12/21/14

Prisoners of Hope

My nieces were taking a bath, dumping water on each others' heads and then telling on each other; filling cups with bubbles and pretending it was lemonade; and just generally taking advantage of the bathroom acoustics by squealing as loudly as possible.

I sat on the toilet seat, flipping through the kids Bible my sister-in-law reads to the girls before bed. It's a big, illustrated Bible that retells the familiar Bible stories in simple kid-fashion. I was mostly looking at the pictures and not really paying much attention to the words (in simple kid-fashion).

Then I turned the page to this.














It's the space between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

400 years pass, to be exact.

Four hundred years.

I sat there and stared at the words for a while. Then I closed the book and finished up bath time with a rousing rendition of "this is the way we wash our hair" (in C major).

A few days later I was reading Zechariah. It's one of the last books in the Old Testament, right before that 400-year space between the Testaments. Those last few books of the OT are nothing but prophecy after prophecy and I admit that sometimes I get bogged down with it all...until they start talking about Jesus.

On this particular day I was reading in Zechariah 9 about Jesus coming to us, "humble and...mounted on a colt, the foal of a donkey," and I was thinking about the scene in Mark 11 when Jesus really does ride in mounted on a colt, when I read Zechariah 9:12.
"Return to your stronghold, O prisoner of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double."
O prisoner of hope.

My eyes hovered over those words and I read them over and over again. Prisoner of hope. O, prisoner of hope.

I thought about the people of the Bible in the space between the Old and New Testaments. I thought about the long silence of God and how very hopeless it must have felt at times, to feel far from God and to want to hear just one word from Him that would reassure them He is still coming. Just one word to let them know He still sees them. Just one word for them to hold onto, to sustain them, to comfort them.

I know because I've felt like that this year. It hasn't been 400 years but it has been long, and silent, and frustrating. And I have felt that darkening chasm of hopelessness open wide right before my feet so that all I'd have to do is step into it and I would be swallowed.

But I am a prisoner of hope.

I am tied to the promises God has made so that, even when there is silence, I still know He has spoken.

I am tied to what I know of the character of God so that, even when there is silence, I still know who He is.

I don't know why God chose 400 years before He sent Jesus to redeem His people, and I don't know why He chooses to make some of our own seasons of struggle so long. But I do know that even after those 400 years, He still kept His promise. He sent the Messiah. He was faithful.

They were prisoners of hope as they waited for Jesus, and we are prisoners of hope now, because we have Him.

He came as a man and He left us His Spirit. He is with us, and even when there is silence, He is still with us.

I don't know what season you are in right now, and I don't know how long you've been in it or when it will end. But God sees you. He has already come, and He is coming again, and He is with us now. No matter how long it takes, God is always faithful, always good, always true. Hold onto Him. Even in the silence, He is working.

Return to your stronghold, O prisoner of hope; He will restore you.

"Every word of God proves true. He is a shield to those who take refuge in him." - Proverbs 30:5 
"The LORD is faithful in all his words and kind in all his works." - Psalm 145:13
"I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope." - Psalm 130:5 
"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." - Hebrews 10:23

11/25/14

Winter Survival Tips

It's snowing a lot, everyone.

And it's cold.

For some reason, even though they're covered in fur, cats seem to crave warmth even more than humans. Which is why I decided to observe my cat, Penelope (aka Penny Lopes aka Penny aka Muffin Top), to find out the best ways to keep warm this winter. And because I know you, World, need to stay warm, too, I've decided to share with you what I've observed.

Eh-heh-heh-hem.

The Top 10 Best Ways to Keep Warm This Winter (from Penelope):


1. Become one with fire. In cat world, giving someone your belly means giving him your trust. Here Penelope demonstrates relinquishing herself to the flame in hopes that fire will be her best ally this winter. She's a brave and crafty politician.


2. Use electric blankets. Leave just enough space for your nose holes to take in oxygen, but otherwise cover every possible exposed surface.


3. Cats like a little more booty to hold at night. What's warmer than another living creature? If you don't have a spouse to cuddle with, try a sibling or a household pet (but not a goldfish). Penelope often chooses my bum (as pictured here).


4. Use warm liquids. Here Penny has snuggled into the sink after I'd been running warm water. I usually choose to drink hot tea or coffee instead, but if you can fit into the sink and you find that that works for you, I will not judge you. Winter makes us do crazy things.


5. Work. Movement helps elevate your body temperature. Or, if you have a desk job, like Penelope does I guess, try usurping the heat from your computer by napping on its keyboard.


6. Use heating pads. Heating pads work best when you can snag one that somebody else was using but left behind to go to the bathroom. Here Penelope capitalized on her cute-and-fluffiness to retain what she'd stolen. (SHE'S SO FLUFFY.)


7. Treat every blanket like it's your blanket. If you pass up an opportunity to lie on a blanket, you might never see another blanket. Take every chance you get. That blanket is there for you.


8. Gift yo'self. If the cold becomes too unbearable, you can try giftbasketting yourself to someone in the south. Here Penelope lacked the proper postage to make it to Florida, so she took a nap.


9. Read a good book. Something about adventure or romance or comedy or mystery takes the edge off of winter and makes you feel all toasty inside. Penelope prefers to read the Bible, but sometimes she gets a little too toasty and takes a nap.


10. Enjoy the beauty. Yes, it's cold, but it is also lovely. Enjoy it from the warmth of your own kitchen basket if you can't work up the courage to go outside.

Happy winter, everyone!

11/7/14

Magnificat

My little niece Annabelle and I sat in her living room, playing with her new Legos. They were zoo Legos, with a monkey and a bird and a lion. I kept building flowers and putting them in different places in the zoo and she kept taking them apart and telling me that that's not where they go.

