30 days later…

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Life is always changing – evolving. It’s easy to coast along, taking in the day-to-day, create moments, and then look back and discover that so much has changed in a short amount of time.

A month ago, I got a phone call. On the other end came words that changed my life. A stranger informed me that my dad had passed away earlier that day. When my dad was diagnosed with kidney failure a few years ago, there was always that knowledge in the back of my mind that our time was limited, but I was not ready to hear those words so soon.

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I’m having difficulty putting into words my thoughts and emotions, but what I do know is that through this time, God has once again created an “altar moment” in my life. Here is what I’ve experienced and learned this month…

I have amazing friends:

Constant texts, phone calls from friends who hate talking on the phone, rallying people together to provide for my financial needs to take care of my dad’s final expenses, forcing me out of the house, game nights with lots of laughs, and dinners…all of these things (and I’m sure more I can’t think of) have proven to me that there are some amazing people in my life.

I am stronger than I think:

But it’s also okay for me to not always be strong. I can let others share the load, say “no,” and to break down at times.

God is close to the brokenhearted:

Throughout this month, I have experienced such grace. I have cried to God. I have been wrapped in a peace that I can’t explain. I have seen glimpses of how His plan is perfect even when we can’t understand it. This lesson has been so sweet to me because the last time I experienced a deep loss, I put a big wall up between myself and God. So being able to run to Him and trusting Him in this has been so helpful.

Grief is not cookie cutter:

Although there are books and support groups for grief that tell you about all these steps…I am learning that each circumstance is different. Everyone has a right to grieve in their own way and deal with their emotions in their own way and time. The “steps” are all over the place and come and go daily. Our journeys are all different.

It is so off to say that this time of my life…one of the hardest times in my life is being set up as an “altar moment,” but I truly see it as such. The lessons that I’m learning, the strength I’ve been given, the peace, and the way God has shown up has been nothing short of miraculous and something that I want to remember. To be able to notice these things in the midst of sadness is something I want to remember because it is so easy to be crippled by loss; to allow the devastation to get the best of you. I am thankful to know that it is possible that a person can know strength, peace, and joy in the midst of grief.

Have you learned lessons in unexpected places? I’d love to hear about it!

Lean on Me–Book Review

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Communityit’s a word that gets thrown around quite often. Our culture (especially within the church) talks about how important it is to be a part of a community. Last month, I was working at a conference and watched as these creatives were drawn to each other. Friendships and collaborations quickly formed as they helped each other get to the next level.

During this time, I also was able to hang out with one of my oldest friends. Throughout our lives, we’ve gotten in each other’s face when one has gotten off track and encouraged each other to stay on the paths we were made for. Our adult lives have been lived across the country from each other. Phone calls, email, texts, and Facebook have been our lifelines. We realized though, that the distance makes it easy to cover up when things might not be going so well. To only share when and what we want. That there is definitely a difference when we are face to face.

It got me thinking about what real community is. My closest friends really are my oldest friends, but I am horrible about just living life and not thinking it’s important to let them into the day-to day stuff. And to choose when I’m vulnerable and what I’m vulnerable about.

I came home and started reading Anne Miller’s book, Lean on Me, and she talks about how true community happens when you are vulnerable and intentional. I realized that I’ve been so bad in both of these areas for way too long, and then I wonder how come I don’t feel as close to people as I would like to. That needs to change, and I am the one who needs to start with making the change.

To be close to the people in your life, you need to start by being honest with who you are and where you are. When you do those things, the right people will be drawn to you. This is not something to fear, but to embrace. God has created us to be in relationshipnot just with Him, but with each other. It’s what makes our life on this earth whole.

When You Feel Weary

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Well sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small
So hold me Jesus ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

As these lyrics washed over me, the tears would not stop. This song came back into my life at just the right time.

Sunday, I walked into church alone…again. It was a fight within myself to go in the first place. Church is one place that is so difficult to enter as a “table of one.” I found my seat and as the service started, it turned out that I was the only one sitting in my row. The music starts and God’s presence is so palpable to me that it is taking up the other seats in the row. It’s like He’s letting me know that He longs to fill that place of loneliness for me. To be all that I long for. To trust that He knows what I truly need and believe that He will fulfill it. I can’t stop being grateful for those moments of getting just an “extra dose” of God’s presence.

