God with US, God for US.

There’s something about a newly cleaned room that frees my soul from the clutter and anxiety that has been putting stress on my heart and mind.

After a couple weeks of extremely busy schedules, events, and trips with my youth, etc.. I was looking rough. After a staff meeting, one of my bosses came up to me and asked me how my soul was doing. Thinking about it, it was fine. I was still going, still persevering, still working toward another event that was happening later that week. However, if I were being honest, my soul had seen better days. He asked me how long it had been since I took some time to work all of the stress and anxiety out of my life. For him, he has to go on a run every night, or work out in some way, to get rid of the clutter in his soul. For other people it might be journaling, baking, or even shopping.

Since I was a little girl, I had the same routine that would clear the clutter from my soul. You know in movies when someone in an office is mad and they clear the desk by sliding everything off of it to the floor, super dramatically. That was me. After a super long day, probably mad about something my mom was right about but I didn’t want to admit or a TV show I was wayyyy too invested in and mourning someone who died or a couple that broke up (*cough* One Tree Hill *cough*), I would destroy my room. I would throw everything from my shelves, huffing and puffing, piling everything in the center of my room. I would go through it all rearranging, getting rid of the things I didn’t need, and cleaning along the way. Something about a fresh new room always gave my soul the rejuvenation and change of perspective that I needed.

And that’s exactly what I did.

I took an evening went through all of my clothes and began putting bags to the side for my sisters, friends, and goodwill. My roomies came downstairs like proud moms to see the work I did (and to get first dibbs at the clothes I was giving away). I dusted, pitched, dug through old memories. I tried my very best to cleanse, the only way I had ever known.

After a few days of feeling like I could breath again, there was some part of my soul that still felt dusty. As if there was still something that I couldn’t quite grasp, but desperately needed to dig through.

As the week went on, I began planning for our weekend lock-in and regular Wednesday programming. For as long as I can remember I’ve had to have something playing in the background to even be a little bit productive. As I was working, I came upon a podcast by Cross Point Church called, “Unsubscribe”. The teacher began to talk about how we all have a junk drawer. If we really think about it, you probably have AT LEAST one junk drawer in your house. Me? I probably have one per room. We all have a drawer for those miscellaneous things that don’t make sense anywhere else but that God given drawer that somehow fits all of the various assortment of items that just don’t have a place.

This drawer is full, and used pretty often. It’s a drawer that you don’t want anyone in your house to talk about – in fear that you might actually have to do something about the chaos. It’s the drawer that you don’t want your guests to see, but utilize so often that if you were to move, you would probably just dump the items into a box and make a new drawer in your new home.

We all have one. And often we truly believe that everyone has one, so it is acceptable.

As a kid I always was enthralled by King Solomon and his wisdom. I was intrigued with how intelligent and clever he had to be in order to rule a kingdom full of people of deceit, manipulation, liars, and even murders. I had always found interest with the idea that he could see past people’s brokenness to find righteousness and justice at the end of each story. In Proverbs 4, King Solomon talks about how our heart, body, and soul are led by our thoughts. That we have so much power in our thoughts to control our lives. How we think about ourselves, others, and God ultimately shapes how we live because: our thoughts shape our beliefs. And our beliefs shape our attitude. And our attitude shapes our actions. And our actions shape our habits. And our habits shape our character. And our character shapes our future.

And it got me thinking that maybe this is a lot like our junk drawers.

We all have those things that we think about that we never share with anyone. We all have those things that we think about that, sometimes, we don’t even want to admit to ourselves. We all have those thoughts that we know don’t belong to how we should be thinking. For some reason they’re in that back corner closet of our mind that seems to be used a lot, but never really thought about working through. We all have those thoughts that we assume everyone else has, so we assume it’s acceptable. And for most of us, these thoughts are things that we wouldn’t think about bringing to light to another person – let alone God.

For me these thoughts have always been comparison, jealousy, wondering if I’m enough – creative enough, smart enough, pretty enough, skinny enough. Things I’ve always assumed other’s thought too, so I assumed it was pretty human and unnecessary to talk about. My junk drawer was full of unhealthy problems with my self worth. I truly believed that keeping these thoughts in the back closet of my mind was a normal and extremely human thing to do. I truly believed that everyone else had thoughts like this too, and that made it normal.

What I’m beginning to believe is that this junk, is a lot like the stuff in my room. In need of digging through and undergoing a substantial deep clean. In need of the dramatic throwing of everything to my floor. But instead of sifting through all of the junk, throwing out what I think I wont need anymore, I need to let God investigate those thoughts. I need God to uncover severe brokenness that has created such a clutter of my thoughts, and in result, my life. I need God take all of these things out of the drawer, to let him sort through them, and to tell me exactly who I am after he has dealt with the junk.

Jesus culture sings a beautiful song that goes like this… You’re the healer of the sick and the broken. You are comfort for every heart in loss. Our King and our Savior forever. For eternity we will sing of all You’ve done. We sing, God with us, God for us. Nothing can come against, no one can stand between us. God with us, God for us. Nothing can come against, no one can stand between us. Your heart, it moves with compassion. There is life, there is healing in Your love. You’re the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. For eternity we will sing of all You’ve done.

There is nothing more powerful than our God. There is nothing stronger, more overflowing with love, or compassionate. There isn’t another as empathetic, gracious, or wildly in love with YOU. God has been and always will be your biggest fan – and because of that, he will forever be in pursuit of you. I’m praying tonight that your heart can believe that God is for you, and that nothing can come against His power to heal your junk.

Advertisements

I will rejoice in the simple gospel.

It’s wild to me how easy it is for fear to creep into someone’s soul after a war where it felt like fear was truly terminated, once and for all.

A few weeks ago I started doing a Bible study with a community set up on Instagram. A girl from Nebraska made a yearly challenge to dig into the Bible every day, to talk about our thoughts in our group chat, and to hold each other accountable! For the first time in my life, I’m actually not having trouble keeping up! Sadly, 24 days (and counting) is the farthest I’ve ever gone.