Well, at least she has vision.

After a few minutes of playing, Annabelle grabbed the empty Lego box and set it in front of her, sighing over the pictures of all the other Lego sets she didn't have. 

"I wish I had these," she said, resting her little chin on her little hand and scanning all the pictures with her big blue eyes.

"But you have these," I countered, building another illegal flower and sneaking it behind one of the zoo trees.

"I know," she said, still scanning jealously, "but I don't have these."

"Well some little girls don't have any of them--"

She looked up at me with wide eyes. 

"--so maybe we could be grateful for what we do have?"

She spotted my flower and plucked it from its spot (I thought I had hidden it so well!) and told me that she was trying to be nice and didn't want to hurt my feelings, but that's not where the flowers go.

I sat back as she reorganized her zoo and wondered why we all can't just be thankful for what we have.

When I think about being thankful, my mind automatically meanders through all of the ways I've been told to cultivate thankfulness throughout the years. Like taking 15-minute prayer walks every day to tell God what you're thankful for, or making lists every day of the things you're thankful for, or reading that book 1,000 Gifts where the author sounds very poetic but in the end I don't really understand half the stuff she's talking about.

Recently I have been thinking that thankfulness must be more than just an ability to see how much you have. Because what if you lose it all? Or what if you really don't have that much? Or what if you know how much you have, but you still feel discontented?

Thankfulness must mean something more than that. Thankfulness must be something deeper. Soul-deep.
"I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of the LORD." - Psalm 116:17
Here is this verse that I have been growing to love, because in this verse, David gets it. He gets that we are all greedy little discontented beings, the whole lot of us, and because it is our human nature to always want more, to be thankful is a sacrifice.

A sacrifice is usually something that doesn't come easily to us; something that costs us something. We sacrifice our time through volunteering or helping our neighbors move or babysitting for free. We sacrifice our money by donating or tithing or picking up the tab at lunch. Sacrifice usually means doing something when we would rather do something else.

In Luke 1, Mary is told that she will give birth to the Messiah.

Hello.

If there is anything that will pile heaps and heaps of life-long responsibility onto your shoulders and require an entire mindset shift and break your heart with the agony that is to come, it's being the mother of the Lamb who will be slaughtered and save the world through the shedding of His blood.

But here is Mary's response:
"And Mary said, 'My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.'" - Luke 1:46-47
Mary offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving. And her thanksgiving is not a list of what she has, but a list of who God is.

She delights in God Himself.

This is what I have been missing.

I try to counter my list of the things that are going wrong with a list of the things that are going right, but the reassurance that that offers will never last me very long. What I need is God Himself.
"When you come to any promise or any other part of Scripture, look at it and through it to God Himself who makes the promise, before it applies to you. And let yourself see Him, dwell on Him, the God behind these promises. Let yourself linger with this God." - John Piper
I do think it's important to be aware of how much you have been given. The blessings of health or warmth or safety or family or income or a new car or your favorite food or a good job or good friends. It's important to see what good things we have in our lives and not take them for granted.

However, I think the sacrifice of thanksgiving becomes joy to us when we delight more in who God is than in what He gives. Because thanksgiving is what brings us into the presence of God (Psalm 95:2), and in God's presence there is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).

And I want to get much better at that type of thanksgiving.

9/15/14

the Bible is not an option

Our server at Olive Garden had a pretty elaborate tattoo on his arm as he grated the cheese over our salad. Jesus on a cross with a lot of scripture from Philippians. It took up his entire right forearm.

Let's call him Jay. He was nice, so my friend Lauren and I had no problem becoming friends with him. By the end of the night he had given us pretty much an entire bag of Andes mints.

As the restaurant began to empty, Jay swept the floors beside our table and asked us what we did for a living. Lauren answered first about her job at the chiropractor's office. Then when he looked at me, I told him with a partial-smile that I was basically in the process of figuring all of that out.

Funny how being openly confused about your life opens up opportunity for other people to feel safe in being openly confused about their lives, too.

Jay shared about how he grew up Catholic but got saved at a Southern Baptist church with his wife. After their divorce, however, he sank into a life of drugs and alcohol and ended up in prison.

He knelt beside our table and lowered his voice. "When you spend months in solitary confinement," he said, "you have a lot of time to get bitter. But you have a lot of time to do some searching, too. And when all you have is the Bible, you figure some things out."

I wanted to scoot over in my booth and ask him to sit down and tell us more about what he was figuring out. But his boss was peering through some fake plants around the corner, so Jay apologized for taking up our time and scurried off to sweep some more floors.

I've been thinking about the church a lot recently. The church in all its variations across America and the world. And then I think about Jay in solitary confinement with his Bible, and how now he's involved in AA and working two jobs and going to school and seeking the Lord.

I once heard a pastor ask the question from the pulpit, "Is there any more important time during your week than the 70 minutes you spend in church?"

I had shifted uncomfortably in my seat, wanting to raise my hand and say, "Yes, yes there is," but I didn't.

Oh, my friends, we are missing it.

I love the church: big church, small church, house church, mega church, church plants, missional communities. So many good things are done through so many different avenues and the name of Jesus is being preached.

I would love for Jay to get plugged in to a church, to be discipled, to find community, to grow with others and be encouraged and challenged by a body of believers. But his transformation began in solitary confinement with nothing but a Bible and the Holy Spirit. 

Transformation comes through opening the Word of God and letting the Holy Spirit speak through it to change your heart. It is feeding your mind with His words. Every day. Over and over. Again and again and again. Repeat.

