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What if… what if we really took the message to love one another seriously?

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What if… what if we really took the message to love one another seriously?

Imagine that. Imagine if the church was known more for reflecting Christ like that instead of reflecting hate or intolerance.

What if… what if we really took the message to love one another seriously? What if we really took the time, the patience, the sacrifices to know others intimately, the people that get looked over? What if we really stopped saying the Church was a family and lived like a family, a family that loved one another, where our needs are actually met, physically and emotionally?

The last few months, I have learned a lot about love. I have learned what it’s not. I have learned some of what it is. I have had a first hand taste at how hard it can be to choose to love when what you want to do is tell another the “truth in love”. But the truth is that love does not harm. Love does not seek it’s own. It does not care to be “right”. Love pursues. Love doesn’t give up. Love seeks what’s best for another. Love helps and holds on and hold hope.

Giving a cliche response in to another in”truth and love” can often be a cop out. Rather than sticking with someone through the hardship/pressure/challenge/suffering, we may choose the more comfortable route of a quick answer or prayer. But often, in the language of love, there is not an easy answer to hardship or suffering or even most sin. The tangles of sin are mixed between our choices and choices that were chosen OVER us. It’s not as easy as “choosing joy” or “stopping” sin. God is less interested in behavior modification as he is in character development. He said in 1 John, to abide in the light. He did not say, this is how you walk in the light. Switch the two and we have dogmatic Christianity.

If  you want to do the work of God, pay attention to people. Notice them. Especially the people nobody else notices. -John Ortberg

This is love:

Isaiah 1:17:

Say no to wrong.
Learn to do good.
Work for justice.
Help the down-and-out.
Stand up for the homeless.
Go to bat for the defenseless.

And this one:

1 Peter 4:8

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

The language of friendship is not words but meanings. – Henry David Thoreau

We give meaning to love. We have one word to convey a whole host of meanings. The language that our friendship speaks is not just through word, but through what those words AND actions AND body language communicate. Love is far more than a word.

“If there is love, there is hope to have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, real peace. If the love within your mind is lost, if you continue to see other beings as enemies, then no matter how much knowledge or education you have, no matter how much material progress is made, only suffering and confusion will ensue.” -Dalai lama

You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.- Amy Carmichael

Love your neighbor. Do good to those who harm you. Reconcile. Restore. Build. Create. Dwell. Sacrifice. Offer. Forgive. Sustain. Nourish. Invite. Welcome. Host. Heal. Bind up. Be.

Be.

Be with.

Be near.

Be alongside.

It’s how Jesus loved his neighbors. It’s what he offers to us, Himself. It’s all we have to offer one another.

“Real progress in the Christian life is not gauged by our knowledge of scripture, our church attendance, time in prayer, or even our witnessing (although it isn’t less than these things) Maturity in the Christian life is measured by only one test: how much closer to his character have we become? the result of the Spirit’s work is more not more activity. No, the results of his work are in in our quality of life, they are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”-Elyse M. Fitzpatrick

31 Days of Writing: Love

 

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No more tit-for-tat stuff, live generously.

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To you who are ready for the truth, I say this: Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst.

When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer for that person. If someone slaps you in the face, stand there and take it. If someone grabs your shirt, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it.

If someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life.

No more tit-for-tat stuff.

Live generously.

(Luke 6:27-30)

We have this kid on the team I coach. ATTITUDE. ALL. THE. TIME. I’ve been her coach for 3 years and every year we consider cutting her. But I push for her to stay. Because without knowing details, I know there’s a lot going on inside of her, in her heart, in her home, in her life. Some kids throw their anger outward and lash out at others, some inward and injure themselves through harm and shame. Both are equally dangerous, but the latter is more socially acceptable, even considered unjustly honorable in some situations.

Each year we’ve accepted her to the Varsity team. Each year we’ve said we won’t do it again the next year. And each year I convince the other coach that we should. Not because she’s a great player. She won’t get the Coaches Award for best sportsmanship by far. We spend many practices trying to get her attention, get her to care, work on her skills, focus. And to be honest, we over hear her talking about us often. That cuts. Deep.

But I want her on the time because she’s like me. Her anger is outward, the socially “unacceptable”. Mine is inward, the “humble and gracious”. To be honest, I wish I could be more like her, more angry with people, more expressive, less internally explosive. She doesn’t live with an internal fear that people will once again reject and abandon her. Her fear is right there in the open, for all to see. Nothing is hidden. I admire that. And I believe she’ll work through it as long as people don’t give up on her. Don’t cut her out for being different or difficult. Don’t leave her when it’s hard. Live generously.

Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. (Luke 6:31-34)

I decided before the softball season started, I would write a letter to each of the student’s parents sometime during the season, expressing what we appreciate about their child. Many of our kids come from challenging situations. Not many parents come to our games (but faculty does!). A few weeks ago, one of our kids received an injury to which the parent responded, “She shouldn’t even be playing sports. She’s not an athlete.” Sad, because not only is this student an athlete, but she’d been on our team for 3 years and was a starter for a team that was top on the league. Imagine what comments like that due to a kid’s self-esteem.