Christmas is a time of anticipation. My pastor had talked about how before Jesus was born, God had not spoken to His people for 400 years. 400 YEARS! (Yikes…I get bummed after a few days of silence.) The point was that God wasn’t being silent just to be quiet. He was busy getting things ready for His biggest message to the world ever — the birth of Jesus.

Again, when we think things aren’t happening, we have no idea what is going on behind the scenes. I have a tendency to get wrapped up in what is not happening. Thinking those steps backward are because God is taking something away from me, or I’ve done something wrong, or that He doesn’t want me to succeed. (Yep, the downward spiral gets ugly) I struggle with keeping the faith that God is preparing me for something beyond my wildest imagination.

As this Christmas season comes to an end, I want to end it well. I want to have the spirit of anticipation that Mary and Joseph had. I want to chase after Jesus like the shepherds and wise men did. I want to have the faith that Mary did when she just said “yes” to God. Those extra doses of God’s presence serve as reminders that He is there…ALWAYS.

I pray that this Christmas is encouraging for you. That as the last present is unwrapped, the last piece of food is eaten, and the decorations are taken down, that you will reflect on just how God is always there for you even when you don’t feel it. And sometimes you get a special moment with Him when it’s needed most.

Preparation Time

Exodus 23:29-30 But I won’t do all this in the first year, because the land would become poor, and wild animals would be everywhere. Instead, I will force out your enemies little by little and give your nation time to grow strong enough to take over the land (CEV).

 

 

Waiting is not easy.

When you see a light at the end of the tunnel, and it looks like things are going to turn around… but the light keeps getting pushed further back, it’s easy to get frustrated. The verse above hit me like a ton of bricks today. The Israelites were heading to the Promised Land… a trip that should have taken just a couple of days from where they started the journey, but it ended up taking 40 years. There were many reasons for this, but like the verses above suggest, there needed to be a preparation time.  The land had to be prepared. The Israelites had to be prepared. The enemies had to be prepared.

There were many factors working behind the scenes that led to the when the right time was for the Israelites to get to their new home.

I see this to be so true in my own story.

I want change to happen now.

I want to see projects finished now.

I want to get to the next level now.

Little by little I see how God is working to make sure things line up just so. That if I had gotten everything I wanted when I wanted it that I wouldn’t be ready, and it wouldn’t be right. There are lessons I’ve needed to learn and still need to learn. Preparation is key to success. Being faithful in the small things and learning along the way will lead to bigger things.

If you are feeling like you have been stuck in the waiting room, I want to encourage you. There are things happening on the other side of the door that are getting ready for you. Don’t just sit around reading the same magazines over and over. See what you can do during this time to be productive, grow, and be ready when that door opens up.

Change of Perspective

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I have to admit, lately I have been really discouraged by the church. My social media feeds have been bombarded with stories of how Christians are doing things wrong, and fighting to get “your voice” to be the “right” one. It has been exhausting.

Several weeks ago, I grabbed “Misfits Welcome.” I had no expectations for this book. I respect Matthew Barnett and what he has done with The Dream Center. Little did I realize how with each turn of the page, my heart expanded a bit more. Again, I became hopeful about what the church can do when the focus is on meeting the needs we see around us. When we care more about meeting someone exactly where they are at instead of trying to fix them to be what we want them to be.

Reading stories about “misfits” was a shot of new life for me. Stories of girls being taken Christmas shopping for the first time, a couple getting a hot dog cart to feed the homeless on the beach, or taking a group of kids to the movies struck a cord with me. We need to be on the lookout to see how we can each be difference makers. It doesn’t even have to be a huge thing. There are small, everyday things in my toolbox that I can use that would mean the world to another person. You never know where the small acts of obedience can lead you. What doors can open up as you say “yes.”

There are times I get discouraged being surrounded by people that have huge dreams and are doing crazy big things. I can get caught up in the comparison game. I’m learning though that any time I look beyond myself to meet the needs of someone else, I too am a world changer and am making a difference. We all just need to be obedient to use the resources, and talents that we have.

Just by having an outward focus, this world can be changed and as Christians we can have a Church that is doing it right!

 

You can grab your copy of Misfits Welcome here.

 

Lessons Along the Journey

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I‘m in my last days of being 37. With 38 approaching, I wanted to share some lessons I’ve learned this year:

  • Saying “yes” can take you on an amazing journey.

You never know where making a connection with someone will lead you. I’ve been a part of projects that amaze me. I have gone from “playing editor” to being an editor.  Be on the lookout for paths that will benefit others and yourself. Your life is a gift that needs to be shared with the world.

