Friday, August 4, 2017

Next Steps

Ready for some vulnerability?  Well, ready or not, here it comes.

Just over 5 years ago, I moved to New Jersey.  While I was unsure as to what God had in store for me, I knew very clearly that this was the next place for me.  Prior to being here, I had been back and forth between Uganda and Illinois for 4 years, and before that I lived in Indiana for about 6 years.  Well, the time has come for me to move again.  This fall I'll be moving to Arizona to pursue my professional counseling license now that I've finished my master's degree.  The decision hasn't be reached easily and I continue to go through a wide range of emotions, sometimes all in one day.  I'll admit that between the sadness, anger, and excitement, some days I don't know whether I'm coming or going.

When I first got to Jersey, the word that the Lord gave me to cling to was "settle."  Quite honestly, I didn't know exactly what that meant, but I was hoping it meant a husband and a family.  I was hoping it would mean that I would finally settle down somewhere and have one single place to call home.  Instead, I have yet ANOTHER place to call home.

Nerd alert: You know how in the Harry Potter books Voldemort splits his soul 7 times to ensure his immortality?  I feel like I can relate... on a less crazy evil-villain-y level, of course.  The range of emotions (which is much wider than the 3 already mentioned) seems to expand every day.

Between Illinois, Indiana, Uganda, and now New Jersey, I'm not sure I want to add to the list again.  Why?  Because it hurts to say "see ya later" or "goodbye."  It's both incredibly beautiful and incredibly painful to pour your heart into so many people and to give so much of your time (while taking their's) only to walk away in the end.  So often over the last couple of months as the decision to move has been made, it has seemed almost irresponsible.  Yet, the love and depth in the relationships that have been created in all of these various places is so worth the pain I feel now.  At least that's what I tell myself when a student is sobbing with grief into my shoulder... which happened this past week as they learned of my leaving.

For many of my younger years, I did the best I could to contain my emotion, never allowing people to see me cry or grieve at all, but recently I've failed to contain myself as I tell people about this move.  However, as I've reflected on the heightened emotional response I've had lately, I feel no shame or regret.  I've decided that to hide my emotions... to ignore the grief... takes away from all that God has done.  I have met and come to truly love so many amazing people since being here and I am very thankful that my heart is so broken right now... as strange as that may sound.  It is indicative of the relationships built and the work God has done over the past 5+ years and will continue to do.  Praise be to God for such strong emotion because it means that I have loved genuinely, deeply, and with my whole heart.

While I'm currently embracing all the feels, I also know (thanks to my transient life) how easy it is to become just a memory in the lives of those you have valued so dearly.  This is my current fear.  I know how this goes.  I have experience here.  The best intentions can only carry relationships so far.  I'm not good at giving up on relationships and I would never just let someone dear to me go, but the reality is that miles have a funny way of coming in between even the closest of relationships.  Even those relationships that feel like family.  A prime example is my actual family.  I love my nieces with my whole heart and when we're together we have an amazing time, but when they're miles away, our communication is limited and it ebbs and flows for various reasons.  But blood... family... is always family.  That can't change.  Other relationships can.  That is where my fear and grief lies.

Yet even as I sit here and think about that fear, I have to ask myself where it comes from.  I find myself wondering why it even exists in the first place.  "It cannot be from God," is my first thought.    If I have been doing this all for the glory of God, then I wonder if it should matter whether I'm easily forgotten or not.  God will not be forgotten easily.  Experiences with Him don't fade so quickly.  For that, I'm so thankful... and so humbled.  None of this has ever been about me.  It's been about the work of the Lord being accomplished in and through me.  That's the cry of my heart right now.

Anyway, there are so many exciting things ahead, I know, but still, I don't want this place to just become my past.  I am not the person I was when I moved here.  For better or for worse (I hope for better), I am a changed woman.  My experiences have changed me.  The work God has asked me to do has changed me.  Relationships have changed me.  I am constantly being reshaped and renewed and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I think that the word "settle" that God gave me referred to being settled in Him... which was necessary as I ministered at this particular church.  Never did I think I would be called upon to lead a congregation in the midst of a very difficult season, but had God not been preparing me for it as He helped me settle into Him, I may not have been obedient to His leading.  It was not always easy, but I did always know that He was walking with me.  He provided the support necessary and I'm so thankful to those closest with me as I walked those long months.

