give this same counsel in all the churches. (1 Corinthians 7:17, the Message)

    Singleness is a vocation or a calling, so is marriage. Paul’s encouragement is to be at peace wherever you find yourself, seek and serve the Lord in that place, and know that it is God who defines you, not your relationship status.

  3. There should be no singles in the Church. 
    The term “single” is the most commonly used to describe those who are unmarried. But there should never be anyone, married or not, living singly in the Church. (Dr. Paul Eddy has written and spoken so well on this.) We are all called to be part of this family, walking together in community. Faith is a team sport. Jesus wasn’t married, but never did he live singly. As it should be for each of us in the Body of Christ.


    Church:
     We have to be better about loving our unmarried friends. Please don’t try to pity us as if we are broken or assume we want to be fixed with your set ups. Don’t let “are you married” be the first question to ask new people. I truly believe that a big portion of the Church’s millennial problem is actual a single problem. We don’t know what to do with these generations that are not running to marriage as quickly as we expect. Women’s ministries that are completely geared toward being a mom and wife are of no appeal to me. I know it will come up because those are big pieces of many peoples’ lives that are important, but I think we also do these women a disservice solely talking in terms of these roles because their first identity is Jesus, too. We all need to be reminded of that,
    especially when the wife and mama or dad/husband days are in shambles.

    And seriously, the unmarried folks in the house can get down with the occasional sermon on marriage or parenting, but it should be complimented by, at least a portion, that addresses unmarried life. We can all stand to consider how to love people in these situations better, but going unacknowledged for a whole sermon series on marriage can be so invalidating. Paul says both are good. Let's get better at equipping folks to do both well.

    Church, here’s an easy idea to bless unmarried folks (or marrieds, too, for that matter): invite them over. Don’t feel weird that they might think your kids are crazy or that your life is lame. Ask about how life is. You’ll probably find it’s more similar to yours than you think. Help us not live singly, as people, not just as “singles.”

  4. Don’t wish away the vocation of time being unmarried. 
    I obviously understand the struggle, but I think it’s so funny sometimes that we profess, follow, and strive to be more like Jesus, except in his relationship status. I know it’s tough some days, but each day is a gift given to us by God, not to be wasted nor wished away. What unique ministry or blessing might he have prepared for you just where you are, as you are? I cannot believe that the “life abundantly” that Jesus promised in John 10:10 was only set apart for people with rings. Unmarried friends, please. Live good stories. Don’t wish away what you have right now. Serve your friends and family well. Serve your church. Be a loving adult to other peoples’ kids. Do cool stuff that matters. Have adventures. Don’t wish away where you are.

  5. Learn what good single living is from the One who made you. 
    I think about all the loud messages to unmarried folks these days. Either you’re lame and broken, destined for cats and video games, or you are an untamed party animal, free to drink up and hook up as much and as often as you’re able. Family and marriage is portrayed as a ball and chain to be avoided.

    All those things are so lacking in truth.
    We must first strive to seek Jesus and His Word, to understand further our relationship with him, that helps inform relationships with others. Understanding His design of the covenant of marriage and that sex is meant for that relationship. Understanding that He is the only perfect pursuer of our hearts and all others, even a spouse will fail in comparison.

    Unmarried friends, being unmarried isn’t an excuse to be unhealthy, immature, or irresponsible—physically, emotionally, spiritually, relationally. It’s an opportunity to focus more on health and healing in Jesus. We have space for more divine appointments with the Creator and pursuer of our hearts. This is a season to take advantage of that. Even as unmarried people, we are part of families and communities; called to invest well in people and not be lazy or selfish with our time and resources.

    Who do you have in your life that is encouraging you to live an abundant, God-honoring life, whether married or unmarried? How are you encouraging each other to trust what God says is best about living out your specific relationship vocation?

  6. Singleness or marriage is neither your name, nor your solution. JESUS IS.
    Repeat after me: a spouse is not a savior.
    One more time for good measure: a spouse is not a savior.
    There are hard things about being single. There are hard things about being married.Some of my married friends are more lonely now that I am. It is vital that we not idolize a relationship or singleness as our solution, but finding peace and value in Christ alone.
    The solution to our loneliness, our aches, our insecurities, isn't a spouse nor being single. It's Jesus.

