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Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Self Examination of Leslie Knope

Y'all. Leslie Knope and I are the same person.

Leslie, the fictional blonde-haired, crazy-eyed government employee of a small town in Indiana, yes the two of us are the same. It's like watching myself on screen. She's joyfully, annoyingly crazy. She's loud, on the go, and is loyal to a fault. She's enthusiastic and passionate about her job. She's motivated by her love for people. She responds irrationally to situations and has a corner to point her in the right direction. She verbally processes, a string of thoughts just falling out of her mouth. I AM HER.

I've seen Parks and Rec episodes numerous times. Most of the time, it's just on in my apartment, while I'm moving around, doing other things. I can quote it like a boss. It's been a source of hilarious comfort to feel a bond with a person who doesn't exist.

I also have a coffee mug that says, "be the Leslie Knope of whatever you do."

I really think we can learn from anything and everything.

Lately, I've been thinking about self examination. I'm always thinking about self-examination. You know, the whole crazy painful beautiful process of becoming more fully and wholly and freely who Christ made you to be. Man, it's tough sometimes. It's layer after layer, peeling to the core. I sit down with my LifeGroup ladies and hear them talk about discovering who they are and they didn't realize this about themselves and who am I?? and what is this?? and I think, I'm right there with you. It's a wild, interesting, crazy process.

And the process never ends.

It can knock you off your guard. Make you feel like you're stuck floating in a snow globe. But sometimes, I actually don't hate it. When I can see it for what it is, it's actually really, really cool. When I can see the work of all God, I can see the way He is sanctifying and reforming me.

He is intentional and intricate and He really, really cares. 

Leslie got a new job in season 4 and had to make a new, unpopular decision in season 5 and she feels disoriented and unsure and like she's lost her bearings on her values. Good and faithful and steady Ron Swanson looks her in the eye and says in no uncertain terms get yourself together and reminds her that her circumstances may have changed, but her values have not. The core of who she is has not. She remains hardworking and passionate and believes in the best interests of people. Her context may have changed, she will grow tremendously, but her character has not. She will be stretched, but she will be better.

Because don't those turn out to be the greatest seasons of life, those in which we groan and stretch and attempt to run, but once we move forward, we find that we are better for it? Our self, our soul, is being shaped into fullness and doesn't that almost never happen in stagnancy or complacency?

This process reminds me of words from the song Ever Be on my Lips. We sang it last week as a staff and these lines came alive,

you father the orphan
your kindness makes us whole
and you shoulder our weakness
and your strength becomes our own
now you're making me like you
clothing me in white
bringing beauty from ashes

Making me more like you.

Life is a sweet journey.
Wherever you are, God knows.
He believes in your life.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Soul

My life looks very different than it used to look, in a lot of ways.

It is fuller, busier, more challenging, more joyful. I have really amazing conversations with people on a regular basis. I am asking questions of myself that I never have before. I am surrounded by people who make me better in every way. It is purest gift from the Lord.

Recently, I was in the midst of transition and I'll be honest with you, it was hard. I had no control over my calendar (Kendall, where you at?). My time was telling me what to do. I was hitting uncomfortable and new areas and thinking that I had no idea what I was doing. 

My soul was tired. 
I turned my phone off and ran away to the beach. 

That week, I began reading a book by one of my favorite authors. Her stories are so whimsical and magical, full of joy and full of hope. I've been reading her books for years. I was reading her newest on the beach, borrowed from my sweet friend, with the sand in my feet and the sound of the waves in my ear. This one was about the adventures of three friends during one summer. It was a hilariously sweet story about companionship and beauty pageants and cats and dogs. So deliriously weird. But there was a layer of depth to it, a layer about the soul. 

I remember reading it one afternoon on the beach and felt something stirring deep within me. This character, I related to her so much. Her words about her own soul, I connected with them. It was so very tangible. The imaginative, creative, childlike side of me responded. She resurfaced and squealed and I gasped at the freedom and the surprise at her unearthing. It all felt so.. familiar. It was familiar, the part of me that dreams and hopes and believes in stories real and imagined. 

It was so familiar. You know what I mean? That familiar feeling when you meet something or someone and you think there you are. I have been waiting for you. I have been missing you and didn't even realize it. But now that you are here, I wonder how I made it. You're it. That's what felt off. 

It almost feels too sacred to document.

I was having breakfast with one of my sweet friends this past weekend. I love her deeply, we have known each other since her high school days (now she is off to NYC adventures!). I asked her about faith and she began talking about grace. 