I also think  "settle" meant to settle into the youth ministry well and connect like never before... to build a team of leaders and to really know and love the kids... to be vulnerable and share my heart.  It's been a privilege to disciple and help these students grow into the followers of Christ they are today.  My prayer is that our relationships would continue to grow and that they would earnestly seek a life with Christ as they navigate high school, college, and beyond.  The same goes for the many others I've had the privilege of working with and discipling.  I know that it's possible to keep moving forward... because "kids" from my other youth groups are still Skyping me, asking me to officiate their weddings, do their premarital counseling, etc.

So, thanks be to God for His faithfulness, for His clear leading in my life, and for the love shared between so many of His people.  For those who didn't get it, this is the letter my church received this week.  I would appreciate your prayers as this news continues to spread and sink in.  Below the letter are some of my favorite pictures from these years.

Snapchat from Bry

Sunday, November 13, 2016

I Will Not Be Quiet

Over the last year and a half I have read hundreds of articles, watched hours and hours of the news (including the primary and presidential debates), and have been involved in more discussions than I can even remember at this point.  I consider myself to be, at the very least, moderately educated when it comes to current politics.  I preface this post with that information because I'm really not interested in a debate or argument.  That is not my purpose here.  I'm well aware of what has taken place.  My purpose is to be a voice.  I may not be as articulate as many of my friends and family, but I will not be quiet.

will not be quiet because to do so would only add to the horror that we are currently living.  To do so would be permissive.  To do so would go against everything I have ever known to be Truth.

I will be the first to admit that I grew up in an extremely privileged, predominately white area and was given everything I ever needed and wanted.  I never went without anything because my parents worked tirelessly to give us the childhood they never had.  I have been given every opportunity to be educated and successful.  On top of that, I was introduced to Christ around the age of 13 or so and quite honestly have never looked back since.  I fell in love with His Word.  The fact that Jesus died for me was mind-boggling and awe-inspiring.  I couldn't get enough of Christ, so I studied the Word, I listened to teaching, I engaged in discussion, and I learned what it meant to be an image-bearer of Christ, what it meant to live a Christ-like life.  I observed the life of Jesus and His relationships with His closest disciples, with sinners, and with those who despised Him.  I became sensitive to His commands, taking them very seriously.

As a result, much of my life has been dedicated to serving Jesus.  Let me be clear: it hasn't always been pretty and I've messed up A LOT (yeah, I'm a big time sinner), but I have tried to walk in obedience.  So after attending a small evangelical university and working in youth ministry for a time, I felt called to Africa where I served for two separate year-long terms as a missionary.  In that time, I worked with people from nearly 30 different countries and had the joy of learning at least a little bit about each culture.  (I worked at an international school for part of my time, hence the vast variety of cultures.)  There are some that I learned more about than others.  For example, much of my time was spent with former child soldiers and refugees from South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, and the list goes on, along with the various religions represented.

Many of these dear ones have come to know Jesus and many have amazing stories of how God revealed Himself to them in unlikely and miraculous ways.  When you sit and listen to the first-hand accounts of 6 different former child soldiers and lost boys, you can't not be changed and deeply impacted.  Absolute horror becomes real when you look into the eyes of those affected by such violence.  And the refugees who recounted their stories of survival and resilience brought me to my knees.  Yet in their deep pain and suffering, I was welcomed in as a daughter and as a sister.  I was made a part of many different family units.  Homes and hearts were opened.  In fact, my heart now has two homes on two continents.  Some of these beautiful brothers and sisters have been resettled here in the U.S. over the last few years.

Because of this, I will not be quiet.

