Shaped.

I’ve been thinking about what makes me who I am, about why I am the way I am. When I think about where I am today and who I am, my mind goes to the people who have impacted me, who have walked alongside me, sometimes having to push me from behind and sometimes having to stand on the sideline and cheer me on. The people who have loved me and who have shaped me. The people in my life who have helped me become who I am today and continue to impact, influence and walk with me on my journey of life.

I think about the wonderful men and women who decided that middle school students were worth paying attention to and loving all the way through until they graduated high school (and that we’re still worth loving). These people who stuck with me through my teenage years, who encouraged me, who believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and helped this uncertain girl see she had potential. These people who showed up, who let crazy teenage girls meet in their home each week, who gave up their weekends to go on youth retreats, who invited me into their office to share my heart and just listen, and who flooded my life with words of encouragement. People who were mentors, confidants, counselors and friends in a time of life where having that older, wiser and steady voice does a lot of good.

I think about friends. Friends I can say I’ve known basically since day one of my life, friends who I’ve gone through Kindergarten, 5th grade, high school and college graduations with, friends who I said goodbye to for college but somehow we always find ways to be reunited, friends who I’ve known for a long time and some for not quite as long, but friends who have been there. Life long friends, friends who have loved me well and shown me that friends can be family.

I think about my teammates in Zambia. The three people I didn’t know one day and then the next lived with for eight weeks straight in a foreign country. People who blew me away with their acceptance, love and passion for life. People who taught me so much, who I experienced true community with and who made me feel like I belonged, in a season of life where I felt anything but, people who made me laugh until I cried, people who journeyed with me through an experience that will forever shape who I am.

The list could go on, really. So many people who are reminders that God must love me because he put so many amazing people around me. Reflecting on all of these individuals who have helped shaped who I am, I feel so much gratitude and it makes me hope and pray that I do the same for others.

And that I remember middle school girls are important to love, that making room for a high school student to be heard is so valuable, that walking with someone through the good times and the bad builds unbreakable bonds, that accepting people where they are for who they are is truly love, and that showing up is sometimes all someone needs. I can do this because others have shown me. I am who I am today, not just because of some experiences I’ve had or because I’m so great at life all by myself, but because of the beautiful, wonderful people in my life that I call mentor, family, friend, cell group leader, youth pastor and so on and so forth.  I just hope and pray that I can play a small role in “shaping” others, the way I have been so lucky to be shaped. 

A significant other.

I heard author, Shauna Niequist, speak at Lipscomb University recently. She is one of my favorite authors and I was excited for the chance to hear her in person. You can follow Shauna’s blog here and you should check out her books! Cold Tangerines is one of my favorite books ever. She has a way of writing about life, friendships, faith and hospitality that just makes sense and she’s great at sharing stories. Anyway…this isn’t about how much I love her, but seriously, check her out.

One thing she shared while she was speaking was this, “I want you to know and remember that just because you don’t have a significant other does not mean you are not significant.” It was refreshing to hear her say this and to know that her main audience of college students were hearing someone speak this truth over them.

I think this happens too much in the life of a young person. I know I have been made to feel like I’m not enough because I don’t have a significant other or I don’t have some “plan in place” for when I’ll have a significant other. It’s like my life hasn’t quite made it because I’m single, like my life isn’t quite as significant, like I’m in the waiting room for my life to finally be where it should be. I have been made to feel not enough or lacking.

Another wise woman in my life, my cousin Kendi, and she may not even remember saying this when we were together over Christmas, but we were talking about relationships and she said something like, “I don’t know why people act like having a “significant other” is the only significant relationship in someone else’s life.” My soul breathed a sigh of relief and shouted Amen!

Because that’s the other side of the coin, why do we treat other relationships as not quite as significant as a boyfriend/girlfriend, husband/wife? Now, I know I’m speaking from someone who is lacking in both of those departments and I am in no way minimizing the importance of those relationships, but I think we need to get out of our box and realize we have a lot of significant relationships. In some ways, if someone were to ask me if I had a significant other I would say, yes, lots! (and then have a lot of explaining to do probably) 🙂 But there are so many people in my life that I consider significant and who bring significance to my life. Beautiful friends who pour into my life and meet me where I am and show me that it doesn’t just take blood to be considered family, a beautiful community who shows me what it’s like to be there for each other, to enter into each other’s happy and not so happy places and a beautiful blood-related family who from my earliest of days have shown me acceptance, love and joy. These people are my significant others.