You do not become more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled simply by walking in and out of the church building every weekend. You don't go in dirty and come out clean. It is not a carwash.
"We should be able to say every year, 'I am more loving, peaceful, joyful, patient, kind, and gentle than I was last year.' If we can't honestly say that, then we are not growing." - Neil T. Anderson
How many of us are missing this. How many of us are sitting passively by, letting preachers preach at us, watching worship leaders entertain us, drinking coffee in our seats for 70 minutes every weekend and feeling like we are better people because of it. Like we got what we came for and we're good to go for the rest of the week until next time.

I am often guilty of this.

My friend Lauren and I stood out in Olive Garden's dark parking lot for a couple of hours talking about these things, so I have lots of words I could very passionately write here, but I won't. Maybe later I will. Maybe I won't. I don't know; there's a lot.

But here's what I will say, here is what I am learning, here is what I am challenging you and me with: Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Put yourself in solitary confinement on purpose. Memorize the Word of God. Tuck His words into your heart and repeat them to yourself and to others. Cling to His promises. Know God's truth and use God's truth as a weapon against the ways Satan will try to trick you.

You will not be transformed by watching others. You will not be transformed by observing. You will not be transformed by shaking the preacher's hand and saying, "Good sermon today, Pastor."

Pick up your Bible. Open it. Read it. Digest it. And be transformed.
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. - Jesus (John 17:17) 
And Psalty the Singing Songbook is here to help, too:

 

9/11/14

lo, the storms of life are breaking

How many times have those of us who've grown up in the church heard and read this passage, at Good Friday and Easter and probably even Christmas. But could you take a moment to read it again? Slowly? Maybe even out loud? To your dog or your fish or just to the air?
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. - Isaiah 53:10-11
I was sitting on the deck watching planes fly overhead and thinking about these words. Crush. Grief. Anguish of soul. I have felt these words in my heart. Really, really felt them. Have you?

These words here are talking about Jesus, the Son of God. He felt these words in His heart. I suddenly felt closer to Him, like I perhaps understood just a tiny bit more of His heart, and that He understood the whole of mine.

But then here's where our two hearts feeling the same feelings collided to make me sit up and stop watching planes.
Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief.
Ah, how differently my mind winds around the concept of grief when I view it as something that has come from the hand of the Lord Himself. How much more intimate grief feels, how much more intentional, like an artist meticulously renovating the inside of a cathedral rather than an invading army attacking from the outside.

Perhaps affliction is not just a "detour" in which God chooses to bring good out of unintended bad. Perhaps, instead, affliction is the most meaning-filled, purpose-filled, significant road God has designed for us to travel to bring us to Him, a road already well-traveled by the Son of God.

Because God's call to holiness is a journey, and it is over difficult terrain, and it is full of sacrifice.

Yes.

But God's call to holiness is a journey to be closer to Him, a call to rid yourself of that which keeps you from Him, and a promise that He is already in the place He is calling you to, He is familiar with the road He is asking you to travel, and He is traveling it right beside you.

Therefore, as Alistair Begg told me over the radio in my car this afternoon, when we ask in affliction, "What are you doing, God?" we can know that the answer is, "I'm going to make you like Jesus."

My child, I'm going to make you like Jesus, my very own Son, whom I crushed and put to grief so that YOU and all who trust Him would be accounted righteous.

The result of Jesus' affliction was the salvation of our souls.

What then shall be the result of our affliction?

That is my prayer, to have that perspective always, to trust in His sovereignty, and I ask for grace to pray it more honestly. 
Father, refine me in the fire of affliction so that I may look more like Jesus. May I not beg for it to stop, the pounding in my ears from being hammered into Your likeness, but instead cling to the sound of Your assurance that You are answering me, saving me, fighting for me, that You will not abandon my soul, and that You have been here before me and will see me through it.
These sermons have just been so good and I recommend them:
Called to Suffer and Rejoice by John Piper

A Purpose and a Promise by Andy Stanley
My Times Are in Your Hands by Alistair Begg

9/1/14

in this world you will have car trouble

Cornfields.

Just cornfields, all around, somewhere in Indiana, after already driving for five hours in rain and traffic, and Dad was telling me on the phone that I needed to find an auto place, maybe a Wal-Mart? Or else my engine was going to overheat. At least, that's what the little needle by the little sailboat thing on my dashboard that was bouncing around way up above the "H" was indicating.

"Get a towel," Dad was saying, "and use it to unscrew the radiator cap, in case the water is hot and sprays up in your face. Then add some water, because you're probably just low."

My thoughts: What's a radiator, where's the radiator, where am I supposed to get a towel, what if the water sprays into my eyes and I'm blinded, where am I supposed to find a Wal-Mart, why is there so much corn in Indiana, who am I, what is life.

The nearest exit was in three miles and I prayed the whole way. Please don't let my engine explode. Please don't let my engine explode.

I told my GPS to find me the nearest auto care place. "Magg's Auto," he responded. Down a country road with more cornfields, to a lone house next to a big warehouse. Please don't let me get abducted. Please don't let me get abducted.

A woman was standing at the end of the driveway with a puppy on a leash. Harmless! I pulled up to the driveway and opened my car door.

"DON'T GET OUT OF YOUR CAR!" She screamed at me like a war buddy warning me of an incoming grenade. I jumped back inside just as a vicious snarling dog came running up to my car like it wanted to eat my face.

"DON'T ROLL DOWN YOUR WINDOW!" She screamed at me again.

I was not inclined to disobey her.

She walked up to my window and I yelled through the glass like an inmate, "My car is overheating and I just pulled off the highway. Is there an auto place nearby?"

She told me to pull into the driveway, all the while trying not to run over her angry dog, which she kept screaming at curdlingly to get away from my car.