Situations like that occur often. So I decided to let the parents know how much their child is appreciated as a way to honor the student and encourage them. I arrived at our last practice of the season before our championship game with a few of these last cards. I handed them out. One of the girls was missing and no one knew why. It was attitude girl. The consequence for missing a practice before a game is you can not play, you can not travel with the team, and you will be talked with by the athletic director if it’s an unexcused absence. Regardless of who it is.

I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Live out this God-created identity the way our Father lives toward us, generously and graciously, even when we’re at our worst. Our Father is kind; you be kind. (Luke 6:35-36)

The other coach had had it. He was angry and wanted her off the team. In that moment, we once again decided she wouldn’t be on the team next year. And here I sat with a card I addressed to her, not her parents, about how proud I am of the way she’s worked at her attitude these past two weeks. A card to encourage her. I wanted to throw it in the trash. I felt like a fool. I sat in my car for a while decided what to do with this card. “She doesn’t deserve it. What the HECK is she thinking?! I’m going to “talk” to her.” Other coach wanted her not to come to the championship game. We rented a bus for this game, so everyone could come and it’s a really long ride, which means we’d stop on the way home and eat out, something all the students love. This wasn’t just a game, this was a team experience that we wanted every student to have.

I was shocked by how much anger filled me over this student.

…Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never regret it. Live out this God-created identity, generously and graciously… 

We let her come to the game. We didn’t address the issue with her. It wasn’t worth it. We were JUST.DONE.  As I got in my car to head home after that championship game, I saw the note I wrote to her on my floor. I felt sucker punched. “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity.”

Yea, I had been reading this part in Luke the day before. This part that talks about cultivating a soft heart, a generous heart, so that the blind aren’t leading the blind. So that God is leading us into situations that reflect the Imago Dei. So that people are loved and encouraged in a way that honors God and brings about shalom.

I sat in my car for a long time evaluating what it means to coach, to care, to love. I thought through what it means to be easy on people, to not condemn those who are down. I thought of how hard I have been with others in the past, who have shown me such soft gentleness and the way that changed my life. My self-protective measure wasn’t an outward attitude, but a inward resistance. But they are both the same. Her and I. How could I condemn someone for the VERY same thing I was?

Just earlier that same morning I was sobbing on the phone to a friend. I needed encouragement. I needed someone to speak true things into my own heart. I needed to be revived some. When the encourager is discouraged and feels defeated, I’ve found it’s hard for others to know how to help. We all need encouragement.

We all need reminders that what we do doesn’t make us who we are. What’s been done to us doesn’t limit us.

We all need someone to be a little more easy on us, a little more loving, a little more gentle.

We need reminders that though we fail, we’re not given up on. Though we’re not enough, we still matter. We need others to speak alive the truths of who we are right into our very little hearts until that truth becomes a reality. 

We need people who believe we can become and are more than what we (and others) see us as.

We need to know we’re enough- loved, cared about, cared for, valued, wanted- even at our worst. Because He’s generous and gracious even when we are at our worst.

So here I am, heading to her school. Heading to drop off her card. To hand it to her face to face. To remind her she’s still loved, still valued. Not because she deserves it, but precisely because she doesn’t and needs it. She’s bringing out the best in me, by making me see the worst in me.

 

That time I exposed my hairy leg…

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“Girls, your glove has to MEET the dirt! Knees bent, back straight, glove extended. On your toes!” Ya. I kept telling those 7th, 8th, and 9th grade infielders who kept missing the softball. They were hard hits that were hard to catch, but not impossible and certainly doable for these kids.

I know they could sense my frustration. I don’t mind mistakes from them, but my rule of thumb with them is that they need to think through it, learn from it, and not make the same mistake twice. They usually don’t, this Varsity softball team picks things up quickly. But not today. They were hot, sweaty, and dirty. I needed to do something. This game mattered a lot and we were quickly losing our marginal lead as they were losing their tenacity for the game.

Maybe seeing someone frustrated with you could be motivating, but it’s not for me and it’s not for the girl’s on my team. It’s just shaming. So I pulled back. I prayed. I asked God to change my attitude from wanting to win, to wanting to instill a strong character in these young women, as far as it depended on me. I asked for words to say to them. Just something that would shift the attitude that was killing our team. Coaching isn’t so much about building skills, as it is about building character. The skills will follow.

