All the murky bits of fellowship

I’ve come to realize that we don’t naturally want accountability.
What started in the Garden of Eden as a shameful game of hide and seek with God has become one of our defining factors as humanity. We continue to hide in the shadows, letting no one get close enough to see our flaws.

We hide from the very ones who have walked through these same messes and who can help us heal.

We then label relationships as “mentoring” or “counseling” to keep things just distant and vague enough. What we really need is accountability. What we really need is to be the Church with each part assisting and supporting the other. All interconnected through faults, flaws, wins and victories.

Relationships are messy and we all know this.
That’s why so many of us aren’t in them.
That’s why so many of us pick and choose which ones we take part in. Relationships are not defined by what we want them to be, but rather by what we put into them. They aren’t built on wishes and dreams. They are crafted and constructed on the awkward get to know you moments, the “oh my goodness” days, and the tearful conversations. They are sloppy, un-containable and un-controlable. We can not keep them compartmentalized for long. They affect us greatly and more than sometimes we would care to admit. They leak out into our other relationships. The memories, both good and bad, take a toll on all our future friendships and social interactions.

So let us be careful with the relationships we have.
Let us navigate those murky bits of fellowship with grace and wisdom.
Let us seek God’s will and plan in all that we do.
Let us appreciate fellowship for what it is and be a part of making it better.
Let us build up community and build up each other.
Let us challenge and strengthen each other :”As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpen another.”
And let us not forget that fellowship, friendship and community are always worth it no matter the form they take or the duration of their stay as long as Christ is at the center.

I was blessed with being a part of such fellowship tonight. It centered around the celebration of a vivacious life of a godly woman I have being getting to know. I have only been able to take part in this community every once in a blue moon because of life and the chaos that ensues.
Even so it has been worth it.

It is a longer drive than I’d like and I’ve wanted to just stay home on more than one occasion, but when I follow God’s leading and do finally get myself out the door, I am always greatful.
It is not the same community I once had, but it is almost even better because it is part of the ever expanding community I now have. This small group of fellowship is an addition to every group of fellowship I have had. While they are all seemingly isolated incidents they are all connected because of the faith in Christ that we all share.
It is the Body of Christ at work.
I am strengthened and encouraged when I am with them and I aim to do the same for each of them. I am blessed and I am greatful for these murky bits of fellowship. For while they are not always what I think I need or what I think they should look like, they are the community in which God has placed me and in which I am growing in relationship to Him.

So here’s to moving forward into the ever growing murky bits of fellowship.
Just keep swimming.

Ask

Remember that saying about “Be careful what you ask for” or “Don’t ask for patience.” Because you will get it, but not in the way you expect.

I believe those statements are true, but more importantly I think we need to be careful even with our simplest questions. We might just get an answer we weren’t expecting.

If you ask me a question I will answer it (or attempt to) as truthfully and as transparently as I can.
This was not always the case. When I was younger I tried to be cryptic and mysterious with my responses.
Now I’m too tired for that so I usually just say what I am thinking.
But, be warned because most often you will get a full description of what I am thinking, why I am thinking it and how I got to thinking that.
I like to be open and honest.
I just want to be understood.
Sometimes I worry myself sick trying to make sure you understand what I mean and why I mean it.

God has had to start breaking me of this.

I worry too much about being misunderstood. When someone asks a question and my response puzzles them, I trip over myself trying to explain what I mean. I’ll defend my answer and become frustrated when it’s not understood.
On the outside I play it cool so it doesn’t seem to affect me, but on the inside I am tied up in knots.

One day as I was wrestling through this struggle it was as if God was Bob Newhart in the “Just Stop It” counseling skit. I was reading Exodus 14:14 which says:

“The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still”

We all want someone to rise to our defense, especially when it seems like no one around us is on our side.
I was having one of those days.
I was semi new, I was isolated, frustrated and every bit of my life was seemingly under the microscope for evaluation by the people around me.
It was not malicious in any way.
It was friendly teasing and joking around, but you know those days when you feel like the butt of everyone’s joke?
It seemed to be one of those months.
My reserves were low and I was in a funk.

I read this passage and it was like God telling me,

“Just stop it! Stop defending yourself. Stop feeling like you have no one on your side.
Stop feeling like you are alone. I will fight for you, you need only to be still. Just stop.”

That is the hardest thing for me to do.
I am a do-er.                            I do things.                                 It is what I do!

My name means helper. I am independent. I wait for nothing when I set my mind on something. I like to jump right in to things, with or without a plan. Not always the best. Not always smart, but just how it is.

“Just Stop.”

How does that even happen? What does that look like?

I still haven’t figured it out. I still put up my fists in an attempt to defend myself and be understood.

Here’s the thing though:
I asked for help.
I asked the Lord to lead me and come to my defense.
The problem is I didn’t like the answer I’ve gotten.