Recently we read about a man named Job in multiple books of the Bible: Genesis, Job, Joshua, Judges, and more! Job is a man who walked a steadfast life with God (This means he was undoubtedly, a devoted follower). Job always gave what he owed to God, and even then some, just in case. He was always faithful in his prayer and worship, and never took anything that wasn’t rightfully his. He paid his workers fairly and treated his family with the most kindness. Best of all, Job loved God with all of his heart, his soul, and his mind. One day, the devil was talking with God and was certain that he could get God’s most faithful servant to curse his name. God said, do what you must – take my servant Job, for he is the most steadfast and would never curse my name. Job then went through a season where he lost all that he had built up in his life, except his faith. Over the years he became one of the most wealthy men that had a vast amount of resources including land, livestock, family, friends, and community support. While the devil was on the move to prove God wrong, he not only took away all of these things, but he also made Job live a physically painful life with disease and bodily aches. On top of everything, Job began to be questioned by the world around him on whether he was as loyal and honest as he had once posed. People didn’t believe him, he lost all of his community, and even his wife thought that he should curse God to have an easier out to death. Job lost everything. However, instead of having a faith that dwindles in the worst that the devil had to offer, he remained steadfast.

Wow.

As I sit here looking out my gloomy window, I can’t help but think back to that beautiful Friday afternoon in my hammock. I was sitting in the trees of my favorite field with a book by none other than the sweet, Bob Goff. I was 17 bug bites deep when I saw a gaggle of kiddos marching through the tall grass: Boys, about the age of nine or ten, armed with Nerf guns, safety goggles, and pockets full of foam bullets. And that’s when I saw it. Walking in the midst of the group was the sweetest, fiercest, little girl. Her crazy curls were poking through her pigtails, sunflower sandals strapped around her tiny feet, and of course she had on a fluffy skirt to top off her outfit.

When the time came to pick teams each kid paired up against their opponent and just like they do in old western films, they had a fast draw. Starting back to back, they each took ten steps opposite directions. After the count to ten, they turn around and shoot! Without a beat, she turns and shoots the curly haired little guy before he even had a chance. It was simple. An act of courage and a step of pursuit toward joy that brought that smile to this little girl’s face.  I have no idea if this girl knows Jesus, if she’ll grow up to serve and love people, and I couldn’t begin to guess the struggles that she will face. I have no idea what the rest of her day looked like, or even if people encouraged her to play a game she had fun playing, or if she was told that “that is not what little girls do”. I can’t help but think about how this simple pursuit of joy and happiness could lead to a life of the upmost fulfillment for this sweet little girl. And today, while I don’t know a lot, I’m praying that this little girl can grow up in a place where she feels free to continue to simply exist in a way that brings her joy from whatever she chooses.

She reminds me a lot of Job. With her quick might and bold commitment, she was a warrior. Job was a man who stood by his beliefs and his truth even though he was looked on by society, differently. When I saw this little girl for the first time, I was filled with joy for her courage and boldness to simply exist. For who she was and what she wanted to do that day. Far from many of the stereotypical choices society chooses to impress on little girls, this sweet warrior did everything all of her friends were doing, without a care about what the world thought of it. While the story of Job and the story of this courageous little girl are vastly different, I can’t help but be amazed at each of their fearlessness.

After our Wednesday programming, I was headed to meet up with the girls for our weekly get together and I plugged in my Spotify. I pressed “shuffle play” and a song called, “Simple Gospel” by United Pursuit came on. I started thinking about the past couple weeks of what has felt like a drought in my heart toward worship. I have tried my best to pray about what worship looks like for me now – out of college, in a new community, and in a new chapter of life. I have found myself in a new (and scary) place where I need to know Jesus away from teachers that preach truth, a building of what has been sanctuary for so long, a room full of a community I’ve known and loved, and a name that has been familiar and welcoming. I need to know Jesus, not for a building or even a room that fills me up with his truth, but a man who I can still feel secure and safe with when I am alone. 

Throughout the past few weeks I have begun to see the struggle of being a follower of Christ around others followers who don’t agree with my life choices. While they’re choices that many don’t understand, nor have any personal relation to, there has been a real battle in my heart about how to find worship when I don’t feel comfortable or wanted in a building. And here we have it folks: the weekly realization where Erica finds out that it’s not about her – but about her heart. My heart has been in a place where my “people-pleaser” mentality has taken the wheel and overcome a raw pursuit of my Savior. My “fix it” mentality has kept me from glorifying my King who deserves my best. My need to have people understand my choices has kept me from the fulfillment of adoration for my Father. And sadly, my need for justification and acknowledgement has led me to a heart of periodical resentment and bitterness. And I hate to admit it, but, it’s kept me far from my redeemer that is the only one who can truly bring me peace, love, joy, and real fulfillment.

In the song “Simple Gospel” my favorite lines are:

I use to think that I could box You in. But I’m laying down I want to know You, Lord. So I’m laying down all my religion. I’m laying down, I want to know You, Lord.

I want to be more like Job. I want to have a steadfast life, walking aligned with God. A life where no matter what this world brings me, my reaction will always be through steady faithfulness. A life where I can look at what the world says, but respond by meeting Jesus at the cross. A life where I can learn to leave my fault of sin and shame where He always meant for me to, and I can continue to live in grace and love.

I want to be more like that little girl in the story above. I want to live with bold courage to simply exist, for everything that I am, and everything God has intended for my life. I want to live a life full of the upmost joy and excitement because I know that my worth is found in Jesus and not in what the world finds value in.

No matter what the story is.. If you’re battling a horrific life of challenge and test like Job, a life of quick moments of courage and lasting joy like that little girl, or even a life where you are consistently questioning and continually praying for hope like me: YOU ARE WORTH IT. And today on national Coming Out Day, I pray everyone can see (even if it’s just for a minute) that they are more valuable than anything to our Savior. And sometimes this world doesn’t make it possible for us all to feel as welcome or as worthy as we should, but that’s never Jesus’ truth for us.