I called a time-out, pulled all the kids in and pulled up the leg of my pants and exposed my leg, a part of my body I had been purposely keeping covered in pants. Several of them  starting bursting out loud, “Miss Syndal, that’s baaaad.” I told them how, in life, we can’t do everything well, all the time. We have to choose what’s important in any given situation. It’s not always easy. Sometimes, we just have to let go of the things we can’t control and focus on what we can. I couldn’t shave my legs for 2 months because I was too ill to bend in the shower safely and it took a lot of energy to do that. It was more important to me to cook food, or fold my laundry, or read a book with the energy I did have. I couldn’t do it all, all the time. My situation in life had changed drastically and I had to begin this process of learning that I can’t do and be all that I could before. It was hard. It is hard.

With smiles on, our 6 person infield headed back onto the field. My frustration was changed. In that moment with the girls I was reminded of God’s faithfulness and all He’s bringing me through. I knew where I had been and that I wasn’t there anymore and it was something I desperately wanted them to know, that life gets hard. Pressures come from all sorts of places. We make mistakes. We hurt people. We let people down. People get upset with us. And all we can do is let the glove meet the dirt and do the best we can with what we’ve got in the very next thing.

And yea, we won the game!

Five Minute Friday

It’s a hard season to swallow for me. It’s a hard season to be thankful: #7 Weak Body

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You see, these two holiday months-November and December- don’t create warm fuzzy feelings in me. I am not thankful this time of year. I have whole lists (and probably lists upon lists if I am honest) of what I am missing in my life, places that have come up dry and hard, painful and sore. Missing holes that I’ve asked the Lord to fill, but for now He has chosen not to. It’s a hard season to swallow for me. It’s a hard season for me to be thankful.

Holes and wounds and brokenness- they just aren’t things we associate with thankfulness. But this season is about thankfulness isn’t it? Isn’t it about “1000 gifts”, prayers of thankfulness, and acknowledging those we love?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s about those things, or maybe it’s a season in the year to just endure. I can keep my lists of all the things I don’t have that seem profoundly long this time of the year and grow frustrated and lonely. But then there’s this concept of gratefulness that I do have.

Gratefulness: warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received.

Gratefulness reveals a deep warmth of appreciation. It indicates something much deeper than thankfulness. It expresses the generosity of God in his Personhood (good, warm, loving, receptive, attentive, available). Gratefulness is receiving all the things I never knew I wanted but God gave me. I didn’t ask for them. I never prayed for them, but He gave them to me anyways.

Rather than listing all the things I am thankful for (don’t get me wrong, that is a good practice of the heart too!), I want to reflect on all the ways God gave me things I hold so dear now, that I never knew I wanted and never asked for in a few installments over the next few weeks. Check out part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, and part 6. Here’s the seventh:

God gave me a weak body

What did you imagine you’d be doing when you were 8 years old? I thought I’d be a veterinarian or maybe a math teacher. In high school I thought I’d be in special education and in college I thought I’d be moving to Haiti. I was willing to go anywhere, as long as I could sleep on the ground and care for kids without parents. I was more willing than most to do some extreme self-sacrificing, Jesus promoting ministry in a 3rd world country. In fact, my little college group of want-to-be missionaries thought I’d be the one to ACTUALLY make it on the mission field. I had the brains, the stamina, AND the will to see it through. Well, life didn’t work out AT ALL like I had thought and hoped.

Early on as a child, I was taught to work hard at everything I did. But I wasn’t taught it from a stand alone place. The underlining reason for working hard was to guarantee that I would never, ever, EVER have to rely on anyone. I was taught people let you down. I was taught in word to only trust people you are related to, but in action I was taught to trust no one, rely on no one, and never show weakess.

Only weak people rely on others. Only weak people can’t make it on their own. Weak people get into sticky and messy relationships. Weak people are abused, weak people do drugs, weak people are alcoholics and addicts and sexual offenders. Weak people use food stamps and section 8 housing. At least that’s what I was taught, not always with words, but consistently in action.

Working hard was ingrained in me and working hard, diligently, and thoroughly was what I knew to do. I did it well. I plan. I map out a strategy to accomplish things, from cleaning the house to starting and directing a teen pregnancy home in the states and an orphanage in another country (yep, I have full laid out business plans and procedures and check offs for these). When I wanted to lose weight, I even mapped out how much weight I wanted to lose by specific days in the months. And I accomplished it.

I got mostly straight A’s in school and college. I ran track, played basketball, softball, hockey, and soccer. I had the makings of an athlete with a strong mind and will power to see things through completely. I was a whole package. I was physically active. My older and younger sisters envied that school AND sports came easy to me. I didn’t play with toys or play socially like most kids. I read or shot hoops or taught myself how to do things (like bicycle or roller blade). The librarian often had books waiting for me that she thought I’d enjoy. I was a regular on the court and in the library. But when I was 17 years old, I started getting fevers.

Then I would get stomach pains and hemorrhage inside. Eating was painful. I had no energy. I threw up often. My joints and bones throbbed. I fell often. I’ve been diagnosed and misdiagnosed or “re-diagnosed” more times than I have fingers AND toes.