I wanted God to rally to my side. I wanted Him to join me in this struggle. To fight along side of me. And yet, He says to stop?

I shouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want an answer.

The Lord holds nothing back when we ask. He answers us and always as we never expect Him to answer.

But He answers and it is always for the best. For our best.

So I’ve taken faulty footsteps forward in this area. When you ask me a question I still try to answer it as best as I can, as transparently as I can. When you laugh or scoff at my answer I just try to roll with it. When the devil brings it up again and tries to rub my face in the fact that once again I have been misunderstood and I have become absurd, I try to let it go. I try to be at peace with the fact that we will never be able to (this side of heaven) communicate fully and truly our meanings and intentions.

Most days this doesn’t work out as I want it to.
Most days I still wrestle with being understood.
I still struggle with just stopping.

But then there are days and moments where I answer questions with a bluntness that isn’t expected. I stop defending or explaining. I just say it how it is and move on.

Just recently I was asked if I think I was really saved when I was little because of growing up in a Christian home. The question was unexpected because it came from a new acquaintance (I had only known the person for 3 minutes max). A little perturbed I answered the question like this, “Yes but I did not have a crisis of Salvation until I was in High School and then my dad passed away and so I was forced to really live out my faith.” I went on explain that God’s perfect timing was in place. If my dad had passed away before I decided to really commit my life to Christ, I’m quite certain I would have turned to anger and depression. Even still I dealt with that loss in a series of degrees over the next few years. A traumatic event pushed me closer to the God I had aligned myself with and He showed up mightily in my life.

The new acquaintance who asked the question was visibly stunned by my response. But if you are going to ask a deep question you are going to get a deep answer. My pride took part in this, but I wasn’t trying to play the “I’m spiritually wounded” or the “I’m going to one up you and make you feel bad” game. My indignation was found more in the fact that we need to be careful when asking questions. We need to tread carefully when investigating other people’s lives. We don’t know the burdens they carry or the wounds they hold. We need to make sure we are helping to heal and challenge, to help each other grow, not just poke holes. We can ask and inquire, but we must make sure we are ready for the answers, wounds and burdens that may be revealed because of our probing questions.

In the same way that we need to be careful in our questions and requests to God, we need to remember to move forward in humility, truth and love when interacting with others.
Don’t assume.
Don’t make rash judgement.
Seek the truth and seek it graciously.

Ask, but brace yourselves because this passage is as much a promise as it is a threat. Tread carefully.

And so I tell you, keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:9)

 

Refreshed yet sleepy

Oh life, please calm down sometime soon!

We are right in the middle of one of our busiest months in Student Ministries:
We took 46 people to Student Life Tour,
Our Youth Pastor leaves tomorrow for California,
Our Ministry Assistant is soon going to be giving birth to twins,
We will be in Detroit MI with 6 students the 13th-18th,
We have a week of catch up,
Then we take goodness knows how many Middle School students on a Believe retreat,
And suddenly we are in the month of March.
February did you really happen? It feels as if you are already over!

Despite the mad dash feel of February I feel rested and refreshed.

Illogical, right?

Christmas break did wonders for my soul and spirit.
Many thanks to the friends and family who asked, “Are you getting rest?”
You helped me remember that I am loved and cared for, that I do not walk alone.

Since then my feet have rarely had a moment to be still.
Even so, I feel rested.
Steady progress is being made.

I am rested but can still do with a boat load of sleep!
Until that ship arrives I am thankful for the community God has blessed me with and placed me in.

Here’s to a quick update and steady steps in the chaos of life.

Blessings

Rest for the withered heart

It has been a long while since I have sat down to collect my thoughts and here is the remedy:

I’ve been trying to draw water from a dry well.
I’ve been wrestling for some time with a withered heart.
It needs hydration before it turns to dust.
At least that is how it feels.

It feels as if it is a raisin in my rib cage.
Something is wrong.
My heart doesn’t beat as it should.

See I’ve been draining it out, but forgetting to get it refilled. Thinking there will always be time for that later, I put off the refueling for another day that never comes.

That day never comes because the more my heart is withered the more I become o.k. with it.
A withered heart is an apathetic heart and apathy immobilizes even the best of the dreamers, movers and shakers of this world.
A withered heart forgets the feeling of a full heart and so continues on. Apathy tells me that I don’t need to rest, to refuel, to recharge.

My heart is heavy laden and withered.
As core as the heart is to all that we do it is surprising how unaware of its condition we can become.
Yet that is what has happened here in this heart.
It does not beat as it should.
It does not hope as it should.
It bears a weariness that I cannot lift.

There is occasional relief, but much like the tide it ebbs and flows. The source of the relief does not waver, no it is myself who is doing the wavering.
At times I stand apart from the tide, thinking to move on my own and carry my burdens in solitary.
Other times I draw closer to the tide and every time it splashes over my toes I am surprised at the relief and release I feel.