As she coaxed her dog inside, I sat in my car and stared at my steering wheel. I laughed out loud at the absurdity. "Nothing's ever easy, is it, Lord," I said.

The woman's name was Deanna. She told me the nearest auto place was at the next exit. Instead of risking it on the highway again, she offered to call her dad to come take a look. Larry. He drove out and squirted water from a hose into my radiator. I know where it is now. And it didn't spray water into his eyes and blind him, either (thank goodness).

Then the woman's daughter, Gretta, came home with her friend Luke, and they refilled my coolant. Because apparently I was low on that, too.

Why do people let other people operate deadly machines without full knowledge of what kind of things happen inside to make them run? Why am I JUST NOW finding out about these liquids that run low and make your car a ticking time bomb?

I told Deanna my GPS sent me here and told me it was Magg's Auto. Apparently her husband owns a trucking company called Magg's.

Oh, GPS, you confused little robot.

Deanna told me that God had sent me there. Then she gave me a gallon of water and a towel in case I had to stop and put more water into my radiator, a glass of ice water because I was thirsty, and her phone number in case I had troubles further down the road. "Text me when you get there," she said.

I have met the nicest people in the midwest because my car is a pooper. (Remember last time?)

Nothing's ever easy.

I've been thinking about the process of moving down to Kentucky from Wisconsin. It has not gone smoothly. Things have not fallen beautifully into place. It has, in fact, been very hard.

And as I sat in Deanna's driveway while Cerberus leapt at my tires, I thought about opposition.

Jennie Allen talks about this in her book Anything:
Somewhere in my life I picked up the idea that if things did not feel right or fall perfectly into place, God was not in them. I thought obeying God should feel pretty easy and convenient. For instance, if God was calling you to Africa, then he would have a buyer for your house in two weeks; and if not, then he likely isn't in it....All my life I thought I had God's stamp of approval because my life wasn't going badly. Now I was faced with the fear that it might actually be the opposite. What if my life was going so beautifully because I wasn't chasing after God?
It makes sense to me that the harder we chase after God, the more opposition we will face.

Remember this blog post I wrote about living life surrendered to God? I am being reminded of that today. Surrender does not mean that we sit around and wait for God to move, or that we give up when we face opposition, but that in every choice we make, in every step we take, in every battle we fight, we are completely surrendered to whatever the outcome will be, and to the reality that God can alter our course at any moment.

So I'll keep walking, and fighting, and surrendering, and I will trust that God will keep making it clear what He has for me.

Because God will not waste a surrendered life. He waits eagerly for a surrendered life. Oh, what purposes God can accomplish with a surrendered life!

And you can trust that, no matter the opposition, He will accomplish them.
My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. - Thomas Merton 

8/27/14

Being Willing Clay

There are 1,000,001 other things I should be doing right now than writing a blog post.

But I'm sitting on the front porch, and I keep smelling apples, and little bee wings keep buzzing around the hostas like a little symphony, and I am overwhelmed by God's grace.

I've been thinking this week about that JJ Heller song, the one where she sings, "Be gentle with me, Jesus, as You tear me apart." It is kind of a modern-day prayer of the passage in Job that says, "For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal."

What a great God, to care so much about us that He doesn't leave us the way we are.

He could easily leave us as marred, chipped, and broken clay pots, but, loving Potter that He is, He instead knows that there is so much more for us, so much better for us, if we let Him shape us into something more beautiful.

If we let Him.

It has been my experience that "letting Him" is often very painful.

But His hands heal.

I would rather be broken by my God and healed by His hands than left as the imperfect vessel far from Him. Each time we are broken and put back together we are a little more whole than we were before, a little more like Him, a little nearer to Him. Praise God! There is nothing sweeter than tasting just a little bit more of God's goodness.

He doesn't need to give us the affirmation that He sees us, but He does. He doesn't need to give us the affirmation that He is with us, but He does. He doesn't need to tell us that He is pleased with us, that He delights in us as His beloved and paid-for children, and that neither death nor life nor angels nor demons nor past nor present nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation can separate us from His love...but He does.

He tells us all these things while tearing away the things that keep us from knowing Him more. He is just, but He is gentle. I am so grateful that amidst showing me the ugly parts of me that need to go, He holds me close and reminds me of how His blood has beautified me and how precious I am to Him. He doesn't need to do either of those things. But blessed God! He does both.

Just a few more days until I drive back down to Kentucky, once again embarking on a new journey into a new job and new city and new life. Sometimes I worry about it, but God says to me, "I am faithful to work in the little crevices of your heart, so trust me to be faithful in working out the bigger details of your life."

I do trust Him. Oh, for grace to trust Him more!

If you haven't already, please consider helping support me for this next year of my internship in Louisville. You can read about it and donate here.

Thanks for sharing in life with me, y'all.
May the Lord lead your hearts into a full understanding and expression of the love of God and the patient endurance that comes from Christ. - 2 Thessalonians 3:5 NLT

8/20/14

saddle up your horses

“August is a transitioning month for Wisconsin,” the man at church said. He was standing in my office and I was looking out my window, telling him I was already beginning to smell fall.

No, no, no, no, no. It is not allowed to be winter yet. It hasn’t even really been summer yet! It is not allowed to be winter yet. Not yet. No.

No.

I’ve been mulling over his words the past couple of weeks, chewing on them like a cow on verbal cud. August is a transitioning month. My teacher friends are starting work again. My school-aged friends are starting school again. The kids who are still 11 in my mind are posting pictures on Facebook of their college orientations. How did they become college students?

