Five ways The Lipstick Gospel changed my life.

I have always been a reader.  In fact, in kindergarten, I got a certificate for reading the most “baggie books” in our whole class, sometimes two or three books a night (sorry, Mom—I know you are not a reader, and you still had to complete all of those books with me).

I’ve probably read thousands of books, magazines, or news articles in my lifetime, and I can honestly say that written word is one of my greatest treasures.  There are infinite combinations of twenty-six little letters that gradually build and build until they register in our consciousness and sometimes even our souls.  But, not every text is like the latter; some of them exit our minds as quickly as they entered, leaving no trace of their existence within our psyche.

The Lipstick Gospel is one of those collections of words that will be forever imprinted on my heart as it continually stirs my soul.

“God is champagne toasts, pink shoes, and best friends.”

I’m not sure about you, but that isn’t always the picture of God that I’ve gotten.  Yet, it is the picture of God Stephanie May Wilson paints in The Lipstick Gospel, her raw and real memoir about her journey to faithHer openness about her struggles and her willingness to share her story have made me feel so much more secure in my own, chaotic wandering map to God.  One of the awesome things about Stephanie is that she is just as authentic in person as she is on a page; I was lucky enough to hear her speak at a She Dreams Ministries retreat (shameless plug for one of my favorite local ministries), and it was one of the most pivotal weekends I’ve had as a believer.

Stephanie has two new books, The Lipstick Gospel Devotional and The Lipstick Gospel Prayer Journal that officially launch today, so, in honor of that special occasion, I wanted to share just a few ways that Stephanie May Wilson has changed my life, which I don’t say lightly.

smw devotional.jpg

prayer journal

She taught me that faith is not one-size-fits-all.
Let’s face it, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants has no basis in reality, though sixth grade me would live in a continual state of bliss if it did.  Few if any people fit into a pair of jeans exactly the same way, so why would we ever feel as though our relationship with God should be anything other than completely unique to us?  I spent so much of my life avoiding God, and a huge reason for that was the comparison trap I always found myself in.  Because I did not interact with God the same way as others or because God had given me different talents and passions than others, I often felt like I was “doing life” wrong.
One of my favorite chapters of The Lipstick Gospel retells Stephanie’s story of salvation, which took place inside the Sistine Chapel the morning after she and her college friends went on an Italian pub crawl.  Any time I start to feel like I need to do more to measure up and “earn” God’s love or pursue him differently because my walk is not the same as whomever I’m comparing myself to, I read that chapter and remind myself that God’s pursuit of us does not change when we aren’t all put-together.  There isn’t one way to God.  He gets down on our level, right in the middle of our messes, and he meets us wherever we are… whether that is fighting a vicious hangover in the Sistine Chapel or fighting crippling depression in the midst of your senior year of college (spoiler alert: that’s how I came to know Jesus).

 

She taught me that Christians are allowed to have doubts.
With clinically-diagnosed anxiety, I endure a lot of doubt.  My default mode is picturing the worst case scenario in situations, and I always used to gauge how I was “doing with God” based on my emotions alone.  In case you were wondering, letting your emotions dictate how you evaluate your life is a terrible idea, especially when you have a mental illness.  Anytime my life wasn’t full of color like I wanted it to be, I assumed that God was mad at me, or that he must not even love me.  I would then get angry with him and convince myself that I was the epitome of unholy based on those feelings.

Another great story from The Lipstick Gospel tackles the myth I just described.  Stephanie was on her first mission trip ever, and her thoughts did not shy away from pointing out that her life had only seemed to get more difficult after she began following Jesus.  There is even one point on the trip when she is journaling and writes “God, if you’re real…”
She questioned God after her insane experience in the Sistine Chapel. Her questioning of him did not negate what he had done for her, and her emotions during the height of her frustration didn’t make her any less Christian.  Grace isn’t some theoretical concept meant to give us temporary contentment like a romantic comedy; it is a genuine element of God, one we would do well to remember exists in abundant availability for us.

 

She taught me how to speak truth over myself.