I had all sorts of plans for my life. I was willing. Willing to sell all I have and move over seas. Willing to die at the cost of caring for children or lepers or aids or malaria. I was willing to let go of this American dream. I was willing to let go of this America altogether. I was done with her. I wanted out of this materialistic, money-driven, exclusive-family-unit culture. I had a vision for my life, one that fit in the gospel, and I had every means at my disposal to see it through. My dreams were good and honorable and gospel oriented.

But I got sicker. Pancreatitis. Suspected lymphoma. Low dose chemo. Blood transfusions. Oxygen. Pneumonia. Trials of medication. Injections. Nutritional infusions. Shingles for YEARS. Rickets. Atrophy. Systemic arthritis. Loss of full function kidneys. Asthma. Food allergies. Environment allergies. The list goes on. And seems to get longer each year.

Directing an orphanage in another country was out.

Starting a teen pregnancy home-out.

Visiting another country-out.

Playing a sport in college was definitely out.

Riding a bike was out. Swimming-out. Kale-out. Veggies-out. Dairy-out. Gluten-out. Even living at college to finish my degree was no longer realistic.

Everything I had hoped and planned so meticulously for, was out-no longer possible. No matter how much I tried to make it happen-eating healthier, finding ways to exercise, working harder in school, making the right connections, new doctors, better doctors. Nothing I did mattered. God was not having it. I lost a lot. I was broken hearted from so many of my desires for my life, good desires, that seemed to be falling through my finger tips.

In the breaking came new desires, a new ability to live in the tension of things that were only concepts before. The irony: I have to rely on people for nearly everything.

I needed help to live. I needed to be taken care of sometimes. I needed help to shower. I needed help with laundry. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t remember when I took medications. I needed money. I needed shoes or a coat. I couldn’t work. Can’t can’t can’t. Need need need. I was seethed at night, angry at God for all the good things I wanted to do, and He’d have me do none of it? Really? How dare He tell me what I couldn’t do!

When I was a young girl, I often said to myself, “You’re going to get out of this cycle of poverty and abuse. You’re going to make it in life.” My mom used to tell me that if I tried hard enough and put in the work, I could make it happen. It’s a good sentiment. It gave me a goal, but Jesus wrecks that.

I love how the Message puts the words of Jesus in Matthew 5:

  • You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
  • You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.
  • You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
  • You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
  • You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
  • You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
  • You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

End of your rope? Blessed. Lost what’s the most dear to you? Blessed. Have nothing to show for your life and okay to sit in the middle of that? Blessed.

I lost everything I was working towards and God said I am blessed because it’s creating in me an appetite for the things of God, not of my own will. Blessed. He’s developing in me a softened heart that cares about the things of God and cares greatly. Blessed. He even said I’m blessed when my chaotic inside world (priorities, desires, wants, needs) gets flipped upside down, because then it can be put right. And then and ONLY then can I see God in the outside world. Blessed. Only then can I be a peacemaker, a minister of reconciliation, both between people and before God.

Here’s another way to put it: “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.

This isn’t the life I dreamed for myself. It doesn’t always feel blessed. I don’t always feel blessed. I didn’t expect to be 27 years old, sick, disabled, single, AND in America. I half begged God to let me leave this US of A. But He hasn’t. I’m not sure it will ever be an option for me. But it’s still true, in my weak and sick body, He is using me to bring out the God-colors in this world. Maybe not in Haiti or Columbia or Turkey. Maybe just in my home, in my doctor’s offices, in the games of softball I coach. Maybe being faithful in the little things really is being faithful in much. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with living an extraordinarily normal life as a light-bearer in my small faithful ways.

I still want to sleep on the floor with orphans in another country. But maybe God’s created in me far more in the breaking of my physical abilities than He ever could have in the granting of my hopes for my life. God cares more about me than He does about my dreams.

One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much -Luke 16:10

It’s a hard season to swallow for me. It’s a hard season to be thankful: #6 Hope

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It’s a hard season to swallow for me. It’s a hard season to be thankful: #6 Hope

You see, these two holiday months-November and December- don’t create warm fuzzy feelings in me. I am not thankful this time of year. I have whole lists (and probably lists upon lists if I am honest) of what I am missing in my life, places that have come up dry and hard, painful and sore. Missing holes that I’ve asked the Lord to fill, but for now He has chosen not to. It’s a hard season to swallow for me. It’s a hard season for me to be thankful.

Holes and wounds and brokenness- they just aren’t things we associate with thankfulness. But this season is about thankfulness isn’t it? Isn’t it about “1000 gifts”, prayers of thankfulness, and acknowledging those we love?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s about those things, or maybe it’s a season in the year to just endure. I can keep my lists of all the things I don’t have that seem profoundly long this time of the year and grow frustrated and lonely. But then there’s this concept of gratefulness that I do have.

Gratefulness: warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received.