The past six months I’ve been living with my parents in the village of Glenbeulah, Wisconsin, population 463. Since I’ve been here they’ve opened this promising new establishment:



Good ol' Rusty's Oil & Tire (great name for an auto place). I walk past it sometimes with my finger on 911’s speed dial in case someone reaches out of the door and tries to snatch me.

I’ve also gotten to spend time with this family:



Aren’t they lovely? I gave my niece Annabelle her first swimming (AKA “kick the water like you’re a mermaid”) lesson and have already taught her how to blow raspberries and give zerbers and copy everything everyone says like an annoying echo. Emmalynn is still a little young to learn bad habits, but I’m working on it. I have a nephew on the way, too. I want them to name him JohnMcClane (no spaces or hyphens) but they probably won’t.

Over the past few months I’ve also learned a bit about myself:

1) I can eat ice cream for dinner many consecutive days before I feel convicted about it.

2) I hate mosquitoes so passionately I am willing to torch an entire community because sometimes lives must be lost in order to protect future lives.

3) My ability to make rational decisions diminishes incrementally the longer I go without seeing the sun.

3a) My gummy vitamin intake increases radically the longer I go without seeing the sun.

4) I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.

I'll be 27 in September, and sometimes I envy my friends. You know, the ones who have homes and stable jobs and spouses and children and matching mugs and furniture and cars that have airbags and at least an idea of what the next few years of their lives will look like.

I have no idea what the next few years of my life will look like. I think this is fairly common for 20-somethings. I can't tell you how many 20-something friends I know who have moved back home to live with their parents after a turn of events. God bless parents who welcome back their 20-somethings with grace and spare rooms. And to my 20-something friends who are still trying to figure out their lives: Be encouraged! You are not alone.

Sometimes I think that instead of asking kids what they want to "be" when they grow up, we should ask them what they love. I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. But I know I love the church. I know I love words. I know I love people. I know I love Jesus.
Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him. – Luke 5:27-28 NLT
When people ask me what my plans are or what my goal is, I don't know. I'm pretty sure Levi couldn't have answered that either when he left everything. He probably would've said, "I'm just following Jesus."

That's the only real goal I have, too.

And that's when I don't mind so much that none of my mugs have a theme and the only furniture I own is what my dad has picked out of other people’s trash. That's when I'm okay with moving, picking up and leaving, and trying something new, because with my God, I can do anything. I can go anywhere, lose everything, start over, face any situation, any challenge, with my God.

My God is my companion, and He is my partner. And I'll go with Him wherever.

Which makes it difficult, sometimes, when I have things in my life I don’t want to leave. Like my family. And a good job at a church. And good relationships and friendships. I start to question what it really means to follow Jesus. If God isn’t really making it clear where He wants me in the future, wouldn’t it be okay if I just made my own future? Isn’t our main goal in life to bring glory to God? Does it really matter how we bring glory to God?

Have you ever felt a tug, a pull, a nudge, a thought, a desire, that you just can't shake? Like that one birthday candle you just can't blow out, and it keeps burning and reigniting no matter how much slobber you spray on it? My desire to be in the church is like that slobbery, stubborn birthday candle. I try to make up different futures for myself but they never ignite like when I think about being in the church. 
“Your greatest fulfillment in life will come when you discover your unique gifts and abilities and use them to edify others and glorify the LORD." - Neil T. Anderson
I have never felt quite as much like I am doing what God has created me to do than when I am emptying myself into the local church. I've tried. Believe me, I've tried.

So, in keeping with August’s theme of transitions, I’m transitioning, too. I'm moving back to beautiful Kentucky, to the great city of Louisville, to intern in the communications department of Sojourn Community Church. I will get to write. I will get attend their leadership school. I will get to be a part of creative planning. I will get to attend workshops and conferences. I will get to further develop my unique gifts and abilities in order to edify others and glorify the Lord.

Burn, little slobber candle, burn.

This is where I need your help.

The internship is unpaid, which means I will have to raise support and find a part-time job. Because of some generous people in my life, I'll only have to raise $6,000 for the next year of my internship. If 60 people gave $100, that'd cover the whole shebang!

I've never had to raise money before. I don't like asking for money. I don't know anybody who really does. It makes me feel uncomfortable...and weird. But I do need your help. I can't do this on my own. I'm so thankful for those of you who have already given, in more ways than one. Your generosity and thoughtfulness humbles me.

To join in supporting me financially, click here. 

I would also love your support through prayers and encouragement. Your words mean so much to me!

All of that being said, I'm so, so grateful for this opportunity to serve the people of Louisville with such a wonderful church. I will keep y'all updated!

ONLY TEN MORE DAYS.

I wish hair like this was still in style:


5/10/14

hey, Marrieds...listen.

One time I watched an episode of Say Yes to the Dress where the girl dress-shopping told the cameras, "I'm 23, so I'm getting married pretty young." 

I don't think I was holding anything in my hands, but if I had been, I would've thrown it in the air and shouted "OPA!" because even though I don't know what that means, I think it's celebratory.

I don't think I've ever heard anyone in my own life say that 23 is young to get married. It seems like the age to get married, or maybe even to have already been married for a couple of years. Is that a Christian thing? Is that an American thing? Is it a human thing?

I will be 27 this fall and I'm pretty single. (By "pretty single" I mean I am pretty and I am single. That's actually not at all what I meant, but I'm going to stick with it.) I don't know about you who were or are single, but I have been given so much advice/been told so many things because of my singleness, and it can wear a person down. Usually I just smile and say "thank you" or nod like I agree, but here's what I really think about all the well-meaning singleness comments.