Like most young women, I am by far my worst critic, which is probably why I empathize with The Lipstick Gospel so much (in the beginning, Stephanie can’t seem to find contentment among negative self-talk).  I find countless flaws with my  appearance, I second-guess every other sentence that comes out of my mouth, and I never feel like I quite measure up to the impossible standards society imposes on women.  Though I battle those insecurities every day, I haven’t had to as much since the She Dreams retreat I mentioned earlier.

At the retreat, Stephanie led our group through a friendship small-group guide she had recently published.  One activity in the book involved everyone in the group stating their biggest physical and emotional insecurities out loud, in front of everyone.  Mine were my weight gain brought on by depression and the feeling I often have about living life on the outside, never quite knowing what my niche is or where I fit. While we were sharing these anxieties, everyone simply  listened without refuting them or saying anything.  Then, we all took turns listening to the rest of the group affirm who we truly are outside of those worries and regrets.  Here are the truths that people spoke over me:

“You are adventurous and a role model.  Your story is inspiring, and you should be confident in the journey that you’re on.”

“I just met you, and I feel like you are my little sister.  I love your creativity and your uniqueness. Don’t change!”

“You don’t need to other yourself.  You are special, and you are going to be a mentor and a world changer.”

“You are bold, you go out of your way to find community, and you have something to say.”

“You want more of Jesus and his plan for you.  He has something big on the horizon for you.”

“You are vivacious and exciting, and you are intentional about what you want.”

“Your story is going to give you opportunities to reach people that others cannot reach.”

Re-reading those statements always brings tears to my eyes, including right now, and I’m not    sure I ever could think of myself that way before Stephanie led us through that activity.  Audrey Hepburn once said, “Anyone who gave you confidence… you owe them a lot.”  Stephanie is one of those people I will always be indebted to in that regard.

She reminds me to celebrate life.

My church recently did a series about spiritual connection pathways based on a booked called   Sacred Pathways by Gary Thomas.  This study was all about exploring ways we personally connect to God.  One of my top two results was “enthusiast,” meaning I see God the most in moments of celebration.  At first, that kind of surprised me since other roles like “caregiver” and “activist” don the list.  Yet, with a little investigation, this result shouldn’t surprise anyone.  As I look back on some of the most subliminal, time-stood-still moments of my life, I realize that they took place on dance floors and around the table during good meals… they happened on plane rides to places I’d always dreamed about and in passages of books so well-written that I just wanted to sit in them and rest for a while.

Stephanie is one of the biggest enthusiasts and celebrators I have ever met, so much so that she encourages her readers to pop open a bottle of champagne on a Tuesday just because. Revisiting The Lipstick Gospel or reading her blog are always great reminders to celebrate the messy, wonderful gift that is life even on the most difficult or mundane days (if I’m being honest, I hate Tuesdays exceptionally more than I hate Mondays, and even an enthusiast like me finds the mundane hard to enjoy at times).

She taught me that God is a God of incredible surprises.

I have been excited about The Lipstick Gospel Devotional and The Lipstick Gospel Prayer Journal ever since I heard about them and joined the launch team for their debut. I know that God will use them to move mountains in the lives of the women who read them, and I am ecstatic to begin them myself.  I don’t know what God has planned for me or the other women who will purchase the books, but I have a feeling it is even better than anything we could imagine.  That vision reminds me of the bible verse that is emblematic of The Lipstick Gospel, a verse I want to define my life:

“Look at the nations and watch– and be utterly amazed.  For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”  — Habakkuk 1:5

If you are interest in purchasing The Lipstick Gospel Devotional, The Lipstick Gospel Prayer Journal, or Stephanie’s memoir, The Lipstick Gospel, you can do so at smaywilsonshop.com.  I would recommend doing so, because they will take you on an incredible journey whether you identify as a Christian or not, and Stephanie will be your biggest cheerleader, always in your corner rooting for you.

Advertisements

Freedom

The last time I blogged was June 24, 2016.  I haven’t written on Wandering Purposefully for an entire year.  Had someone told me a couple of years ago that that would be the case, I would have laughed at the person; written word has always been a huge, irrevocable part of my identity.

To be completely honest, I’m not sure why I didn’t write for a year, but I have a few ideas.  The past months have been a time of transition in many ways.  2016 and 2017 have been hard years, both societally and personally. There were times in which I truly had nothing to say. I think the large, macrocosm difficulties require little to no explanation (we’ve all seen the news).  As for my little world, most of the hardships revolve around what a lot of my struggles do: unrealistic explanations I put on myself.