So friends, please know that you are significant, with or without that “significant other”, know that you are enough just because you are you, know that just because you don’t have a boyfriend/girlfriend or husband/wife you are not lacking as a person or lacking of significant relationships. Pour into the people around you, love the people around you, make room for the people around you and you will find there are lots of people with significance in your life. 

Love.

I have never been “in love”, in the romantic sense, but I would like to think that I am familiar with love. There’s a whole lot of people in my life who I fiercely love. There’s people in my life who are hard to love and more who are easy to love, but I try my best to love well.

The more I think about this whole Christianity thing…sifting through different theologies and beliefs, muddling through all the opinions, hearing the same passage of scripture interpreted in five different ways to support a certain point of view, rock hard definitions of what Christianity should or shouldn’t look like, attending church services and coming away with more questions than answers, the more I realize all of that is secondary and really it can all come down to one thing…love.

God is love. That’s it. It’s actually pretty simple, why do we make it so complicated? This simple truth that God is love, God loves us, therefore we need to love each other. It’s not as complicated as I think we make it.

I think this is why it’s always been hard for me to come to grips with people who claim to love Jesus, but are racist, who call homosexual people names, and who have no tolerance for people that look, act, or believe differently than them. It’s why it’s hard for me to wrap my head around how a pastor can preach a fear-mongering sermon against people who are different than them or how people post articles promoting division and conflict. I know I and others are in no way perfect, but to so blatantly promote hate and anything other than love, just doesn’t make sense to me.

Typically, I try at all costs to avoid “hot topic” issues and controversial things, if it doesn’t breed peace and harmony, I usually stay as far away as possible, but in the spirit of being unafraid this year, I feel like I can’t keep my mouth shut anymore. I want to engage people in conversations that can lead to understanding and acceptance, even knowing that doesn’t mean we will always agree.

The fact that I can still read a racist comment about our president or see Facebook blow up about what happened at the Grammy’s or read articles about how people are mad “America the Beautiful” wasn’t sung in English makes me sick and I don’t understand it. Why are Christians spreading so much hate? How does that even make sense?

I love how The Message version says this in 1 John, “If anyone boasts, “I love God,” and goes right on hating his brother or sister, thinking nothing of it, he is a liar. If he won’t love the person he can see, how can he love the God he can’t see? The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both.”

We have got to do both. Hate has no room in our lives if we claim to follow Jesus. We need to make our lives about love. Love for God, love for each other and actually a love for ourselves.

Please join me in trying to love better. Loving those who look different than you do, loving those who act different than you do, loving those who believe different than you do, even loving those who don’t love you.

Because I’m pretty sure when God said to love your neighbor as yourself, he meant it.  Love the people you can see, it’s a great place to start.

Doubts

I just finished up reading the book, Evolving in Monkey Town, by Rachel Held Evans and I’m so glad I did. Rachel Held Evans is a blogger/author that I really enjoy reading and sometimes I feel like she’s writing the thoughts right out of my head, other times I feel like she’s articulating things I couldn’t articulate myself, other times I read something she writes and I’m unsure of it so I struggle with it and think about what it means for me, and other times she shares her experience and it brings tears to my eyes because I know I’m not alone.

Evolving in Monkey Town was the last one for me. It’s a story of Rachel’s faith journey and her experience with doubt. I would say our backgrounds are a little different, but her journey of faith and the doubt she experienced are very similar.

I feel like doubts are something you’re not supposed to talk about, so I haven’t. I feel like if I tell someone I doubt something about God or Christianity then they’re going to think I’m going to hell. I feel like if I talk about the fact that sometimes I’m unsure of what I thought I knew about God, people will discredit me. I feel like if I share what I really think about things and how over the last few years the world has faded from black and white to grey, people will “question my salvation”.

I don’t want to be seen as a cynic. I don’t want to appear to be unsure. I don’t want to be understood as someone who doesn’t believe in God.

Rachel says this and when she said, it echoed across my soul and mind because it’s exactly what I feel. I don’t doubt God…I doubt what I know and believe about God.

Through reading this book and other things, I’m coming to accept my doubt and I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

Because of my doubts my faith has become stronger.

Because of my doubts I’ve realized it’s okay to say, I don’t know.

Because of my doubts I have had to realize what I really do believe.

Because of my doubts I have developed an openness I didn’t have before.

Because of my doubts I’ve realized this thing of following Christ and choosing to love Him and because of that love to love others well is a journey, always evolving, and there’s always more to discover. More to discover about the mystery God, the person of Jesus, more to discover about myself, others, and God’s creation.