Flash forward five years to present day: I have this terrible habit of checking my phone first thing in the morning, while I'm still laying bed.  I think I justify it by first reading the daily devo in my email.  Wednesday morning I was met with the results of the election.  And I cried.  No, I didn't just cry.  I wept.  I figured it was going to end that way when I went to bed on Tuesday, but the reality of it was heartbreaking that morning.  Pictures of my loved ones flashed through my brain and I sobbed.  My sister and I exchanged a few snapchats expressing our grief and our fear, especially for her daughters, my nieces who happen to be two of the most beautiful, bi-racial girls around.  The weeping continued as I thought of other dear friends and family who are people of color, who are a part of the LGBTQ community, and the Muslim community.
As I looked at the news and social media, I found that we weren't alone.  The expressions of anger, sadness, and fear filled my various newsfeeds and my tears kept flowing.  There was also much rejoicing, followed by proud statements that boasted of a victory for the evangelicals.  All I could think was, "how?"  How did this happen?  I listened to his words, I observed his actions, I was shocked by his flippant attitude towards so many.  How could a man who exemplifies such intense hatred, racism, neglect, abuse, etc be elected to lead this nation?  He does not represent the people... not the people I know.  So, how?

(Let me add in that if you voted for him, I love you and I don't think you're ignorant, racist, or abusive people.  I know that some have decided that to be true of you, but I refuse that narrative.)

The amount of violence and hate speech that has erupted as a result of the election is alarming.  I'm not talking about the protests though.  I'm talking about those who now feel safe, confident, and justified in speaking hate towards people of color, Muslims, the LGBTQ community, etc.  To many, the president-elect offers space for such language and action.  The KKK marched on Wednesday celebrating the victory.  Someone graffiti'd a swastika with the words "Make America White Again."  Pretending that this isn't happening, that this isn't the reality that we're now living is completely irresponsible.  These are the real experiences of minorities in a free land.  If you've not encountered such hate, you're counted among the privileged.

As a woman, I'm horrified.  As a Christian, I'm horrified.  As a daughter, aunt, sister, neighbor, I'm horrified.  How is this acceptable?  The fear and grief many are experiencing is very real!  I've sat quietly for a few days now partially because of shock, partially because I was made to feel foolish for having such a strong response.  "Why can't people get over it?"  "So what?  He's our president-elect. It's nothing to cry over."  "Millennials are so dramatic about everything."  "Protesting is so ignorant and pathetic."  "Libtards are so weak." (By the way, "libtards" is a horribly offensive term to both liberals and the disability community.)

I can't just "get over it" because the fear is founded in reality.  I am scared.  The youth I work with are scared.  A man has spoken hate and made promises regarding the removal of certain people and certain rights.  I weep because I've seen people threatened and abused as a result of him.  I weep because the Church remains silent, thus allowing it to continue.  I'll say it again: to be silent is to be permissive.  I weep because many who claim to follow Jesus mock those who are hurting, scared, and alone.  Showing emotion and caring for others is not weakness, but strength.  I will not be told how I'm allowed to react or feel about something and I will not be told to be quiet.  (By the way... I'm a few years too old to be considered a millennial.)

Friends, I have known Jesus in the deepest pits of life-threatening terror and despair through my brothers and sisters both here and around the world.  And I have known Him in great privilege.  I know the Truth.  Many of you know the Truth.  We cannot remain quiet.  To those in fear, I will stand with you.  I will not be quiet.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Broken Relationships

This used to be a forum for me to update my family and friends about my life when I lived in Uganda.  Since then, it's been a place where I've continued to update since my move to the east coast, but it's also been a place where I've vented, reflected, and generally just shared my thoughts, for better or for worse.  At this point, I can't even think about updating everything that's happened since I last posted in May.  If we've been in touch or if we're friends on social media, you are relatively up to date on my life.

To be honest, I shouldn't even be on here today.  The second year of grad school is no joke and I've got two exams, a paper, numerous lectures to listen and respond to, and a book I really should be reading.  (Also, the CUBS are in the WORLD SERIES!!! #FlyTheW)  However, I need to stop today, if only for myself, to reflect for a few minutes.  On my hour-long commute home from class this afternoon I feel like I reached a boiling point on something.  In my theological foundations of counseling class we've been talking about the theology of relationships.  It's got me really reflecting on my own relationships both with God and with others in a way that I haven't done in a long time.