But the tide is messy.
It cannot be confined.
Its splashes where it will and when it will.
I either need to resign myself to getting wet or withdraw altogether. There is no partial place. It is either all or nothing. And yet I try to toe the line, and thus the weary heart.

Still even in this in-between place, One calls out saying “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”(Matthew 11:18)

Rest.

Ah the word! Rest. For the weary and heavy laden there is no sweeter word spoken than “rest” especially when the One who utters it is the provider of such a rest that truly restores and revives.

Buchner in Urban Simplicity puts far better words to the weary withered murky heart feeling I have been recently experiencing. Frederick says it like this,

The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead, we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.”

One of the glorious miracles of God’s love is that He refuses to let us stay dormant, stagnant, apathetic, withered, worn down or checked out. He moves and we either move with Him or get left behind. He does not stumble over our refusal to move though His heart breaks to see us stay in ruin.

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland” Isaiah 43:19

He welcomes us to take part in His redemptive plan. He is always there ready and waiting, but He does not stop working when we stop engaging Him in relationship.

For this I am ever grateful.

He may take drastic steps (i.e. making streams in the wasteland, calling us to follow Him out into the wilderness), but He is worth following. Bad things will happen (loss of loved ones, loss of possessions, loss of safety) but He always brings good out of it.

And so it has been in my life, so it will always be.
Entering into my second year of the “great Florida transplant and new job” I am waging a different  kind of battle. Year one was all about being new, figuring out what this next step really is, finding my feet as a church leader and leaving the comforts of familiarity behind. It isn’t like I went to Africa, Russia or some far off land, but Satan has a gift for making it feel like that sometimes. His gift is isolation and it is a gift I all too readily receive. I am battling the consequences of that gift this second year.

And so the withered heart, the hopeless heart.

And then God.
Just that. God. God who is still good and still in control, still present and at work in this withered, dried out heart. He enters, He speaks, He moves. He is.

He speaks the same message over and over. The same promises, words and truths are repeated. Like seasons they are faithful and yet somehow always I am surprised at their arrival.

He spoke recently through a women’s ministry breakfast known as Bagels and Blessings (or Muffins for Jesus as the male staff like to call it). The topic was joy. Something I have not been feeling or choosing to live out lately.
My mother (Thank God for Mothers!) recently commented on my loss of joy and that fact that I allow Satan to steal my joy away. So the message of the women’s breakfast was very well received: Choose Joy despite circumstances.

What better answer for a withered heart than Joy?!

God spoke again through a video blog. The president of the C&MA has been sending out monthly a 12 min long video message to church leaders. They are exactly what we need. They remind us of the bigger picture. They get our focus off of parking lot problems, volunteer issues and bulletin announcements. Every month President John Stumbo speaks honestly and openly about what God has laid on His heart. He reminds us that we are about God and about making Him known to those who are lost.
His message this month was about taking time to receive instead of just giving. Taking our focus off of what we must do and noticing what has been done for us and how God is blessing us.

What better action for a withered heart than to be filled instead of drained?!

So as we enter the darkest part of the year let us be light.
As we are surrounded by friends and family let us bring joy, hope, peace, love, faithfulness, goodness, gentleness, patience, kindness and self-control (maybe just self-control with christmas cookies?) into those relationships.
May the darkest time of the year be filled with the best.
May we come out of the dark not drained, but revived.
Not hopeless, but hopeful.
For the light shines in the darkness but the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

As an early New Year Resolution I will paraphrase a friend’s recent fundraising motto:
May we enter this new year painting the darkness white with Light. (http://paintitwhitewithlight.com/)
As for the weary heart I will rest, I will choose hope and joy,
I will wade deep into the waves,
I will move with the One who is doing a new thing,
I will follow Him into the dark places and paint it white with Light.

Praying over parking lots

A few weeks ago at a training meeting for our Small Group Leaders we had a time of prayer.
I joined up with two of our leaders who were headed to the parking lot to pray and it hit me:
The parking lots of our churches and ministry sites are part of the battle ground in our spiritual warfare.
This might just be another crazy theory I have, but I’m biased and would beg to differ, obviously.

Think about it.

Think about all the times you have come to church rushed, angry, upset, frazzled, tired, worn out, distracted or distraught.
Some of us come into the parking lot with all of those emotions rumbling around in us at once.
We get out of our cars and put on a facade that we have it all together.
I’m not saying that everyone does this, but I am saying a lot of us can fake it really well.
We fake it because church is the place where we are supposed to be at our “christian best”, where our faith is all spit polished and ready for inspection.
Parking lots then become our dumping ground. A place to check our sins and bad habits, leaving them in our glove boxes and trunks.
Walking in with only our gold star achievements of the Christian life.