My default mode is productivity.  I often take on way more than any one person should, and I rarely allow myself down time.  When I’m at home, I tend to find something to clean or start a random project instead of watching a movie, browsing Pinterest, or reading a book outside of whatever I am teaching at school.  I never really feel like my work is done.  I subconsciously demand perfection of myself, which will always be an unfulfilling mindset.

This past year, I have also stopped doing quiet time with God as much as I used to.  It seems as though He is precisely the part of my day that gets put on the backburner, even though He deserves my full attention and has the power to help me fight through my battles, large or small.  I am on the launch team for a new devotional and a new prayer journal that one of my favorite Christian writers recently published, and one of the sneak-peak devotionals touched my heart and shook me.  It compared reading the Bible to eating chocolate—rich and satisfying.  I could not help but reminisce and feel nostalgic for the times that I would lose myself in all of the “chocolate” of God’s word.  Until I read this devotional, I hadn’t realized just how much I missed spending time with Him.

This morning, I decided to do something about it.  I had to be up early anyway, so I set my alarm for a few minutes earlier than necessary.  Instead of lying restlessly in bed until the last possible minute, I got up, brewed myself a latte, and sat down with an amazing devotional I have been neglecting.  After I completed today’s session, I read through my notes from previous entries, and I could not help but notice I trend… the word “exhausted” popped up on almost every page.

I haven’t heard of many people setting mid-year resolutions, but they almost make more sense for teachers—our summers are the time of the year when we get to reflect and reset.  So, I decided to set a mid-year resolution.  It’s simple and seemingly impossible at the same time… trust God more.

Trust Him that my best is good enough and whatever doesn’t get checked off my “to do” list will get done in due time.

Trust Him to help me prioritize my time effectively, including making time for self-care and the things I am passionate about (like writing).

Trust Him to help me find adventure and whimsy in my life.  A rich, fruitful life that I savor like my coffee in the morning is what my heart desires most.  On our recent vacation in Iceland, it’s like my soul remembered what whimsy felt like.  Even though each day will not bring trips across the ocean, it can bring small tidbits of adventure if we are willing to pause long enough to look for them.  I’m asking God to help me pause.

Trust Him to help me remember that relationships are far more important than productivity.  Doing so will help me be more present.  I don’t only want whimsy, but I want to be able to share it with the people I love the most.

Today is the 4th of July, so “freedom” is the word that comes to mind.  “Grateful” cannot possibly describe how I feel about living in a free country.  As I’ve gotten older and mature enough to acknowledge some of the tragedies that happen in the world every day, I grow more and more thankful for the sacrifices that have been made to ensure our freedom in the U.S.  This country is far from perfect, but despite all of the facets of it I would like to change and improve, I know that we are more fortunate that several other parts of the world.

However, the freedom I am declaring the most this morning cannot come from a government, nor can it come from any earthly thing. Everlasting freedom comes through Christ and knowing that nothing we can or will do will make Him love us more or less.  There is nowhere we can go that He will not protect us, and we cannot screw up so much that He cannot redeem our mistakes.  That’s powerful, and there is more freedom in those truths than in anything else.

Happy 4th of July.  My prayer is that you bask in perfect freedom today and every day and give yourself grace when you get a little too caught up in the hullabaloo that is life.

Amateurs at grace and love.

Just when I think that I have the whole “Christian” thing down (I try), something happens that smacks me in the face with my own humanity. Lately, I have been working on responding with grace and love.  It sounds simple, but it is significantly more difficult than it seems, especially when I wish my biggest problem was when one of my students acted disrespectfully to me and I had to take a deep breath to avoid lashing out at them.

Alas, there are far bigger tragedies in the world.  And, I just so happened to encounter one of them on Wednesday.

If you live in east Tennessee or western North Carolina, you have probably heard about the Tennessee Congressional candidate’s “Make America White Again” billboard campaign.  If you haven’t heard about it, Google it. If you don’t have time to Google it right this second, here’s the nitty gritty: a TN congressional candidate has been campaigning under the slogan “Make America White Again,” and browsing his campaign media will show you that he intends to do just that. It’s repulsive. No one can make this stuff up.