If I had a husband for every time I've been told one of the following, I could have my own TLC show:

1. "Being single is a blessing; you can use this time to prepare yourself for marriage."
That's very true. Andy Stanley (whom I respect and admire) recently did an entire message about this very topic. However, please show me the place in Scripture where Jesus tells us that our goal is to prepare for marriage. I recall Him telling us to go into the world and make disciples of all nations, and I recall Him telling us to love Him with all of our mind, soul, strength, and heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves, but I can't quite remember a time when Jesus tells us to change, transform, polish, and refine ourselves for the sake of our future mate. Could you point that out to me? I'll wait here.

2. “I wish you could date my son. He needs a good woman in his life.”
This is incredibly kind, and I'm flattered that you think so highly of me. However, my responsibility is to be a good woman. Your son’s responsibility is to be a good man. My responsibility is not to fix him up or help him mature, and his responsibility is not to wait around until he has a reason to mature. Relationships make all of us grow and mature in different ways, but I’m not waiting to grow and mature until I find a man, and I’m not interested in a man who is waiting to grow and mature until he finds a woman.

3. “He seems nice.”
“He’s married.”
Okay, cool. However, notice, I said, “He seems nice,” not, “Do you think he’d like to spend the rest of his life with me in a committed, monogamous relationship?” Contrary to the enormous sign saying “I’M MEASURING EVERY MAN I MEET AGAINST MARRIAGEABLE STANDARDS” that must be plastered to my forehead, I do not measure every man I meet against marriageable standards. My first thought is not, “Would his complexion complement my kitchen towels?” I am not a starving lioness on the prowl for a wounded wildebeest. I view people as people, not for what their potential relationship to me could be.

4. “I’m praying for a man to come into your life.”
I absolutely know that you who are married with kiddies have experienced a life joy that I have not yet, and that you want me to have that same happiness. However, maybe I don’t want a man to come into my life right now. Relationships don’t solve problems. In reality, they create problems. They can be so fulfilling and life-giving, but they also take work. So I will give you something else to pray about, because I have plenty of things in my life I need Jesus to help me work on without adding a whole other human being onto the list.

5. “As soon as I decided I was okay being single, my husband/wife came along!”
That is awesome. I love when God works that way. Isn’t it fun? However, God does not always work that way. I have been in the “okay with being single” stage of life for roughly seven years now. Men have come in and out of my life. I’ve dated a couple of them. I haven’t married any of them. I've been single longer than I've dated. So please don’t present an attitude of contentment as a magic formula to find a spouse. Every person on earth should work on cultivating an attitude of contentment regardless of what stage of life they’re in, and for no other reason than to be the complete and whole and confident person that God has created them to be.

6. “My husband/wife and I have been thinking about who we could set you up with.”
It’s so encouraging to know that people (other than my mom and her best friend) care about the details of my life! However, maybe you could just have dinner with me instead of trying to come up with some stranger man to have dinner with me. I spend more of my time wanting friends than boyfriends. And if you and your spouse need something to think about, I have lots of other problems you can do some brainstorming on, and let me know what you come up with.

7. “Someday some guy is going to be very lucky.” / ”Someday you’ll make some guy very happy.”
I'm very flattered by your confidence in me. However, maybe not. Maybe I’ll never get married. Maybe I’ll run an orphanage or a halfway house or a dorm full of college students or a church. Will they be very lucky? Will I make them happy? Is my small group lucky to have me? Or my family? Or will I still never reach my full potential because I’m not a wife? My giftings and personality traits were not put in me to make a man happy. They were put in me to serve this world, to glorify God, and to point people to Jesus. That is my ultimate goal, not to make a man happy.

All this to say: Do I want to make a man happy, raise kiddies, and have family portraits in our backyard wearing blue jeans and mismatching white shirts? Do I want a partner in ministry, someone I can support and who will support me and be my companion on this journey of life?

Absolutely I do. Some days more strongly and unavoidably than others.

But there are also a great many other things I want, involving my career and my community and my family and my friendships and my abilities and my character. 

So let’s not focus on one thing and pretend it makes up the whole.

5/5/14

hey, Church...listen.

We switched over the way sermons are uploaded onto the church website a couple of months ago. I had to create new usernames and passwords, and one Sunday between services I walked one of the sound guys through the new procedure.

"Go here," I pointed, "and type in the username, 'Production Team.'"

"Wow," he said, "you make us sound important."

I blinked. "You are important," I said. I then resisted the urge to grab him by the shoulders, look him in the eye with tears in my eyes, and say, "Do you understand?"

Who decides who's important?

Is the worship leader the important one? Because the people who control the mix of the band and who put up the lyrics of the songs are just as key to leading worship through music as the guy playing the guitar up front.

Is the speaker the important one? Because the people who get up early to make good coffee and greet me with smiles and make me feel welcomed speak a message to me long before I get to the actual sermon.

Is the graphics guy the important one? The video gal? The one who prints the bulletin? Because more people come to church through the invite of a friend than through the snazziest, classiest, coolest promotion.

I've done a lot of different things in the church. I've manned the projector when the songs were on transparencies. I've folded a lot of bulletins. I've led small groups and been in small groups and written for small groups. I've been up front, I've been way in the back, I've been on the stage, I've been behind the scenes, I've picked up trash, I've come in early and stayed late, I've sung and I've listened, I've been paid and I've volunteered and I've not volunteered but been forced to do things anyway because my dad's a church-planting pastor.

I have yet to find one job in the church that is more important than another. One position that is more important. One person who is the most important.

My friends who lead and volunteer in their missional communities are important. My friends who are on staff at mega churches are important. My friends who work secular jobs but generously give and show Jesus' love to their coworkers are important. Know why?

BECAUSE YOU ARE THE CHURCH.

