Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Gift of Hysterical Laughter

I want my life to be marked by laughter.  Laughter is a sign of joy.  In fact, I'm reminded of something my friend, Anna, told me once (she calls me Josie).  She said, "Josie!  You know what I love about you?  You love to laugh and laugh at anything and everything.  I love that."  At first I was a little embarrassed because I thought it might be weird, BUT upon further review, I just decided to roll with it.  I WANT to live a life marked by laughter.  By joy.  By hope.

Yesterday, I was talking with an old friend who's been a constant source of encouragement for the last ten years.  I figure that friends who stick with you for a decade are friends whose opinions are worth consideration, ya know?  In talking with this friend, I realized that, in today's society, we're at a significant advantage and disadvantage simultaneously with the presence of social media.  When I finish writing this blog in a few minutes, I'll use social media to post my words, hoping that a few people will read them and be encouraged.   That's a huge advantage.   I get to post celebratory statuses about my accomplishments and I get to publicly praise people that I'm proud to know, and I get to easily keep up with friends whom I haven't seen in years. 

Social media allows us to post our best and most glamorous moments while creating an opportunity for us to lose touch with reality at the same time.  I don't often post statuses on social media about being gripped with fear and panic on my bathroom floor after weeks of neglecting obvious signs of anxiety and stress.  I don't often talk about how ashamed I feel walking into counseling appointments (this feeling has gotten better over time, thank God) not even knowing how to articulate my problems but knowing that I need help.  I don't often talk about my struggle to love myself, even in a world that constantly says nice things about me.  I had to explain to my friend about how my life was far from glamorous and even apologize for projecting a reality over the internet that didn't adequately portray my actual messy life. 

And then there's laughter.  I am of the personal opinion that a sign of time well spent is the onset and continuation of laughter.  Hysterical laughter.  Thankfully, I'm surrounded by some of the most hilarious people on planet Earth and I even get to call them friends.  In the moments of my gravest desperation and pain, I think about who will make me laugh.  And I call those people.  Because I have recognized that laughter is healing.  It is the reliever of heartache.  It is the reminder of joy.

I'm reading this book by Ann Voskamp called "The Greatest Gift".  It's a book full of daily devotionals of sorts that follow the real story of Christmas.  It has encouraged me deep.  Anyway, there's a "chapter" on laughter, and in it, Ann says the following:
"In the press of a dark world, laughter comes to the sufferers and the stressed as the reliever and then the reminder - that ache is not the last word for those that believe God.  Jesus is.  Jesus is the last word, and we can rejoice and rejoice again and re-joy again because grace is our oxygen now." 
 In the book, Ann refers to laughter as "oxygenated grace," so as to infer that inasmuch as we breathe, we can embrace laughter as a gift.  It heals.  It relieves.  It renews.  It unites.  I personally believe that laughter reveals the true character of a person.  Those whom I can laugh with are those that I want to be with forever.  I hope I never get to a place in life that I cannot find joy; I never want to find the place in life where I cannot BE joy.  Because people recognize joy.  They desire joy.  And I don't necessarily want people to desire me, I want them to desire Jesus.  If they see joy in me, they've seen Jesus in me.  And that is so important.  

I want to be known as one who laughs.  I want to remember not to take myself too seriously.  Help me remember these words, friends.  And, if you haven't yet, go find the people who make you double over laughing, call them, ask them to make you laugh and exist in the momentary relief amidst a world full of pressures.  Make joy your practice.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Ruining Superficial Standards

I'm the queen of deflecting compliments.  I'm a work in progress, but I currently still sit on the throne.  I think we would all classify ourselves as queen, if we were honest [or King - gender is irrelevant here].  Unless we hold the blue ribbon ultimate prize in self-confidence.  In a culture where every magazine sets the standard of "normal" at a level which is unattainable for most people, I've found that deflecting comments is the easiest way to let myself down first before someone else has the chance to.  Seriously, when all I'm thinking about is how awful I look in a picture and then someone uses the dreaded word "beautiful" to describe me, all I can think about is how that person MUST be lying.

The most ironic thing about this is that I'm a believer.  I believe I was created in the image of God.  And I believe my Father in Heaven is flawless.  Yet, I forget that every time I bash myself, I'm actually discounting how flawless I actually believe the Lord to be.  If I am his creation, formed in his image, how can I be so hateful toward myself on the daily?  I'm just being real with you guys - sorry (not sorry) if this is uncomfortable for you.