When I worked at the boarding school I was blessed with the opportunity to take the boys to church.
Nothing opens your eyes to the idiosyncrasies in a church like when you bring a guest, let alone a whole crew of them.
One idiosyncrasy in particular that came up was appropriate language one should use when inside a church.
Now we all know there are things you just don’t do at church, just like we all know that there are
things that ladies don’t say or do especially when you are in a dress, like spitting.
I have to give the kids credit because their reply was something along the lines of “Why is church any different? We shouldn’t cuss no matter where we are, not just in church.”
They understood that they needed to be authentic all the time and that character is not defined by mere location.
Deep for middle school kids, right?

There are certain behaviors that we modify when we are in church, because we think that the church building is a sacred and hollowed place.
And part of that is good.
It is good that Church is a place where we enter into corporate worship, where two or three are gathered in God’s name and He is there also.
Church should be respected and held in reverence, but not the building.
It isn’t about the location, it is about the Body of Christ coming together.
We often forget this and compartmentalize our faith to being at its best inside the four walls of our local place of worship.
Once we are outside those doors though, everything is fair game.
When we head back to our cars those same struggles, worries, distractions, frustrations, temptations, hurts and wounds are still there, sitting and waiting ever so patiently for us to pick them back up.
And we do!
We put them back on as a burden that we alone have to carry.
We take off the mask that tells people everything is o.k.
We continue the argument we had on the way to church.
We sometimes act as if we never walked in the building at all.
We let our guard down because what could happen in the parking lot?
It is a place of no significance.
We unwisely remove any and all spiritual armor.
After all it is just the parking lot.
It isn’t sacred.
God isn’t present.
Right?

The parking lot is key.
It is here that we enter into the spiritual battlefield.
It is the place where we first face the world and all its woes after leaving a place of fellowship, communion and encouragement.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that God isn’t present in the parking lot.
If He was present in the manger, why not here?
Frederick Buechner tells us that we are never safe from God:

Those who believe in God can never in a way be sure of him again. Once they have seen him in a stable, they can never be sure where he will appear or to what lengths he will go or to what ludicrous depths of self-humiliation he will descend in his wild pursuit of man. If holiness and the awful power and majesty of God were present in this least auspicious of all events, this birth of a peasant’s child, then there is no place or time so lowly and earthbound but that holiness can be present there too. And this means that we are never safe, that there is no place where we can hide from God, no place where we are safe from his power to break in two and recreate the human heart because it is just where he seems most helpless that he is most strong, and just where we least expect him that he comes most fully. (Buechner, The Hungering Dark p.13-14)

I know I quote this particular passage of Buechner’s work quite often, but there is just something I can’t shake in this depiction of God. It is something so wonderfully awful and so shockingly real about a God I all too often tend to compartmentalize in the mystic, vaporish section of the world. The thought that I will never, can never be safe from His presence and His love is overwhelmingly redemptive and shames me to my core when I get the strange notion that I am unknown and looked over. The truth that God Almighty not only knows me but never, ever is far from me and that I can never escape Him is powerful. It is on this that the foundation of my faith is built. It is on this fact of His love and in Him that I move and breath and have my being (Acts 17:28) . There is no place too unholy, too undignified, too insignificant, too far from His presence where we can be rescued.

He showed up in the desert, in a bush of no significance and His presence burned, but did not consume the bush.
He makes the mundane significant.
He makes the ugly and unimpressive, fantastically fascinating.
He shows up in bathrooms, parking lots, whale bellies, back alleyways, shanties and drug houses.
He comes into undignified places and makes them sacred.
He has no limits and no place is out of his reach.

So why on earth do I not expect Him to be present in the parking lot?

It is time to be authentic.
Time to walk into fellowship as we are, but not content to stay that way.
Fellowship needs to be real but it cannot be static.
We need to grow and be challenged.
This requires vulnerability, not complacency.
So empty out the glove boxes and by all means relieve your emotional car trunks of all that junk (yep, I went there).
Walk into your churches as you are and demand true community, real accountability.
Then brace yourselves because once those flood gates are open there is no telling what God will unearth in your life.
You will never be safe from Him again, but the good thing is you will never want to be safe from Him again.

It is time to take an inventory of the places I have seemingly closed off from God.
Time to bulldoze those walls and silos I have sectioned off from Him.
Everything is laid bare and nothing will be overlooked.
The very best Seeker is far from done with seeking me out and saving me in the midst of my disgrace. 
When all is lost, He isn’t.
So now is the day when defenses fall and parking lots become centers for worshipping the God who is present especially in the hopelessness of this weary world.

Grace in Polish Plumbing

This summer has past by in one huge blur. I am still on the recovery from our two week long missions trip to Detroit with our High Schoolers. Our team devotionals were focused on the book of Galatians  and our VBS program for inner city kids in Detroit taught on the Fruit of the Spirit.