Gratefulness reveals a deep warmth of appreciation. It indicates something much deeper than thankfulness. It expresses the generosity of God in his Personhood (good, warm, loving, receptive, attentive, available). Gratefulness is receiving all the things I never knew I wanted but God gave me. I didn’t ask for them. I never prayed for them, but He gave them to me anyways.

Rather than listing all the things I am thankful for (don’t get me wrong, that is a good practice of the heart too!), I want to reflect on all the ways God gave me things I hold so dear now, that I never knew I wanted and never asked for in a few installments over the next few weeks. Check out part one, part two, part three, part four, and part five. Here’s the sixth:

God gave me hope

Feeling powerless is dangerous. When I feel like I can’t control what I need to, when I am powerless to bring about what I desire, I feel desperate. Despair long enough, and your hope for anything different dwindles. It feels like a constant losing game. Set up to fail. Fool: you should have known better Syndal.

Without hope, we lose all ability to see or think clearly. We can’t risk disappointment. We lose touch with ourselves and with others. We can not affect change. We lose the ability to remain resilient. We become hopeless.

I’ve felt hopeless, living off route memory, knowing what I was “supposed” to be, knowing how I was “supposed” to act. Long before I was willing to admit I had lost hope, I felt hopeless. I remember it like it was yesterday, sitting at this coffee shop with my friend/boss/pastor and saying, “I feel hopeless”. Those three little words I had felt for so long but hadn’t the courage to speak them. Who dares admit that when an underlining premise of the christian faith is based on hope…

I felt some instant relief when I spoke what was literally true for me. But I wasn’t understood. He said I had to have hope. I responded, “Not really“. It was in that instant of being able to SPEAK what was true for me, that I think a little bit of hope was born in that seed of courage. Hope enough to press on, even though I wasn’t understood.

You see, we need courage blown into our dwindling fire of hope. We need others to speak courageous and brave things into our hearts, reminding us to take steps and leaps and jumps, like the flames need oxygen to grow. Without it, doubt and fear overwhelm, take root, and destroy hope. We need the spirit that hope brings to carry us through those dark moments. We need courage spoken into our lives, penetrating our hearts, intercepting the lies, the doubts, the fears, the despair.

“Hope is not an emotion; it’s a way of thinking or a cognitive process.” –Brene Brown

Hope changes how you think. Hope reframes how we see and view the world. Hope sets us up to succeed, not fail, regardless of the outcome. And that’s what it’s all about isn’t it?

Hope sets us up to succeed in the most beautiful ways, to changing our cognitive patterns so we start to see what’s unseen. We see the beauty of humanity, the potential in the addict, the homeless man, the overtly defiant 3rd grader. We see this potential and we come alongside them and gently develop this potential in them. We call it out and speak courage and kindness and hope and life into their hearts the way that God breathed life into us. The way that Jesus saw a bunch of ordinary, normal men and knew they’d become extraordinary.

“She could never go back and make some of the details pretty. All she could do was move forward and make the whole beautiful.” -Torri St. Cloud

My story isn’t pretty. It’s filled with pain, hurt, shame, and longing. I can’t erase it. I want to. I can’t run from it. I’ve never even tried to. I wish it were that easy. I can hardly embrace the story that I have most days. I wish the details were pretty, but they aren’t. I hadn’t given much thought to hope, on waiting and expecting and working towards a change. I figured, “I get what I get and I don’t complain”. But there had to be more to life than silently enduring. I felt like a shadow in the lives of other people. A blip on their radar for the holidays. My unpretty, messy story never felt safe enough to come out. I thought I was destined to be this adult foster child, always bouncing around in the hearts and lives of people, never getting to stay and never allowed to be rooted in with a people. Never getting to unload my suitcase that held my most sacred memories and thoughts. I gave up hope on belonging, on receiving, and on being loved for who I am.

In early January 2013 a woman that would become my dear friend and mom figure wrote me a letter about hope. She wrote, “I want you to know that the source of my hope [for you] is not ultimately anchored in what you choose. Nor is my commitment to you contingent upon your choice [the choice to open my heart and trust her or not]. I will love you and hope for you always… I believe there is life and joy ahead for you that will be sweeter than the bitterness of the days you experience now. So I want you to have this necklace and be reminded of the great hope I have for you. Always.”

She gave me a necklace that was very special to her, a necklace that was given to her in a tremendously difficult time that has “Hope” stamped on it. She wrote that it reminded her to have confident expectation in God to provide despite her inability to bring about the deepest desire of her heart.

I confided in her that I had such little hope, if any. She responded, “That’s ok. I have enough for the both of us. I will hold yours for you, until you’re able to hold it again.”