When I first saw the “Make America White Again” billboard and other similar propaganda (including one image of the White House donned in Confederate flags with the words “I have a dream” above it *vomit*), I was shocked more than anything.  Then, I started doing further research and found out a few other tidbits of information, some uplifting and others infuriating.  The uplifting piece is how quickly the community rallied to have the billboard taken down within a matter of a few hours and make clear that their values did not align with the bigotry displayed for the world to see.  I do not personally know any of them, but I wish I did.  I would shake their hands and tell them that I appreciate them.  Civil rights activists come in many forms, ya’ll.

But, there’s still the infuriating part… the part that taught me just how much I still have to learn from Jesus.

As I skimmed over the candidate’s Facebook and campaign website, my eyes locked on one word that I just could not ignore.  In this man’s personal biography, “pastor” was listed as one of his occupations.

Pastor.  One word, and I went ballistic.

It would be exceptionally difficult to ignore the fact that such a person was campaigning for a seat in Congress, but ignoring the fact that this man purported to be a servant of God was completely unacceptable.  I felt my blood boil, and I immediately started planning what I would do, because I simply could not disregard such a vile manipulation of the gospel and such an inaccurate picture of the Jesus I’ve spent the last two years coming to know and love.  I tossed around ideas of writing an angry letter to the candidate, and the things I planned to call him could reduce anyone to two inches tall.  I even thought about writing an “Open Letter” to him on my blog, blasting him to anyone I could reach with my small platform.  I planned to sit down at my computer and “just bleed” as Ernest Hemingway once put it, even if I didn’t quite know the medium with which to share my words.

My plans were not God’s.

As I lay in bed plotting and simultaneously scrolling through Facebook, I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks.  My pastor’s wife had shared a post from Bob Goff, one of my favorite Christian authors who has taught me so much about love.

grace and love.png

As if that one post wasn’t enough to convict me, I started browsing Bob Goff’s page and found another.

ask about my heart

And then, I remembered that one of my sweet friends has been sharing a daily prayer all week for those affected by the Orlando tragedy.  One of her most powerful ones was about praying for our enemies.  Here’s a snippet of it.

orlando prayer take 2.png

After reading and rereading all of those words over and over again, I was forced to admit that my heart was not in the right place about this political situation.  Let me be clear in saying that there is no justification for the hate this man is spewing, not politically, and especially not biblically.  However, my reaction wasn’t particularly Christ-like either.

Instead of bowing my head and praying for this man’s heart change, I daydreamed about berating him, possibly in a public forum.

Instead of opening God’s word and praying for guidance about what to do in this situation, I almost took matters into my own hands.

I could have easily caused more damage than good in the situation, because here’s what would have happened.  I would have chosen to either write an angry letter, or post an angry open letter on Wandering Purposefully.  Had I chosen the former route, I probably would have received an equally negative response, and I would have done nothing to lead this individual toward Christ (because, if I’m being honest, his actions make me question his faith even if he identifies as a pastor).  Had I chosen the latter, I would have done nothing more than stir up anger in people who probably agree with my sentiments already (I like to think that people in my social circles would not accept this racism and bigotry either).

You know what?  Both options involved me putting my politics ahead of my faith, and neither option would do anything to advance the kingdom of Christ. What would serve Christ’s kingdom is me praying for this man and asking for God to break my heart over these kinds of situations rather than allow resentment to fester in my soul like a contagious infection.

I don’t pretend that praying for our enemies is easy.  As humans, we are so motivated by emotion that it is hard to overcome any scenario in which we or people we love are needlessly hurt.

It’s also hard because we have to accept two difficult realities: 1) that we are no more deserving of grace than the “easy hates” of this world and 2) that we are as far away from being on Jesus’s level as those aforementioned easy hates.

So many times Wednesday afternoon, I found myself pondering the concept of grace and asking, “Even him?”

“Are you kidding, God?  What do you mean that he gets grace?  Can’t we give his share away to someone who actually deserves it?”