I will rejoice in the simple Gospel: I will rejoice because Jesus loves me. I will rejoice because He loves you too. And best of all, I believe God’s grace is big enough for all of us to learn how to step out in courage toward an unbelievable joy that teaches us that hope is ALIVE.

If you’re struggling with that today, take a listen to this YouTube my girlfriend and I made this afternoon. Check into the perfectly crafted words, set aside for people like you and me to learn from and to find peace in. God bless you.

The pressure is off.

On this gloomy Friday morning, I’ve been reminiscing about two Friday’s ago. It was the perfect spring day, the weather cooled down, just right, and I got the afternoon to perch my hammock up in my favorite field a couple blocks down from my house. I didn’t have a scratchy throat, I wasn’t planning for a weekend trip with my Jr. High student ministry, I wasn’t buried with to do’s for a new series coming up at work. I wasn’t getting ready for our church’s city wide outreach event or even thinking about what I was going to have to make for dinner.

It’s had been a while.

A while since I took a day off to do absolutely nothing – what some people call sabbath. And if you’re like me and that word seems super foreign, Merriam Webster Dictionary calls it: “The seventh day of the week observed from Friday evening to Saturday evening as a day of rest and worship by Jews and some Christians.” Annndddd if that’s even more confusing, the Erica Dictionary For Confused Christians calls it: “a day to exist with God.”

It’s been a while since I took actual time, more than 15 seconds, to appreciate a slow morning. To appreciate the beauty of still creation right in front of me, the people I get to do life with, leaves turning the bright green of Summer to the faded yellows and oranges of Fall. A while since I looked up in a tree long enough to see a leaf fall from it’s branch all the way down to the ground below. A while since I watched sunshine peeking through the branches of a tree, or through a window in the morning with a cup of coffee with the song “Goodbye Sierra” by Echelon Effect – Signals playing in the background. A while since I opened a book and had a clear enough head to retain the information. A while since I’ve made time to pray for more time than a car ride from point A to point B.

It’s been a while.

I sit here with my cup of coffee in hand, thinking of words to put into yet another blog, but am overcome by a lot of appreciation of a silent keyboard, a powerless television, and an out of reach cellphone. I’m grateful for a moment where I feel like I can breath. I’m astounded by the beauty of the world outside my window.

I’ve always been one of those people that illness came at pretty convenient times. I have a body that can run on adrenaline to get me through any event or trip. Illness would come to my body at a point of breaking – after – all of the crazy late nights, jammed packed with prepping, leading, traveling, you name it. I’m not sure how my body and new Fall disease didn’t get the memo, but for some reason illness came early this year. At the beginning of this busy week, my throat started scratching, my body became weak, and my head started to throb. By Wednesday programming, the office staff was keeping their distance and a bottle of germ ex showed up on my desk.

How is it, it took me to the point of exhaustion (and sadly, illness) to slow down and take a moment to be still, and just exist?

This weekend I’m taking Jr High students and their leaders to Lacon, IL for a retreat weekend getaway! We have so many awesome outdoor activities planned like canoeing, fishing, gagaball/volleyball/basketball tournaments, ultimate Frisbee, the works! The kids and leaders have been looking forward to this trip for weeks. While I’ve been anxious about driving the 15-passenger van with the trailer attached in the back, I’ve still been pretty stoked to spend time with these kids. We have the greatest students to work with at this church, and from the bottom of my soul I believe they deserve the best! It’s hard to figure out when to rest and when to push just a little more to get yet another thing accomplished.

Working in any kind of ministry – whether you are on staff, a volunteer, or even a participant – it’s hard to know when to take a breath, maybe a step back, and simply exist.

Well, seems like God is teaching me a lesson the old fashion way.  Since this past Wednesday I haven’t had a voice and have been so anxious about how I am suppose to lead my students this weekend. In my head, I was suppose to be leading the devotions, the games, the team bonding challenges, etc. I felt so weak and that I was going to be letting my kids down if I wasn’t their constant front man.

As I sit and watch the beauty of creation, even on the gloomiest of mornings, I am still in awe of the perfect work God did to make every single leaf. I can’t image the time and dedication He put into making the clouds and each individual raindrop. How did He have enough patience or creativity to make every rock unique in it’s stature. And yet, in the midst of the beauty and awe of creation, He still looks at His people and calls them the chosen ones.

Knowing I physically cannot do everything my pride wants me to, I reached out to the other volunteers asking if they would be willing to step into those roles. Some were quick to agree, some had never led a group activity a day in their life and were hesitant, but all of them looked me in the eyes and were quick to say “whatever needs to be done for those students, we’re in.”

As a leader, of anything, you know it’s hard when to say no. You know it’s hard to know when to hang in the towel. You know it’s hard when to let go of that pride that wants you to keep in charge, and just be. The thing is, God is going to make something happen or he won’t. That’s just the truth. It’s either His will, or He has something greater in mind that you just can’t see quite yet. The beauty of letting go, and trusting God, is:

  1. The pressure is off. We don’t have to worry about what we can/cannot do because if God wants it to happen, it will happen. Period.
  2. There are far greater things to think about. In my case, I’m beginning to realize that this ministry is far capable of flourishing and building up so many volunteers to grow into leaders! Sounds terrible to admit, but I have been working in a “I’ll get it done or I can do that” mentality that never needed to exist from the beginning. There are so many wildly beautiful creations standing, willing to step up, if you just ask. Thankfully, God has already been prepping these people in my life that are willing, passionate, and ready to serve!
  3. You begin to see how supernatural our God truly is. Yesterday, without a voice, I sat in my car about to head into the doctors office and the song, “God of Miracles” came to mind. Before I knew it, I was (pretty terribly) humming the words “God of miracles come. We need Your supernatural love to break through. Nothing’s impossible. You’re the God of miracles” Through the cracking of my voice, my spirit turned from disappointment and worry, to interest and wonder.

This weekend may not be at all what I thought it would be. It may not be as thrilling, energetic, or as bold as I had imaged. However, I choose to trust that it’s going to be so much greater. “For my champion is not dead, He is alive.” As long as my God is still on His throne, I have nothing more to worry about.