I believe God believes in my life. Grace is nuts and it is so important and it is a reality. Grace is a reality. 

My soul said yes yes. The same piece of the soul that resurfaced at the beach nodded in agreement. Yes yes. God believes in my life. 

The soul is first. Fortify the soul. I tell my leaders and my students and my peers that I have learned this the hard way, that the only way you can care for other people's souls well is if you care for your own. The only way. There is no other way. 

My soul needs coffee. It needs Jesus and clouds and laughter and friends. It needs conversation and stories and whimsy and rest. It needs freedom and words and adventure and song. It needs grace and peace and hope and joy. It needs life. 

I refuse to let my soul languish. I refuse to live a frantic life. I refuse to live joyless. I refuse to not put armor on each day. I refuse to push prayer to the wayside. I refuse to not soak in the beauty that is all around me. I refuse to live complacent. 

The soul lives and when the soul lives, I am able to experience the fullest and freest life. And when I experience my fullest and freest, I am more able to point others to their fullest and freest lives. The full and free life is Jesus. 

Onward and upward, friends! 

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Promised Land

My corner lives in Boston and to make up for the distance, we email each other back and forth on a consistent basis. We've been growing, recharging, and keeping up with our friendship this way for years now, ever since we graduated from college together seven years ago (wait. what). We actually met on the first day of freshman orientation, so all you going to college, do not underestimate the value of orientation. I met my most valued friend there, amidst the classroom tours and cheesy games.

Our emails, though. They have enriched and enlightened our friendship.

Just the other day, there was an email with this thought in it..
REAL hope. The deep seated nest of stubborn belief that He will show up. NOT BECAUSE OF ANYTHING WE'VE DONE. But because He's good and He said He would. 
Yes. 

This deep feeling within, deep within, that just knows He will come through. He will be there, just because He is good. It makes me cry. HE IS GOOD. And He said He will be with us. He said it! And He delivers on what He says. I am camping out in His promises. 

This has been the theme of my life the past few months. I have worn my Bible thin camping out in the first few books of the Bible because I am Israelite through and through. I felt discontent in Egypt, drained and tired, living by the shadow, afraid to surrender to God. I could hear my own voice as I complained that slavery would have been better than not knowing! I could feel my own fear in the wilderness, lamenting, vulnerable and afraid. 

But just a few chapters later, the Lord is eloquently describing the most beautiful place in the world. A place of safety, a place where they would not want, a place where He is there, a place where their very needs are met. I have clung so fiercely to this promised land. That is the future, because God said it would be. 
For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land of flowing streams and pools of water, with fountains and springs that gush out in the valleys and hills. It is a land of wheat and barley; of grapevines, fig trees, and pomegranates; of olive oil and honey. It is a land where food is plentiful and nothing is lacking. It is a land where iron is as common as stone, and copper is abundant in the hills. When you have eaten your fill, be sure to praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

What a land!
What beauty. 

But there are giants in the land and the people are afraid. Fear abounds. There is so much unknown. But the Lord has already given His people the land, it is theirs to conquer. Do not let fear keep you from what I have given you, the Lord says. He tells the Israelites, "Send men to spy out the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the people of Israel." I have given it to you, it is yours.

The spies come back and they say WE CAN'T MOVE FORWARD WE ARE DOOMED. But two of the spies say, there are giants, but we will be able to overcome it. It is ours, because the Lord said it was. Because the Lord said it was.

Let's be like the two. 

Do not forget the Lord. Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

He is with you wherever you go.

He is with you wherever you go.

And when you get to a benchmark or a lap or a place of rest or the promised land itself, the Lord says do not forget who brought you here. I am with you, be not afraid of the giants ahead. Build stones as memorials. Remember who I am. I am with you. 

I have seen this. I feel God moving me into the pursuit of a fullest and freest me and it feels so intentional and purposeful and loving. The wilderness wandering is providential and the promised land is tangible and sometimes God is saying FINALLY. You've been in bondage for so long. I AM SO GLAD YOU ARE WALKING FREE. I am with you. We are moving forward into giant-infested land together, but they are of no consequence to you, because I am far greater. And I am with you.

The Bible is living and breathing. The promised land is what is up ahead. Always, at every turn.

I remember Him each day and I feel unequivocally safe. 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Friends with the Martian

One of my girls came home from college a few months ago and we talked about friendship. Having walked through transitions with friends, both of us. We sat on the couch in my safe place and talked about seeing differently, having the hard conversation, showing empathy. It is all such a journey. 