Except, that’s laughable.  None of us deserve grace, but on the upside, there is plenty of it to go around.  In the New Testament, some of the Pharisees, the group responsible for crucifying Jesus, converted and became His followers.  My goodness, just look at Paul!  I’m sure that every believer in that time questioned God’s decision to set Paul apart to do His work, but luckily, God’s ways prevailed.  One of the things I’m learning in my walk with God is that I cannot pick and choose.  Sure, God commands me to give grace to the world’s vulnerable populations, and I’ve gotten pretty good at that.  But, God never allows me to neglect the rich and powerful or even those who seem vile and disgusting by our earthly standards of morality. I have to love and pray for them too.

So, here’s my prayer, and I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t easy to say these words (or type them if there are any literalists out there):

God, Your ways are not my ways and Your thoughts are not my thoughts, and honestly, I’m  grateful for that.  I’m good at giving love to people I deem worthy, however, I am most definitely    an amateur at grace and love for certain others.  I’m thankful that You’re the one in charge,   because I could never give out grace and love as freely as You do.  You give it out, not just to the persecuted, but also the persecutors, and I have no idea how you do that.  Help me to accept the task you have laid before me to love everyone, not just those I find easy to love.  When I encounter situations like the unfortunate political campaign that almost made me lash out, help me choose love even if lashing out seems like the path of least resistance.  Please break my heart for what breaks Yours, and please break the heart of this political candidate by showing him Your truth.  Amen.

I’m certainly an amateur at grace and love, but luckily God isn’t.  And luckily, some people like Bob Goff and Andy Stanley (please watch his “Avoiding Election Infection” sermon!) and so many personal church mentors I’m blessed with seem to get this much more right than I do.  Here’s to being more intentional and learning from their example.

 

Still I go.

Any friend, loved one, or acquaintance of mine can tell you that I love traveling.  In fact, I’m all about it.  Meet me and it will come up within five minutes of our conversation.  When people hear my stories from traveling the world, they usually react in one of two ways.  They either tell me I am crazy in slightly nicer words, or they comment that I am brave.

still I go 3

Here’s the truth: I’m not brave.

Yes, I have studied abroad, jetted off to a foreign country without speaking the language, slept on the couches of strangers across the United States, and shared the Gospel in a malaria-ridden country full of the potential for infection.  On the surface, all of that seems really brave.  Yet, I can’t help but tremble when I picture what happened in Brussels this week, or in Paris and Beirut last year, at the hands of ISIS. I can’t help wondering if something like that could happen to me.  I picture myself being in an unfamiliar place, already feeling vulnerable, and confronting what I believe is surely the face of evil manifest in human form.  The thought makes my stomach churn and my eyes water.  It strips me of every ounce of bravery in my body.

But, I love traveling, and I don’t want to stop.

I won’t lie and hide the fact that, when I saw the news about the Brussels attack, my second thought (after sheer remorse for the families who lost loved ones) was hesitation about whether Colby and I should go up North this summer on our road trip.  After all, we will be going to New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, three huge cities where anything can happen.  They have huge populations, and their recognizable names make them easy targets.  I’ve been silently struggling over the matter for a few days.  I feel like there is a little cartoon angel on each of my shoulders, pulling me in two directions like they often do the protagonist in a Disney movie.

“Stay home.  It’s dangerous.  Think about what could happen. Where will the next bomb blow up?”

That argument compels me a bit.  My little corner of the world is sleepy and quiet for the most part, and I have rarely felt unsafe in Smoky Mountains.  I could cancel the trip and occupy my time with plenty of home projects, summer workouts for volleyball and cheerleading, or a slew of other tasks.

That voice is not the only one I hear.

The other says, “But, think of traveling.  Your eyes sparkle when you see a city skyline.  New adventures make your heart race.  This is what life is about.  Go.”

still I go 1

I’ve decided to listen to the latter; I will keep traveling no matter how dark and broken this world becomes.  The logical part of my brain tries to justify this choice by reminding me that my chances of dying in a car wreck are astronomically higher than what could happen on a trip, but logic really does nothing to calm the anxious or the depressed.  I have found true peace about my decision to keep traveling via changes of the heart.

I have not yet been everywhere, but it is still on my list.  Here are a few reasons why:

  1. I’m stubborn. As ridiculous as it sounds, I refuse to let a group of terrorists make me live in fear. Traveling sets my soul on fire and it teaches me so much about who God is.  They will not take something from me about which I am passionate.  I refuse to give it up, and my tenacity is almost as characteristic of me as my love for travel itself.