T-minus 1 hour till our ministry takes off for our retreat weekend. If you’re in need of a supernatural God, like I am today, take a listen to this song. Hum the words, yell them from the top of your lungs – Whatever you need, however long you need, to believe this truth.

I am who YOU say I am.

A couple weeks ago I was desperately struggling with fear. I was desperately clinging to what I believed to be God and completely focused on the lack how I saw Him in my life. After weeks of sabbath, after many late night talks, after a reckless pursuit of God’s wisdom – I was still so full of fear, full of doubt, and desperate for answers.

I was push away the songs that were once such a comfort to me, that were once the closest understanding of who Jesus was. I was turning away from scripture, unable to focus when I sat down to pray. I would see all of these people posting on numerous social media platforms, unable to relate to the peace they were finding in encouragement. I felt restless. I felt uncomfortable. I simply felt unhappy.

I can’t help but think that this is common.. At least for the 20 somethings I’ve been confiding in and clinging to for common ground to keep me sane.

Fear, is sadly, a common theme I keep running into, in the midst of conversation with the people around me. It drives our decisions everyday. What we wear, what we listen to, what we read, what we post, what we eat, how we style ourselves, how we speak to people, what we can and cannot say about our identities. The scariest part about fear, is that it can be a driving factor in one person that can lead to the destruction of another. Fear is the thing that keeps us furthest from loving our father and his children to the best of our abilities.

Think about, what keeps you from reaching out to that friend you haven’t seen in a couple months.. or even years. What keeps you from starting up that lifestyle blog that has you write about whatever’s on your mind? What keeps you from wearing that crazy Goodwill find that you feel so good in, but may not be “trendy”? What keeps you from speaking your mind in a crowd of people who like to put others in a box?

I’ll be the first to admit, in my life, it’s always been fear. 

The most repeated commanded within’ the Bible is “do not fear”, which isn’t ironic at all. God knew that this would be the very thing that kept us from living the life God has made for us. Fear makes us run from opportunity, makes us turn from a life of courage, makes us hide from challenges that will bring us to enlightenment.

We are begged, and chased after, to lead a life worthy of who Jesus says we are. Jesus says we are safe with Him. Jesus says there is no need to cover what He already sees. Jesus says He holds our peace. Jesus says even though we are broken people, He still chooses the grave because we are worth it. Jesus says we don’t have to live in fear of rejection or failure because we can always run at a full force sprint to Him because He will forever be our Savior. Jesus says we have a purpose. Jesus says we are forgiven. Jesus says we are loved.

Why isn’t that enough?

As I went back to work with my old kiddos from a previous congregation, the sweet children’s church song about Zacchaeus was one we use to sing together. Undoubtedly it has been stuck in my head all week. It goes a little like this:

Zacchaeus was a wee little man, and a wee little man was he. He climbed up in a Sycamore Tree for the Lord he wanted to see. And as the Savior pass that way, He looked up in the tree, and He said, Zacchaeus, you must come down! For I’m going to your house today.

As I kept singing this song in my head, I started to think about how even in the days where Jesus was walking the Earth, there were people within the community who were full of fear. In this story Zacchaeus and the community around him had the perfect example, from the Messiah, showing us exactly how we could choose live. Boldly, no where near fear.

You see, Zacchaeus was a sinful man. A tax collector, the chief tax collector to be exact, an extremely wealthy man. Full of greed and collaborated with the Roman occupiers. He was disgusting in the eyes of the Jews. And one day, Jesus made his way to Jericho. These days Jesus had been going around telling parables and performing many miracles. He was in the spotlight, and if we know anything about being in the spotlight, that there is an immense pressure to do what is “right” in the eye of the beholder. Zacchaeus wanted to know if this story teller and miracle maker was actually real. He wanted to see for himself. So naturally, he climbs up in a tree — Cause who wouldn’t do that? And as he is searching for Jesus, he heard someone calling his name. Saying Zacchaeus, you must come down. So Zacchaeus came down, met Jesus for the first time, and brought him to his house upon request.

However, something that I had repeatedly missed as I was singing this song was that Jesus said he MUST come down. Jesus, as divine as he was human, was called by God to go to this chief tax collectors house. He was called to let go of misconceptions, he was called to let go of what people might say or think. He was called, with all humility and gentleness, in love, to ask in front of everyone to be taken to Zacchaeus’s house.

As the people in the community heard this, they all started talking among themselves.  They were shaking their heads and saying “He has gone to be the guest of a ‘sinner.'” But what was remarkable about that day, was that because of Jesus’s humility and gentleness, because of his love, Zacchaeus had a change of heart. Instead of indulging in his money and gluttony, he gave half of his earnings to the poor and needy. Then, made a promise to the Lord, that he would pay back four times the amount of any wrongdoing he had cheated or stolen from people.

The remarkable part of this story is that Jesus acted out of mercy and tenderness, answered his call from the Lord, with the expectation that God’s children would send back humility and gentleness just as Zacchaeus did.

What if we lived our day like this? Boldly, LIVING — Meaning: to live like you truly believe your savior rose from the dead, not so you could question whether or not you’re worthy, but to live knowing you were worth Jesus taking his life to the grave. To live knowing that we were not only worth a horrifying death, but a beautiful resurrection, and a promise of eternity with the one who chooses us time and time over. To live with the expectation that we would have a more fulfilling life if we didn’t bow down to fear.

So tonight we pray. We pray that we can let go of the fear that is captivating, that we can break free from the lack of trust and the failure to fight off fear with bold courage, that we can run into the arms of salvation, and into a life that we would fully enjoy being apart of. The life Jesus truly calls us to.

I think about the miracle where Jesus left all prejudices, left all doubt, all fear behind. Where He said yes to God’s call to humility and gentleness so someone could be known and loved. And by boldly stepping out in courage, He said yes to freedom. That’s what letting go of fear does. I don’t know about you, but that’s a life I want to choose.

 

 

Consider it JOY.