  7. God doesn’t owe you anything. He already gave you Jesus.
    These words used to really sting me.

    “Are you sure you don’t owe me a husband, God? Because I kind of thought that was written in the deal somewhere…”

    Well, I’m hopeful that it could be part of my story, but I had to seriously ask myself, “when did Jesus stop being enough for you, Shelly, that you’re so desperately waiting for a husband?”
    And I had to stop and repent. Apologizing to a God who’s given me everything, including His Son and I’m still crabby that I don’t have more.

    It goes back to seeking Him and His Kingdom first, and really trusting that He will not withhold any good thing, but fill in the rest of the picture for me.

I could write a book just on the opportunities and conversations He’s given me to tell people they are loved by their Good Father through this speaking experience. Something that seemed so daunting became such a blessing.

  •  I am not saying marriage is bad or you shouldn’t pray for a spouse or date.
  • I am saying don’t wish away the season. Whether you’re single for a season or your story, life is a gift. God hasn’t forgotten you and his promise for life abundantly is yours in Jesus. You are not less whole or someone needing to be fixed. You are okay. We are okay.
  • I am saying you have a purpose regardless of your relationship status. You are enough and chosen by God long before you took your first breath. You were made on purpose, for a purpose. It is not a purpose that only matters if you have a ring. Don’t let the enemy tell you otherwise.
  •  I am saying don’t idolize relationship status. We do it too much—in the world and in the Church. Jesus doesn’t want to be in second place behind a significant other or your quest for freedom in singleness. He wants you. HE is the solution.


I believe that God writes the best stories. It’s one of the things I love about Him most. He’s writing yours and writing it well. Whether or not marriage is part of the narrative, it’s going to be an adventure and it’s going to be good, because Jesus offers nothing less.

Monday, July 4, 2016

ministry in the meantime: the honor of loving other peoples' kids

Today is an odd day. The 4th of July, yes, but today "meantime" takes on a whole different meaning. A year has already passed since our friend, Devin, went to be with Jesus; celebrating ultimate freedom.

In so many ways, we all live in a meantime. A meantime until reuniting with loved ones in heaven. A meantime before Jesus comes back, heals every possible break and sickness the world suffers, and breathes eternal resurrection for us.

But until that day, the meantime is also full of ache and loss. The longer we live, the more we experience death and devastation. Heartbreak abounds.

As I think about a life in professional ministry, in so many ways it's a life of walking through peoples' greatest joys and pains with them, reassuring them that the anchor holds steady regardless. In ministry to college students, this is highly concentrated. High highs, low lows, enthusiastic and excited hellos, and fearful, excited, and sad good-byes. Life is beautifully and richly intense in college and college ministry.

Today I'm grateful for that, because it means I got to know Devin well in just a year--as our student worker, one of our Nicaragua team leaders, a regular chapel musician, and a student I knew would always be up for taking someone else under his wing (his tutelage, as he might say). I'm grateful for these touch points that allowed me to walk with Devin, see God's incredible workmanship in him, and be able to give thanks for him with others on days like today.

Ministry and just life in general is full of heartbreak. Sometimes overwhelmingly so. We don't go through deep water alone, though. And I find it to be true that heartbreak only happens after love has already showed up. We ache because we've known something good, someone who mattered. It doesn't make the ache less, but it's given worth and honor as proof of love.

A few weeks after Devin had passed away, I got to go to a cookout at his mom's house. I was grateful to see Devin's home, all the photos she had, and the stories shared from family and friends through smiles and tears. Before I left, I told her how much of a gift her son was to me, to our Nica team, and to our campus community and that she would've been proud to see how he walked his daily life. I thanked her for welcoming us into her home and sharing her heart and her hospitality with us.

She simply responded, "thank you for loving my son."