I’m not ashamed of my doubts. I don’t have this whole faith thing figured out. It kinda worries me when people think they do. I don’t want to ever think I have it all figured out or know it all. I never want to stop asking questions.

Because I believe in a God that invites our questions, can handle our doubts and wants us to keep moving forward. 

Why I didn’t buy a Christmas countdown decoration…

Yesterday my roommate and I decorated for Christmas, which is one of my favorite activities of the year. I was especially excited because it would be the first time decorating my new home!! I couldn’t wait to see how the Christmas tree looked, where each decoration would fit and to turn on all the Christmas lights. Also, we now have the two year tradition of watching Elf while we put them up and that never gets old!

We had to go pick up some things we didn’t have, like stockings and a tree topper, so we were looking at all the Christmas decorations. We found a cute little thing that was a snowman who was holding blocks with numbers on it that you could change to make a countdown to Christmas. I thought it was so cute and it was 50% off so I figured, why not?!? I carried it with me around the store and then the more I thought about it, the more I didn’t want it. 

I’m trying to approach this advent season differently than the years before. Every where you look there is a countdown to Christmas, reasons to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the holiday, advertisements shouting at you that you need more, and giving us every reason to rush through the month to make it to that 25th day of December.

We miss the spirit of this season, we miss the times to be present with those we love, we miss the chance to slow down and wait in anticipation for what is to come. 

So, sorry cute little snowman countdown calendar, you won’t be finding a place in my home because I want to choose to be present and take in each day, slow down and wait in an anticipation that allows each day to have meaning and purpose.

Running.

I’ve started running. Never in my life would I think those words would come out…like ever. I always admired people who could run long distances and who enjoyed running, but I have never understood it. Honestly, I haven’t made it to the point where I understand people who really love running. (maybe I’ll get there someday? Although I’m three months in and have yet to experience this so-called “runners high” people talk about it…I’ll believe it when I feel it myself). Thanks to my wonderful friend Jessica, who if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t even be writing this because I would of quit when the Couch 2 5K training said run for 8 minutes straight (my response when I heard that = I’m sorry, what did you just say?), who encourages me when I say I’m going to quit, who made me realize it’s not okay just to quit something because you’re not  good at it and who accepts me and all my complaining each morning, we now successfully run about 3 miles a few times every week.

Anyway…because I needed a break from homework, because I like lists and because I was thinking about running randomly and how I have to wake up here soon to do just that here is my Top Ten Random Running List of Thoughts/Experiences/Ideas/etc…

1. I am learning how much running is a mental thing. I used to wake up so anxious about the day’s run because I didn’t think I could do it and I’m learning how to work through my anxiety when it comes to running. Also, the things that go on in my head while I’m running from my self pep talks, to my observations of the neighborhood, to my random thoughts could probably be turned into a sitcom that would either be highly entertaining or make you slightly worry about my mental state.

2. There are a lot of hills in Nashville. When you’re just driving around you may disagree, but run that same route and then we can talk about if Nashville is hilly or not.

3. I would like to publicly thank the Beyonce Pandora station as well as the Justin Timberlake Pandora station for being my ever encouraging companions on these endeavors.

4. Running is hard. I thought it would get easier and I guess it has, but it’s still hard. Some runs are easier than others, some days just suck and I say I’m never doing it again, other days I think it’s not too bad. Kinda like life…oh, you don’t even want to know how many parallels between running and life go through my head every morning, I could basically start my own blog about those.

5. Running gives you a common bond with other people who run. It’s like you’re now in a secret society. One day I had a whole conversation with my friend about running and after it was over I thought, “Who am I and since when could I hold my own in a conversation about running?”. I always felt like part of the out group when I was around runners and even though I run now, I’m pretty sure I haven’t quite made it into the ‘in group”. (I think you have to experience and probably document via social media that runner’s high you get to be in that group or actually complete a race)

6. My favorite thing on runs is when we pass by random people who encourage us. One guy told us next year we would be running the NYC marathon…not gonna happen sir, but we really appreciate the encouragement.

7. We had to invest in pepper spray…not because of people, but because of stray dogs.

8. The city graveyard is a really pretty and peaceful place to run. (Thank you Brian and Courtney for this insight)

9. I am signed up to run two 5K’s next week…the first 5K’s in my life I will have run the whole thing and first 5K’s since i’ve started training. I didn’t realize they are in the same week until about 5 minutes ago. Well…go big or go home, right? (maybe this means I’m that much closer to being in the “in group” of running…OMG!!)