It's been no secret in my life that I love relationships.  I love building new relationships and I really love maintaining long-term relationships.  I'm not satisfied with surface-level interactions.  I like to get to the heart of someone and to really know them... and of course, I like to be known too.  Both time and space have a tendency to cause relationships to fade away and then back for a season and then away again, sometimes causing them to remain away.  Not broken though.  Just away.  Even my relationship with God throughout the years has experienced a bit of a back and forth, though thankfully, never away for an extended period of time.  

There are people I have been friends with for nearly 25 years that slip in and out of my life for no other reason than proximity and life itself.  I've somehow learned to be content with that and have even begun to allow myself grace in that area.  When I have a random phone call with a friend that I haven't spoken to for years, I don't hang up and mourn for what once was, instead I rejoice for the few precious moments of genuine connection.  There is something so safe and comforting about old relationships.  I've discovered that it's when I'm not feeling comfortable and/or safe that I seek out these familiar bonds, hence my recent trip to be with my family.  

Notice though, that I did not include broken relationships in the same category as those that ebb and flow.  I'm not in the least bit comfortable with broken relationships.  I never have been.  Letting go is not my strong suit, even if I know in my heart that that's what's best.  A broken relationship feels like a failure to me; like I've wasted my time and been used or that I've done that very same thing to someone else, which I hate.  Even times when I've been deeply wounded by someone, I still have a tendency to want to cling to that person because I am so uncomfortable with the loss, which I realize is quite unhealthy.  In fact, I can count on one, maybe two hands the amount of relationships that I would put in the "broken" category. 

What ends up happening is that I beat myself up for not doing a better job at keeping the broken (or very lopsided) relationship.  I think of all the things I did (or am doing) wrong.  I think of all of the ways that I should have handled myself differently.  I convince myself that if I were a certain way or fulfilled a certain requirement well for that other person, the relationship would not be broken, that I would not have been used up and tossed out.  Again, being a graduate counseling student, I understand the faulty thinking and inaccurate core beliefs and I'm working on changing them, but what remains is that this is how I experience broken relationships.  My core beliefs dictate how I relate to others.  The things I believe about myself, about God, and about the other person are not aligned well.  

Today, I realized some very deep-seated resentment and hurt that I've been harboring towards God because of unmet relational expectations.  I know that some of my pain comes from my own depravity.  Pride, desire, and disobedience get in the way of hearing truth.  I have allowed this brokenness to settle in and I've spent so much time dwelling on it and allowing it to drive wedges deeper still in some places.  I've allowed it to convince me of my worthlessness.  On my loneliest days, it's been unbearable.  On my best days, it's just been a small, nagging voice.  

Today however, was an illuminating day full of both righteous and unrighteous anger, confession, tears, praise and worship, and silence.  Today, I was reminded where my hope is found.  Don't get me wrong, the pain is still there.  I'm still extremely uncomfortable with relational brokenness, though I don't think that will ever change.  We are designed to be in relationship... in deep fellowship with God and with one another.  When that's broken or in the process of breaking, it's uncomfortable and painful.  This is why unavoidable loss, like death, is so painful: it's a broken relationship.  This wasn't in the original plan.  

"There is no greater love than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends" John 15:13 (NLT).

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


Well, I survived my first year of graduate school.  All glory to God because there's no way I could have made it through so successfully without His strength and the support of those He's placed in my life for such a time as this.  I haven't had the desire to write in a long time; mainly because it seems like that's all I did between school and work from Thanksgiving until a month ago.  The amount of papers, research, reflecting, reading, sermon writing, etc. was unreal.  I'm finally starting to feel like I can breathe again, yet there's so much ahead.  

For those who are unaware, my senior pastor has had to take a medical leave and we will be getting a part-time interim senior pastor beginning July 1.  I continue to serve as interim pastor for the time being.  Once July 1 hits, my pastoral responsibilities will decrease a bit, but I will continue to preach at least once a month and serve work with the new interim pastor to help him transition in and out within the next year.  Lots of changes coming.  Some I'm looking forward to, others I'm totally dreading.  My heart is grieving many of those changes, but that's for another time, I suppose.  

