Catching My Breath

Happy 2015!

I think this last week has been one of the most chaotic in a long time. I just arrived back in the country from a wonderful two-week trip spent in Ireland and the UK, only to return to my internship as a counselor a matter of hours later. (Score one for my pure stubbornness in wanting to have as much time abroad as possible. Fortunately I was so happy to be reunited with my clients that I didn’t notice the jet lag until that night…) As I sit here writing this post in-between jotting all of my assignment due dates for my final semester of grad school (?!) and typing a draft of my final research proposal for graduation, it is suddenly hitting me just how much has happened this past year.

I am still working on the long post that I briefly mentioned in my last entry. The words aren’t coming to me like I had hoped, but to be continued!

But because it is a new year, I wanted to make just a few brief lists for 2015 goal setting. Definitely encourage anyone else to make their own!

MY WORD FOR THIS YEAR:

Last month I was challenged to pray about a word that God really wanted me to focus on. Before I even finished, the word integrity came to mind, plain as day. Integrity, for me, is needing to…

  • Stop trying to cut so many corners. This is something I am especially bad about in my schoolwork. Sometimes I get so involved and focused on my internship (which I love) and actually serving in the field, that I begin to resent my graded papers and assignments, and just do the bare minimum. I need to remember that I am in school to learn- I want to appreciate what time I still have left and commit more to the entire process.
  • Be more intentional. This is a really broad goal, but specifically, I need to be more intentional about studying the Bible and engaging in conversations about it. Although I don’t want reading the Bible to become a chore, and merely check it off each day, I tend to get lazy and make excuses if I go several days on end without picking it up. I need to be more intentional about setting aside specific time and generally use the “whenever I get around to it” statement less.
  • Be more direct with people. Working as an addictions counselor has definitely toughened me up, but my tendency in day-to-day life is to want to bend over backwards to make other people happy. I need to be upfront and honest more often if I am frustrated with a situation rather than just doing nothing about it whatsoever. Raised voices tend to set me on edge, which is why I need to practice and remember that caring confrontation does not actually have to involve yelling.

Gratitude List

Even though people tend to do this during Thanksgiving, a project I want to pursue is to actively keep a gratitude list. The quickest way to kill contempt is to tell God, or another person, things that you are grateful for. For me, this most often happens when I am driving. (I don’t know if it is because I suddenly have the angry desire to issue driving tickets via hand signals that are supposed to express “What are you DOING?!?!” in the car, and therefore actually think about being grateful more often, but this is usually what happens.) The other day in my head I just started telling God how grateful I was for heat. That gas is a whopping $1.99 all of a sudden. That I have a car. And suddenly my road rage was lessened a bit.

Highlights and Lowlights

This year was a great one. By God’s grace, I published a book (see tab at top of website), joined a church plant team in Ireland for three months (and met an Irish fellow I am quite fond of while I was there…), finished my first year of graduate school, and heard some really amazing teachings and sermons that made my desire to follow Jesus multiply. I am going to be the Maid of Honor in the wedding of one of my best friends, got to see two friends get baptized, celebrated a new birth into one of my favorite families, and traveled solo across Europe for a few weeks.

It was challenging at the same time. It was difficult not having access to income anymore, and I felt guilty spending any just about any money that wasn’t a necessity as it was all coming out of my savings. Although I have some amazing relationships in Charlotte, I also spent a bit of lonely time missing friends in other cities. My sense of time management became stretched thin as I began taking night classes and electives in order to graduate on time and complete my internship. This unfortunately meant that I could no longer attend a weekly Bible Study or a leadership training I was nominated for. This has actually been one of the hardest things to deal with in recent months.

Goals for This Year

  • In some ways, not knowing where I will be living or working in five months, after graduation, has caused me anxiety. In other ways, it has led me to appreciate more of what God wants me to learn and do here in the present day. One goal of mine is to focus more on giving up control to Him whenever I am feeling overwhelmed. Personally, I think the whole “God won’t give you more than you can take” notion is mostly false- I think He gives us a great deal more than we can take sometimes so that at the end, there is no question of who should take the credit for it.
  • I have already talked about the necessity of spending more time reading my Bible, but as soon as I have a spare evening again, I am very much looking forward to joining a small group again for Bible study. I am very much missing the provided accountability and friendship!
  • Continue to invest time and love into the Urban Eagles. Last month, due to my course schedule, I had to stop volunteering in Grier Heights. This was hard for me to accept (I think I was in denial for a bit that a new elective option would be added to a morning), but am so thankful to continue to commit to the Forest Hills neighborhood. These young girls give me some of the most joy all week, and the leaders are all now some of my very best friends!
  • Create boundaries. This is one I will not expand on here, but is certainly a continuous goal, especially for a social worker.
  • Above all, develop more of a passion to know Christ more so that I may be able to know and love others more.