Evil people want us to live in fear.  If they strip us of the things we love the most, they’ve stolen the very threads of our identities.  And, if they do that, they win.  To honor the legacy of all of the people killed my terrorists world-wide, I will NOT let them win.  I will focus on God and into my excitement about seeing Aladdin on Broadway and watching a Red Sox game from the left-field grandstand of Fenway Park.  I will do these things in spite of them.

  1. Just like I refuse to stop traveling, I refuse to let groups like ISIS define Muslims for me. A current trend in mainstream media, the political landscape of the United States, and even among religious figures, scares me, and it is that ISIS somehow represents common sentiments of the religion of Islam.  This could not be further from the truth.  In case you are confused, consider skimming over this insightful article about how ISIS actually VIOLATES major tenants of Islam, the second biggest religious system in the world just behind Christianity.

I have read that article several times, but I do not need it to show me that terrorists are on a completely different wavelength than most Muslims.  You see, I have a dear friend who is Muslim, and I met her through traveling.  I couchsurfed in her home and met her husband and son.  Please let me tell you a bit about her so you get a glimpse of the incredible woman she is.

Havah is from *drum roll, please* Topsail, North Carolina (Muslims from Arab countries make up less than a quarter of the world’s total Muslim population).  She is an avid reader, enjoys lots of types of music, and appreciates the “handymen” of the South.  She has an adorable little boy and a kind husband, and she runs her own business while finishing a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics.  She opened her home to Colby and me without question.

Oh! It is important to note that Colby and I stayed with Havah and her family during Ramadan.  If you are unfamiliar with the holiday, know that it is as significant to Muslims as Easter is for Christians.  Fasting constitutes a large part of Ramadan, and Muslims can neither eat nor drink anything (even water) for seventeen hours.  Havah endured this task this summer all while running her business and combating the blistering Albuquerque heat.

Guess what?!  When we arrived at her home, she OFFERED TO COOK SOMETHING FOR US.  Hours before she could eat herself, she wanted to make sure we were comfortable in her home even if it made her excruciatingly uncomfortable in the process.  WHO DOES THAT?!  I suppose you can take a girl out of the South, but you cannot take the southern hospitality out of the girl.  I was and still am completely overwhelmed by this gesture.

Havah and I have kept in touch since last summer, and her friendship has greatly enriched my life.  I would wager that most Muslims are as kind, compassionate, and empathetic as Havah, and I never would have met her if I surrendered to the image of Muslims propelled by U.S. media.  This is why I need traveling… to overcome these ridiculous presumptions and get an accurate picture of the beautiful world we live in.

  1. I want to radiate joy.

One of my favorite things that I have learned about Christianity in the course of my short two years as a Christian is that God truly delights in our joy.  We were never meant to live sterile, decaffeinated lives, stuck on the hamster wheel that is our routine.  We were created for more than paying bills and dying and vegetating in one little corner of the world.  We were made for the moments that make the world stop for a minute and take our breath away.  I’m willing to chase those moments and overcome some fears in order to experience them.

I want to live a life of these moments, a life that points to Who God is.  I want to love people so much that I cannot possibly contain all of my joy… I have to open up the floodgates and share it with everyone.  I have known a few people like this in my lifetime, and none of them ever played it safe.  Some of them have already left this Earth, but their legacies here are eternal, and I remember them by the things that brought them genuine happiness.

That’s what traveling gives to me… true bliss and contentment with the woman I’ve fought to become, the woman God created me to be.  It also gives me a platform to share the Gospel, not in a condescending matter, but rather like the “city on a hill” God mentions in the book of Matthew.  Speaking of the Gospel, one thing I believe many Christians get wrong about our religion is the meaning of the pivotal phrase, “set apart.”  We may interpret this phrase literally and confine ourselves to our own comfy little bubbles, setting ourselves apart from the very culture we are called to engage with.  We are so missing the point!  When God encourages Christians to be “set apart” by our identity in Him, He does not mean being literally separated from the world physically or emotionally.  He intends for there to be an essence to our being that sets us apart… something about us that obviously comes from a divine place.  Whatever “it” is that sets us apart (I imagine some combination of a beaming glow and a raw sense of grit brought on by a series of struggles and triumphs), it was and is meant to be shared with the world rather than sequestered within our own souls.  And, sharing this part of us with the world involves taking risk and pursuing our callings with reckless abandon.  We are never promised safety.