10. I am proud of myself. I think I can say that without coming across as too proud or full of myself. It’s exciting to be able to say you’ve done something you never thought you would or even were capable of doing. I may question that capability each time I put on those running shoes, but I’ve done it and I’m doing it and as ugly or slow as some of those runs can be, I do it and that’s what I focus on.

(disclaimer: please don’t compare this to one of those people you dread seeing on social media who are always commenting on how great their workout was or who is always checked into the gym or someone who is seeking a pat on the back for the fact that they’re actually working out. 1. I would never comment about how great a workout is, because let’s be real, workouts aren’t that great. 2. I don’t have a gym to check into. 3. I mean, feel free to pat me on the back if you want.)

Women and Girls.

This last week I had the opportunity to speak on a panel at Trevecca after the showing of the movie, It’s a Girl. This movie is heart wrenching and actually quite horrifying. Learning about gendercide and being exposed to the real life facts that up to 200 million women and girls are missing in the world, 1 in 4 girls won’t make it past puberty in India and China and more baby girls are killed in India and China than are born in the United States each year is horrible. It is unacceptable and terrible.

We had to formulate a response to the movie and my response was…anger. I have been learning a lot about emotions lately and one thing I’ve realized is that anger can lead to depression or it can give birth to your passions and desires. This anger reminded me of my passion for gender equality and my desire for everyone (especially those in the church) to understand the importance of affirming women and girls.

The idea that it is okay to kill a baby because it is a girl is not okay and it comes out of the idea that girls are weaker and not as valuable as boys. This idea that girls don’t have as much to offer and are more of a burden isn’t okay and it’s an issue that is seen all over the place.

It’s an issue that on average women are paid half of what men make. It’s an issue that a girl can be told that her calling is wrong and she really didn’t hear the Lord speak to her when she shares she wants to be a pastor because “women can’t be leaders in the church”. It’s an issue that girls find their identity in who they have dated and if boys find them attractive. It’s an issue that women are viewed as weaker and not as valuable and if they are perceived as assertive and strong they can be considered a bitch. It’s not okay.

Some people say I’m overly sensitive, or throw the feminist word at me (that doesn’t scare me…you can keep calling me that), but I just really believe, deep in my soul, that we were created equal, that God created us this way, and I hate to see such inequality. I hate to see women and girls devalued and this idea of a “weaker sex” to be accepted. From the fact that more girls and women are killed in gendercide then all genocides combined to statements like “you throw like a girl” all play into this stereotype and belief.

So…it’s not okay? So what? It’s easy to wonder what to do and feel overwhelmed. Here are some suggestions for how to be a part of the change that encourages and empowers girls around the world.

  1. Love yourself and remember who you are. We have to start with ourselves. Remember you are one who is dearly loved by God. Learn to love yourself for who you uniquely are. Stop punishing your self and critiquing your body or thinking you’re not good enough. You are beautiful and wonderful. Know your worth and live into that truth each day.
  2. Start where you are. Love and affirm a girl around you. Mentor a girl and speak truth into her life. Boys (if you’ve read this far) this means you too. It could mean so much more for a girl to hear from a male influence in her life that she is valuable, that her identity is found in the fact that she is a child of God and that her life means something.
  3. Spread the word. After watching a movie like It’s a Girl we have the responsibility to spread the word. Other documentaries and movements you can learn about are Girl Rising and Half the Sky. Get educated and tell others about what you’re learning. Also, check out The Girl Declaration
  4. Be brave enough to challenge the stereotypes. Stop saying things like “stop crying like a little girl”. Don’t accept it when someone talks about how a man would be better for the job because “he can be more in charge”. Really dig deep into scripture and the life of Jesus to formulate an opinion about women in the church rather than believing something because that’s what you’ve always been taught. (Check out this blog)

Whether you agree with everything I said or not, think about it. Take the time to learn about these issues and form an opinion about them. Realize that we were all made in God’s image. No one deserves to be considered “less than”. Know your worth and remind someone else of theirs today.

What I’m into…

In true form, I currently have three papers I could be working on and a discussion post to write, but I decided to write a blog instead. In the blogging world people have been posting about “What they’re into this summer” so I decided to join the club. So here’s a few things I’m into…

Traveling. This summer I took the longest road trip of my life going from Nashville to Michigan to Philly to Baltimore and back to Nashville by myself. It was something like 2,000 miles and a whole heck of a lot of toll money. It was a trip of sadness and grief because of the unexpected loss of my aunt, but also a reminder of the great community I have around me. I had many places to stop and people to see and friends who called to keep me company. I also went back to Michigan two times after that trip, once to visit my friend Lindsey in Grosse Pointe and another time for the wedding of my dear friends, Jake and Hannah and I’ll be back to MI at the end of August for family time. 

