I used to think…

I used to think I had it all figured out. I knew exactly what it meant to have faith and believe. Everything was in a pretty, wrapped up box and made total sense. We were meant to be happy all the time and go on with our lives accepting the sadness, but quickly flipping the coin over to joy.

I used to think I needed to keep Jesus in a box too. I knew this whole Christianity thing was supposed to be about following Jesus and being a disciple of him…that it means so much more than a label or a checklist or rules of right or wrong, but I spent so much time trying to be good, trying to make sure I was doing it right, and saying and believing the right things. I was missing out on the person of Jesus and who He was and how He is.

I used to bristle at being called a Christian…too much hurt, too much misuse, too much baggage is associated with that word. It was something I was not proud to be labeled as and the day I realized that a little part of me unraveled. What was wrong with me that I recoiled at this label? And even while I took a step back from the beliefs and traditions I’ve always known and confronted these doubts and questions, I never could shake Jesus. I never could shake that name, that person, that relationship and the more and more I stepped back from my pretty, wrapped up boxes and black and white definitions, I felt like I took a step closer and closer to Jesus.

I started to really think about who he was, what he stood for and if I’m going to say I follow him, what does that mean? I used to think it meant I had all the answers, I was on the “good” path, I should be able to fix everything and make sure it all works out for good. I should be happy all the time, but that’s not how this works, at least it hasn’t for me. My pretty wrapped up boxes have been destroyed, my world has faded from black and white to all kinds of shades of gray and I embrace the wonder, the messiness and the times it just doesn’t make sense because I don’t have it all figured out.

When you’re sitting in a funeral for a student who had been shot and killed, there is no way to fix that. When you watch his mother and brother and family cry out when that casket lid shuts, there is no pretty, wrapped up box for that to fit in. When the pain and the grief was choking me and all I wanted to do was make it better for them, all I could say was Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. That name over and over again. Because what else can you do? This doesn’t make sense, how does my faith explain this? I don’t know, but Jesus, Jesus, Jesus…

When I’ve been in my darkest place, feeling like the despair, the confusion and the loneliness may just overtake me, there was no pretty, wrapped up box for that to fit in. When I felt like the world swirled around me like a tornado and all I could do was hang on for dear life, I didn’t know how this fit in my black and white categories or my understanding of my faith. It didn’t make sense to me, but Jesus did and I said that name, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

Sarah Bessey says, “In your heart of hearts, in your raw place of grief and suffering, in your rich center of love and redemption, who do you say God is?” God is with us. That’s who God is to me. God is with us and he is love, he is comfort, he is peace and he hates what is evil. It is not his will for a teenager to be killed or for us to suffocate in the darkness, but Jesus is on the side of those who suffer and rather than looking down on our pain, sits with us in the brokenness, in the grief and in the sadness.

I used to think we were doing it wrong if we were sad and didn’t have a quick answer or reassurance for when that terrible thing happens, but now I know that we are going to be sad, we have to feel those feelings and there are no quick answers. We have lost the practice of lament and how true healing comes from walking through the grief.

I used to think I was damned for not loving being called a Christian, but now I think I am not alone in that and now I know that a label is not who I am. I never could shake Jesus and that’s who I want to be known by. I want to be known for all Jesus stands for…for love, justice, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, goodness, life, comfort and peace.

I used to think Jesus was present in my life and was the person I pointed to when asked who I believed in, but now I think He is so much more than that. He is there with me always, holding my hand to keep me grounded when the world is in chaos around me, sitting with me in the grief, walking with me in the wilderness and celebrating my joys. Always reminding me that He is there, he is love, he is comfort, he is constant, thank you Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.

{This is part of the Out of Sorts Synchroblog with Sarah Bessey answering I used to think_____ but now I think _____ …head on over here to read more!}

Dear Exhausted Job Applicant

Dear Exhausted Job Applicant,

I see you. I see you over there trying to word “I would love to work for your organization” in three different ways so they really understand that you want this job. I see you rewriting and rewriting cover letter after cover letter, researching another organization and trying to formulate your resume to make it look like you’re qualified, because you know you are but  “on paper” it seems like you’re not. I see you getting your hopes up, sending every resume off with a prayer and then hanging your head when there’s silence on the other end. I see you.