Apparently God had a plan in place, one we were unaware of until we were in the thick of it. Little did we know that God was going to teach us to live out the lessons of grace and fruit of the Spirit. It was humbling and growing. God moved in awesome ways even when Satan assaulted us from every angle.

Our home base was a very large, very old, very unique Polish Community Center that is run by Detroit Love Inc. So Saturday July 13th 50 warm bodies settled in and began to take over this poor old Polish building. The first thing to go was the plumbing. Unfortunately 50 people using plumbing all at once caused a rare phenomenon to occur in which water going down the drain caused the septic to overflow into the basement. Here is where grace and humility made their intro. We had groups down in the basement scooping, shoveling, and moving poop water. Plumbers were called and still the problem stood. At first the issue was minimal with our team of 50 sharing one shower, one toilet and two sinks. The amazing thing was there was little to no complaint. Wet wipe showers, sink hair washes and roughing it did abound within the hallowed halls. We stunk as a team, but Fabreze and wet naps kept us together.  The second plumbing appocolypse hit us a tad bit harder. This time there could be nothing going down the pipes or else we would find ourselves scooping it out the next morning. That meant no showers, no sinks, no toilets and a whole lot of holding it. Again grace and humility happened. It was a lot like camping indoors. We had our wet wipe showers, Fabreze and portable bucket toilets. The next day four of our guys humbly and quietly shoveled and scooped the basement clean. These guys faced the filth and even worked through a meal in service to the group. There is no dignity in scooping poop, but the humble quiet leadership they showed placed them in high esteem. Some days serving and leading will look and smell a whole lot filthier than we would like.

While the lack of facilities was inconvenient it was the least of our worries. There was a sense of weariness hanging over the group within the first few days. While it was not an overly physical trip it was draining in various ways. The first week news came of the passing of a student back home and the second week news came of a tragic accident that claimed the life of another student and the critical injury of two others. News like that carries a weight all its own, but God is good and fellowship with the Body of Christ enabled the students and staff to continue living in grace, love, patience, kindness, gentleness, joy, peace, goodness, faithfulness and self-control.

We were not perfect and there were several spats and altercations. Grace in community and fellowship does not abide in the lack of turbulence, but rather in the moments after. While there were relational differences and arguments, they never lasted more than a day. Conflicts were addressed and resolved with patience and maturity.

The second week held more interesting times and adventures in navigating missions. Part way into the week we experienced a small lice outbreak which caused us to take over a strategic attack on the tiny mites. The organization of the plan was ridiculous. We had a team in charge of laundry, vacuuming, hair care, sanitization and continued construction on the building.  Ministry looked less like VBS, work projects and public outreach and more like tending to the Body in 4 hour long sessions in which hair was picked through and cleansed. Grace abounded! We had no complaints, no blaming and no arguing. The Body was the Body in all its multicfacitated glory.

Grace abounded even more as the week went on and staff started dropping. We had several staff members come down with migraines, sickness and exhaustion. When holes were left in staffing they were filled. Our students stepped up and led to help with the slack. Leadership was found by pure desperation, but it was not desperate in its nature. God had been preparing them for moments like these and the investment showed.

That investment blessed not only the individuals themselves, but others around them. Let me explain:
I had a bad attitude one morning. I felt like we were behind and needed to get a move on it. Discussion was flowing around a tough subject one particular morning, but we were running behind schedule. As I sat there I battled with the frustration of wanting conversation to continue and wanting to get going on our ministry outreaches. I half prayed for patience and grace to be my mindset. I was feeling justified in my angst, but knew that I could easily be squashing the work of the Spirit if I wasn’t careful. When we were all loaded up in the vans two of the girls on my team noticed that I was frazzled and asked if I was alright. I explained my juxtaposition and my lack of willingness to change my attitude. They asked if they could pray for me. Ah, there it is. The solution we all need but so seldom run to because we want to do things our way. How could I say no? I agreed and further explained that my attitude needed some serious reconstructing as I was perfectly content in being upset. The girls prayed and I prayed alongside, this time not half heartedly even though my attitude conflicted. The frustration continued until we began our walk. As we walked God slowly peeled back the layers of my “justified” annoyances. It was a humbling and beautiful moment. Not the kind of beauty we all like. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t pleasant. No, it was a lasting and enduring beauty that caused my outlook to search and find beauty in the struggle. It was a grace filled beautiful struggle.