I sigh and look up and feel my palms open. To be in relationship with people is to live with arms open wide. To be a gracious and kind, humble and serving friend, co-worker, daughter, sister means to live with open palms. I want to close my fists and hold tight, but deep calls out to deep that there is something more whole and free. 

I read The Martian a few months ago. The movie was good, but the book was exceptional. It is a fantastically scientific book, full of tense moments and space humor. There was this one sentence early on in the book that I kept reading over and over again. I still see it in my mind now. The astronaut Mark Watney (aka Matt Damon) is stranded on the planet Mars and as his team on Earth works to get him home, they begin to describe what kind of person Mark is and what kind of asset he is to their team. He's witty and a jokester, resourceful and a genius. But it's this sentence that hits the core of who Mark is..

Mark not only fits in well with any social group, he's a catalyst to make the group work better.

A catalyst is a person or thing that causes an event to happen. In this case, the event is that the team works better. The group is more successful because of Mark's presence. He makes his team of astronauts better. This sentence gets me. It makes me teary just thinking about it. I strive for this. 

Make others better.

Lose the expectations. We all have named or unnamed, fair or unfair expectations and standards in our mind that we hold above other people. We expect them to call, come over, help with this, ask about that. And when they don't, we are crushed. These expectations often aren't communicated, and so unknowingly, we have set people up to fail. And when we set our friends up to fail, we fail. It is an exhausting way of life. Let's agree to lose the expectations. Let's be open with one another, let's meet halfway, let's talk it out. Let's stop expecting perfection and start showering each other with grace. See differently. 

Assume the best. There will come moments when you have a choice. You will have heard something about your friend or you will have experienced a moment of hurt. Maybe it's all legitimate. But what if we chose to believe the best possible thing about one another? What if we chose the truth? To take people at their word, in the purest way possible? What if there was no more gray area or weird reality confusion about this or that? What if we just chose the best and consequently, chose freedom? Sometimes thoughts can create a reality that is dark and isn't even real. Tell those lies that enough is enough. You're choosing the best. 

Be motivated by love and kindness. Let all your words be seasoned with grace. Let your actions be a reflection of love. Let your reactions be that of kindness. Value the image of God in one another. I don't think this has always been my natural tendency, but I really deep down long for it. I have a natural instinct to fight for things and to fight for people, but I've tried to discern where kindness fits into the fight? But I'm learning that the valuing of people is the fight. That when we fight for the goodness in people, all people, we are fighting to elevate the Image of God before anything else. 

No one is defined by what they do. This is a big one. It's the best news I think I have ever heard. We are not defined by the good things we do and we are not defined by the mistakes we make. We are defined by something far, far greater. Our identities are eternally cemented in who God says we are. Let's choose to operate by this. Let's choose to see this about people, to choose personhood over performance. It's how we want others to see us because it's how God sees us. The core of who we are has nothing to do with what we do, praise the Lord. But the core of who we are should affect what we do and how treat people. Let's act like we believe this. 

Onward and upward, just as the Martian would do. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Celebrate Steps

About a month ago, I went on a retreat alongside my team. It was one of the richest and most refreshing few days, yet it was also provided some of the most challenging examinations. We talked about the inner life and emotional health. I came back exhaustingly freed, emotionally drained, and yet it felt like the beginning of a very significant journey. A few weeks later, I received some break-your-heart feedback and I feel as though I am rebuilding as God is refining. 

What I have learned in the midst of the rebuilding is the power of steps. 

We talk about it a lot as a team, what it means to celebrate steps. We value the steps other people - whether it be students, parents, or leaders - are taking in their relationships, their faith, and their identities. We work to make awareness of steps an integral part of the fabric of what we do. If we fail to see the steps, we fail to see the work God is doing all around. If the big picture is our only sight, then we miss the goodness happening right in front of us. 

There is the seeing, and then there is the celebrating.

I don't think I've ever done a good job of celebrating the steps in my own life. 

I have places I'd like to be, I know God is doing a work in me, and the big picture can feel so huge. I have a vision for my life and I feel great joy at where I see the road of my life. But to get there feels like a mountain. And then there is the gym I need to get to, a Sabbath I need to take, schoolwork I need to keep up with, a job I need to do, friendships I need to maintain, a family I need to keep in touch with, meals I need to cook. All of it makes you not take any steps at all. The gaps are glaring at times, but I genuinely see the areas where God is present and asking me to lean into Him. 

One of the biggest encouragements from our retreat was the relief that I could move forward. I was equipped to acknowledge all that God had revealed and all that I needed, and then take it one day at a time. 