My meantime is full of college relationship drama, tanking classes, mental health struggles, spiritual wandering, so much processing through fear, discussing career choices and poor choices, and so much showing up just to do life together, praying they see Jesus and how crazy about them He is. Most days are life giving as I escort students through transformation, and some days are just plain heavy.

However, I see all the meantime ache becomes worthwhile, when I am reminded what a privilege it is to walk with and love peoples' kids as they are trying out being adults. 

It's a life that truly is an adventure. Whatever your meantime adventure is, I pray you make it worth it and show up with love for people. People are the biggest and best adventures. I'm grateful our adventures crossed, Devin.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

rhythm, rest, & lessons from my brita pitcher.


I’ve been leading worship for some time now and of all the different aspects of playing and leading a song, tempo and rhythm can be one of the more difficult pieces for me.

Every worship leader has had those times where you’re either struggling to speed the band up or keep them from running away with a song. It’s frustrating and even if everything else is right, if the tempo and rhythm are off, it. Is. Off.

Rhythm is a major theme in my life, and I would argue all lives. Rhythm is in our design and it’s not just for musicians. Yes, friends who can’t clap along with songs, even you, were built with a rhythm.

The rhythm got set at the creation of the world. The Creation story in Genesis is a Hebrew poem. Even the story of God making everything carries a cadence. On the ____ day, God made _____ and it was good. Until day six, when the cadence is similar but hits a climax when people are made and get a “very good.” Then something remarkable happens.

There’s a break in the rhythm. The Trinity rests. God of all time and space who doesn’t need rest, does, to enjoy what They have made and to model the rhythm of rest They designed in us.
Have you ever thought of it that way? Even before the fall, God decided he should model rest and enjoyment because, even then, it would be easy to continue working. He was showing us how it was done and teaching us the value of enjoyment and the importance of rest.

In Matthew 11:28-30, Jesus is making a point about pace and rhythm.

Perhaps you’ve heard the verse, “Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest. … My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I appreciate the paraphrase of “The Message” with this passage.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

Jesus is using livestock imagery here. When a farmer would get a new work animal like an ox or donkey, he would pair the new, inexperienced animal with a more experienced one. Together, they would share a yoke, pulling the plow together and the older would teach the newer. Without the older animal, the young one would go too fast and burn out quickly, or they might get distracted and never get going. The experienced animal set a good pace and taught the younger a healthy rhythm that made the yoke easy and manageable.

This is what Jesus is talking about in this passage. We don’t have to carry heavy yokes, sprinting or struggling through life. He invites us into an unforced rhythm of grace; a steady, healthy cadence. (I’d recommend Judah Smith’s teaching on this, by the way.)

***

In recent months, I have discovered how very exhausted I am, frustrated at my inability to keep what I was failing to see as an incredibly high pace paired with even higher expectations.
I was leading a women’s retreat, out for a walk through some camp trails, talking to God. I told him how frustrating it was that I was trying to speak, teach, create worship experiences, walk alongside students, and it felt like I had nothing to give. It was like trying to squeeze water from a rock. And frankly, it made me really mad.

“God, you’ve given me all this to do for your Kingdom. Can ya help a sister out?!”

I got home that evening, thirsty from the day’s traveling. I open the fridge to find the Brita pitcher empty. As I filled it up in the sink and stood there waiting for it to filter down, anger welled up in me.

“This takes FOREVER. I don’t have TIME for this stupid pitcher. I’m thirsty and just WANT A DRINK OF WATER.”

Truth hit my heart like a 2x4.

“Yeah, it does take time to refill. You’re more empty than normal, so it takes even longer. But if you don’t wait and allow me time to fill you up, you’ll have nothing to pour out. Or you’ll try to rush before you’re filled and make a huge mess. Just. Be. Still. I’ll fill you up.”

In that moment, I realized how many lies I had been believing about my life, who I am, and who God is.

-That He’s asked me to keep this pace.
-That He’s expecting me to figure it all out on my own and I better not screw it up.
-That spending time with Him and in His Word was just another thing He wanted from me, instead of healing, watering, and provision for me; time spent with my Good Father.
-That I couldn’t stop my high speed living because if I did, my worth would decrease and I wouldn’t be wanted anymore.
-That my wounds and aches and exhaustion were just my cross to bear, so I better suck it up.