Any prayers for me as I continue writing, studying, learning, and working are much appreciated!

Blessings. xx

Back to Reality

Between my summer spent in Ireland and an extremely chaotic return to Charlotte for my final year of graduate school, I unfortunately got out of the habit of writing on this blog. Just as a few quick updates on life lately…

Summer: During my three months in Ireland I was incredibly blessed to get to know lots of wonderful people and to be able to serve alongside passionate and caring families. I have three newsletters prepared which were sent out monthly, however if you did not receive one and would like to, please feel free to let me know in some way. They go into much more detail than I will in this entry.

Internship: I began my placement for the following year as a Counselor with Charlotte Rescue Mission for women in recovery from substance abuse. Words fail me – learning so much, and I love my residents.

Reunion: (Shout-out to my Irish friends) I will be returning for two weeks just before New Years, so please mark your calendars because I would love a reunion in which I smother you with jet-lagged excitement!

Feelings: For a lack of a better category, I am summing up my feelings in one run-on sentence: Apprehension over my pending graduation, excitement over seeing the growth occurring in girls’ nights in the (now TWO!) different neighborhoods I help serve in, uncertainty and slight anxiety as to not knowing where I will be living or working, joy in church, missing friends from not only several cities but also several countries, and, overall, whatever you call it when you think you might actually fall asleep at any given moment but you don’t actually have a diagnosis of narcolepsy.

So yeah, that about sums up my life right now!

“Real” blog post to follow soon this week because this is my last day of class, and I have to celebrate by eating pizza while my only source of socialization coming from watching Sherlock re-runs.

Newsletter

Hello from Ballina!

I have now been in Ireland for about two weeks, and it has been a terrific experience so far. I am going to be sending out a private support newsletter every two weeks with specific details, updates, prayer requests etc, so if you would like to be added to that list, send me a message! That is really where I am going to be putting just about everything from my summer here. 

Cheers!

 

Announcements (Life Lately)

So…a lot has happened in the last month or two!

Update 1:

I began support raising for my trip overseas this summer, and can’t believe I leave in three weeks! I am flying solo to a small town in Ireland for three months where I will be joining a host team that has planted a church. Many hats will be worn by myself during my time there: helping out with the worship music, engaging in discipleship, leading Bible studies and youth activities, and just generally being the happy American who talks to everyone. I’m almost 100 percent fully funded (just about $200 to go!) and have been extremely blessed during this process. If you are interested in giving or receiving my newsletter, feel free to shoot me a message! I am not sure if I will do blog or email updates yet, but would love to hear from you.

Update 2:

I am finishing up my first year of graduate school, and have my last day of class tomorrow. Next week is my last few days working over at Byers before finals kick in. Next year, I am really excited to begin interning part-time at Dove’s Nest. I will be doing individual and group treatment for women in recovery from substance abuse. This was a placement that I really, really wanted. Definitely looking forward to learning from these women and having the opportunity to serve them the best that I can.

Update 3:

I have admittedly been a bit reluctant to talk about this subject up until this point publicly, just because I am still unsure of exactly what to say about it! Probably just being silly. But, here goes the announcement that isn’t exactly a secret anymore:

I wrote a book! It’s called The Good News Diaries (conveniently the same name as my blog), now available in print and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.

http://www.amazon.com/The-Good-News-Diaries-Encouraging/dp/1495399834/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1398282847&sr=8-1&keywords=the+good+news+diaries

I began writing this in college, and picked it up every now and then for the next few years. About a year ago though, I basically changed everything I already had compiled, and powered through it at the end of 2013. When the book was first released last month, I was mostly excited and grateful, but also felt a little…odd, to say the least! It was literally like I was putting something out in writing for the world to see that made me feel extremely exposed and vulnerable. Even though I have similar conversations to the text and this blog, this felt a lot more official. It was as if the most important thoughts and beliefs in my mind and heart were suddenly made extremely public for critique and evaluation. But, it was definitely something I had been thinking and praying about for a long time, and am thankful that it finally happened! The day it was released, all I could think was “I don’t actually care if five or 500 people read this. Whatever happens will be sufficient!”

 

So, those are three pretty big things going on right now…so excited to see what all is ahead!

Crazy Love

A couple of months ago I started this YouVersion app that would have me read the entire New Testament in 30 days.