So, I've decided to let myself off the hook to see the steps. I've decided discouragement at not achieving the end result is no longer allowed. I've decided "enough" is no more. I've decided celebration. 

I walk once a week at the Riverwalk. I cannot get myself to the gym enough at this season of my life at the frequency I want. I used to live in that tension. But I do know that physical health is important, movement is critical. So now, I walk. I count it as soul care and I get outside. I throw comparison to the wind and I walk. Sometimes I have a companion and the conversations have been so life giving. My walks are a buffer between work and school and it has left me light and ready to tackle the next shift of schoolwork. 

I say yes to game nights. The other day, some friends invited me over for a game night. I looked at the number of pages I needed to read and felt the crunch of responsibility. But my new step now is to value friendships and so I chose to go. I laughed harder than I had in a really long time. The pages went unread, but I just read them another time. Friendships have often fallen to the wayside because time feels sooooo critical. The big picture is to cultivate genuine friendships, but the step is saying yes to game nights. 

I don't use my phone on Saturdays. This one makes me laugh, because my friend Kendall is always reminding me of this one. I am learning I can put the phone down, I actually prefer to put the phone down, and I can choose Saturday to lay on the couch watching SVU with my mom or spend it organizing, cleaning, and running errands or spend it out and about or traveling to see friends. Sometimes things can wait, and that doesn't mean excellence has to be compromised.

I practice vulnerability. In recent bouts of shame, I have sent text on text on text and have been met with surprisingly tender responses. It has left me all weepy and has relieved so much of the pressure I couldn't find ways to relieve on my own. I am communicating better - with myself, with God, with others - which has helped me become more aware of how to navigate through such strongly felt emotions. Each expression of vulnerability makes me stronger and puts quite a bit of fuel in my tank. Shame loses power when shared.

I see these steps and I celebrate. 
Life is full and I am learning to live it as such. I am learning there is much truth to the cliche of life as a marathon, not a sprint. We are journeying and each step takes us closer to home and closer to the heart and character of God. Change is deceiving and process is weird, but we move forward!

I have a really sweet friend who is so good at remembering this. She has such an awareness of God and hardly ever sees small things as coincidences. She sees them as divine appointments. She actually just texted me as I sat here writing, about how she felt moved by the Lord as she sat in her room reflecting on the day. A resounding yes. God is so good. He is honored in the journey. He is present in the moments. 

And then, of course, one of my favorite visuals..
How do you eat an elephant? 
One bite at a time. 

Savor and celebrate those bites. 
Savor and celebrate the steps. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Peter and the Resurrection

I love the story of Peter. 

I love his close proximity with Christ, his sincere genuineness at wanting to walk with and honor Jesus and his severe shortcomings when he fails to do so. I love his seeming aloofness, the comic relief he provides to the Transfiguration scene. I am relieved by his brazen pride. I am struck by his authentic heart, his camaraderie with Christ. I am heartbroken at the devastation of his decisions. I am empathic when he sees the fullness of what he has done. I am drawn by his desire to want to run. I am moved at what he chooses instead. I am mesmerized at what the resurrection did for Peter.

I love Peter. I resonate with Peter. I connect with Peter.

During Jesus' most desperate time, Peter betrayed him three times. Three times. As Christ was being tried and arrested and mocked, Peter looked people in the eye and claimed to have no affiliation with Christ whatsoever. So blatant. Whatever motivated Peter in these moments, it drove him to choose things he would regret almost instantly. And when the rooster crows, Peter wept bitterly.

Wept bitterly.

One of my favorite verses is Luke 24:12. Christ has been crucified, dead, gone, buried. The disciples are no doubt in hiding - shocked, grieved, confused. Peter is one of them. Maybe he felt weird and out of place? Did he still feel the weight of his betrayal of Christ? Did he feel shame? Did he feel identified by it, or that other people looked at him differently because of it? Did he feel embarrassed? It must have all been so disorienting. 

Then Mary and Mary Magdalene come running in and announce that JESUS IS ALIVE. They have been to the tomb, they have seen that it is empty. Jesus is not there! I can just imagine that maybe there was initial shock and silence, then a burst of exclamation and excitement, disbelief and awe. 

Peter, though, Peter rose and ran. 
He ran towards the empty tomb. 

Luke 24:12 says that Peter stooped and looked in and "saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened." 

I love how lifelike these verses are, how human of a picture they paint. I love words like "rose" and "ran" and "stooped" and "marveled." Like Peter was just a normal guy who made some mistakes and who needed to see if what they said about a risen Christ was true. 