What brought this all about is what I can only explain as a weird summer.  Seriously.  This has, by far, been the weirdest summer I can remember.  Things that I set out to accomplish for good backfired, friendships that I thought were together fell back apart, and the vision I thought that I had has been challenged in every possible way.   Today marks a day where I've been praying constantly for a former co-worker who is very sick in the most rare of ways.  And as I excused myself from my desk to plead the blood of Jesus over his life in my car, I began to realize this:

I am praying and believing God for restoration on behalf of other people, but I, myself, am not fully reconciled to the goodness of Jesus.  

He's good, y'all.  It's something that I can bear and have born witness to time and time, again.  And I really do believe that with my whole heart - for other people.  But, what I've realized, is that when it comes to me, I don't know that I've been fully trusting in the goodness of Jesus.  I encourage others and cheer them on, but still go home sad that I've lived another day single, sad that I've missed the mark with a friend yet again, confused about where I'm heading, and NOT trusting that He formed me with purpose in mind.

I'm not just talking about bashing Facebook photos and wanting to be married here, I'm talking about our lives as a whole!  We have to start seeing ourselves through the filter of Jesus.  I don't know about you, but I pray for grace all the time.  For the drivers in front of me [right after I'm super ugly toward them], for the people in my life that are tough to love, and for other circumstances that seem overwhelming.  But I seldom pray for grace for myself.  I don't think twice about depreciating my value.  And the truth is that my value, YOUR value, our value was assigned by the King of all kings.  He paid the highest price for me and for you and yet I fail to see my worth on a daily basis.

If you haven't heard it yet, or maybe you haven't heard it today, let me be the one to remind you - your worth has nothing to do with what the mirror reflects back at you, your relationship status, your popularity, or your intelligence.  I know that's tough to hear, but we've replaced Jesus with superficial standards for far too long.

I believe that it's time for us to stand up and recognize that we are [only] worthy because He counts us worthy.  It's time for us to start seeing ourselves through the filter of grace.  Love that tears down walls starts with us.  You want to love people into the Kingdom?  Want to reach them in grace and show them a God who restores people?  Start with grace for yourself.

Oh, and also let me tell you - regardless of your gender, you are NOT beautiful because Facebook or Instagram says so.  You are beautiful because you are a direct reflection of the most innovative creator that has ever existed or will ever exist.

Let's get it together and stop holding ourselves to superficial standards where iPhone notifications validate our confidence and start pursuing Jesus in all of His goodness.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

lessons learned from student ministry

Hello blog world :)  It's been a minute!  I do apologize!  My life seems insane with grad school, a new job, juggling friends all over the place, and exciting opportunities happening everyday.  I forget that I have a blog sometimes.

Most of you know (so, this means all 2 of you that read this, haha) that my move last August came with the desire to do something in student ministry.  I was involved in student ministry as a high schooler and the investment of many, and mainly an incredible small group leader, taught me about the reality of Jesus.  I wanted to give back in that way and so I began to seek out opportunities to do so.  I didn't really have a clue of what I would be in for, given that my past "ministry experience" included singing on a praise team and holding babies in a nursery.  Nonetheless, I was excited when Pastor Seth, Daystar's youth pastor, called me one day and said "I think, by some miracle, we've found you a spot on the high school team." 

It seems crazy that I'm rapidly approaching one year in Greensboro, and what a year it has been!  I have learned so much through student ministry, and wanted to share those lessons here.  Hope you enjoy!