You try and remember that your value isn’t in your work, but it’s hard sometimes. It’s hard when you enjoy working and know that is where you find joy and now you don’t have the certainty of that. You try and remember it’s normal that people change jobs and job hunt all the time. You try and remember that “God is in control” and all the truths you know you’re supposed to remember, but it’s hard.

It’s hard when you feel like you’ve been led to let go of where you are in order to grab onto what’s next. It’s hard when what’s next isn’t clear. It’s hard when people stare at you like a crazy person when you say you are leaving one job without knowing what’s next. It’s hard when you felt such peace about your decision, but then nothing seems to be working out. It’s hard when you’re just trying to do the next right thing and then all of a sudden you’re not sure what the next right thing is. It’s hard when you don’t want to doubt and be confused, it’s hard to not be terrified all the time.

It’s easy to stop applying and just hope something works out. It’s easy to have a pity party and complain. It’s easy to beat yourself up and give into the fear. That’s the easy part…but that’s not where beauty shines through.

Beauty shines through when someone looks at you, not like you’re crazy, but says they’re proud of you. Beauty shines through when a peace that surpasses all understanding fills your soul. Beauty shines through when even when it’s easier to have the pity party and believe the lies that you made a mistake you choose to replace the lies with truth. You’ll slowly feel the truth cement in your heart and start to grow roots in your soul. Beauty shines through when even with all the unknown and the time of transition, people come alongside you and hold up your hands and remind you that it’s going to be okay. Beauty shines through when people extend you the grace, compassion and understanding that you’re having a hard time extending to yourself.

So, exhausted job applicant, let me replace some lies with truth for you. You are not your job or your occupation. You have value regardless of what you do because you are not what you do, you are who you are. If you know God led you to a decision or a choice and it doesn’t seem like he’s showing up, remember all the examples in your life before and how he’s been faithful. Why would he stop now? Also, people don’t get hired overnight. Some of us who are impatient and like for things to happen right now have a hard time remembering this (Of course I’m not talking about myself…).

This is getting long and you’re already tired from all those cover letters and resumes so let me tell you these last things. It’s okay that this is hard. It’s okay to grieve what you’re letting go of and still be excited about what’s next. It’s okay to have a pity party, just don’t stay there for long. It’s okay to be dramatic, but just make sure you have a good friend there to let you know when you’re getting ridiculous. And remember, you need people. Even if you’re coping mechanism with all this is to retreat into yourself, don’t retreat all the way. Remember we’re not meant to do life alone. There are people who want to be there for you, give people a chance to show up and let that beauty shine through amidst your circumstances.

I see you and I’m with you.

Love,

Abby aka An Exhausted Job Applicant

It’s About More…

A few months ago, I went to a church that was holding a panel on racial reconciliation. The pastor asked the panel, why should Christians care about this talk of race, reconciliation and justice? One individual responded about how we have to because it’s what we should be about. He talked about how we too often take the pieces of God that we like, people cling to the piece that has the most in it for them and what they like the most, the salvation piece.

We take the piece of God we like…the salvation piece. Too many people’s version of Christianity is just concerned with our souls. It’s all about going to heaven. I remember spending many days and nights worried as a kid that if I sinned, wasn’t able to ask for forgiveness and then died, I would go to hell because I didn’t ask for forgiveness and my soul wouldn’t be clean because my Sunday School teacher told me that was true. This is just really bad theology in my opinion, made me live in fear for a long time and totally made me miss out on the beauty of the gospel. (and makes me realize that I was way too worried about deep things at a young age…these were my thoughts as an eight year old. Anyway…).