“I use to be afraid that if I was authentic I might take a hit, but now I know that being real means I will take a hit” – Love Does, Bob Goff

In chapter 22 of one of my favorite books, a man by the name of Bob Goff writes about a painting he saw in a window front. The painting was called The Puppeteer and was something he admired for such a big part of a season of his life because it represented something he envisioned for his future. This painting was of a man acting as a puppeteer as his family and friends were gathered around him laughing. Bob Goff talks about how he always envisioned himself being a person that drew his family and friends closer together to one another, in joy.

Bob goes on to talk about how after months of pining, he had finally purchased this painting. He got it framed and hung it on the wall, a perfect place for him to admire over his cup of coffee every morning. A place where he could look at it every day and be reminded about what his true aspirations are in life. When Bob had originally bought the painting, he was given two copies. One authentic, and one fake — to “put on the wall for everyone to see as the original may get damaged”. Well, Bob had decided that if he were going to purchase an expensive painting, he would much rather look at it each morning during his cup of coffee, rather than a imitation.

His family was notorious for rubber band wars, it brought their family so much joy. They’d chase one another around, giggling till their sides hurt. Well, it wasn’t long before the rubber bands were flying and one day, the poor puppeteer was struck and the painting was damaged. The kids obviously blamed dad, and dad obviously blamed the kids, but no one was ever disappointed or mad. Bob kept his painting hung proudly. He said that he is reminded that even though the joy that he brought to his kids life eventually led to a blemish he never intended for, the authentic joy of that single moment outweighs any idea of what he had pictured joy to look like for his future.

Bob goes on to talk about how God created us, much like the painting, priceless. A version that can’t and won’t be created again. He writes, “God is the master artist and made an original version of us. — He asks us to hang that version of ourselves for everyone to see. Despite our inherent beauty, each of us is tempted to hide the original so we won’t get damaged. — The fake version of us is not worthless. Its just worth less because it’s only a copy of the real us, a version we don’t care about as much. When we hang the fake version out there, it’s not the version God created.”

I think about the life of Jesus and how so much of his engagement within this world was seen as taboo, promiscuous, impure, immoral. I think about how often he chose to pursue God’s truth for this world and for his life. Then in return was seen as unethical or scandalous because his choices didn’t align with what the community believed to be “right” or “ethical”. He was purely trying to seek the authentic life God had in store for him, but was told by the world that he needed to present a version of himself that was much more fitting for society.

I think of stories much like the one in John 9 where the disciples find a man who was born blind. In this time period society was confident that if a person was blind, either that person or their parents had sinned and were then in turn being punished by God for that sin. Back then people with disability, like blindness, were shunned, avoided, and excluded from society and all kinds of worship. These were people that we would see in our streets today, that we would stop to help. These were people that we would stick up for, defend, and invite into our homes and places of worship.

But here’s the thing folks: The people that were discriminating, excluding, and tearing people down were terribly educated by their elders and teachers. We now know today that this sort of behavior is wrong, but back then they were merely communicating and performing how they were raised to. The people back in this time got a revelation of what grace and love should look in our community from our savior himself. When Jesus and the disciples came about a blind man, Jesus stopped. The disciples were quick to ask why Jesus was wasting him time with a sinner. “Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (John 9:3, NRSV).

Jesus then spat into the dirt, made a mud substance, and rubbed the blind mans eyes. After sending him away to wash his eyes clean, the man came back and for the first time was able to see. When I read this story, I do hear the miracle that Jesus provided to the sweet man who was of disability for decades of his life. However, even more so, I hear the stories of miscommunication and can’t help but think about how this is still happening in our society today.

Feeling overwhelmed with how my life has been in this season I write boldly to you today. I know that because I am choosing to be real, I will take a hit. I know this because recently I have begun seeing a woman. As a Christian woman, who loves another woman, I have begun to see what Bob Goff meant when he said, “I use to be afraid that if I was authentic I might take a hit, but now I know that being real means I will take a hit”. 

I am dating a woman who is of Christ and brings more authentic joy to my life than ever before. A woman who is desperate to have the foundation of her life be Jesus, and to have her life be a representation of His graciousness toward her. A woman who makes me laugh, who makes me giddy, who searches for the simplest of things to celebrate me for. A woman who affirms, and reaffirms me daily. A woman who never thinks twice about apologizing when she is wrong, and who strives to make everyday the best day we’ve spent together. A woman who has seen more discrimination, because of loving me well, than ever before in her life. A woman who hears discouragement and hatred, and responds with grace and mercy. A woman who sees love as the most valuable part of life, and knows exactly what it means to dance through the storms of life. A woman who has made my life, SO INCREDIBLY GOOD, that I can’t understand how people can be so misunderstood when it comes to how Jesus calls us to love his children.

After the miracle had taken place, the community around the man who was once blind couldn’t believe it was still the same person. They were sure that this man, who had just been healed, was not the man who was once a blind beggar. When the blind man explained the revelation he had experienced, the Pharisees were bold enough to say, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath” and “How can a sinner perform such signs”. Despite one of the greatest miracles these people probably were witnesses to, they were oblivious to the truth that Jesus is the Messiah because of their prejudgments, prejudices, and misconceptions.

And not only did these people not believe that the healer was the Messiah, but they also disregarded the blind man’s cleanse and continued to treat him as though he was filth. The community drove him out of his home, leaving him to fend of himself. When Jesus heard of this, he found the blind man and asked him who he thought the son of man was. The blind man responded, “”Who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe. And he worshiped him”” ((John 9:36-38, NRSV).

This world is filled with people much like the artist who made the painting, The Puppeteer. Filled with people who would much rather play it safe and live for temporary achievement, than authentically live for pure fulfillment. Filled with many people much like those who surrounded the blind man healed by Jesus. People who would much rather live their day, content in accepting truth the world has given them – but not of what Jesus calls them to. But the world has always been filled with people like this.

I have begun to see a new side to the world I had never been exposed to before. I am a follower of Christ, and an open gay woman. Within the mainstream, these things don’t meet often. While there have been setbacks, judgement, hatred, and disapproval.. I still choose Jesus. I still choose His grace. I still choose a community within church walls to practice fellowship and community. I still choose spiritual nourishment. And I still choose to use my voice to speak out against those who are practicing injustice and prejudice – within and outside of the church walls. I choose to be a daughter of Christ, first, and to live my life how I feel called to live.