still I go 5

I still get scared traveling.  A downfall of humanity is how much we cling to routine and comfort, and I fall victim to the myth of security, daily.  The human in me breathes a bit harder every time I board I plane, buckle up in my car, or meet a new person with a completely different background. Each time, I ask myself, “Will everything be okay?” and “Is it all worth it?” Daily, I confront the choice in becoming who I know I’m supposed to be versus leaning into the security and safety the world offers.

It eventually all boils down to this: my identity is ultimately in Christ. On Easter weekend, I am reminded of how much freedom He gives us.  Because of that crucial part of my being, I get a spoiler for the ending of my story. It’s almost like middle school when I used to flip to the last page of the book to make sure everything turned out okay. I don’t want to spoil the story too much for the rest of you, but I will tell you this: it works out for my good and His glory.

It is not up to me to decide when I receive this happy ending.  Obviously, the later in life the better if we’re talking about my preference.   I would enjoy buying a home, adopting children from around the world, and continuing my career that I love, but I hope I would be content with a more abrupt ending should that be part of the plan for me.  At the risk of sounding morbid, should something ever happen to be while traveling, I hope the people who know me convey, “She was just doing something that she loved,” and smile rather than wallow in grief and start living with caution.

The world seems bleak at times, but still I go.

Still chasing waterfalls.

Still boarding planes.

Still cherishing other cultures.

Still choosing to see the good in people.

Still I go 4

It’s how I’m meant to live.

After gaining this overwhelming sensation of peace about our trip this summer and all of the future ones to come, I realized something incredible.

It wasn’t a little cartoon angel on my shoulder who convinced me to continue the crazy journey that is my life.

It was God.

 

 

 

A Lent Update and an Additional Fast

“A lot of us are just a few steps away from a breakthrough.  Maybe all of us are just thirty seconds away from being different people today.” —Hannah Brencher, If You Find this Letter

This blog will likely take more than 30 seconds to write. In fact, I’m sure of it. I’ve written variations of it in my head, adding and cutting things over the Chinese food I ate for lunch.  I know that I will edit it obsessively before I share it, because I feel like this one, in particular, has to be just right. So, it will probably take hours when all is said and done, but like Hannah Brencher’s quote, I want this to be a fairly minuscule period of time in the grand scheme of things that actually changes my life.

Many of you are probably thinking, “What is the big deal? Why is she taking so much time to confess to us that she has snuck a piece of chocolate here and there on Lent?”

The truth is, telling you about how Lent is going right now isn’t the hard part. I have abstained from fast food since it started. My tendency to compare myself with others is always a struggle, but it is going fairly well too. I have messed up with chocolate once or twice, but it is going much better than last year when I tried to forgo sweets all together and gave up midway.  I’m happy with the improvement.

The hard part is telling you about the additional fast I am taking on and exactly why I am doing it.  At the risk of outing myself for all to see, here it is… I plan to stop engaging in discussions about politics online, with the exception of sharing deprecating Donald Trump memes (because they are hilarious).  This is a fast I will continue well beyond March 24, 2016, the day that this year’s Lent is over.  But, before I get to the nitty gritty about how or why I came to this decision, let me digress for a minute.

As frustrating as politics are, I am fascinated by them.  They are complex and intellectually stimulating, especially when we consider political realms on a broader spectrum, outside of the United States.  I love talking about them with like minds or others, but only if it can be civil. Last semester, I had a Civics class that was all I could have ever asked for. One day, one of my students said something that will forever be engrained in my mind. I don’t even remember what we were discussing, but it was something the class was fairly split on (I had students all over the political ideology spectrum). Before he gave his opinion, he said, “I have something I’d like to say, but I’m not sure if I should say it. I like you people, and I would never want to offend you.”

I swear, my kids teach me more than I ever teach them. What kind of world would we live in if this sort of political dialog and empathy was the exception rather than the rule? We might actually have a functioning congress!