It became very clear that my rhythm needed a reset. I needed some spiritual shock paddles to jolt me back into the rhythm God had written in me.

So often, I see myself and others being victims of our own chaos. We all too easily accept that this is “just the way life is.” Well, it doesn’t have to be.
3DM’s Learning Circle has been a gift to me this past year. It’s an invitation to process what God is saying and it how might change our trajectory into further Gospel freedom and ministry. The circle gave me new eyes to see God’s invitation for me to rest and be filled up, to be intentional about living a healthy rhythm instead of just accepting an unhealthy pace.

In this process, I’ve realized I’ve walked through a lot of big things in the last few years, life transitions, some major ministry challenges, grief, and high life demands, without any real down time to breathe, process, heal, even figure out what’s hurt and what the next new step is. I have been in constant motion for so long trying to stay on top of work life, family and friend commitments, and still do some things that energize and fill me.

So for the past few weeks and the next few, the pace looks different. I’m taking more time and space to rest even more than normal, to actually both survey the damage and celebrate the journey been on, to schedule some doctors’ appointments and write some music. The learning circle has given me the gift of space to listen, reflect, and make a new better choice.

To zoom out and look at my calendar going forward, being intentional about what a healthy weekly and monthly rhythm look like, so I can make informed decisions that don’t empty my pitcher without adequate time to refill it. I desire to live in an unforced rhythm of grace, where my pitcher is regularly refilled and never scraping the bottom to fill someone else’s cup.

It’s time to listen to the rhythm and tempo God has set and follow his lead in keeping the song together.

Friday, March 4, 2016

encouragement. the word that sustains the weary.

“The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary.” Isaiah 50:4

This word has been rocking my world this week. Impressing on my heart that as person who follows Jesus, especially one who gets to do ministry professionally, this is my calling and prayer: to have a well-instructed tongue that speaks words to sustain the weary.

What a beautiful thought. And I think quickly, then, how often my tongue is a poor student, inattentive and careless. Heckling and heaping onto the weary more than sustaining them. How quickly we take the role of world critic and our words follow suit.

Encouragement has been heavy on my heart recently. Scripture has a lot to say about encouragement and names it as a significant purpose for our words. One of the main themes of Paul's letter to the Ephesians is urging the Body to encourage one another. To give others the strength to carry on for another day in a world that wears and beats down. To rebuild one another with love and truth that we wouldn’t wither under the hailstorm of lies, hits, and disappointments the world rains on us. I can think of a few people in my life whose conversations feel like a storm shelter. I leave lighter and more rested than before; a little more whole and bold to face the stuff of life. What a gift.

I think this is what Paul is writing about in Ephesians 4:29, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” 

Or Proverbs 16:24, "Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones."

These verses can be equal parts of convicting and empowering for me. Is my tongue being well-instructed and tamed? Is what I’m saying helpful, necessary, healing? Am I adding to someone’s insecurity or assuring them they are enough and loved despite their weaknesses?

Ultimately, am I person that’s created a place safe enough for people to share their insecurities because they trust I’ll join them in the battle of protecting what’s vulnerable?

Or do I tell people through what I say and how I say it that I will be eager to put on my critic hat at the first sign of messiness, mistakes, weird quirks, or totally uncool dance moves?

I truly believe one of the most important parts of my job of working with college students is helping them believe they’re awesome. Speaking it as often as possible to a weary, uncertain, awkward, shaky, powerful, and inspiring group of people. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Knit together well and on purpose. Not made to be afraid or insecure, but open, brave, and secure; dorky hobbies, weird dance moves, and all. You’re incredible and endearing. You should know it. I should tell you. We should tell each other.

At the end of the day, when I reflect on what the past hours have held, I’ve lately asked, “have you done more building or demo today?” Have you found more flaw than art in those who bear God’s image around you? Or have you simply left a masterpiece ignored and unaddressed?