  • Connecting with God allows you to see the world through a new perspective.

This past year, I’ve been more intentional about spending time with God. Getting back in Bible study and reading more has helped cultivate a more positive outlook on life in me. I see more ways to love those around me, to be less “judgey,” and to be content with where I am on this journey of life.

  • If someone doesn’t want to be in your life, it’s okay to let them go.

This has been a tough lesson to learn. I am a people pleaser. I pursue. I don’t like seeing people left out. I definitely don’t like being forgotten. However, I’m learning that life isn’t perfect. Some people are only meant to be around for a season. There is no need to hold on to someone who is not holding on to you. Make room for the people that will pour into your life as much as you pour into theirs.

  • Have fun!

I had the opportunity this year to crisscross the country to spend time with dear friends and make great memories. Being with people that make you laugh until it hurts is good for the soul. Taking a few minutes out of my day to run around and play with my dog does wonders for my productivity. It’s easy to get bogged down by responsibility and deadlines, but don’t let those things dictate your life.

 

This year has been full of adventure. I’ve made some amazing memories and have seen growth in many areas. I am looking forward to growing even more this coming year: to learn more about myself and others, to be challenged, and discover new things. I can’t wait to see what’s next!

Yes to being Brave

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“We have to say yes. Even when it’s scary or costly or unknown. We don’t screw up by saying yes to the wrong things; we screw up by letting all the floats in the parade pass us by and never jumping on one of them for a ride to the end.” – Let’s All Be Brave (Annie Downs)

 

“Yes.” It is a word with so much power. It can change the course of your life. It can provide new opportunities. It can make you more of a positive person. Granted, being too much of a “yes” person can also wear you down…but I want to focus on the positive.

When I look back on my life, I am thankful for the times I said, “yes.” Throughout my young life, I learned that saying yes would lead me down a path of a life better than I could have imagined. “Yes” built a foundation to pursue dreams and opportunities that should have been impossible for a girl from my neighborhood. I learned quickly that I not only needed to say “yes” to opportunities that came my way, but also I had to say “yes” to hard work. “Yes” has given me the courage to take jumps into the unknown over and over again. Without “yes” I might not be experiencing so many full-circle moments.

As hurts and disappointments have come along in my life, “yes” gets harder. The temptation to shrink away from “jumping on the float” or staying on the float until the end can be great. Sometimes it seems safer to stay on the street and watch the parade pass me by. Or to jump off one float to get on a safer float.

I desire to have people to think of me as brave. I want to have the bravery to have faith that even the times of “unknown” are times of preparation. I’m learning that it takes great amounts of courage to stay in the preparation time instead of jumping off and taking a safer path. It takes bravery to understand that you have a purpose on this earth that your uniqueness is perfectly suited for.

Each day, we all make choices to be brave. Some big. Some small. The small yeses lead to bigger ones.

What do you need to have an extra dose of bravery for today?

Power of Story

We have the power to use our own stories and lives to build bridges across the divisive gaps in our culture. —Nish Weiseth (Speak)

I am a great listener. I love to hear about people, listen to their stories, and get to know what makes them tick. I struggle being on the other end of the conversation. I don’t give up my story easily. There are parts of my stories that only the people who were a part of that time know about. I just chalk it up to being an introvert and not feeling like everything has to be relevant to who I am. If I am really honest, there are just things that I don’t want to be a part of my present and so I leave them buried in the past. I don’t want to use parts of my story to build “my platform” or be things that I am known for. There is my confession for the day.

I have observed the power of story… both good and bad. I have seen stories tear people apart and divide our culture. This is the danger of using your story to “out” someone else or ruin their reputation. There are times when it’s okay to let people know you were done wrong without saying who or what the offender was. Sometimes it is obvious who the offender was or it is so deeply a part of your story that there is no way around that, but I believe we need to tread so carefully when telling these stories because our culture latches onto the scandalous and loves to see it spread like wildfire.

I recently read “Speak” by Nish Weiseth and she does a beautiful job of showing the power of positive storytelling. I do love the fact that we are each given unique stories, and talents to make a change in the world around us…. whether that is across the street or around the world. I was encouraged to read that if we can just take the time to listen to someone’s story, we can break down the things the walls that separate us and focus on common ground. I want to be a person who sees the good of story. I want to see the encouragement that can come from stories being told. I want to see how story can make a positive impact on lives .