I was not ready to leave Detroit. I’m not sure any of us were. It had been a rough trip, but I wouldn’t trade any moment of it for a calm saturday on the beach. Conflicts, frustrations, pain and hurts were sewn throughout the trip, but true growth became the result of all that unpleasantness. The Fruit of the Spirit was really being lived out in our interactions with each other and with the people we came in contact with those two weeks. It is hard to leave a situation like that. So many of our students head back to homes in which the Spirit is not invited nor is He wanted. As tough as it is to walk in the Spirit through trials and struggles it is doubly difficult to walk in the Spirit when there is little to no encouragement or companionship.

At times it felt like our team was experiencing relationships similar to the early church. We were living in true community. Yes we were living in a commune type facility, but the way people treated and served each other revealed characteristics of the early christians more than our physical situation. So if my caricature of our trip is accurate than the departure from Detroit would be similar to the expansion of the church. Our students lived with the Body for two weeks in an intense fellowship and at the end they went off to their personal mission fields.

Let that be our mindset always. May we see great value in the importance of fellowship and may we return to our jobs, neighborhoods, families and friendships with the understanding that those areas are our mission fields. May we all walk in grace and in the Spirit despite the frustrations of old Polish plumbing and spiritual attacks. May we keep the faith no matter the situation.

Listening to the loss of fellowship

Community has to be a God thing or it doesn’t really work.

It’s like a diamond in the rough.
It has to be invested in and worked on before it starts to shape up and become actual community.

Once lost it is hard to find again.

We forget all the work, all the awkward moments and years that went into creating that fellowship.
We forget the fact that we didn’t necessarily like or enjoy everyone all the time.
We smooth over the rough patches and we forget the feelings of loneliness we still struggled with in a room filled with friends.

We never really recognize community until we are years in or it’s gone. Then we start romanticizing it all and reminiscing on days past and times had.

The loss of community and fellowship is hard to walk through.
The echos of that loss are sometimes harder still to hear.
They remind us of what we’ve lost and they continue to echo on the walls of grief we’ve built around ourselves.
The very walls that keep us cut off from community and fellowship happening all around us.

When we take down those walls it will be awkward and uncomfortable.
We have to get used to a whole different set of people all with their quirks and habits.
There is the temptation to recreate the same community we once had by seeking similar people.
While people are similar they are never the same.
Even the same group of friends will interact differently over the years. We cannot replicate what we once had and even if we could it would not be worth having once done.

That is the beauty and  pain of community.
The beauty is that we were a part of it and that time cannot be duplicated.
It is ours and ours alone. One of those “you just had to be there” type of things.
The pain is that it cannot be duplicated and we will never again experience community like that because we are no longer those people and it is no longer that time.

It is a complex thing and thankfully it is only so because we serve a complex God who has created us for fellowship and relationship. Our God is not limited to one plain jane type of community.
No.
He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End, He is outside of Time and Space and so can create billions of variable changes betwixt and between the thousands of communities we will experience in our lifetime.

So if you are one of the many who is grieving the loss community, know that one day, one moment, barely noticed, it will be worth it all.
All the awkward introductions and get to know you functions, all the rough patches, lonely moments and friendless spaces will be forgotten and smoothed over.
One day and many more after that you will find yourself in community, but only if you commune with the One who made you for community.

One day it will be worth it because we will have once again found fellowship.
We grieve over the loss of what friendships we had, but that does not change what we had.
Don’t sit and wallow in the listening of the loss and don’t polish the surface of those friendships as it was the rough edges and rocky conversations that made them real.
Remember every hard confrontation, every joy, every grief shared.
Remember and pay attention because those relationships were real, they had breadth and depth.

Thorn bush avenues to the wild wilderness

I had another “out of the thorn-bushes and into the wilderness”  moment. I’ve shared twice about the stormy beach day (sorry for that!) and I think I mentioned once the 3 hour journey to get off beachside on memorial day. The most recent time was this past 4th of July and it was fantastic! I’m call these adventures “out of the thorn-bushes and into the wilderness” because of the passage in Hosea 2 a good friend in Georgia drew to my attention. My friend quoted this passage to me and told me of how God was doing this in her life. I’ve since begun to notice these moments in my own life as well, only I tend to notice when I am stuck fast in the thorns and brambles. The specific verses are found in Hosea chapter 2 verses 6-7, 14-16 and 19-20:

Therefore I will block her path with thornbushes;
I will wall her in so that she cannot find her way.
 She will chase after her lovers but not catch them;
she will look for them but not find them.
Then she will say,
‘I will go back to my husband as at first,
for then I was better off than now.’

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the wilderness
and speak tenderly to her.
 There I will give her back her vineyards,
and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.
There she will respond as in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came up out of Egypt.

 “In that day,” declares the Lord
“you will call me ‘my husband’;
you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in  faithfulness,
and you will acknowledge the Lord.”

These times with God are frequently needed and yet I delay so often in seeking them out. So God usually has to place those thorn bushes directly in my path and cut off all exits. The stormy day at the beach, the 3 hour layover in my own town and the 4th of july fireworks are all evidence of this fact.