I’m not suggesting you just run up and down the sidewalks screaming compliments or telling strangers you think they’re awesome, but I mean, that could probably be pretty powerful, too. I’m merely asking this: do those around you get more beat up or built up by the hammer that is your words?
  • If that’s a convicting question, know you are forgiven and invited into a life to the full by a Savior who believed you were worth it at your most weary and worn place. I believe there's a reason God gave us a means of grace that is a meal which must physically touch and go through our mouth; a part of us in constant and desperate need of healing and redemption. God spoke you into creation with his words and saved you in the saying of, "it is finished" and "he is risen."
  • If you answer as one whose been neutral, neither tearing down or building, that’s alright. Sometimes silence is a great idea. “Shut-mouth grace,” as a friend of mine would call it, keeps us from saying things that are less than helpful. But sometimes we withhold the encouragement we hold in our hearts and minds for others. As if brilliant colored paints were meant to stay tucked in a drawer instead of adding life and courage to an on-going work. And other times, encouragement and truth with love isn’t comfortable, but still begs to be spoken, lest we let a masterpiece be ruined by cuts of lies or sin. Don't leave those around you guessing. You affect those who surround you. I pray you choose to engage, care enough to speak, and do so with words that build.
  • And finally, if you answer as one who encourages and builds up, (which I believe all of us to some degree or another) thank you. Your words sustain weary souls like mine. Your words remind us that the devil isn’t winning, that we’re not alone, that God and love and hope are alive and more true than the hardest things we face. This is the power of encouragement. Cheering each other into the purposes that God has laid out for us. Hammering away at the chains of insecurity and lies that keep us from being free and brave to live the beautiful, meaningful stuff that God has planned for us. It drives us to pick up a hammer and aid other captives.

It starts, though, with you and I believing encouragement about us first. Say it with me: I am fearfully, wonderfully made, a masterpiece created for purposes God laid out in advance.

The more we believe this and stand in it in confidence, the more others go from competition in a zero-sum game to ones made to be delighted in. Comparison dies and celebration rises when we know we are created well, redeemed fully, and chosen constantly in Christ. And suddenly, it becomes this beautiful thing, an incredible privilege, to look into the eyes of another weary traveler, smile as you see divine reflection in them, and say, “you too.”

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Ralphie, valentines, and thoughts on being chosen.

I went through a season of watching the Simpsons early in college. There was one Valentine’s Day episode where Lisa brings valentines to school for all of the kids in her class. She gives Ralphie one with a train on it that reads “I choo-choo-choose you!” As it turned out, the valentine from Lisa was the only one Ralphie received and he spends the rest of the episode doting over her, convinced they were meant to be.

It’s ridiculous and humorous, but I think there’s something going on there.

Like maybe to make sure if you don’t like like someone to be sure you’re not the only valentine they get. Am I right?

But seriously, one simple locomotive card made little Ralphie believe someone picked him and it completely changed how he was living his life. Living believing the opposite, though, can have just as powerful of an effect. I know I get all kinds of weird when I’m not feeling chosen.

I remember working super hard in sports in elementary and high school, so I would be among the first called when it came to picking teams. Early in elementary school, I was tiny and clumsy, but I worked hard and spent hours training and practicing sports. I loved the return of being picked at the beginning for teams; having people see something worthwhile in me that they wanted to be connected to.

In a season where I find myself single in my late 20’s [gulp], and no amount of practicing catching dodgeballs or shooting free throws can help my chances, I battle feelings of not being chosen. Typically, I find it fairly easy to see the blessings singleness offers (though, I wouldn’t be opposed to experiencing the blessings of another kind of season). But there are days, when doubts creep in and the enemy whispers:

“You know, if everyone in the world had to choose only one person, you wouldn’t be anyone’s first pick. You would be alone.”

Ouch.

It’s probably one of the most devastating thoughts I’ve had in my adult life. And, for me, among the hardest things of singleness.

I think that’s what makes marriage so incredible. You are committing to choosing this one person every single day for the rest of your lives. In difficulty, in jerkiness, in delightfulness, in adventure, in offers of something or someone that could be better, they are the one you pick.