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Some of, who I call my forever friends, at the wedding.

Music. I’m always into some type of music, this summer my tastes have ranged from the new Sara Barreilles, Justin Timberlake, The Avett Brothers, Mayer Hawthorne, The Piano Guys (great paper writing music) and I may be slightly obsessed with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. My friend Chelsea gave me their album when I left Michigan for Philly and I don’t know how many times I have listened to it. So good.

Not doing homework. As illustrated by this current blog post, I have had a hard time focusing on school work. It’s hard to do school in the summer! Summer is supposed to be fun.

Dresses. I may or may not have gone through a phase of buying five or six dresses and then I had to stop myself. It was becoming a problem. I just really like them and they were on sale and they are all super cute and I’ve worn them all a lot already. (see how I justify things in my head?)

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One of my new dresses.

Smoothies. Summer means fresh fruits and they make great smoothies. I pretty much start every day with one.

Spending time with the kids. With the summer comes a little bit more flexibility to spend time with our students and I love it. I was able to see the elementary students a lot more and spend some good quality time with my high schoolers. 

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One of my favorite little kiddos Dylan and Daija had a great photo-bomb.

Realizing life is hard and it’s okay. This has been a recurring theme this summer for me. I think more to come on this later, but I’ve been learning a lot of lessons and growing a lot this summer.

Fundraising and Development. I have gone through a job transition at work to become the Director of Communications and Development. I have the privilege of learning from a great teacher and I’ve also been taking lots of development classes from the Center for Nonprofit Management…I’m on my way to becoming an expert!

The Mindy Project. I watched the whole season and you should do. So ridiculously funny.

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They held his hands up.

My aunt passed away suddenly a week ago. She had been sick, but it wasn’t expected and was a shock. She had just moved back to Michigan after living in Australia for the past 35 years and her daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter moved here too. So to get the call that she was gone was hard, it was too soon and it sucked. She wasn’t supposed to leave us yet.

There’s a story in Exodus about when the Israelites are fighting and when Moses held up his hands, Israel was winning, when he let them down, the other people were winning. Well…obviously, his hands got tired and when they did his friends brought a stone for him to sit on and then they did what I think is really cool…his friends held his hands up—“one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.”

These two guys didn’t have to do that. They could have left Moses and let him grow tired and take on that responsibility on his own, but they didn’t. They held his hands up. I am no Bible scholar so I don’t even know the context, but what I do know is that Moses’ two friends shared in this responsibility and offered support to him.

The past few weeks have been kinda crazy, overwhelming and hectic for me. I told my mom the night before I got the news about my aunt that I didn’t have the energy to deal with one more emotional thing. And honestly, I didn’t. My hands were tired, so you could say, but this is the really cool thing…people held my hands up.

Nothing about this last week has been easy for me or my family. My cousin lost her mom. My mom lost her sister. And it sucks. But I have been surprised and overwhelmed by how people have shown up. They have held our hands up.

They brought dinner to feed our entire family plus some.

They cleaned my cousin’s house from top to bottom.

They send a “praying for you” or “is there anything I can do for you?” text.

They call you to keep you occupied during your drive home.

They think for you at work when you can’t find the energy to do it yourself.

They come help you finish your yard work.

They send you gas money.

And, really, the list could go on. Yes, nothing about this has been easy for my family, but it for sure has been a testament to how people show up and how they have held our hands up.

Friends.

I seriously have the greatest friends.

Today Whitney led devotion for staff meeting and talked about how we have experienced Christ’s love in our lives. I said I am always reminded of Christ’s love for me when I think of my friendships and how it always seems that God brings the perfect friends into my life right when I need them.

Looking back and presently God has brought friends into my life right when I needed them. Some friendships lasted only a season, other friends were people I never thought I would be friends with, and others are forever friends.

I just love friendship. It is a gift and not something I take for granted. Some days though remind me just how important friends are and how much I need them.

Today was not a good day. I woke up anxious and started the day right away trying not to fall back into a habit of anxiety attacks. Today is a day I could not have completed well alone.

My friends shine on days like today and I am reminded that I am blessed.

Friendship today looked like a text saying I’m proud of you. Friendship today looked like wine, gummy bears, chocolate kisses and a note showing up on my doorstep. Friendship today looked like a funny email sent to cheer me up. Friendship today looked like a “how’s the project going” message. Friendship today looked like an errand being run for me to make my life easier.

I hope and pray that I am half as good of a friend as my friends are to me.