  1. You are never ever too old to have fun.  I just spent a week in Charleston with the most energetic, hilarious, and fun crew of leaders and students!  We slept on hard floors, worked until we were exhausted, worshiped with our whole hearts, and played like we were little kids.  It was my first trip as a leader, and it was a week I'll never forget.
  2. Regardless of where I am in my spiritual journey, leading others on theirs (especially teenage girls) keeps me focused and accountable.  I made a vow that I didn't want to live my life in a way that contradicted the way that I led my small group.  This has been CHALLENGING; I am not perfect, BUT I strive to do the best that I can.  
  3. Consistency is key - my girls are constantly looking for me to be who I said I was going to be and to show up when I say I will.  Yes, this means I have to choose orchestra concerts over PJs and netflix, but I wouldn't change it for the world.
  4. You get what you give.  When I started student ministry, I felt like a fish out of water.  Everyone already knew each other and I had to build relationships very quickly.  Luckily, I'm a relational person.  Had it not been for the leaders and students that embraced me as the new leader and befriended me, it would have been game over.
  5. The devil is real, but Jesus is real-er.  High schoolers struggle hard just like everyone else, but we focus on keeping Jesus at the center and we've seen God change some incredibly tough hearts this year.  
  6. You have to be willing to be vulnerable.  Sometimes I look like a fool because I have to tell my girls the truth about what I'm walking through.  But the reality is that this has created a door for them to also be honest with me about their own lives.
  7. "I'll be praying for you" is a lie!  We all say it, and this isn't condemnation for saying that.  But at VERT, we like to pray right then and there about issues.  We just step out of the way or into an empty room and deal with those issues right there.  This has been a HUGE encouragement to me in the rest of my life.  Prayer is urgent and it's important and I am never too busy to invite Jesus in to do what he does best - restore!
  8. Being a leader is about being given an opportunity.  Sure, I have a lot of learning and growing to do, but Pastor Seth trusts me with a portion of his world.  He's really great about building me up and THEN critiquing me.  This helps me get better and strive to be a better, more effective, leader.
  9. Gratitude is the heart of ministry.  I believe that we're effective for the Kingdom when we humble ourselves enough to be thankful.  Yes, this is hard.  Yes, sometimes I would rather complain about what's not going right or be insecure about myself, BUT the minute that I reflect on how grateful I am is the minute that I'm reminded why I serve in student ministry.  
  10. Everyone is vitally important to the Kingdom.  There are so many different personalities within our student ministry.  Not everyone leads the same way or is interested in the same things.  But, truthfully, I am so encouraged looking around and realizing that there's a place for everyone within the walls of VERT.  It's inclusive and full of love.  I can't help but imagine that this is a true picture of the Kingdom.
If you've read this far, thanks :)  This is boring to some of you, I know.  But student ministry has quickly become a huge part of my heart.  I can't imagine my time in Greensboro without Daystar and VERT.  I'm so thankful for the leaders who never considered me a stranger and taught me how to lead and to the students who trust and encourage me every day.

When I first moved to Greensboro, I was very focused on getting in, finishing grad school, and getting the heck out.  Now, it's hard for me to imagine how I'd give all this up in pursuit of anything better.  I'm so encouraged and motivated by student ministry. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Water & A Rope

I think back often on my sweet friend Natalie's bachelorette weekend.  It was such a fun time of celebrating her - a person who gives her whole self so that people might know they're loved.  What a blessing to have in a friend.  This weekend also held a first for me - first time ever almost seriously drowning. 

Our weekend adventures included whitewater rafting.  Now, if you know me, you know I'm an adventure junkie.  I don't often think before I do things.  I went through the required pre-rafting prep.  I put on my life jacket and my helmet and we headed out.  One run down the river - success!  Two runs down the river - SUCCESS!  And just when I feel like I'm getting the hang of it, on our third run down the river - life-changing.  We headed into our first rapid too slowly and the kickback current caught our boat, sending myself and another friend, Kate, flying out of the boat into the water.  I did what they told me in the pre-rafting prep, assumed the "human in the whitewater" position and waited for someone to help me.  Except it looked more like "fight for your life to stay flipped on your back, water rushing into your face, throwing you up against rocks and filling your lungs rapidly."   It was bad.  You can guess, probably by the fact that I'm writing this, that I survived.  But it was scary.  FOR REAL scary.  The kind of scary that gives you recurring nightmares about drowning.  But then, in the distance, there was my third rescue rope (yes, I missed the first two due to the force of the water).  The rope that bailed me out.