I choose to believe that God placed me on this earth for a greater purpose with opportunity to spread this good news to others. To spread the news of Jesus, heaven, and love. Knowing good and well that I will take a hit, I’d rather live an authentic life. A life filled with serving God’s children, loving the sweetest girl I’ve ever known, and doing all that I can in joy and love.

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” // James 1:2-4 

 

 

from the head to the heart

From the head to the heart, you take me on a journey. Of letting go.. and getting lost in you.

One of my most favorite things about being in college is singing in the college ministry I attend, Basic. When I transferred to UNI, I remember having an overwhelming sense of not belonging anywhere.. Feeling incredibly alone. Feeling like I wasn’t wanted anywhere. When I transferred I moved into an apartment with two girls transferring to UNI too, without realizing that a dorm is one of the central hubs to meeting new people.. I remember only hanging out with the two girls I was rooming with, for what quite honestly was over a year.. I remember feeling so alone, so confined. I remember feeling like I didn’t have a place in the world to just be.

I started going to Basic when I first transferred but didn’t actually meet anyone until a year later.. I would go with one of my roommates, talk to no one new, and continue throughout my week. It was lonely, but I didn’t feel like I knew how to change it.

Until I joined a worship team.

Growing up I went to, and still attend, a cute little traditional church where we sing out of hymn books. We love people super hard, have a Sunday attendance of around 50-60 people, do what we’ve always done, and love Jesus a whole lot. I will always have a special place in my heart for this type of worship, but being a part of a worship team, a place of leading worship through contemporary songs somehow makes my faith come to life. I never knew it was possible to expose the deepest feelings of my heart, my authentic love for God, out loud. I never knew it was possible to pray through song, to be at my most raw state. I never understood the possibility and boundless identity worship can have, until I found a reason to sing. 

It’s because of worship, that I know Jesus. It’s because of this type of prayer that I feel like I can communicate with my Father. It was because I joined a team, that I get to have the relationship with God that I do. Worshiping through music, somehow, makes it possible for my head and my heart to connect, to get lost in worship.

Let the King of my heartBe the fire inside my veinsThe echo of my daysOh he is my song.png

This past Monday, our band was getting ready to run through our playlist and our worship leader, Whit, opened worship with some of the most important words I’ve ever heard: She read from a Psalm.

Psalm 13

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain[a] in my soul,
    and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”;
    my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.

But I trusted in your steadfast love;
    my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
    because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Whit said, no matter where we’re at – singing, playing the drums, running the lights, in the crowd – we are worship leaders. It’s not about how good your voice sounds, if you’re on or off the stage, heard over the crowd or not. It’s about how you allow yourself to give what you came in the door with, to God. The good, the bad, and the ugly. All of it, to Him.
Then she said, she feels privileged to lead her brothers and sisters in worship. Because she has an opportunity to act as a waiter, bringing the people what they need to get closer to God. She has the privilege of making it possible for people like me, who NEED Jesus, to step into a place of worship to make our faith come to life.

I’ll be the first to admit that when I first started singing at Basic, I had no idea what it meant to worship. I genuinely felt that as long as the spotlight was on me, it was a time to prove to the world that I was worthy. I felt like being on stage meant that I finally meant something to someone.

And I’ll also be the first to admit that this was my sin that kept me back from living a life crowned with joy. Living my sin, kept me from living a life with God. Living a life for myself, in all of my blind brokenness, rather than a life for my Father who gave the world for me. Living a life of approval, seeking love, desperately desiring attention. Desperately trying to understand why I never felt connected at my head to my heart.

What I failed to see, was how little this world needed me, and how much it, myself, needs God. 

No one likes admitting their sin. BUT when we shine a light on our brokenness, it makes it a whole lot easier to make our way through the dark. Singing at Basic has been one of the MANY ways God has connected my head to my heart throughout the last couple years of my story. I learn every week to lay my cross as I wait for the crown. I learn to shout to the world, the treasure I have found. I pray that forever, I learn how to better connect my head and my heart. I pray that I can be taken on a journey, every week, of letting go and getting lost in my God.

Giving up Social Media for Lent.

Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow.

While I am filled with many reasons to feel guilty about my crimson mark that sent Jesus to the cross, I am also filled with so much grace because I know he paid the price to set my soul free.

This past weekend I went to a women’s retreat called the IF Gathering. The IF Gathering is a group of women who gathered together to watch empowering and encouraging women speak truth from Austin, Texas. It’s live streamed all across the world, to many different types of settings. I was invited by the woman who I am lucky enough to call my mentor and dear friend. She is on staff with IF, but most importantly, she loves God’s people. She loves hearing stories of God at work in peoples lives, and she loves doing whatever possible to help people walk with God.

Soo with that being said, she was excited for me to come to IF. To be honest.. I knew nothing about this conference. I won’t say that I was overjoyed about spending my only day off at a conference that I knew nothing about. I can’t say I was ecstatic to arrive at the conference at 8am on Saturday morning. But I can say, what happened this past weekend shifted my heart.

We learned that the mission of IF is to equip women with gospel-centered resources, events, and community so they may learn more about who God is and how to disciples other women right where they are. The gathering got me thinking, how can I spend my Lent season? If I truly want to prepare my soul to make disciples, lifting other women up, taking up my cross to follow Jesus, I have to work on my heart first.

img_3680

This season for lent I want to be honest about my crimson stains. I want to freed from what keeps me held captive from pursuing Christ, deeper, everyday. This season of Lent I am choosing to take a step back from the sin that controls so many aspects of my life. Like many people, I struggle with criticism, comparison, control of what I look like to other people. I have been consumed by following other people’s stories that I missed so many opportunities to celebrate and build my own.

This seasons for Lent I am going to be giving up social media, and will take on the challenge of investing in other people. I am hoping that by giving up social media, I am able to run with endurance, faith, and patience to my true comfort and savor, rather than one of the flesh. I am praying that by taking time to be silent, still, and maybe even a little uncomfortable, I am able to learn obedience, honesty, truth, and faithfulness.

Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain, he washed it white as snow. I am praying that alongside my journey, that if you’re considering giving up anything for Lent, or even taking something on, that we persevere with strength. I pray that we can find the true meaning of this season, and can worship God with glory every day through it. I pray that our hearts are transformed, and that what we learn from this season helps heal this fragmented world.

But for now, just know I’m praying for you. See you in 40 days!

Expectations. We all have ’em.

Let’s talk about expectations.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we all have them. Expectations of when we are ready for marriage. Or how often we appear on social media, to show that we really do have a life outside of the library.  Expectations of what how friends and family should act or react to news and life updates. Expectations of what our bodies should look like, or how many pounds we can drop in a week. Maybe it’s how busy we appear to our social cliques, to prove our importance or amazing time management.

What reality looks like: A relationship that is very committed and full of joy but overwhelmed by what society calls “love”. A BUSY college student who sleeps an average of four hours a night. A girl whose ideal Saturday night is a movie night in, popcorn and m&ms, and a glass of wine. Reality looks like disappointment and often failure in relationships again and again, because humans will be humans. We’re all broken, don’t forget it. It’s a struggle to meal prep or finding time to get to the gym. My Fitbit, reminding me that I still have 100+ steps before the hour is up, and it’s a swipe to pretend I didn’t see the notification. It’s the reality that I’m on my fourth, yes fourth, day of dry shampoo and I am living off of pots of coffee.

Expectations. We all have them.

Which makes us human, but it got me thinking the other night. How often to rely on our own expectations, from ourselves and from the world around us? How often do we rely on the expectation of the flesh, rather, than having an expectation that God will show up in our lives?

In the book of Acts, chapter 12, King Herod, in Jerusalem, decided to “mistreat” those in the early church. He seized James, the brother of John, and had him killed by the sword. When he saw that the Jews were pleased by his actions, he seized Peter and put him in jail to await the same fate. However, Passover was about to take place, so the death of Peter would have to wait. Peter sat in jail with 16 guards around him.

The church began to pray for Peter, relentlessly.

The night before Peter was to go before the sword, he was asleep in his jail cell, bound to two soldiers. Guards were outside his door. Suddenly, an angel appeared in the jail cell. He struck Peter by knocking him on his side. The chains fell off of Peter, and the angel told him to get his shoes on, put on his cloak, and follow him. Peter obeyed thinking he was having a dream.

They passed by the first set of guards. and then another set. They reached the city and the gate opened by itself. They walked down the street and the angel left.

Peter finally realized that this was real! He said, “Now I know that the Lord sent his angel to rescue me from Herod.”

Peter went to the house where all of the people were praying. The house belonged to Mary, the mother of John Mark. He knocked on the door and Rhoda, a servant girl answered it. She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her excitement, she left the gate closed and ran back to the praying Christians. She announced who was at the gate and no one believed her. They said it was probably Peter’s angel.

Peter continued to knock and they let him in, amazed at who they saw. He asked them to be quiet. He told them about the angel and his escape and asked them to tell James and the others. Peter then left to go to another place.

If we all lived our lives with expectant hearts that God would show up, what then, would our expectations vs. realities look like?

Can we talk about how crazy this miracle is?? It was when Peter was locked away in prison – bounded by chains, beaten, battered, broken, and belittled – that he and the church began to pray with an expectant heart that Jesus would show up. When we think about our expectant hearts, we are reminded of the things we listed and talked about earlier. Those expectations are SO relatable and they’re real expectations of what we vision our lives would, could, should look like because.. they’re human. It’s human to desire a better reputation. It’s human to wish away our flaws and our shortcomings. But it’s because they’re human, that the expectations that we have and the realities that we live – are two very separate things.

In Philippians 1: 6 Paul prays, ” I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.”
Let’s get serious, this book that we’re reading out of is real stories of real people and their real experiences with our one true Father. It’s real stories of real people living in their very real brokenness – What we can learn from the generations before us, is that when we expect God to provide for a holy and good thing that he has already put into our hearts, he is going to see it to completion. When we are doing good works for the betterment of God’s kingdom, to provide for God’s children, he is going to bless that. And we can see this to be true by faith and faith alone. That same faith that reminds us that by the good grace of God we are saved. It’s because of that same faith that our sovereign God deserves our expectant hearts.

Psalm 62:5-6 “My soul, wait in silence for God alone, for my expectation is from him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress. I will not be shaken.”

If we all lived our lives with expectant hearts that God would show up, what then, would our expectations vs. realities look like?

You’re our author, our maker, our ransom, our savior, our refuge, our hiding place. You’re our helper, our healer, our blessed redeemer, our answer, our saving grace. You’re our hope in the shadow, our strength in the battle, the anchor for all our days. You stand by our sides, you stand in our place. And Lord, we’re ready to live with expectant hearts. We’re ready to trust what you have in store for our lives. We’re ready for discipleship, forgiveness, perseverance, dedication, next steps. We’re ready to spend our day serving you, and your children. We’re ready to live for your Lord. Amen.

one day at a time.

I believe in the hope that this book we call the Bible is just more than just a hard day at work, word of encouragement. It’s stories of real people, living in real brokenness. It’s the authentic stories of millions of people who neglected, loved, beat down, praised, spit on, worshiped, prayed for, and crucified a man by the name of Jesus who came to save. Came to save you, came to save me, came to save each and every one of his children. I believe in the hope that the Bible promises us with stories like Gideon’s that give us courage and strength to listen and move when God calls us to. And I believe that we can use this hope, one day at a time, to bless a broken world.

This past Sunday I was invited to teach at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for their laity Sunday. Throughout the week I kept searching for a scripture to teach off of, something that I hadn’t taught on before. Something that would be intriguing but also surrounded the word hope, which had been on my heart for quite some time. As I searched and searched, nothing “popped out” like I expected it to. I kept coming back to the book of Judges from the old testament. I found a story of a man named Gideon. A name I didn’t recognize, nor did the story seem too uplifting to my blind eyes.