Our souls are very important…obviously. Salvation is important…but God has so much more for us. We don’t get to just decide “we want to go to heaven” and take that piece of God and leave it at that. God is so much bigger than that. People ask me why I care so much about justice and equality and I honestly, truly think it’s because we’re supposed to. As people who believe in this great big God and claim to follow Jesus, we have to care about justice and equality. We have to care about our neighbors and what is happening to them. We have to remember that every single person is created in God’s image and we are called to love each other well. We have to remember that when we claim to follow Jesus, we committed to be a part of a bigger story, that we decided to be a part of God’s Kingdom coming here on Earth as it is in Heaven.

Many people have said about me before, “Abby…justice and loving and caring too much is her ‘thing'”, but it shouldn’t just be my “thing”. It should be all of our “things”. (And you know I’m no expert or that great at it, so we all need to be in this together!)

I was at the Justice Conference last weekend and got to hear Dr. Cornel West speak and one thing he said really stuck out to me…he said, as people who say they follow Jesus, we have to be about love and justice. They’re not equal, but their indivisible. If our faith and beliefs are rooted and all about love, with that comes justice. To me, it just makes sense, that’s what my theology is about.

We can’t just take the pieces of God we like.  We can’t ignore the injustices that happen around us. We can’t think that the goal in life is just to make it to heaven. It’s about so much more than that.

“The gospel at its best deals with the whole man, not only his soul but his body, not only his spiritual well-being, but his material well being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of men and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.” – MLK Jr.

O Holy Night.

I’ve been working on a lot of papers these days with the semester winding down, which means I’ve been listening to a lot of Christmas music to accompany me…John Legend Holiday Radio on Pandora to be exact. I really love Christmas music…within the time frame of Thanksgiving and Christmas. 🙂 Every time I’ve been writing or working on an assignment whenever my favorite Christmas song comes on, O Holy Night, I just stop and listen to it.

I think about all that is happening in our world and in this season of Advent, this season of waiting and anticipation of what is to come and this song shines a little light into the darkness and brings a little hope to the hopeless. It’s a beautiful reminder about why this season matters so much.

My favorite part says this:

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

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Because this is what Jesus is about…to be about love and peace. Not to get caught up in legalities and arguments and I am right and you are wrong, but to love one another no matter how we differ from each other. Jesus came to show us His love so we can love each other. Jesus is also about justice and equality and about those on the margins and the oppressed experiencing freedom, justice and peace. I’m thankful for a song that reminds us of that. It also has an interesting history if you’re interested in reading about it, find it here. (a good reminder to people that just because something is not created by people labeled as “Christians” doesn’t mean it isn’t Truth)

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Justice Matters.

I’ve written and rewritten my thoughts about all of this. I’ve read more articles than I can count and had many discussions with those close to me. I wasn’t sure how to articulate everything that I’ve been thinking and feeling these last few months. Hearing the latest news though has done me in and I can’t be silent even if my words don’t make sense. Because when I saw the officer was not indicted for choking Eric Garner to death, I was furious and felt like I was going to throw up. I haven’t been able to sleep because I keep thinking about it so I decided to write.

Every time I saw another article posted about it, every time I saw someone write #blacklivesmatter, every time I heard someone say “people are over reacting” or “we don’t have a race issue”, I want to throw up.  I’m not going to claim I even know all the details about these particular cases or argue the particulars because this is SO MUCH MORE than that. This is about something bigger. This is about a system of injustice and oppression that has roots so deep people can live in ignorance to the issues because it’s what they’ve always known. This is about the fact that there even needs to be a hashtag that says black lives matter. No one should have to campaign for that because everyone should know their lives matter. But in our society that’s not the case.