This little life happening reminds me so much of the grace of Jesus.  Especially on days like today and weeks like this week when I feel like I'm [figuratively] drowning.  There's a lot going on in my life - academically, personally, relationally, and a lot of bad news just keeps coming and coming.  Life looks a lot like that water to me.  Splashing in my face with vehement force, not giving me enough time to catch my breath, overwhelming and overtaking my life.  But then there's the rescue rope.  The rope that makes its way into the water.  I can see it and I can grab it but the water is still super strong.  It takes all of my strength to hold on to long enough to reach shore.  But then, because of the rope, I can stand up.  And, suddenly, the water is beneath my feet.  It's here that I can breathe, I can rest, and I can walk forward toward what waits in the distance.  

On that day, at the National Whitewater Center, what waited in the distance was the boat.  Yep, the same boat the threw me out [that vindictive little boat! :)].  My choice was walk around the river to get back to the top, or to just get back in the boat and ride out the rest of the journey.  You probably already knew what choice I made - I got back in the boat.  And in life, I choose to get back in the boat.  Because I am not afraid of water and I am not a quitter.  And the grace of Jesus, though it takes energy to grab onto sometimes, is always there.  

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

On Community!

Oh hey there, blog world!  First and foremost, sorry for the long hiatus from writing.  While writing is mostly cathartic for me, I have heard feedback from several people over the last few weeks that they miss my blog.  SO, here I am...with a great topic that I hope encourages you!

Have you ever pondered on the true meaning of community?  I mean, of course you've thought about what community is and who YOUR community is, I'm sure.  But, have you ever considered the implications of community on your everyday life?  Confession:  when I left Boone last August I was tired in so many ways.  And when I get tired, I tend to give myself at about 10% effort.  After months and months of reflection, I've come to a few conclusions on community:
  1. Community is totally about who and not necessarily about where.  I have lived in Greensboro for 8 months now (wowzers) and have yet to find defineable community here.  However, the community that I left in Boone is consistent about keeping up with me and continuing to do life with me from a distance.
  2. Community will support you, encourage you, love you, AND rebuke you!  This was a hard lesson for me.  I used to directly equate rebukes, no matter how lovingly they were done, as equal to lack of appreciation and love.  Not the truth.  Good community will love you AND rebuke you.  We can't move forward in maturity if we aren't aware of how to better be who we're called to be.
  3. Community can be comprised of people you know well and people you don't know well.  For example, I used to work at a job where I stationed medical volunteers all over the world.  I never got to meet most of them.  However, some of those volunteers taught me more about who I am and who the Lord is than people I've been connected to for years.  People who believe in you, encourage you, and teach you about grace are also your community, even if you've never actually met them.
  4. When you feel like giving up - really seriously throwing in the towel - community will keep you in the game.  Community is comprised of the people who will not let you quit because they see your destiny while you just see your temporary.  
  5. Your community will let you process and then reel you back in. As an extrovert, I am an external processor.  I have externally processed to the wrong people many many times.  I always know that I am processing through things with my community when they let me go for a few minutes and then reel me back in and it never compromises our relationship or trust. 
Sometimes (at least for me) it takes a change of pace to realize how rich your life really is.  Over the last 8 months, I have recognized the value of real community.  And through that recognition, I have also realized that your real community is your real community no matter where you go.

Happy Tuesday, friends!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Who's on your squad?

I was in a seminar last week with a really dynamic speaker.  She has done a few seminars for my office before so I had heard her, but this time, instead of setting everything up and retreating to my office to knock out some work, I decided to stay in and participate in the session.  The topic was avoiding compassion fatigue (i.e. burnout), which is super relevant in all walks of life.  This speaker talked about "forming your own squad."  She referred to your squad as the people who are in your court, no matter the circumstances.  Just like sports teams are made up of athletes who play different positions, so should your squad be.  Here's the kind of people your squad should consist of:

  • People who listen without advising - less talking, more listening
  • People who offer sound advice - you'll know them by their wisdom
  • A "fan club" who is always for you - you'll know them by their encouragement
  • "Chicken Soup" people - the comforters
  • People who move you forward - the bold ones who will tackle awkward issues in order to advance you

This portion of the presentation just stuck with me.  I started thinking about how important it is that you have people who are on your team!  In life, I try to be on many people's teams, but the reality is that you can't be on 100 teams.  You need to know who's team you are really on and you need to know who is really on your team!