This passage of scripture always reminds me of a song by Derek Webb. I’m not entirely  sure how it ended up on my itunes, but the shocking honesty of it is much appreciated. I do warn you that the lyrics are raw and the true utterances of a wretch. While I appreciate the honesty of this transparent prayer I do not agree that this is who we are, but I do believe it is who we were. Erwin Mcmanus described a similar thought to be what we think is spiritually mature when it is really a lie to which we hold in fake humility. You may feel the same about these lyrics. They do however remind me of the life from which I have been saved and constantly am being saved. They remind me of who Satan says I am and of the great love Christ has for me. It is for those reasons that I find value in this song:

“If you could love me as a wife
And for my wedding gift, your life
Should that be all I’d ever need?
Or is there more I’m looking for

And should I read between the lines
And look for blessings in disguise
To make me handsome, rich, and wise
Is that really what you want?

[Chorus]
‘Cause I am a whore I do confess
But I put you on just like a wedding dress
And I run down the aisle, I run down the aisle
I’m a prodigal with no way home
But I put you on just like a ring of gold
And I run down the aisle
I run down the aisle to you

So could you love this bastard child?
Though I don’t trust you to provide
With one hand in a pot of gold
And with the other in your side
‘Cause I am so easily satisfied
By the call of lovers so less wild
That I would take a little cash
Over your very flesh and blood

[Chorus x2]

Because money cannot buy
A husband’s jealous eye
When you have knowingly deceived his wife

[Chorus x2]“

This is the song of a wretch that has been saved. I see it as a process of shedding off the old self, recognizing failures and identifying things that need to change. It reminds us all of the things that water down our faith and rob us of the identity of the Bride of Christ.

The line that gets me every time is

‘Cause I am so easily satisfied
By the call of lovers so less wild’

That’s the line that helps me recognize when I am amidst thorns and when I need to step out into the wild wilderness with Christ.

So here I stand, fighting off the distractions of those tame lovers (comfort, ease, laziness, complacency etc.) looking into the vast, uncertain wilderness. One year in, focusing on one day, hour or minute at a time. Taking the advice of my wise mother and Mumford & Sons,

“Don’t doubt in the dark what God has shown you in the light” – Sally Ann

“But hold on to what you believe in the light
When the darkness has robbed you of all your sight” – Mumford & Sons.

The same can be said of thorn bushes and wilderness: Don’t doubt in the thorns the reality of the wonders in the wilderness, the freedom that is found there. Hold on to that first love, the love that calls you to the wild wilderness.

Fantastic isolation and 4th fireworks

I don’t know what it is about fireworks but they never cease to amaze me. These beautiful displays never get dull and they invoke a feeling of mystery and magic. I wish our firework displays were as awesome as Gandalf’s in the Fellowship of the Ring, but even CGI can’t muster up the feelings of awe a real firework explosion can. I think fireworks stun me just like storms or a campfire do. At times there seems to be nothing new going on and it is the same old image repeating itself over and over, but if you look closely there is a mesmerizing quality at its core and you just can’t stop staring.

My plans for the 4th were simple, shop early and avoid using the car. I did not want an overheating car repeat of Memorial Day! I got my Johnsonville Brats grilling, NEEDTOBREATH jamming on my computer and my plan all set. I headed out to the beach as the sun was setting and found a cleared area for the competitive display of firepower going off all around me.

Last year a family from church invited me out to their house for their 4th of July gathering. They lived on beachside and had a rooftop deck from which we saw about a 2 hour long display. It was then that I was introduced to the fact that all of the beach apartment complexes try to out do each other in patriotic displays. It was ridiculous! I don’t like or promote greed, one-up-manship or competitive natures, but this was one instance in which I did not mind being on the benefit side of these mindsets. People spend tons of money on fireworks and we got to observe and enjoy without spending one penny.

This year I was right in the thick of it. So close that I was a tad bit worried some overly enthusiastic and intoxicated individual might actually shoot me with a firework, but thankfully that did not happen. As I sat in my cleared and apparently safe spot I was struck with an overwhelming sense of loneliness and homesickness. My family is not overly patriotic in our apparel or events. Several of the men in my extended family have served in the military and we love our country, but we honor it in quiet and subtle ways. I was not dressed in red, white or blue nor did I sport an American flag. We attend fireworks and 4th of july celebrations but it is never a huge event. That all said I still missed sharing fireworks with family. One year my sister and I used every kind of “ooh, ah” compilation possible in a very loud and slightly mocking tone. It was that kind of comradery I missed. It was that kind of atmosphere that can only be replicated by family. I greatly appreciate all the families in my community that adopt me and allow me to share in events like these, but substitution never replaces the real deal.