I know this post won’t do much in the grand scheme of things, but I cannot be silent about this. America does have a race issue. It’s rooted in years of oppression that created unjust systems that are still in practice today. Systems that benefit those in power, those with the same skin color as me. It’s not fair. It’s not fair that I’ve never been pulled over for no reason at all while my black friends have been too often to even keep track of. It’s not fair that my parents never had to talk to my brother about how to be polite and act around police officers for his own personal safety, but those are conversations every black man I know received from their parents. It’s not justice that five times as many Whites are using drugs as African Americans, yet African Americans are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites. It’s not justice that there are countless examples of how white people get away with the same crimes that people of color get put away for, just look up the hashtags #crimingwhilewhite and #alivewhileblack.  It’s not justice that someone can be killed on video and they’re treated like their life doesn’t matter and that it does not even deserve a trial.

You better believe we still have a race issue. It’s just getting exposed and national attention recently and for people who can’t acknowledge that, live in ignorance. Ignorance to the fact that the color of your skin still does matter and injustice abounds in our world today. The fact that white people can ignore this issue or have the choice to tune it out attests to the privilege we have.

I believe that the world is not supposed to be this way and that there’s hope for a better story, although it’s hard to envision that better story these days it seems. But we know to hope for a story of justice and equality…that we can be a society where justice rolls down and every single human being’s value and worth is known. But it starts with change…deep change.

For those of us that claim to follow Jesus, this matters. This matters because our brothers and sisters are hurting, mourning and have injustices laid upon them day after day. This matters because every person was made in the image of God and every single person’s life matters. This matters because we are called to love each other and to enter into the pain of our neighbors. This matters because peace, justice and equality is not present and that is what we are supposed to be about. I pray that justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream because something has got to change.

I’m not saying anything new…so many others say things way better than I do, but with my little fraction of the interwebs I had to get it out there. Here are some others who say it better:

I highly recommend this video.

Here are some other articles to read:

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/current/nation/justice-black-lives-must-begin-us-part-1
http://www.relevantmagazine.com/current/nation/justice-black-lives-must-begin-us-part-2

http://www.upworthy.com/chris-rocks-epic-truth-bomb-about-how-its-white-people-that-have-progressed-not-black-people

http://www.awesomelyluvvie.com/2014/12/stages-injustice-against-black-people.html
http://qz.com/251570/now-you-know-what-i-always-have-america-does-not-value-black-lives/

And for one final thought.

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Immigration is more than just politics.

The title really says it all, but I feel like it merits some explanation. What I have to say people may disagree with, it may result in disagreements or confrontational conversations or inaccurate labeling or name calling, but it doesn’t really matter. I have been too silent about this issue for awhile because of those very reasons, but I’ve realized that’s not the way. The President’s announcement last night and the many negative comments I’ve seen since, especially from my Christian brothers and sisters is sickening.

Because here’s the deal…immigration isn’t about just politics.

Immigration is about people. Immigration is about human beings. Immigration is about individuals who were made in the image of God just like everyone else and who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, an Obama hater or lover, a Conservative or Liberal…that shouldn’t matter if you claim to be a follower of Christ. Our faith mandates that we move beyond those basic labels and that our ultimate label and job is to be citizens of a greater Kingdom, of God’s Kingdom. We are called to usher in the shalom community…where there is peace and justice and wholeness and equality and where we’re not divided by our politics, but where our main concern is people and loving each other well.

President Obama’s announcement tonight gave me so much joy. Joy because people I know and love are able to step out of the shadows and not live their life in fear. People who are here because they had no choice but to leave their home out of fear for their lives and the best way to do that because of our majorly broken immigration system was to do it “illegally”. People who contribute more to the social and moral fabric of our community better than most and who want to make things right.

These friends, these families, these children. They are why I don’t care if President Obama “went outside his legal rights”. Frankly, people who are so focused on the politics of this and continue to direct their hate and disrespect to Obama are totally missing the point, especially those who claim to follow Jesus. Because Jesus said…I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Jesus has a lot to say about welcoming the stranger, loving people and loving those who are forgotten and on the margins…and actually he wasn’t even that concerned about politics.

How are we welcoming the strangers really? I hope and pray the Church is able to lead the way and by example putting people over politics, hospitality over rejection, acceptance over judgement and love over hate because that is what we are supposed to be about.