I don't care what you do or where you do it. You are the Church. I don't care if you're in your office cubicle or preaching a sermon from a stage. The building doesn't make someone or some task important. The fact that you carry the Holy Spirit around with you wherever you go and can be a living, breathing example of a God who lives and breathes as well...that's pretty important.

I love the local church that gathers together on weekends, but that is not the definition of the Church, and who does what in those corporate gatherings on the weekend does not determine importance.

You are the Church.

You, you, you.

And you are important.

4/30/14

God's Provision, pt II

This is the month that my life changed in a lot of big ways last year. Job changes and church changes and relationship changes and city & state changes. Enough change for a whole lifetime, thanks. I think I'll resign from changing and become a statue.

It's been a year, and I think that even amidst my wondering "how long, O Lord?" I've always thought it wouldn't be too long. I've always had this idea in my mind that, once I figured out what God was trying to teach me in one season, He'd move me into the next season. I'd end up at my destination and look back and say, "It was all leading to this!"

But I've learned a lot in the last year, and my season remains.

Yes, most of the fluctuation has ceased (thank You, Jesus). I have a job and I live with my family and things seem to have finally settled down for a little while. The part of physical bewilderment around every turn has ended.

But the part where I'm still not sure what my purpose is or why that had to happen or what I am supposed to do and where I'm supposed to go from here, the part where I've been stripped of everything and it feels like I've taken 50 steps backwards with no known reason why...that part of the season I'm still in. I still have no answers and no real direction. I still feel like I'm in a wasteland of sorts, very far away from (and sometimes unsure if there even is) a "destination." I still deal with shadows and echoes of pain and loss.

So I write this post because my most-read post last year was one about God not providing. I don't know where you are, you who read that post last year. Maybe you're out of that season, or beyond it, or just beginning it, or still in the middle of it. Wherever you are, I wanted to touch base with you.

I emailed my friend Justin with lots of facts about my current life, like random puzzle pieces dumped onto the table in hopes that maybe he could piece some things together and give me at least an idea of the picture they're supposed to make, so that I could make sense of what I'm living.

No pressure.

Instead, and thankfully, Justin said this:
It may seem like everything you've come through looks like it's not the right fit - but it may not be the right fit because God needs to change your shape instead of the situation. God changing you is more important than God using you....We can't discount the fact that God puts us in remarkably frustrating situations sometimes not to change them, but to change us. Surrender in these situations looks something like, "God, I surrender to a season, that while I might not be able to change the circumstance, I will allow you to let it change me."
I have been praying that prayer a lot. A lot.

Because during the first part of this season it was all I could do just to endure, to simply hold on for dear life and pray I make it through. But now that I've endured and had quite enough of this season and am ready for the next one and am ready for it now, I find I must surrender.

The new Bethel album has a song called "It is Well." They sing, "Through it all, it is well." I listened to the first half of the song and admitted to the Lord, "I have not thought much of this last year has been 'well,' Lord."

But then I realized that singing "it is well" does not mean "I am happy with this." God doesn't ask you to be "happy" when He leads you through suffering and difficult times.

Instead, I think "it is well" is a prayer of surrender. The same as "so be it" or "not my will, but Yours."

Even if everything I don't want to happen, happens, it is well.
Even if I am somewhere I don't want to be for longer than I want to be there, it is well.
Even if I don't know where You're taking me and You will only light one step at a time (or sometimes just ask me to hold Your hand through the dark), it is well.
Even if I have no idea when this season will end, or if it ever will, or what the purpose of it is, it is well.
If you want to change me, transform me, break me, and reshape me, it is well.

The second half of that Bethel song goes like this:
Let go, my soul,
and trust in Him
the waves and wind
still know His name
So this part II of my "what if God doesn't provide?" question from so many months ago is not a "be encouraged, friends, because I have arrived and God provided and He'll do the same for you!" post. 'Cause I haven't arrived. I'm still very much adrift at sea.

But be encouraged, friends, because the waves and wind still know His name.

Be encouraged, friends, because there is no one more trustworthy to be surrendered to.

And be encouraged, friends, because this is what the Lord speaks over me, and He speaks it over you, too:

I'm not done.
This isn't a mistake. 
You didn't mess anything up. 
And you aren't messed up.
Nothing is beyond My redemption. 
I've known from the beginning where I want you to be and what it'd take to get you there. 
I'm working on it. 
I'm not done.

2/4/14

the ten lepers & me

This is a picture I have hanging above my computer, as a reminder.

Those are my feet. They were sticking out of a car window last May.

Six weeks earlier, they were propped up on my chair while I lay on the floor next to my desk. Easter weekend was over. Our three services of the morning had just concluded, which had followed a Saturday night service which had followed a Saturday Easter festival which had followed a Good Friday service.

My back hurt.

In the other room, a couple of pastors were gathering their things to head home. Without mentioning the past 48 hours, they began talking about the message series starting next weekend.

I stared at the ceiling.

The biggest, longest, greatest, most exciting, and most exhausting weekend of the year had hardly finished before we were already discussing next weekend.

No time to bask in the joy of what had just happened in our community and church.

No time to rest from the hours and hours and hours of work that went into setting the stage for it to happen.

In Luke 17, Jesus heals ten people who have leprosy. Every single one of them walks away but one. One man who was healed of leprosy comes back and thanks Jesus for healing him.

Jesus responds in verse 18, "Has no one returned to give glory to God except this foreigner?"

A couple of weeks ago I sat with my roommate, Kim, in our box-filled apartment on one of my last nights there. I was in the middle of packing up my life and moving.

"What a year!" Kim said.
I rolled my eyes in agreement as I thought of all the crap over the past 12 months.
Then Kim said, "Let's talk about how far you've come in a year."

A-ha.