This friend called into the deepest places of my heart and gently and kindly spoke courage and hope back into my little heart and life. I can’t claim to be an anchor of hope, or a pillar of hope, or a rock of hope. I still need her to hold some hope for me. But I do believe Jesus is more concerned over my preservation and my hope than even I am, than even she is. And I know this because of His Word and through the words and life of my timely friend. I know it, because when I had cried and begged and pleaded with God for help for years and it felt like He had stopped hearing me, He answered me in the time I needed it most, with her words of hope. Tangible, meaningful hope. I do hope the whole of my story will be beautiful. I hope the whole will be pleasant and honoring before the Lord. I hope this life, this one life matters.

“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy-the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” -Brene Brown

I had given up on hope. I had given up on belonging and on being loved and I was not even aware of it. Yet God still heard when my voice could no longer speak it and tears had long since felt useless.

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Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. -I Corinthians 13:7

It’s a hard season to swallow for me. It’s a hard season to be thankful: #5 Church Home

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You see, these two holiday months-November and December- don’t create warm fuzzy feelings in me. I am not thankful this time of year. I have whole lists (and probably lists upon lists if I am honest) of what I am missing in my life, places that have come up dry and hard, painful and sore. Missing holes that I’ve asked the Lord to fill, but for now He has chosen not to. It’s a hard season to swallow for me. It’s a hard season for me to be thankful.

Holes and wounds and brokenness- they just aren’t things we associate with thankfulness. But this season is about thankfulness isn’t it? Isn’t it about “1000 gifts”, prayers of thankfulness, and acknowledging those we love?

I don’t know. Maybe it’s about those things, or maybe it’s a season in the year to just endure. I can keep my lists of all the things I don’t have that seem profoundly long this time of the year and grow frustrated and lonely. But then there’s this concept of gratefulness that I do have.

Gratefulness: warmly or deeply appreciative of kindness or benefits received.

Gratefulness reveals a deep warmth of appreciation. It indicates something much deeper than thankfulness. It expresses the generosity of God in his Personhood (good, warm, loving, receptive, attentive, available). Gratefulness is receiving all the things I never knew I wanted but God gave me. I didn’t ask for them. I never prayed for them, but He gave them to me anyways.

Rather than listing all the things I am thankful for (don’t get me wrong, that is a good practice of the heart too!), I want to reflect on all the ways God gave me things I hold so dear now, that I never knew I wanted and never asked for in a few installments over the next few weeks. Check out part one, part two, part three, and part four. Here’s the fifth:

God gave me a new church home

I don’t like change. I don’t like anything to be inconsistent or spontaneous within reason. Not even the food I eat or the temperature I eat it at. Soups should be hot, not cold. Veggies cooked, not raw. Chinese on New Years and candy on Halloween. I thrive on structure and predictability. I like rhythms and flows and traditions. I like to go on an adventure on Saturday mornings and to see the same people on Sunday mornings. I prefer to eat lunch at a restaurant on Sunday afternoons and see my grandmother for Thanksgiving. I like that we sing a lot of the same songs in church that are a part of the church culture I have known. I like that several of my friends went to the same college as I did and have shared experiences. I like that I know when we have communion in church, who’s doing what in communion, and even where we buy our communion bread. I like that some kids have known me more years than they have not in their lives. You get the picture.

It’s just a part of the flow of church when you’ve been there long enough. There’s a lot of comfort when you’ve been in one place, with one people, for a chunk of time. You develop group think. I KNOW what he or she will think about something. I know HOW he or she may respond to this and that. I can predict which story they will draw from in explaining a certain topic or thought. I know that so and so prefers this color, food, activity, movie genre. It comes from sticking around a place long enough. It comes from getting to know a people well. It comes from a heavy amount of investment in the lives of other people. It feels warm and secure and comforting. There’s a lot of stability that comes from not shifting around when most my life has been about shifting and moving and starting new when I had no control in the matter. I like the familiarity that committing brings. If something’s working why change it?

That’s all fine and good, until it’s not working for you anymore. Until familiarity becomes more about conforming than comfort. Until circumstances outside of your ability to have predicted cause you to have to change- aging, maturity, graduation, ilness, death. Until you look around and realize that you are changing and shifting and no longer fit into the same contextual skin you once did.

But you have to. People are counting on you to fit. You are counting on you to fit. You don’t really know how to be anything else or do anything else or show up any other way than what you’ve been and known. But you want to. You REALLY REALLY want to keeping changing into the next thing, that next growth thing, that next maturity thing, that next God thing, but internally and externally it doesn’t feel possible. You can’t change alone, you see. You need a community of sorts who understands your growth, supports your growth and change AND can grow and change with you. Getting all three is hard. It’s hard for me when others change and grow. It’s hard for others when I change and grow.

We all need more than God plus a best friend. We need a group of supportive relationships, a community.

When the way I did life and living and love was no longer working and a change was needed, to say that change was hard is a severe understatement. In fact, it feels frightening. It feels like the very threads of who you are and what you’ve known will come apart, will be pulled apart. The pulling hurts. It tears. You can’t pour new wine into old wineskin. It will burst. You will burst. I felt like I was bursting, tearing, straddling what I had been for many years but knowing God was beckoning me into something new, a new season, but I knew so few of the details. I only knew the next step. It’s a frightening thing to trust anyone to support you with only “the next step”, especially a non physical God. He kept beckoning me to release my fear and my control.