This past month off of school has been jam packed so far.  I've traveled to Florida to spend time with my best friend, had a slew of doctors appointments that resulted in a minor surgery last week, my mom was in town for that, I took a weekend class, worked A LOT, and made some plans for the future.  One of the things I'm most excited about this summer is that my nieces are coming out here to spend a month with me!  I can't begin to express what a treat this is going to be, albeit stressful at times, I'm sure.  They are absolutely precious to me and I really miss being a part of their daily lives.  I'm so ready to share my life with them again... and the love of Jesus... and to get to know who they are for longer than a week.  Between living in Africa and moving out here, I've missed a significant part of their childhood which makes me so sad.  June and July are going to be an adventure, that's for sure.

So, that's the extreme abridged version of the last 5 months.  But the real reason I finally sat down to write is because I want to share a piece of my heart.  This makes me really vulnerable... but I've been learning through my graduate work that I tend to keep things very surface-level with most of the people in my life, so this is my attempt at slowly working on that.

I have always enjoyed infants... my whole life.  There's not much better than holding a tiny, precious life in your arms.  And babies love me.  I've not met a baby I couldn't soothe and care for peacefully.  It's always been a natural thing for me.  From the time I was in college until about 5 or 6 years ago, I tried to convince myself (and everyone around me) that I didn't want kids.  Watching so many of my friends and family get married and have children was extremely painful for me since that is my heart's deepest desire.  I always felt like there was something wrong with me because that just wasn't happening for me, so to make myself feel better, I talked about not wanting kids and being glad that I was so free.  Even within the last few years, I've talked over and over again about how little kids stress me out and how I can't stand the toddler phase.  Deep down I knew I was lying, but it eased the pain and lessened my embarrassment to suppress that desire, to deny it.

A few months ago I was in an unexpected meeting with someone (who doesn't know me at all, btw) and over and over again they highlighted and praised me for "choosing" to not have kids.  No joke.  Three or four times within an hour and fifteen minutes.  My first response, as is typical, was anger.  I thought, "how dare you assume that I've CHOSEN not to have kids.  You don't know anything about my life now or my past!  You don't know if I've miscarried or maybe even lost a child.  How dare you say something like that?!"  

After the initial anger died down and I chalked those comments up to ignorance, I started to really reflect (thank you, counseling program) on why the words of that person hurt me so deeply.  I really don't want to be one of those overly sensitive people who gets upset at something not meant to be harmful.  And yet, this felt personal to me.  It was presumptuous and arrogant.  More than that though, it brought up the deep hurt of not having children.  Let me be clear: I have not chosen to not have children.  

About 5 years ago I made the very difficult choice not to allow myself to move forward with looking into adoption while I was in Uganda.  In fact, you may or may not recall that there was a baby, Elijah, who I had spent about 9 months visiting and hanging out with at a baby home during my second year abroad.  He was my precious boy and I loved him.  He responded to me like I was his mother and the caregivers at the baby home asked me to adopt him.  Their request startled me and my immediate response was, "I can't do that."  I went and spent time with him a number of times right after they asked me that week and I thought and prayed about it.  Knowing that he had to be adopted along with his older, toddler sister, I decided that I just couldn't do it at that time.  I knew God was saying no, but walking away from him on that last day before coming back to the States was heartbreaking.  I knew that I would never see him again and that I needed to trust him to God's care.

Sweet Elijah
Thanks to some friends of mine in Uganda who continued to go to the baby home to volunteer, I found out that about six months or a year later, Elijah and his sister were being adopted to an American family and that he was going to be in really good hands.  Praise the Lord!

I have not chosen to not have children.  If it were up to me, I'd be married and have a family.  I have chosen (most of the time, though not always) to be obedient to God.  And up to this point, that obedience has left me single and without children.  If I'm being totally honest, there's a small part of me that is resentful... and I have to lay that part of me at the foot of the cross every single day.  Some days are easier than others.  I still don't understand the reasoning behind things and it's still really, really painful, but I will continue to trust God because He knows these deep hurts and longings I have and He is faithful.

