Sunday, February 19, 2017

I took myself out, even on Valentine’s Day, and think you should, too.



Yes, I took myself out to dinner on Valentine’s Day this year.

I know that sounds weird. And honestly, most of the time when people write a little too much about “rocking the solo life,” I think they’re a) not being truthful and b) trying to make it look like they’re really okay when they're not so sure. Maybe I’ve made it to a deeper level of delusion that I’m not writing from that place, but I don’t think that’s the case this time.

After all, I am pro-together, pro-relationship, pro-community, pro-love. I deeply believe faith and life are team sports. Life is better lived together. This post is not at all an ode to being “Miss Independent.” 

And yet, today, I’m going to say something seemingly contrary.

I take myself out for dinner (or lunch or coffee) sometimes and I think you should too.

I’ll let you in on a little secret: as great as my life is, I have an ongoing struggle with not feeling picked or being wanted. It’s my most familiar wound and my favorite lie to battle. My history is riddled with supposed proofs that affirm this wound when the battle rages on a given day.

I know I’m not alone in this wound. Many people, regardless of relationship status, experience this ache. I would even say that sometimes it feels bigger when dating or married because it’s not expected. This is one of the devil’s favorite tactics for us. He can trick us into a plethora of different sins when we feel the need to prove our value or numb the feeling of being unwanted.

Because of this particular wound, my heart and mind can get a bit wonky during a time of the year made for pairs.

My BFF, Katy, knows this about me very well. I was woken on Tuesday with a text from her to help affirm my heart.
“Happy Valentine’s Day, girl! You are so loved!!”

I loved hearing from her and starting my day that way. It helps. We should speak these reminders to each other.

But here’s the thing: this year, I knew it already.
Not just knew it, but believed it.
Not just believed it, but was living in it.

Perhaps it’s from more consistent time in Scripture in my recent weeks and months. Maybe it’s from taking time to work through my worth issues with a counselor who faithfully speaks back to me my identity as a daughter of the Father, whenever I speak a need for validation from another place. Maybe it’s learning to stop freaking out about being alone, and realize I’ve never been because of God’s incredible promise to be with me until the very end of the age.

Maybe it’s that I’ve begun seeing times by myself not as a last resort and proof that nobody wants me, but a divine appointment that Jesus has arranged to just be with me.

I actually considered my regular strategy of inviting a bunch of people to do something for Valentine’s, so we’re all busy being awesome instead of alone. I knew, though, at this particular time, that would’ve been proof of my need to prove my “okay-ness” with activity and people. And honestly, had it been a week earlier when I was feeling rattled with rejection, this may not have been the case.

Whatever the reason, Valentine’s Day was SO different this year.

I went to sleep the night before, prepping my heart for newsfeeds full of gushy posts and pictures of perfect dates and thoughtful gifts. Comparison is the thief of joy, ya know, Shel. Then this peace settled in over me and I thought with a smile:

“Jesus, I’m so excited to get up and spend Valentine’s Day with you. You’re just the best at love. I can’t wait to see what you have planned for us.”

Guys. I know that sounds so cheesy and fluffy, maybe a little disingenuous, and all kinds of #Jesusismyboyfriend ish. I’m totally aware. But I’m serious. It was real.

I texted Katy back with my delight to just be loved perfectly by the Lord for the day. I’m praying that this would be an everyday thing. To get up and be loved by Jesus, inviting him into every moment and step of this day’s adventure; that rejection and fear and loneliness would be defeated. 

Because here’s the thing: I’ve woken up way too many days desperately wanting to be wanted while feeling the exact opposite. I've had so many days where I've straight up told Jesus in my thoughts and actions that He and His love are not enough for me and I demand more. 

When we don’t believe that we are fully loved to the brim in Jesus and that He's what our heart truly needs, we beg, borrow, steal, coerce, guilt, manipulate, pressure, and burn ourselves out to be loved. When we don’t believe that we’re enough—that God deeply wants us just where we are, how we are--we begin a path of proving and demanding. 

We expect others to fill a place of love and identity that they simply cannot.

We live in a place of fragility, looking to the incomplete efforts of others to tell us who we are and what we’re worth. They feel beat up and we feel devastated.

Friends, this is dangerous for us, no matter our romantic situation.

No person should be in charge of giving us our worth. Jesus has already done it. Even in our most ragged and hot mess days, our worth remains because the cross was accomplished.