(Did you catch that? A couple of months ago? Yeah. I fell a little behind.)

Anyway, in conversations in the past, occasionally people have posed the question “What is your favorite book of the Bible?”

I always felt, for some reason, like this was a trick question. Even though my suspicions were completely unwarranted, it felt like if I said anything other than one of the four gospels, that it would be looked down upon in some way. Suddenly a team of “real Christians” would come and give me this “…Really?…Ok.” kind of look. You think my thoughts are extreme? Try being in them 24/7.

But again, I digress. Even though of course it is difficult to pick a favorite, I am at the point in the Bible plan where I am now reading mine, if I had to pick one: 1 John. I have thought a lot about getting a tattoo for the last year or two (learn something new every day) and every time I think about it, I literally wish I could have this entire book written so that I would have to read it every day. I try and pick a favorite verse and it just can’t happen. But today as I was reading through it, one in particular jumped out at me that summarized so well what I have been thinking about lately:

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I named this blog post Crazy Love after a book by Francis Chan. In it he seeks to strongly convict us of about both how much we are loved, and what that means for our life.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how Christianity is socially constructed in this culture to mean the same thing as “rules”. You can’t do this, this or this. And God forbid you mess up because the God who is watching you from afar is just waiting to beat you down with religious rhetoric while angels playing harps float around in the background.

When you try to look through this lens from the outside and you see rules and commands first, and God’s love second, then His love is cheapened. It doesn’t ring true, and quite frankly it doesn’t make sense. It feels like if you have to do all these things in order to qualify yourself in God’s eyes, then it definitely isn’t unconditional. I remember spending my teenage years in half-pursuit, half-panic over “What if I mess up? Are these thoughts okay? How much is too much of something? Where do I draw the line? What about this? Have I done something wrong to displease God? Is that why I am feeling this way?” and so forth. I was seeing God and Jesus through the lens of: going to church, singing songs, not messing up too bad, and celebrating certain holidays is what makes you a Christian. It wasn’t until late college that I really began to have more of an understanding of religion versus the Gospel.

I would make the argument based on the entire New Testament, but I will specifically reference the book of 1 John here, which is completely focused on love: People in general do not have an understanding of just how loved they are. This applies to me and everyone else, for that matter. When you are able to understand even just a fraction of how loved you are, suddenly the rules do not seem burdensome. You know that no matter how badly you mess up, you still win, not because of anything you have done in your past or that you have to do in the future, but because of what has already been done for you.

There was a quote that I heard once in a movie that has always stuck with me, over ten years later. Drew Barrymore plays a character who has a son when she is a teenager. One afternoon her and her best friend, who also had a child at the same time, are talking. Drew’s character says, in reference to her son, something to the effect of: “Sometimes I don’t know if I really love him, or if I just have to love him. You know what I mean?…..What’s wrong with me?” and the friend says “Trust me, you love him. Sometimes we love people so much that we have to be numb to it. Because in reality if we felt it all, it would kill us.”

I truly believe that if we actually felt how much God loves us, that it would kill us. Or at least, because that sounds kind of unintentionally sadistic, we wouldn’t be able to function.

I heard this sermon illustration recently, and I really liked it. It isn’t perfect of course, but work with me here, I am doing the best I can to remember it.

You are an Olympic ice skater about to compete. Any one, tiny, little mistake can cause your entire score, and years of training and sacrifice, to just go down the drain in one split second. With sports like basketball or soccer, you have the potential to come back as a team in order to beat the other team’s score in the end. Ice skating, though, is different. Everything rides on your performance and appearance. But before you get on the ice, the judges make an announcement: “We are still going to let you skate, but based off of the performance of this other guy who went before you, you are receiving a perfect score. You can also perform perfectly, or you can spend the majority of the song falling on the ice in your sparkly costume. But either way, you win. Straight 10’s.”

Now how are you going to go about skating? (Aka living your life?) Knowing that because of someone who came before you, you cannot lose. Regardless of the number of times you mess up, the pressure, guilt, condemnation and fear of judgment is completely gone.

It is all about a relationship now, rather than a performance.

The Offense Found in the Defense

Yesterday after church, I was in a small group discussion where we were talking about grace, and what it means to us. There was a statement made by one of the members that I have not been able to get out of my mind:

Christ died for me with absolutely no guarantee that I would return that love.

Today though, an additional part of the sentence was added on in my head:

Christ died for me with absolutely no guarantee that I would return that love so that I would never have to defend myself.

At first this sounds a little weird, even to me, seeing it in writing. It’s sort of like…out of all of the things you would put after that sentence, that’s what you chose?