Today I had the privilege of hanging out with a sweet, almost-4-month-old for most of the day.  He's such an easy going boy, which is always a plus, but my time with him was such a joy.  I loved formating my day around his needs.  When I needed to get something from the store, we went for a walk.  When he was hungry, I fed him while reading through sermons and commentaries and figuring out a direction for my sermon this week.  When he napped, I sent emails.  When he woke up 30 minutes later, we chatted and giggled while I changed him.  When the youth kids came over for Bible study, I rocked him to sleep and then laid him in their waiting arms while we watched our series and prayed together.  I'm not naive enough to think that every day would be a breeze, but I genuinely enjoy being a caregiver and loving others.

Sharing such an intimate desire is difficult for me, like I mentioned.  But it's also a great reminder of God's faithfulness in my life.  So when I'm sad or lonely, I can be reminded that God is aware and I can trust Him with my heart.  I don't have to carry the resentment around with me.  Snide comments about the "choices" I've made will impact me less.  I'll see days like today as opportunities to share the love that flows out of me as a gift from God.  He hasn't made a mistake in how He has designed my make-up, instincts, or the desires of my heart. 

Me and my friend in Uganda's baby

Psalm 56 (emphasis mine)

1 O God, have mercy on me,
    for people are hounding me.
    My foes attack me all day long.
2 I am constantly hounded by those who slander me,
    and many are boldly attacking me.
3 But when I am afraid,
    I will put my trust in you.
4 I praise God for what he has promised.
    I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
    What can mere mortals do to me?
5 They are always twisting what I say;
    they spend their days plotting to harm me.
6 They come together to spy on me—
    watching my every step, eager to kill me.
7 Don’t let them get away with their wickedness;
    in your anger, O God, bring them down.
8 You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.
9 My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
    This I know: God is on my side!
10 I praise God for what he has promised;
    yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised.
11 I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
    What can mere mortals do to me?
12 I will fulfill my vows to you, O God,
    and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help.
13 For you have rescued me from death;
    you have kept my feet from slipping.
So now I can walk in your presence, O God,
    in your life-giving light.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Level: Crazy

A year ago, a number of churches in my community gathered together to worship, to pray, to learn, and to celebrate the life and mission of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr..  Our goal in meeting together was to challenge both ourselves and our church communities to be united, to stand as one in purpose and mission.  It was a beautiful and reflective time.  Since then, we've met several times for various services from Good Friday and Thanksgiving to a community tent revival.  It's been an honor and joy to get to know the other church leaders and their congregations.

In December, the group of pastors met to start planning for this year's unity service.  Sitting around a table with a group of ordained men, as the only woman (unordained, at that) was a bit intimidating.  We talked about how each church would participate and who would lead what during the service.  Since my senior pastor is out right now, it was determined that I would speak, representing my church.  With that initial decision came nerves, but I didn't allow myself to think about it too much because I still had a lot to do and a lot to get through before I could start worrying about January.  

Fast forward a month.  I've been preaching each Sunday for a couple of months now.  I've gotten into a bit of a routine, but with school starting back up, my schedule has resumed level: crazy.  With the unity service fast approaching, my nervousness increased.  I made the decision to only write one sermon for the week and use it at both our normal 8:30am service and at the unity service at the other church.  I couldn't imagine what I could preach that would be up to par with the other preachers... who are amazing, by the way.  As I prayed and researched I was led to John 17 where Jesus prays for His disciples and all believers.  I read through some sermons and things I found in reference to that scripture and unity and I wrote, borrowing a couple of illustrations.  With the Spirit as my guide, the sermon came together (as it always does) nicely.  I ran through it and practiced a number of times throughout the week.  Though I had confidence in the working of the Holy Spirit, my nerves didn't cease.  