Time spent solo, (not device-dependent time, mind you) teaches us we’re okay. We get to talk to the One who made us, who never tires of hearing about our day, who delights in creating moments, appointments, and surprises for us to experience together, who will never waiver or be fickle, who will only speak truth and life and freedom to us.

So I took myself to dinner and sat by the window with a book at one of my favorite cafes. I watched as couples rushed past, others with gym bags, and men with bundles of flowers. I got some curious glances and I fought the urge to just sit there hidden in my phone, but I was okay. I was great, really.
Because I knew I wasn’t alone. Though it may not have looked like it from the outside, I was fully wanted in that moment. A moment for time with the One who called me “beloved” first and always.
When we can just simply be loved in the times that feel like the exact opposite, it strengthens our heart with truth. It creates space in us for grace.

If I trust I’m loved and can be content in it here, as one sitting at a table with two chairs, it will be easier for me to be loved and content in relationships with fallible people.

I will be better in relationships for having been alone with Jesus. I will be set free more and more from needing to be completed by someone else, and therefore be freed to love and enjoy them well. I will be less inclined to stress and overwork if I know that who I am doesn’t depend on what I’ve accomplished. I will be less weird and manipulative, if I trust I’m worthy of being loved regardless of who wants to be with me on a given day. I will be less likely to hold relational hostages by withholding the love I feel I haven't received because of what I have already received in Christ.

Time spent away with Jesus fills and anchors me, so I’m less rocked by the fickle. I’m more able to set people free with how I love them, instead of trying to trick them into loving me back. I’m able to persist through the sting of rejection because I know I’m fully and deeply chosen by the Best of the best.

This isn’t a recipe or invitation for one-way relationships or being insulated from hurts. However, when we find security in the One who can offer it perfectly, we’re set free to love well, whether or not it’s reciprocated. Since I’m not longer a slave to winning people over, I am no longer roping myself into unhealthy relationships and I can give life and grace to those who do choose me.

Life and love are so beautiful, y’all.

Dating, single, married, divorced, or otherwise, spend some time away with the One who made it and made you. Be reminded of and solidified in your place as His beloved. Let that fill and steady you. Let it heal you. Let it set you free as you love others well.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

He came close.

He comes close.
To the least likely.
To odd balls, unaccepted because of holy obedience.
To smelly, messy, unapproachable and untouchable, He makes his bed right in the very makings of the mess.
To ones who no longer fit in their families or towns, He chose them.
To ones everyone is talking about. Ones who have "ruined their bright futures." Ones relegated to the fields. Ones spurred on by an interesting hunch and committed to following it.
Even to ones with no room for him, He still comes.
To empty-handed ones. To nobodies.
To ones less than, disappointed, plagued with waiting, desperate, dreams crushed, oppressed, heavy, heartbroken.
No descriptor or circumstance could convince Emmanuel that one wasn't worth His presence.
His first chosen company was the likes of these.
He came close. Womb close. Mama's arms close. Hay-filled trough close. To get to an unwed mother and shepherds whose stench begged people to keep their distance.
You deem your home, your life, yourself unqualified? 
He sees an incredible party for which he's planned a remarkable entrance. Not a quick stop by, but moving in. Simply to remind you, moment by moment, who you are. 
And for you to know who you are, for your soul to feel its worth, He needs to be close.
So He is. He shows up. Tonight. Everyday. 
Emmanuel comes close.
And the ragamuffins are honored with the presence of the Holy of Holies. 
And suddenly, we find that closeness makes the hardship bearable, the outcasting less tragic, the inconvenient inconsequential, the humility beautiful. 
Closeness helps. 
It embraces the frayed and ruined. The exhausted, the rejected, those with absolutely nothing to offer. Loves the loveless.
Because we need to be close to be loved. 
Because that's the only way that we're changed. 
Closeness doesn't require change in advance, but inevitably sets it into motion.
Diapers can't be changed from a distance. 
Diapers demand contact.
So He put on one, to clean up yours.
His goal here wasn't being great, but coming close.
When your goal is greatness, it's probably not closeness. Being close leads to being known, and being known means revealing one's not-so-greatness.
But still, even knowing that, he came close.
He came close and called you worth it.
He made nobodies somebodies.
Because you were worthy of showing up for.
Your arms and your heart have been entrusted with the Savior.
Deemed an appropriate dwelling.
Let it happen. Even if you wonder why He'd come near, stop asking questions and soak up His closeness. Stop doubting if He could possibly even like you, ponder his evidenced love.
Being close changes us.
He has changed us. 
But first and most, he's just with us.
He wants to always be with us.
So he came close.

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?