This reminded me of the story in Exodus (in the Bible) where Moses was in charge of leading the Israelites to victory.  He went to the top of a mountain so he could see over the battle and God promised him that as long as his staff was raised, the Israelites would be winning.  The most important thing about this story was that Moses didn't go up on that mountain alone - his team was with him!  Aaron and Hur went up with Moses and they held up his arms so that his staff was always raised and the Israelites could win the battle.  Moses was human.  His arms got tired.  The Israelites would have never won had it not been for Aaron and Hur who held up Moses' arms when he couldn't do it on his own.  We don't get to see how Aaron and Hur feel about this, but we do see what matters.  Aaron and Hur went up with Moses even though his vision and instruction from the Lord seemed a little crazy!

This is a biblical story from thousands of years ago, and yet we see so many common parallels to today.  You have to have a team and they have to be willing to track with you through the stuff that matters.  They have to believe in your vision no matter how crazy it is.  Thank God for friends like Aaron and Hur!

The big takeaway from this lesson for me is that my squad matters!  Though life can be somewhat transient and friends come and go, there is definitely an underlying squad.  Those people have been there for you and will continue to be present no matter the circumstances.  Know your squad, know their role, and invest in them! 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Changing your filter.

"Living the Christian life is about learning to be like Jesus."

We've all heard it, believed it, subscribed to it, idealized it.  But, let's get real - what does that sentimental statement even mean?  How do we make it reality?  Am I doing a good job in my process of learning?  

Ideally, I'd love to think that if one were to examine my days they would look liked this:  joy, love, patience, kindness, encouragement, courage, boldness, rainbows, sunshine and happiness.  But, in reality, this is what most of my days look like in a play by play:

Wake up.  Dog needs to go out.  She's overly excited that it's morning.  I don't want to play.  I just want coffee.  Try to watch the news, someone else in my household wakes up.  They ask questions.  I respond with half-words and as little acknowledgement of morning as possible.  I wait too long to get in the shower, then rush through my routine.  I run out of the house less than satisfied with how I look.  I speed all the way to whatever work/class/activity/meeting I have.  I participate knowing that I am not as fully prepared as I should be.  I hop from meeting to class to office to appointment.  I meet with friends.  I'm not fully engaged in conversations with friends because my mind is running a million miles an hour.  I do school work.  I do work work.  I wish away the days until Friday.  I come back to reality.  I finally reach my point of ultimate tiredness.  I drive home hastily, mad that someone in front of me is driving slower than I want them to.  I get home.  The dog is excited to see me.  I brush off her excitement because it's late and I make her lay down.  I get in my bed.  I crash.  Wake up.  Wash.  Rinse.  Repeat. 

The bottom line here is that I lack grace.  For myself and for others.  Most days, I fail to remember that I'm trying to be like Jesus so that others recognize Him in me.  

I dare you to cast all your religious theology aside and to choose to see this next part of this blog through the filter of a God who so loved the world. 

Being like Jesus is not about a denomination, a set of rules, being bad and/or good, choosing the right things, doing the right things or saying the right things.  It's not about whether you believe in organized religious gatherings or individual meditation.  It's not about how stressed you are or are not.  It is not about whether or not I give money to people on the street or how many times I deny myself.  Learning to be like Jesus is not about how humble of a job I take, how many days in a row I go without buying clothes or how many degrees and letters I have behind my name.  Everything I just listed is a byproduct of a world who is seeking to understand the meaning of life.

Being like Jesus is about learning grace.  The unmerited, undeserved, uninhibited, and WILD favor of the Kingdom.  It rests on me.  It rests on you.  My only job is making the commitment.  Then I leave the rest up to grace.  

The reality is that learning to be like Jesus is so not about me.  Or you.  Or anyone else.  Learning to be like Jesus is realizing that you've been empowered the truth and love of the Kingdom.  All you have to do is first receive that love and then give out of the abundance available in your heart. 

I'm not suggesting that Christianity isn't complex, or that we should dumb it down.  I'm not knocking all the years of writing and effort it has taken to hash out theological tenants of faith.  I'm not suggesting that we have been stuck in oppression and bondage and need to break free.  I'm simply suggesting that if we want to know what it looks like to learn to be like Jesus, we start loving ourselves and others right where we're at.  Right where they're at.  We need to start seeing our realities through the filter of grace.

Ask Jesus to adjust your reality to one which is filtered through grace.  And then get out of your own way.  You'll be so glad you did.