It’s been on my mind off and on lately largely because of what I wrote about in my last blog post. My overall theme in that one was how draining it was for me to read or witness people arguing back and forth, particularly when it was pretty below the belt, and how with maybe a rare exception (? I didn’t see it at least.) no one’s mind changed. It just seemed to generally tick people off.

I had one of those moments today though where something just kind of clicked. I had thought about it before, but something happened where it just really hit home. I was chaperoning a bunch of middle schoolers on a field trip, and basically half of it, shockingly enough, was them all at each others throats, especially the girls. There was one particular moment where a girl hurled some insults and language at another girl, and she began to get so defensive that her threats and actions were becoming more of a problem than the instigator. Now, I have seen this happen hundreds of times with all ages of people, not just teenagers, but this particular time that I was actually the one helping break it up put a few things in perspective. Most of you can probably relate to this, particularly if you deal with kids. You know about that exasperated feeling that you get that basically boils down to saying to one of them “Stop it. You calm down and let me deal with this. I have authority here. Stop yelling and getting angry, or else you are going to get in just as much trouble.”

Christ died for me, with no guarantee of even my acknowledgement of that, so that I do not have to argue and defend anything to another person. The authority figure has spoken, He has defended me, and His opinion of my worth is the only one that matters. No matter what it is that you may be under attack for, whether it’s as small and insignificant as hair color or as large as your family or faith, there is always going to be someone who not only disapproves but has absolutely no problem with blasting their opinion without any regards for the consequences. But Christ’s love for you means that you don’t have to defend yourself or explain your point of view even a little, tiny bit. It’s so fascinating to me some of the criticism that the most influential people received. Based on different sources, here a just a few…

Billy Graham faced criticism from Christians of all races for holding integrated crusades during the 1950’s and inviting Martin Luther King Jr. to speak there.

In turn he, as is commonly known, was criticized by many African Americans as not being violent enough with the Civil Rights Movement.

Barbara Streisand’s mother told her that she wasn’t pretty or vocally talented enough to become famous.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor, was berated and ultimately killed for his statements and work to fight against Nazism, meanwhile refusing to leave Germany so that he could help as many Jews as possible escape to Switzerland.

Mother Teresa’s humanitarian efforts were criticized as being fraudulent and hypocritical, even after she died.

And what is even more unbelievable, sometimes people think that Duke’s basketball team is better than UNC’s, and then make up false criticism about a blindingly beautiful student body.

The greatest of all these however is of course Christ himself. He spent his life being mocked, ridiculed, and criticized by extremely religious people for telling people that they did not have to be good or perfect to get to heaven. In his last day of life he could have easily defended himself in a second even one time by performing a miracle or making a huge speech that put everyone in their place…but he didn’t. He just let everyone heap insults on him. He was criticized as weak, a liar, a fraud, a coward. And yet these were the people who he was suffering for, dying for, and he never stopped loving them.

Many times I look at situations and just can’t help but compare how much he endured to whatever minor thing I am frustrated or perplexed with.

You don’t have to defend your talents or what you feel like God is leading you to do. When you put any person, no matter how natural of a leader they are, on a pedestal, they are going to disappoint you. You make it a lot easier on yourself when you just do what you believe and let God handle the rest. Every second that you drain your energy arguing with someone or defending yourself to them is a second that you could be helping someone who actually wants it or developing a deeper relationship with someone you already know. This is something I am trying hard to remember during a particularly trying time. And just to end with one of my favorite quotes, “You have nothing to prove and only One to please.”

Preaching to Myself Here: My Relationship with Social Media

So I have been back from my “social media hiatus” for about a week now, and it’s been…interesting.

For those of you who didn’t know, the day after my birthday back in December I decided to give up Facebook for a month to see how it went. I still used Instagram, so I think it still posted some pictures, but I wanted to see what it was like to not have in my life.

You know it’s really funny…I am one of those people that has had a love/hate relationship with technology and social networking. I love keeping in touch with friends who don’t live nearby, seeing pictures, hearing about an exciting announcement….but for whatever reason, and usually I just prepare myself for this around election time (har har), there seemed to be a LOT of opinions going around that were distracting me from the things that matter the most.

Around that time there were some big news stories that came out. Between Duck Dynasty and states passing marriage equality laws and the always fun “Is the true Christmas disappearing?” debate, everyone seemed to have really strong opinions. And there were days that it seemed like people woke up, sat behind their computer or smartphone, and really didn’t care who they hurt or how insensitive they sounded as long as they got their status or comment out to the world. Facebook became their own therapy session. I think a lot of the time we don’t realize how harsh something sounds in writing until we go back and read it. Suddenly, logging in to check my messages became something I was dreading, because I knew I was going to see people just attacking each other back and forth via comment boxes and like buttons.