“When we release in peace, we signal we’re now ready to receive. Receive what’s next. Receive what’s best. Receive what’s meant for this season, right now.”– Lysa Terkeurst

I knew I couldn’t stay where I had been. I couldn’t go back to where I was, what I was. The temptation to go back-to who I was and how I functioned and what I was known as-was too intense. There’s a comfort to being known. Sometimes few words are needed to be understood. Sometimes you can hear all the communication that is unspoken more than the words that are spoken when you’ve known something or known someone.

There’s also a danger, an expectation, that you will continue to be that way; there can be a resistance to change, especially when that change requires other people to shift in order to accommodate you. Change is hard for me and on me. Accommodating is hard for me when I’m not sure I have anything to gain from the effort that’s required. It’s hard for everyone else around me. Change requires even more change and affects more than one person.

I fought the Lord tooth and nail. He kept pushing me towards something different, beckoning me to step out, seek out, find out, and receive. But if you’re like me, you just like predictability, even if God is offering you what could end up being the best thing for you. Even if God may be asking you to give over what you’ve held onto for many years for the potential for something better, more whole.

I don’t want to give up anything for “potential”. Potential isn’t safe. Potential isn’t secure. Potential offers no hope or reassurance of safety. Potential is too risky. Potential asks me to step out into the roaring ocean with locked eyes on Jesus with no buffer as a back up. Potential tells me to go sell all my possessions, give up my home, my community, and follow after a Rabi with no assurance of gaining ANYTHING that I want. And I boy do I have a lot of wants.

“I dream of a faith community that demonstrates a love so scandalous and embarrasing that only the foolish and the rejected and the misfits and the cynics will find any solace in it. My hearts cry is that someone from outside the sphere of Christian endorsement might whisper, “Even me?” and be stunned by Jesus’ answer: “Always you.” -Jen Hatmaker

Sometimes, many times, God only gives the next step. It was clear to me God was asking me to take a step out to build a new level of supports in areas that I really needed it, to not forget or “throw away” my current friends and supports, but to recognize that my time at my current church was coming to a close, He wanted me to move on to the next place for me. Sometimes God wants you to move into something new and sometimes He wants you to get out of the way. Neither is better or more “right”. They are just different. Going to a place that is unhealthy or staying in a place that is unhealthy for you, for what God is doing in you, and for what He wants for you, can reap disastrous repercussions. When God moves, it’s best to move with Him. He doesn’t lead everyone on the same path or in the same way or to the same conclusions. I loved the people in my former church and it hurt to step into this new season.

“We are to develop our lives, abilities, feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. Our spiritual and emotional growth is God’s “interest” on his investment in us.” – Cloud & Townsend

Many people avoid making new, healthy decisions because they feel an obligation to individuals. I could avoid the guilty feelings of people who have been kind to me by ignoring the ways God was stirring in my soul. The idea is that because we have received something, we owe somehing. That was my guilt. The problem is non-existent debt. The love we receive or money or time-or anything which causes us to feel obligated- should be accepted as a gift. “Gift” implies no strings attached. The giver has no second thought that the present will provide a return. It was simply provided because someone loved someone and wanted to do something for him or her. Period.”

What do we owe those who are kind to us, who have genuinely cared for us? We owe them thanks. And from our grateful heart, we should go out and help others.” -Cloud & Townsend

I only had one step. I knew God wanted me to step out of my current church home and seek a new one. It was hard. Painful, often lonely and isolating. It was good. Healthy. Strengthening. Healing. I have such sweet assurance of this decision. I am so thankful of where I came from. I love my former church, the one I helped to start. I still see and pray for friends there regularly. My brothers and sisters are wound up in my heart. I wasn’t sure where I would be heading. It was the most painful and hardest step God has EVER asked of me. It wasn’t without some opposition and with much support from people I love.

And I thank God for the new church home I am settling into. I thank God that years ago He knew this would be a step I would need to make and that He was preparing me for it, even back then. I never would have imagined He’d ask me to let go of so much for the potential of a “better yes”. I would have refused if I knew. I would have tried to control everything. God knew what I needed when I only knew what I wanted.

I can help others through the gifts I’ve received from my former church. I am. I am giving gladly and not from obligation or guilt. I am so grateful for the way my former church cared for me. And I am looking forward to what God is doing in me in my new church home and the ways He will use the gifts of many in my life, in the lives of those around me. I am excited to give.

God prepared a new church home for me when I never knew I’d need it. I never would have even wanted it.