Life of a Champ

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I’m not the poster child of fitness. Ok, I‘m a few posters around the corner. 🙂 It’s been an on-again, off-again struggle to get healthy. The past couple months, I‘ve gone up to doing some form of purposeful exercise at least once a week. Typically, the scenario goes like this: a couple of great days where I’m fired up and pushing myself, then either the pain comes or the schedule gets full, and I get discouraged.

So this week has started off well. I got in some activity both yesterday and today. As I’m typing this, my arm muscles are still shaking from what I did a few hours ago. This is a great feeling; a sense of accomplishment. The knowledge that I pushed myself and am working towards a goal.

This got me thinkingwhy do I shy away from pain? Why is it easier to keep things status quo when I do so desire to change and be a better me?

The same is true in all areas of life. Growth happens through pain. The things that are worth the most in life take hard work and perseverance. Goals will not be reached if changes don’t happen. Relationships get closer and stronger when we go through struggles.

I’m thankful for this reminder that pain can mean growth and change. That pain can become a positive in life. That a life without pain is often a life not well-lived.

Being a 90s Youth Group Kid wasn’t so Bad

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The 90s take a lot of flack. The church takes a lot of flack. 90’s Christian music takes a lot of flack. All over social media I see people having to recover from that decade, having to recover from being a “church kid,” looking at that time in their lives as something that wrecked them. First of all, if that is you, I am so sorry for any bad experience you had. I’m sorry if you were in an unhealthy church, but I have to share another side.

I LOVED being a youth group kid. When I see Buzzfeed quizzes about “How much of a 90’s youth group kid were you?” I am filled with so many great memories. I will still blast “Not Ashamed” by the Newsboys when it appears on my iTunes shuffle and think about how it felt to feel so proud of who I was, and that I could make a difference in the world. I proudly wore my faith like a badge… not ashamed. I had the silly T-shirts (which were truly a bad fashion choice). I had crushes on way too many CCM artists and would swoon over the boys who quoted Scripture and were leaders in the church. I was a leader in the church, and it was a place where I grew as a confident leader.

I learned so many useful skills during that time. I participated in various work projects to raise funds, so I could participate in various summer trips. It was where I started writing for others, and even dipped my foot in the public speaking world. Encouraging people surrounded me and in a period of life when I could have taken many paths, it was my many “moms,” “dads,” and “grandparents” that made me feel like I belonged and had a purpose. It was the time in life that I learned important disciplines like getting to know God on my own. Those years gave me a foundation that led to where I am today.

Was it a perfect time? No. I do have some residual baggage from those years too. I was in a pretty safe bubble. I probably should have explored other churches instead of thinking my church was the “one and only.” I was a cocky Christian who believed I was pretty much perfect and there was no other path out there. Because of some of the “minor” issue things I learned in my younger years, I still struggle with “my way or no way,” and seeing God as unconditional.

Thankfully, after high-school graduation, I became closer to people that weren’t in my youth group, and it opened my eyes to see beyond the bubble. I went through the exploration phase of finding my own beliefs. I learned that there were other Christian beliefs and other ways to worship God. I began to see that some of these other beliefs made more sense to me and I ping-ponged between the church system I grew up in and new churches. I started asking the tough questions and no longer identified with the old system.

From what I hear, it seems like this story is not the norm. That it is impossible to leave your own belief system without a period of rebellion. I am here to tell you that you can question the things you have been taught without walking away from your faith. It’s okay for your beliefs in God to shift, and you don’t have to feel that just because some things don’t make sense that you have to do a 180 with God. My heart breaks for people that had such an unhealthy church relationship that they felt like completely walk away from the church and everything associated with it was the only option.

The church is not perfect. It’s full of flawed humans who do the best they can, but still can make mistakes. Some make a LOT of mistakes, unfortunately. I think it’s up to each of us to do what we can to create positive experiences for others. If I can just talk to my youth pastor friends for just a moment… you have the opportunity to create a positive experience for your students. You may be the only positive experience a student has with the church (sometimes in life). I know that is a pretty overwhelming thing to think about and that is why it is so important to empower your other adult leaders to see themselves as more than just a warm body on Wednesday nights. Allow your students to ask the tough questions, give them opportunities to gain valuable life skills, and encourage them to use their gifts.

We need to be pouring into this generation, so they can look back at the 2010s as a great time in their lives.