But that was also the time that I began questioning just why it was getting under my skin so much. I would like to think that I am a nice person where maybe it was just that I didn’t like seeing people condemning each other, but I think there was also a deeper issue going on.

This is where my title comes in: I am preaching to myself here. I think sometimes the things that get me the most fired up, whether it is passionate or frustrated, are the things that I am the most angry or irritated at myself for.

Facebook and the media gave me the opportunity to see point blank, in writing, some of the most hurtful words imaginable. There were some people who I was sort of afraid to talk to afterwards. But I started thinking about all of the random thoughts that pass through my mind throughout the day that can be just as harsh.

I don’t like this ugly side of my heart. I like to pretend it doesn’t exist. I love meeting new people, learning more about them, hugging them (hopefully I don’t scare you away?) and just talking. When I get to have a really good one-on-one or small group conversation, it takes me out of my own head. Those are the moments I value the most in retrospect. I think that is part of the reason I am a social worker: I love focusing on other people and problem solving, trying my best to offer the love of Jesus along the way, and then just getting to learn from them and talk about what I too struggle with.

But in reality, just because I don’t always necessarily blast out my negative thoughts, particularly in writing, doesn’t mean that I don’t have them.

I still sometimes look at people and make snap judgments based on the way they are dressed, their accent, how their hygiene is, and so forth. If someone is screaming at another person in public, I automatically make assumptions about the state their life is in. And so on, and so forth.

(Before I keep going, if one person reading this could just shoot me a message and be like “I struggle with this too!” I’d really appreciate it! Starting to get a little deep now.)

There are thoughts that I have that would be extremely hurtful to both myself and other people if I stated them all the time. I don’t think I really deserve a gold medal for just being able to keep my mouth shut. I get into less hot water that way, but also don’t believe it is realistic to ever say “My goal is that one day I will never think a critical thought about another person ever again.” Not only is that unrealistic, but it isn’t very productive either.

What I was thinking about today though was how God never ever condemns us. That is not from God. Sometimes He convicts us – if we are doing something that is harmful to ourselves or others, He may say “This has to end. There are some things that you need to be made aware of and change.” And sometimes we are convicted with a huge slap in the face, while other times it is a subtle comment that is actually a massive wake-up call. At that point we have to apologize, try to make amends, and change our direction. Sure, depending on the circumstances the consequences might follow us around. If you have spent five years abusing alcohol for example, then are able to make the decision to become sober, receive help, and stay clean for two months, there are still people who might doubt how long it will last. There are still people who will condemn you for your past. Heck, you could live a completely perfect life and there are people who will condemn you.

But God never, ever does. Any condemnation, accusation, or temptation comes from somewhere else.

I think that is part of the reason I love Sundays so much. I feel so, so blessed to be surrounded by people that the world sees as statistics. The teenage moms, the former drug addicts, the people battling cancer, the children of single parent households. The world knows them only by these titles. There are ways that I can identify with many of these people that bring us a joint sense of comfort that God loves us no matter what. But we are so much more than these classifications, stereotypes, demographics.

Now this is stuck in my head:

“You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.”

-Tenth Avenue North

These people inspire me so, so much. Sometimes I can’t get over the fact that some of them are in the same room as me to worship after the way that some churches have treated them in the past. I love them tremendously as brothers and sisters.

But even with that love, when I am not held accountable within my own heart and by my friends, my thoughts and emotions can be ugly.

This is why I decided to take a one month break away from Facebook. I really wanted to step away from some of the accusations flying around over “Well you aren’t a true Christian if you don’t do this” or “You are just a Jesus freak, how can you believe in this, you are crazy” or “How can you vote this way and yet still do this?” and so on. It’s exhausting, and I decided that in order to become stronger and focus more on God, that I needed to break away and pray about the change that He wants to make inside of me instead of in the whole world all at once.

“Where you are today is no accident. God us using the situation you are in right now to shape you and prepare you for the place He wants to bring you into tomorrow. Trust Him with His plan even if you don’t understand it.” – Christine Caine

I still learn every day; I learn how to be more gracious and forgiving, and I learn more about the unconditional love that has been promised to me by grace alone. I will rejoice in the knowledge that there is nothing that can condemn me, and continue to fight against my own tendencies that do not act to glorify the one who chose me before I was born.

But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. – Galatians 1:15-16