But what I've come to realize is there is often a gap between our feelings and the truth. Even in marriage, as my friends have shared with me, there are days they don’t always feel picked even when they know they are. And the same is true for me.

If you’re like me and battle those “not chosen” feelings, we can hang on to these two things:
  1. You were picked long before anyone on earth could pick you. Out of eternity, the Trinity had a conversation about you and you were an idea so good they couldn’t shake you. You HAD to be made. If that’s not chosen, I don’t know what is.
  2. I believe it’s incredibly important to let people know you pick them. We are designed for community; being known and loved and not just out of obligation, but because someone chooses us. However, we were made to be fully known and completely loved. No amount of people choosing you or me can attain that. That’s a Jesus kind of love – one that lays down his life for his friends.
And that’s enough, whether or not it feels like it some days.

And to those who have your person picked and they pick you back, I know there are days that being picked by him or her doesn’t feel like enough. I hope you also feel so picked by your community. We can’t be filled by only one person.

But could I give us all a suggestion?

Show your people you pick them this week. Heck, pick someone you don’t normally pick this week for awhile. But especially for your single people, take a moment to let them know they are picked. Sometimes, on days of doubt or holidays that leave us uncertain we have reason to celebrate, we need a little bit of an extra reminder. A dinner invite, a cup of coffee, a text, just to let us know we’re thought of and worthy of your time and energy.

It reminds us we’re not alone. It reminds us that even solo, wondering what things might be keeping us that way, that we can be picked. It gives us a glimpse of the massive choice Jesus made about us, so embarrassingly and vulnerably choosing those who weren’t remotely interested. In any and every season, that’s you.

You are chosen, my friend. I am, too. Let’s agree to remind each other, okay?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

you'll see me tomorrow.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. The incredible organization To Write Love on Her Arms encouraged people to fight suicide with a message of "We'll see you tomorrow." They invited people to share why you'll see them tomorrow, to share hope, to spur each other on, to encourage those battling struggles. I gave a short answer this morning, but it didn't seem to do the question justice. Life is full of reasons to keep going. I hope you can find some encouragement in mine.

You'll see me tomorrow because...

Because being auntie to my niece, nephew, godchildren, and other adopted little ones in my life is one of my most important and favorite jobs.

Because cuddles, giggles, stories, tickles, and roars are the love language of toddlers and fill my heart to bursting, and watching little people learn gives me hope that I still can too.
Because texts from my people remind me I am an important piece of their lives and they are pieces in mine that aren’t scared off by my mess.

Because college is awesome and hard and I know it’s my calling to listen, laugh, dance, binge on late night apps, and love students through that season.
Because young people need someone to tell them the truth and set boundaries. And someone who will welcome them when they learn those lessons the hard way.
Because students, and all of us, need someone to be so okay with being embarrassingly silly and unashamedly themselves, and by doing so, gives permission to those around to do the same.
Because my students are awesome and I often find they make incredible teachers.

Because there are always good books that need to be read and songs that need to be written.
Because there are so many amazing restaurants, coffee shops, and adventure spots in the Twin Cities that need to be shared with good company.
Because it's awesome to watch someone else delight in something you love.

Because life is a gift and one that is lost by some too soon. We must live fully while we are able.
Because I told people I’d see them next year in Nicaragua and one of my sweet friends isn’t able to return like we thought he would.
Because I’m cool if I think I’m cool. And there are so many cool people who teach me cool things like that.

Because I am unique and am the only time the world will have this specific glimpse of God’s image put in me.

Because you can always “dance it out.” And because I never want dance parties to end.
Because the world is full of amazing puns and those opportunities should not be missed.
Because there are new funny youtube videos being created every day and I should probably watch them.
Because singing what I’m doing was my thing way before Marshall on HIMYM or Jess from The New Girl and it always gets a giggle when someone catches me and I totally didn't realize I was doing it.