With all of these feelings and thoughts going on I was very tempted to sulk and brood, but I was gently reminded that I am not alone. I chose to spend the time oohing and ahhing with God.

After all the smoke from the competing fireworks displays cleared a bit  I was stunned with gorgeous views of the night sky. Fireworks are fantastic and I am a huge fan, but the stars are gorgeous and move for no one. They burn in steadfast evidence of a Creator who values beauty and wonder. That’s what we try to create on the 4th with all our fireworks, isn’t it? Beauty and wonder? And yet just like our lives, our cheap imitations last only for one brilliant moment and then fade, displaying the silent wonder of God’s creation. The amazement I felt sitting in that moment was worth every lonely and homesick thought.

Isolation is good for the soul because it is during those moments we are forced to recognize where we really stand and what we stand upon. Too much isolation causes a superior and godlike complexion to form and those are never pleasant in their breaking. A balance is needed and thankfully God knows how to balance us out. Thankfully He also knows how to shut us up when we get to rambling and spouting out our ideals of how life should be and what really matters. All those words fall silent in His presence and in the presence of His creation.

I love this image:168272_598454116842270_489655869_nI think there is such truth in this statement. Have you ever been stunned by the stars? Don’t they make you feel small, insignificant and unimportant. They are freakishly humbling! They sometimes make me worried, all that vast empty space devoid of air and earth.

It is in moments like that where I feel so helpless that God is most evident in my life. The recognition of the complete isolation in space we would have if God did not exist stills me to my core. For it is when I am isolated that I seek comfort and community. It is in the shadows of isolation that I realize who made me and why, to worship, commune and glorify Him. How can one not do that when they have taken in the wonders of the stars?

I heard it once said that it is God’s love that keeps Him from revealing Himself completely to us. It is His love because we would all be turned to ash in the presence of such perfection and holiness and it is His love because if we were exposed to God in all of His glory (assuming we did not turn to ash and cease to exist) we would have no choice but to believe in Him because we would be unable to deny His existence and His greatness. And so out of His love He chooses to reveal Himself first through Creation, then through His Word, His Son and in the end through His presence on Judgement Day when it is all said and done.

Why would we choose to ignore His love and the obvious ways in which He displays Himself? Because we are so taken up with the created instead of the Creator. We focus on the things made instead of the Maker of all things. Isolation fixes that. Isolation removes the lens that sees only created things and leaves us standing in the presence of Creation in motion. Isolation draws our attention to the One behind the creation, to the Creator.

I want more isolated moments like that. I want to be stunned, humbled and awed speechless. I want those breathtaking moments where I am faced with the very real fact of my frailty and insignificance.

So here is to fantastic and balanced isolation. Not isolation that I seek out, but isolation in which God draws me to see Him. Isolation that removes distractions and revives the soul. Isolation that humbles. Isolation that clears the view and shows me what really matters. Isolation from self and materials. And here’s to fireworks and wonder.

One full year

So it has been a full fledged year since I arrived in Florida! Whoop woo!

Thank you to all who helped, listened, counseled, cried along, ranted with, encouraged and shared coffee with me!

This year was nothing like what I expected, at all. I arrived knowing nothing about doing Youth Ministry and while I am still left in the dark more times than not, I have grown from every single clueless moment. I have found family and community inside and outside of the church walls. There are times when it feels like I have always been here (the endless hours spent within the church office will do that to a person) and then there are times when it is awkwardly apparent that I am a complete noob (the hour and a half I spent lost in Orlando trying to avoid toll roads on my way to a very important event!)! There are times I’ve been adopted into several families and felt completely at home and there are times when I have felt adrift in an endless ocean. While it all hasn’t been comfortable, easy or pleasant, it all has been worth it and I am so blessed!!

I am grateful for the God-given opportunity to get out of the boat and walk on water even though I have spent more time sinking than standing. I am thankful for the embarrassing mistakes, the awkward situations and the tearful nights because they remind me of the solid Rock on which I stand.

This year has flown by fast as will this next one, I just hope that I will remember to cling to those few hanging moments in which life stands still. Where I stand in the vast presence of God and I recognize His glory. Where faith holds true in a sea of uncertainty (I know I have used several nautical references, but I live by the ocean now so get used to it! I will, however, try to tame it down.)

So here’s to the next year! Another year of ministry and life. Another year of never really knowing what I’m doing. Another year of seeking to glorify God and to be used by Him in whatever way He deems. Another year of avoiding hermitage and instead choosing to build community. Another year of scrapes and bruises. Another year of failed expectations and harsh realities. Another year of dying the slow death to self. Another year of recognizing that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control don’t come in nice neat packages I can just add water to and they will grow up in my life. Another year of being the hands and feet of Christ for His sake and not my own. Another year of dying to my pride and plans. Another year of not being alone even when I feel abandoned. Another year of growing into the person God has made and called me to be.