When I preached at the 8:30 service at our church, things went very well and I started to get more and more excited about sharing the Word at the unity service.  Then I got to the other church... and the nerves came back.  My palms starting sweating and I felt a little sick.  Those old thoughts of inadequacy came soaring back and I began to question the sermon, my abilities, my heart, and a whole variety of other things.  Not to mention that I was leading the main set of worship along with our worship leader... and doing a special song with him and another church during our allotted time later in the service.  My mind was racing and it was hard to stay focused, but after some prayer and encouraging words, I settled in at the beginning of the service.  Leading the music and worshipping is always helpful to me as I offer myself to God and stand in His presence.  When it came time to preach, I was a bit more settled.  The nerves were present and I neglected to say anything prior to jumping into the sermon, but it worked and it began to flow nicely.  

The following is a clip that my dear brother recorded about halfway through my sermon.  In my mind, I have a bunch of reasons not to share this with you... it makes me vulnerable, I am extremely insecure about my physical appearance, I forgot to take the gum out of my mouth, I stutter, etc., but as my best friend pointed out to me today, not sharing it is exactly what the enemy wants to have happen.  The message of unity from Jesus in John 17 is too important to keep to myself... and the brilliant words and thoughts of others are given by the Holy Spirit.  Glory to God.

It was a privilege to preach and share with my brothers and sisters and I'm so thankful that God is bigger than my insecurities... and gracious and loving... and that He is allowing me to minister in this way.  I'm also so thankful for this very hectic and difficult season and those who are supporting me through it.  Thank you all.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Becoming Pliable

This morning I find myself sitting in the stillness of the sanctuary.  It's a bit chilly, but ever so peaceful.  The only sounds I hear are coming from the traffic on the road and the steady deep breathing of my faithful companions, always by my side.  There's an air of excitement in this place... this holy dwelling place of the God most high.  There is so much to look forward to and many things to do, but today I just want to sit in His presence.  I want to rest.  Really rest.  Honestly, I've allowed myself time to be incredibly lazy lately, and yet I don't feel rested.  Perhaps it's because I'm always thinking about the next thing.

Last semester ended very well and I'm pleased with my near perfect GPA.  It's by God's grace and God's grace alone that I made it through the semester.  It was hard.  Like I mentioned in my last post, not only was it hard academically, but emotionally as well... much more so than I anticipated.  It was good though.  Self awareness is always good.  I want to be a really good counselor.  This program is helping to ensure that that desire will be fulfilled as I continue to work hard and as God continues to shape me.  

Being pliable is not always easy for me.  But as I reflect on God as the Potter and me as the clay... I am thankful that His hands never stop molding me- even when I become hardened and stubborn, He doesn't take His hand from me.  The story of the prodigal son has been running through my head these last couple of weeks.  Meditating on the role of the Father in that story has been so humbling and beautiful as the world swirls around me.  The picture in my head of God standing with His arms open, peacefully, yet eagerly waiting for His child's embrace is so powerful that I can't stop my eyes from leaking at the thought of it.  Constant.  Mighty.  Loving.  Graceful.  Merciful.  Perfect.  Enough.

Towards the end of last semester, right before Thanksgiving, my senior pastor was hospitalized and diagnosed with lymphoma.  It all happened rather quickly and before I knew it, I was being asked to fill in for him in his absence.  That first week was stressful.  I was informed on a Friday night that I would be preaching the following Sunday.  Saturday, I had a full 10 hour day of class and I still had 2 other papers to write for school.  But by the leading of the Holy Spirit, the message God had for His people became clear and the sermon was written that Friday night just before midnight.

From there on out, it was a waiting game.  Still unsure how the district would have the church proceed and if they would in fact allow me, an unordained, non-clergy member to fill in, I planned an advent sermon series.  As the diagnosis became clear and a treatment plan was laid out for the pastor, the district superintendent, the church leadership, and myself met a number of times to hammer out a plan.  It was officially decided that I would fill in for our pastor.

So here I am, a second semester grad student working full time as a youth pastor, assistant pastor, and now as a lead pastor.  The church is rallying around me and I don't think I've ever felt so supported in my life.  It is an honor and a blessing to serve with such amazing people of God.  This new role is intimidating and I don't always feel very equipped for it, but thankfully, by the power of the Holy Spirit, He's enabled me to step up.  