I think Peter ran to the tomb wondering, could this be? And the empty tomb said this is even better than you could imagine. I think Peter walked away wondering, this could be! 

The resurrection made sense of it all. The resurrection gave Peter clarity, a hope, forgiveness. The resurrection said you're not defined by this, by what you have done. You have been set free. The resurrection said that shame has lost its power and its sting. Rise, marvel, move forward. 

Peter became the founder, the rock, of the early Church. He became known for his courage and kindness, his strong mindedness and boldness. He became a leader for Christians, a voice to a community of believers. He is remembered for his great faith. The resurrection changed him.

It doesn't get any better than that. 

His story moves me in more ways than I could say.
An example of what the best news can do. 

Happy Easter. 

Friday, February 26, 2016

Honor in Their Eyes

I've been talking with my friend about this very topic the past few weeks, about honor. He's an ADVANCE student, 18 years old, a senior at Fort Mill High School. He's been in our ministry for most of his high school carer. We traveled to Colombia, South America with a team two summers ago and once you travel on a global mission trip together, you have a bond. And really, the thing about being a pastor is how much you cherish, value, and cheer on those in your ministry. Truly. 

My friend has really been moved by the latest series "The Lost Art of Honor." It's been a really important one for him. The past few Sundays, he's excitedly texted and we've had some really cool conversations about what David has said the past few weeks and what honor can look like in the life of a teenager. When I asked if he'd help me with some blog thoughts, he said, "well I feel honored right now."

I loved that comment so much. Because receiving honor fuels giving honor. Those who receive honor give it. What an honorable cycle. 

I'm really proud of this student, of this newfound fire he has to value and treat others with honor. Honor for our teenagers, for our next generation, is incredibly critical. Honor is not a thing of the past, it must be the heartbeat of how we interact with one another. Honor is, at its core understanding that everyone is worthy of value and respect. It is recognizing the image of God in one another. My friend describes honor as "going out of your way," and there is something so gracious about that. Honor is not just doing what is expected, but is giving grace upon grace. It is calling out to others, "I see you, I respect you, I value you, I care about you, and I will sacrifice self to show you."

Honor is grace.

In a middle school cafeteria or a high school classroom, that can be a really tough concept to grasp. People can be unkind and cruel, dramatic and stubborn. If you remember way back (way, way back for some of us), the teenage years are tough years. They are identity altering years, a character defining time, and where God is in the midst of it is a question we have all wrestled with. The lies of a teenage mind are loud and the drum of insecurity can beat really, really loudly. So much is changing. I remind my teenage friends all the time that the core of who they are never changes - loved, belonged, worth dying for, child of God. That is the good news.

So, the question our teenagers are wrestling with and the one we're trying to help them get to is this. How can honor exist in an environment like this?

Honor starts by honoring God. Our relationship with God sets the tone for so much, for the health of our relationships and the health of our own identity. We honor God by spending time with Him, by loving one another, by seeking His help, by prioritizing faith and His way of life. When others are dishonorable, it is God who helps us honor them. My friend says that it is easy to forget where honor starts, but it starts with God. How true and right and good that is.

I think of the fruit of the spirit of kindness, and I think how much it connects with honor. Kindness can change lives, set people free, welcome people in despite who they are or what they've done. Kindness communicates value and communicates worth. The same can be said of honor, what a closely related marriage between the two. It is believing the best about one another, encouraging instead of criticizing. In it purest form, it is simply treating people right.

I had a dear friend named Tee, who embodied this kind of honor and who I look to often as my example. I met Tee when he was a senior at Fort Mill High School a few years ago. At his memorial service this past fall, I heard story after story of how his kindness had changed lives. One by one, people from all walks of life, from all cliques and social groups at Fort Mill High, stood up and shared how an encounter with Tee had made them feel safe and valuable. I remember hearing their words and their stories and thinking over and over again what a life, what a legacy. People felt honored by the way Tee treated them.

Tee understood that people matter, he understood that people are worthy to be welcomed in. His smile, his personality, his character, reflected the belief that every moment and every human being is sacred. There are no exceptions. Actions have influence, and yes, did Tee influence towards love and belonging. He impacted a community. 

Kindness and honor bring heaven to earth.

Our teenagers are reclaiming honor, they truly are. They are grappling with what it looks like to be kind in the battlefield. They are asking good questions, seeking hard after God, pursuing love and goodness in a world that is hard, sinful, and broken. They inspire me daily.