He has made it clear to you, mortal man, what is good and what the LORD is requiring from you— to act with justice, to treasure the LORD’s gracious love, and to walk humbly in the company of your God. -Micah 6:8

For this is what the high and exalted One says– he who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. -Isaiah 57:15

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.-Hosea 6:6

Sabbatical Year: A call away from doing and a beckoning to start being

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It’s been a year. One whole year.  4 seasons. 12 months. 52 weeks. 365 days. One year can feel daunting when you only know one next step. One terrifying, lonely step. When you can’t think that a year from now even exists because the thought of existing in a year feels like a crushing blow, a cruel suffering. One day can feel frightening when you can’t break out of depression. It’s been a year. A long sabbatical year since I stepped out of all “official” ministry, including my former job. It was the only step God gave me.

It’s been a wrestling year, a fighting year. A downright cold and awfully painful year. I’m tempted to call it one of the worst in my life. Most mornings I woke up and felt the bitter blows of what I hoped I could hold onto and what God kept asking me to give up. I have lost more than I ever could have thought. I realized I was much more capable of darkness than I would have ever admitted. I really thought I was good. Most of us do I think. Especially Christians. We think we are good. We try to be good. We act good, mostly. We know good things. We eat good food (especially Baptists). We try to do good. Therefore, we think we are good. Good with each other, good with our city, good with our family, good with our God.

This thing called faith comes in. It messes up the whole good lot of “good”s.

No one is good, not even ONE.

I thought I was good. Doing good. Being good. Acting good. Knowing a whole lot of good things and good “ways”. I held onto “good”. “Good” is safe. “Good” is above average. “Good” gets you friends and merit, but not enough to be flashy. “Good”=Godly. Good=God (there’s even just one vowel difference in the words!).

“We are here and there and everywhere. We are distracted. We are preoccupied. We can’t focus on the task in front of us. We don’t follow through. We don’t keep our commitments. We are so busy with a million pursuits that we don’t even notice the most important things slipping away.” -Kevin Deyoung

“Good” got in the way of God. What do you do when “Good” is no longer good? When “Good” is actually not of God? When you question if “Good” is actually “bad”? That’s where I was a year ago. Somewhere in ministry I gave what I didn’t have. I felt internal and external pressure to “push through it”, to “keep going”. I ignored all the sirens that I was getting off track and listening to the wrong people. I wanted so badly to keep “Good” in my life, but I had no more room. No room for anymore “good” relationships, no money for “good” fellowship meals, no physical stamina for “good” community projects, no patience for “good” little community children. I was well over my capacity, physically, emotionally, financially, and spiritually. AND I had been. For a while.

“Every YES answer comes with a list of expectations. If I don’t know what those expectations are, I can’t possibly meet them.”– Lysa Terkeurst

Do you know what happens when you are over capacity? You hurt. No one wins, especially the ones you really want to give your best to.  I gave what I didn’t have. My physical health was wearing on me. I was undone emotionally. I no longer knew the difference between reading the Bible and communing with God. I rarely was greeted, “How are you?” but “Can you…?” or “We need…?” I was a yes girl. It’s a bad boundary habit of mine. I said yes and yes and yes. When I’d say no, I’d feel bad, apologize, and then commit. After all, does my “no” communicate that I am “too busy” or “not interested” or that I have “wrong priorities”? (Can you see how far off my thinking had come?)

“Consider the trade: if I say yes to this, I will have to release that. Will the trade be worth it?”-Lysa Terkeurst

If I was to say yes to the Lord, I had to release all of what was holding me back. The good stuff was holding me back. This “good” was what I had longingly prayed and desired for since college. This “good” was once, very good. It was a peaceful release but a painful surrender. I was confident that I had been where I was supposed to be, and I was confident that I had to step out and make a very significant change. I couldn’t see anything but the next step: a season to focus on my own soul care; a season for the ministry to my own soul. I thought I was alone. I had NEVER heard of anyone doing this. Didn’t this mean I was weak, unwise, or had misunderstood my “calling”?

“When we zoom out, we start to see a completely different picture. We see many people in the same struggle. Rather than thinking, “I’m the only one”, we start thinking, “I can’t believe it! You too? I’m normal? I thought it was just me!”– Brene Brown

As I’ve encountered many older and wiser brothers and sisters in ministry this year, each one has discussed a season in life where they had to step out and focus on their own soul, just like me! I’m normal. It’s healthy. It’s godly. It’s good!

You see, the trees MUST release their leaves in preparation for winter. If a storm comes before this, our dear fall trees will snap and crack and split under the pressure of the snow and ice and cold. Release is a gift. Releasing our leaves for the next season allows us to embrace winter. You can’t carry the weight of two seasons at the same time. Joy and hope will be ripped right out from under you. It’s just too heavy. Release doesn’t steal joy. It actually allows us, me, to embrace what’s next. So here I am, embracing what’s next, learning from my previous season, and looking forward to the day soon when I enter again into vocational ministry. But for now, I’ll keep focusing on this season I’m in and soaking in all it has to offer.