I think the reason I'm writing today is twofold.  First, to remind myself of the power of God and the strength of His hand.  Second, to ask for prayer.  The next few months are going to be extremely difficult.  Balancing preaching, planning, outreach, administrative tasks, youth ministry, school, health, and having a life is going to be hard.  I'm not so good at the time management.  Would you stand with me in prayer during this time?  And the church too?  He must increase, but I must decrease.

"Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.  Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever!  Amen."  Ephesians 3:20-21  

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Put Through the Wringer

In the past month and a half I've written well over 80 pages for a number of papers and assignments, along with reading too many books and articles to count... not to mention the hours and hours of lectures I've listened to both online and in class.  Grad school is no joke.  I knew that going in and it's what I wanted, but knowing that doesn't make it any easier.  There doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to get it all done and if I'm being honest speed reading has become my best friend again.  I want so badly to grasp and retain the material.  I want to be a good counselor... no, that's a lie.  I want to be the best counselor.  More and more I'm finding my perfectionism to be both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing is that I'm determined, the curse is that anything less than perfect is stressful to me.  On some level I've always been this way and I wish it would manifest itself in other areas of my life that really need work as well.

But all of that isn't even the hard part.  I chose this specific counseling program for a couple of main reasons.  1. It's Biblical.  2. Practical hours are required from the beginning which means I've already been practicing the skills I've been learning.  We practice in lab.  Practicing the skills and theories we learn about in lecture is imperative if we're ever going to be effective practitioners, right?  Makes so much sense but, wow, lab is by far the hardest part of grad school.  

So what could be hard about practicing skills with a smallish group of your peers, especially since you're all on the same level?  First of all, when you're a perfectionist self awareness is sometimes difficult.  What's more difficult though is working through those faults with your lab mates.  Each week during lab we are all required to bring very real life, personal situations to use as examples.  At some point each week we act as both counselor and client... and it's hard.  I love that I'm learning so much about counseling and about myself (and really it all makes practical sense that we would work through some of our own stuff and also become aware of things that clients may bring to us in the future that could be triggers for us), but it's hard.  It's not a group therapy session and there are times when I walk out of lab feeling completely broken and like I've just been left hanging there.  That's how it's designed.  Perhaps that sounds cruel to some.  It did to me at first too.  

Now I understand the method behind the madness, though I don't always like it.  I'm almost always completely exhausted by the time lab is over... which is not good because I have a 3 hour lecture immediately following lab each week.  This past week was one of those weeks.  Something was revealed in me that caused our lab leaders to encourage the lab to "pursue me."  This means I became the "client" though I wasn't really prepared for that.  It was good, but it was hard.  I feel like I'm being put through the wringer... and so do the rest of my lab mates.  It helps to know we're in the same boat, but it certainly doesn't make it any easier.  Of course, because of the nature of the work we do in lab, it's all confidential, which is comforting since we're expected to bring real stuff to lab.

Writing here today feels good.  No, I don't have time and yes, I should be doing my 4th paper of the week, studying for my midterm, and putting the finishing touches on a presentation I have this weekend.  But it's nice to sit and mindlessly write for a few minutes.  I would love to say I'm back and committed to blogging again, but that's unlikely.  Honestly, I'm not even going to take the time to edit this for errors.  No time.

So much has gone on since the last time I updated that I can't even begin to catch you up in detail.  I miss my family A LOT.  I miss my sister- my best friend, Stacy and her family.  It's been lonely.  Everyone here has their own stuff and their own friends and family.  Relationships are hard.  Work is good... up and down like most jobs.  Though, I don't like to look at what I do as just a job... I love the ministry God has given me.  I definitely miss preaching regularly.  I still say I have the coolest youth kids around.  

God is moving me forward and He continues to reassure the call He's placed on my life.  I'm so excited to see how all of this plays out.  He's been reminding me lately that my view is limited... His is not.  How awesomely reassuring is that?  I've been immersing myself in His Word and resting in the knowledge that no small detail goes unnoticed.  God is so good and I love Him deeply.