Because I really like food.
Because eating outside makes food taste better and bonfires turn strangers into friends and friends into your people.
Because my kitchen is a place where mouths and souls are fed and my dinner table needs to hear more stories and collect more spills.

Because my parents, teachers, mentors, and friends have lavishly poured themselves into me and that gold is not meant to be thrown out, but used fully.
Because there are moments I am blown away with how well people know me and how exciting it is to discover new layers of people I know well.
Because there are way too many people across the country and around the world that I love and want to share laughter, stories, and how we see Jesus in each other, with one another again and again.

Because my world is full of brilliant people doing incredible things in their stories to love people, create things, and change the world through day to day love and I have a front row seat to watch in awe and applaud when they just keep getting better season after season. 

Because DMB is still making new music and the Gorge beckons me to come away again and bring my friends.
Because antiques and old things are my jam. They teach me that old, rusty things are awesome and to be treasured and restored, and that’s the way God sees us, too.
Because Jesus shows up at Nina’s CafĂ© in the fall, and on faces wrapped in hijabs, and in lightning bolts that streak the sky, and in sweet songs sung on street corners, in late night convos over pints, and in his Word day after day and I don’t want to miss an opportunity to rendezvous.

Because I was made in the image of the Creator, made to create and not to destroy.
Because I will never run out of creative projects to capture and reflect life, beauty, and hope.

Because people need to be reminded that they matter and I can do that.
Because God sees me, and you. My way is not hidden from him. He’s not shocked or scared of who or where I am and is going before and at my side.
Because hard days and seasons happen and I am so affected at times, but the love of God is unaffected and constant—a sure and steady anchor for our souls.
Because Jesus is the lifter of heads. That's good news.

Because summer is for beach days and Conny’s Creamy Cone. Fall is for football, apples, bonfires, and leaves. Winter is for sledding, skiing, and being cozy. And spring is for watching living proof of resurrection. And these four remind us that no season, whether excruciating or wonderful, is forever.
Because there’s cool stuff still to be done that matters; stuff to be done with people; stuff that will change the world and how we live in it.

Because it’s never too late to try again, to make a new choice, or to have a new adventure.
Because trails are meant to be hiked. Lakes are meant be swam. And rivers are meant to be rafted.
Because I’ve still not been to Duluth, or to a game in the new Busch stadium, or to Schwalmstadt, Germany to see the Schwalm River.
Because I have dreams. Of conquering the Grand Canyon. Of recording an album. Of caring for the fatherless. Of falling in love. Of choosing the same man every day for the rest of my story and accepting him choosing me. And those are worthy pursuits.
Because I have friends that invite me on adventures and that feels a lot like Jesus.

Because there’s lots of accusing, black and white viewpoints on politics, values, brand names, and salsa preference. Division abounds and I believe God has gifted me for gray areas and has called me to peacemaking.
Because days aren’t perfect, but lots are really good. And the bad ones draw us closer to Jesus and each other.

Because the devil and the world are a loud, constant buzz of lies and discouragement and I am a voice that can speak truth, both for me and you.
Because we both need to be reminded who we are and that we are okay and that we can overcome and thrive. Even when it seems everyone is a critic, I have to be reminded that I have a cheering section and I choose to be a cheerleader in yours.

Because I’ve known how hard ministry can be and want to be a safe, loving place for others who are there. And because I know there’s light on the other side of it and want to be proof for them that God's faithfulness can bring them through.
Because I believe the enemy wants to cripple my gifts and contributions, and yours, with fear and I literally say to hell with that.

Because there are always options; there is always hope. God is bigger. God is deeper.
Because I believe Jesus when he said he has life to the full for us and I look for it expectantly.
Because I have been through hard stuff and I believe getting bitter or better is my choice. And when I’ve walked a hard road, I better know the way to walk with someone else down it.

Because Jesus wasn’t content with dealing with us at a distance, but couldn’t help but come close. Close enough to get messy. And asked us to do likewise.
Because I believe love is worth fighting for. It’s worth the struggle and the mess and the risk.
Because there’s no wound too deep to be healed, no fear too big to be overcome, no heartbreak too large for restoration, no brokenness too intense to be restored, no hardship or hurt too dark not to be used to shine the light of life and redemption through Christ.