You often hear ministry leaders talk about "celebrating wins." What went well? Where was success? It seems to me that it's much easier to talk about what went terribly, what we need to do better, how we need to prepare for what's next. And all those things are very, very important.

But so is celebrating wins.

Whereas my mind automatically sifted through what went terribly, my roommate wanted to celebrate the wins. She was being like the one healed man while I was being like the nine who walked away.

Because celebrating wins is returning to give glory to God. 

It isn't complimenting ourselves or puffing up our egos. It isn't being idealistic or unrealistic or any other istic. It isn't ignoring the crap or overlooking the mistakes. Celebrating wins is recognizing what God has done. Acknowledging how He has worked. Being thankful and grateful. Keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus.

It's something that I want to do much more of. I want to celebrate the wins in my life. I want to celebrate the wins in my work. I want to return to give glory to God.

Because sometimes I think God celebrates what He does in our lives more than we do.

1/7/14

It's all about perspective.

I needed a light bulb for my IKEA lamp - the kind that are only sold at IKEA, of course, because IKEA is the Apple of home furnishings.

So I detoured to Cincinnati on my way home from Wisconsin, after seven hours already on the road, a cassette tape on spiritual warfare, and lots of Amy Grant (the "Heart in Motion" album).

The moment I pushed on my brakes to take my exit, my oil light came on. Not a casual light-up like when you're running low on gas and your gas light kind of fades in and out as if saying, "So, hey, you could use some gas. But no rush. Whenevs. I like your sweater." This light blared like it suddenly realized WE WERE ALL GOING TO DIE.

I quite audibly heard my dad say, "As soon as the oil light comes on, you need to take your car to a mechanic. You could ruin your engine."

I, alone in my car, quite audibly responded, "What do I do what do I do what do I do."

I decided that if I could make it to IKEA, I could check my oil and see if my light was bluffing. (Guess what, everyone: I know how to check my oil. Guess what, everyone: That's about as much as I know.)

There just happens to be a mechanic right across the street from IKEA, did you know that?

I pulled into the IKEA parking lot (because I still needed a light bulb, regardless of the state of my car) and popped my hood. My hood has seen a lot in its days, so after climbing on top of it and stomping on it while growling "What. is. your. problem" through clenched teeth, a nice man with his wife and two kids passed by and helped me open it. "Mommy, why was that lady jumping on top of her car?" his daughter probably asked as they walked away. To which she probably responded, "Walk faster and don't make eye contact."

(I later discovered that sticking a cassette tape in the release lever inside while pulling on the hood up front does just the trick. It helps if the cassette tape is about spiritual warfare, but it's not a necessity.)

There was no oil in my car. None. And IKEA on a Saturday night is a ZOO.

As I pulled across the street to the mechanic place (with my light bulb in possession), my engine made rattling noises. I pictured it blowing up and told Jesus I was ready.

The man inside told me they didn't have time to look at my car that night. I think he saw that I was going to cry, because he told me to pull up to the bay so he could quickly check my oil. (I then learned what a "bay" is.) Inside my own head I kept pleading that my dad would magically appear and solve all my problems, because that's what dads do.

The mechanic confirmed my discovery of 0% oil, seemingly shocked. Then he walked to the back of my car, stuck a finger in the tailpipe, and pulled it out covered in black gunk. He showed it to me like I should be very concerned. I shook my head as if I couldn't believe what this meant. Really, I had no idea what this meant.

"And it's not powdery," he further proved the point I was oblivious to. "It's wet."

He probably realized I was clueless (he was very observant, apparently - or maybe my face just displays everything I'm thinking [yeah, probably that]), because he then explained that my car was burning up my oil. Depending on how much it was burning, I could've done serious damage to my engine and might need a new one. I tried not to cry. He called another mechanic over to take a look.

There are two things that can happen when you are a.) a girl and b.) clueless about cars. Mechanics can either take advantage of you ("You need a new hoojamawhatsit OR ELSE and that'll be $2,500 - cash or credit or blood?") or they can take pity on you and be overly kind and call you things like "honey" in a fatherly and non-creepy way.

I thank God that these two mechanics were the latter kind.

While one guy filled my car with oil and commented on the weather, the other refilled my windshield wiper fluid and checked my transmission fluid, and I stood there dumbly. Then they gave me directions to the nearest AutoZone and wrote down exactly what oil I needed to buy.

"Don't let them trick you into getting anything more expensive," Observant Mechanic said. He handed me a cloth. "You'll need this. It's clean. Stop in about an hour to check the level of your oil. Do you know how to check your oil?"

Yay! I know something.

"Don't rush it," Weatherman Mechanic said. "Take your time."

"Can I pay you something?" I asked.

Observant Mechanic waved a hand and crinkled his nose. "Nah. That's what we're here for."

I drove home and cried a lot. Because at first I had been terrified and frustrated and exhausted at the thought of more bad things happening to me. At first.

But then I was overwhelmed by God's grace. What if I hadn't gotten off in Cincinnati and my engine had exploded on the highway? What if I had gotten off somewhere else where there wasn't a mechanic right across the street? What if the mechanic I had gone to was grumpy and greedy and either didn't help me or charged me a lot?

"I took care of you," God said. "Look at how I took care of you."

You can choose not to see God's grace. You can choose to only see the dark and murky places and things. You can choose to complain and pity.

Or you can choose to see how He has watched your every step. You can choose to see how He met your needs. You can choose to see how He rescued you. You can choose to see how He was with you (Deuteronomy 2:7).

Because He has and was and is. It's just all about perspective.
"Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows," Jesus said. "But I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me, and take heart, because I have overcome the world." - John 16:33 (paraphrased and emphasis added)