Starting in verse 6, and if you haven’t read much from the old testament, you’ll be asking yourself, why was God so mad at the Israelites?

Further back in the old testament we can read about how God saved them from the Pharaoh and had given them many miracles, but all the people still chose evil, temptation, and their selfish desires.

Yet even through the people were living in sin, God still loved them and wanted them to live in prosperity and in grace. However, he knew that just giving them these things would teach them nothings.

When you think about it, it’s kind of like parenting. Our parents punish us or maybe you can even think of a time you have punished your child because you wanted them to learn a lesson. You wanted to teach them not to make the same mistakes over and over again. Because you love them. It was that same kind of love that God had for the Israelites.

It was during this time of sin that the Midianites took control of the Israelites. They ruined the Israelites crops, took their animals, forcing the Israelites to run off to hide. Israel had nothing left, and it was when they were not only left without their earthly desires but also without their absolute necessities, that they cried out to God. And God, just as he always had, heard their cries.

You see, the cool thing about this story is that God had every reason to be mad and bitter at the Israelites. He had every reason to leave them behind, in their shame, in their sin, and in their selfishness. But instead he listened to them and answered their prayer.

This is where the story of Gideon comes into play. Gideon was beating out wheat in the wine press in a secret place, away from where the Midianites could find, steal, or destroy the crops. It was then that God sent an angel to come and sit with Gideon. The Angel of the Lord then said to him, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior”.

And Gideon responded just as many of us might, saying, “But sir.. If the Lord is with us why is all this bad stuff happening? Where are all the miracles that our father told us about?

Disregarding Gideon’s complaints, the Lord replied to him said “Go, with all your strength, save Israel from the Midianites. I am sending you.

Now this part of the story is when I find myself relating to Gideon on a deep level. He began pleaded with God, making excuses for his fear, and feeling unequipped, and feeling unworthy. He said, “How can I save Israel? My people are the weakest in all of Manasseh and I am the smallest in my family?”

God said, “I will be with you, I will never leave your side.

Just like Gideon, we often build up our walls of comfort, exclaiming to God that we’re doing enough already, or that we’re not valuable to be doing what he is asking me to. Or maybe even that we are too consumed by our brokenness to take a leap of faith. We all have those things that hold us back.

Maybe it’s a career that takes too much of our time and energy, too much of our dedication. Or maybe it’s the brokenness that tells us that our image and identity is not enough or our bodies are not as beautiful as the person that we compare it to. Maybe it’s our ego or pride that tells us that we are above allowing God to be God, that makes it near impossible to step down from our pedestal to humble ourselves before him. Maybe it’s the addiction to alcohol, sex, drugs, food, technology, or even pornography. Maybe it’s as simple as being a lukewarm Christian that simply wants to leave God in the walls of the sanctuary as we leave worship on Sunday mornings.

There are three things I want us to consider this morning as we continue learning from Gideon’s story. The first: God doesn’t call us to be perfect.

Whatever brokenness that you may be carrying around, keeping you from doing Gods work, God knows.

I heard a really cool way of thinking about how God knows us this past Thursday at my college ministry. The speaker said, “If you think about it, God was in this room before we came here today. He was in this building before the sun came up. He was here yesterday, and the day before that. He was here when the room was build, and even before that. And he never left.” Whatever guilt, sin, shame, you may be feeling, God already knows.

Gideon, who is similar to ourselves, reacted to God just as many of us do. With excuses. With shame. But it’s in the middle of that fear and anxiety that God asks Gideon to take it one day at a time.

The second thing is that God doesn’t call us to procrastinate. As a college student I know all about the word procrastinate. Some may even call me the queen of procrastination. And if I’m being honest with myself, God might even call me that too, sometimes.

Just like this story of the Israelites and Gideon, God calls us to a greater purpose here on Earth. He calls each and every one of us to handcrafted blessings, but broadly, he calls us to Heaven. He calls us to love. He calls us to freedom and forgiveness. And He calls us to spread that good news to the people around us. But often we in a season of procrastination. We get into a state of comfortability and we get side-tracked. We get little sleep, and we’re exhausted. We can become selfish and choose to live in a life that’s steady because putting ourselves out there can lead to embarrassment and rejection. We put things off, because in that moment it’s simply easier.

But just like God called Gideon, he will call you. He will call me. And we have a choice to listen and have faith. And it’s in that moment of courageous faith, we find same hope that we read about in Gideon’s story.

The third is that God never asks us to do anything on our own.

I want to rewind to the last couple verses we read, chapters 14-16. “14 Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midianites; I hereby commission you.” 15 He responded, “But sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” 16 The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike down the Midianites, every one of them.””

God never says to us, here’s my plan for you, make it happen. Use what you have and make it work. You see its us, humans, who puts the pressure and the expectation on where God is leading us, that we feel that it is solely our responsibility to “figure it out”. Well, if that were the case, then we’d be right to be scared. We’d be right to be hopeless, anxious, confused, angry.

It’s because God said, I know your most inward being, far beyond even yourself. He knows your limitations, your weaknesses, your vulnerabilities. And he knows your capabilities.

Here, he was telling Gideon to trust him, for he had a plan. Here he was asking Gideon to take this challenge one step at a time. Promising that in return he would be with him every step of the way, never leaving his side. Promising that if he took it one day at a time, there would be hope in that every day.

I wanted to share this story with you because I believe in the hope that God gave Gideon. I believe in the hope that when we take this life one day at a time, we begin to recognize just how capable and courageous we are. I believe in the hope that this book we call the Bible is just more than just a hard day at work, word of encouragement, moment based read. It’s stories of real people, living in real brokenness. It’s the authentic stories of millions of people who neglected, loved, beat down, praised, spit on, worshiped, prayed for, and crucified a man by the name of Jesus who came to save. Came to save you, came to save me, came to save each and every one of his children. I believe in the hope that the Bible promises us with stories like Gideon’s that give us courage and strength to listen and move when God calls us to. And I believe that we can use this hope, one day at a time, to bless a broken world. Amen.