Because redeeming stories is God’s jam. And I’m a sucker for a good comeback story.
Because I delight in the creative power of Jesus and the fact that he can make a masterpiece out of my muck every time. That is a sight to behold and a gift to relish in its unfolding.
Because I have no idea what tomorrow, next week, next month, year, or decade holds and that is beginning to excite me again more than it scares me.

Because I know the plans God has for me, plans to prosper and not to harm; plans for hope and a future. And I know there are still lots of people who need to hear about the hope he has for them. I have work to do and so do you.
Because if I am still breathing, God has a purpose for me and he knows better than I do.
Because I could sing a new song every moment for the blessings God has slathered me with, even when there are moments I forget that’s true.

Because I believe Sonny from “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” when he says that “everything will be alright in the end and if it’s not alright, then it’s not the end.” That sounds like something Jesus would say, so I like it.
Because even the meantime is so beautiful. So worth it. The waiting is worthy all on its own.
Because I believe all that’s been dead reblooms in the light of Him.

Because I want to see you tomorrow and that means I’ll be there too. It’ll be fun. We can drink coffee.

But really, you’ll see me tomorrow because there are chats to be had with my mom and, even though they got trampled tonight, the Cardinals play again and my dad and I need to watch it. 




Tuesday, August 25, 2015

we weren't made for it: why I hate death and so does Jesus.

Words are kind of my thing. Speaking, singing, writing--those make up most of my life. This summer, however, words have come so slowly. It has been difficult to put language to the experience of losing a beloved student, Devin. I struggle to wrap my head and heart around the "new normal." And it hit me today walking across the park, as I became frustrated with my lack of words to share. We weren't made for this. We weren’t made to deal with death.

We just weren’t.

I’ve never really thought about it that way before. I’ve had the realization that we were not made to die. My friend, Jim, said so insightfully once that when God handed out the consequence of death after the fall, it's possible that Adam and Eve had no clue what death even was. It wasn't how they were designed. It wasn't what we were meant for.

We were meant for life; for everlasting perfection, in relationship with God, others, and the world around us. But temptation won the moment. Sin exploded into the world, covering creation with uncontainable death. And ever since, there are times that we just feel like it’s not supposed to be this way. And that’s because it isn’t.

We were not only created as eternal souls, but also to love those who are constant; God and others in the garden. Our hearts were designed for deep love and connection, to be won over by the beauty of others, and feeling more full because they are in our midst. Death is the opposite of the exact thing you were designed for. Deep love and connection is traded for deep separation and loss, the beauty of others is relegated to memories, and emptiness sets in where the fullness of the lost one’s presence used to reside.

We ache. Jesus ached for his friend, Lazarus.

Scripture even says that all the earth aches.

“For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” Romans 8:22

It’s so easy to get stuck in the ache. I get stuck some days. Ticked that things aren’t the way they were meant to be and that the pain of death is more than we were ever made to handle. Refusing to let go to the life that has ended because it shouldn’t have. Overwhelmed by the thought that in our lifetime, that death, this thing we weren't designed to handle, will occur again and again. It’s easy to get stuck. 

In times like those, the stuck times, I go back to the one thing that helps.

God hated death. God hates death. Even more than I do, God hates death. God was so outraged by death twisting, maligning, torturing, slaughtering his beloved workmanship that he did something about it. Love moved him to action. He could let it go no longer. And at just the right time, he sent Jesus to live fully, die completely, and win life back again; only the first work of his restoring all creation back to its original “garden” state. It's a tough meantime we must endure, friends--sharing life with death until Jesus returns to say "no more." There's hope in that promise, though, that brings us to a new day. It motivates us to speak that hope to others, that they, too, may trust the complete life found only in Christ and that death doesn't get the last word.

There are days that I say, “Jesus, I’m not cut out for this.” And I imagine his half smile, saying, “I know you aren’t. Nobody is. But I’ve put life in your heart and soon it will be all you know once again. The life you were made for.”