The reason I sometimes share politically-pointed posts (say that three times fast) on Facebook is that I believe thoughtful consideration of every side of an issue is so incredibly important. In addition to being a political minority for the area, I usually dissect parts of issues a lot of people don’t consider; my brain is wired that way. The teacher in me is always looking to make moments an educational experience, even talking about politics on Facebook.  I’ve never wanted to argue or offend; I’ve wanted merely to educate.

Another reason I share things (or “used to share them,” I should say) is that there are some political causes that I’m genuinely invested in. I care about humanity, and I want people to be able to have access to all they need to live healthy, full lives (whatever that looks like for them). I typically get behind issues and candidates that promote that ability for everyday people.

One of the biggest reasons I’ve decided to stop talking about politics on Facebook is that it feels terrible when people invalidate something you care about, especially for people like me who wear their hearts on their sleeves even if they don’t want to admit it. Our ideas and beliefs are such a huge part of our identity. After all, God gave us the ability to reason and believe, and it is what sets us apart from other species. So yeah, it hurts when people rip out such a crucial part of us and stomp on it. It hurts even worse when people do that on a screen for the world to see.

This has happened to me before, and here was my reaction: I got angry at first. I thought things like, “I see your crap and keep scrolling; why can’t you do the same?” But, beneath the knee-jerk reaction of anger that comes naturally to a spit-fire with a temper, there was indescribable hurt that people could really feel that way about me and post it for the world to see.  I would rather someone call me fat, tell me they hate my clothes, or do just about anything else than tell me my ideas don’t matter.  I don’t want to feel that way again, and the last thing I ever want to do is make others feel that way about themselves. I know there is always a risk of people disagreeing with controversial opinions, but disagreement isn’t what hurts. When people disregard all of the good things about you to nitpick one are they believe is flawed (an area that you might be perfectly comfortable with) and they do so publicly, that’s what hurts. It is a hurt I don’t want any part of.

But, that’s not the only reason I am “fasting” from election talk online. There are a few others.

A huge problem with America’s political landscape is “activism” on social media. A status, tweet, or Instagram post will never replace a warm body. Facebook did not exist when Bernie Sanders marched on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. or got arrested for his civil protests. But, I have an inkling that he would not have stopped in the middle of doing something so important to take a selfie and share it with the webosphere. Regardless of how people feel about Senator Sanders, I think we can agree on one thing about him: we need more of that… action.  I want to make a commitment to be more presently involved with grassroots movements, write letters to my representatives more than I do now, and volunteer for causes about which I care deeply.  Since I won’t have to walk on eggshells online, wondering what I can say without going too far, maybe I’ll have more time on my hands to do so!

Speaking of time, I want to start being a lot more intentional about how I spend my time and energy, because I don’t have enough of either. I want to work out every day, plan engaging lessons for my students, and work on the memoir about which I eventually want to send queries to literary agents (excuse me while I vomit from nerves; sorry for the visual).  I want to watch Netflix with my husband, and cuddle with my furbabies, and daydream about my next adventure, hopefully with playlists that make me nostalgic for the adventures I’ve already had.  I want to do something with my time that makes a lasting impact, even if I’m tired.  And, I am tired. Most days, I am exhausted.  I’ve decided that I’m too exhausted to read or talk about politics on Facebook any longer.

The final reason is the kicker.  It is more important to me than any of the other reasons, even than avoiding the hurt that comes when people make us question the parts of our identities we’ve already wrestled with the most.  It has to do with Jesus.

Conviction slapped me in the face this morning at Church (not in a legalistic way, because that’s not what Village is about).  Our message was discussing the launch of Village’s first formal members, which is something I’ve been excited about since Colby and I realized Village is our place.  As Andrew, our pastor, was outlining Village’s mission and “DNA” he calls it, he brought up a scripture about the early church that really spoke to me. It’s Acts 15:19.

 

Acts 15 19

Quick translation and history lesson: members of the early church, including James, Jesus’s little brother, came to the conclusion that they should never stand in the way of someone getting to know Jesus.  Period. They laid aside a lot of religious tradition and dogma in the name of reaching people, and how different would the church be if they hadn’t?!

I don’t want to ever be that blockade between someone and Jesus.  I might care deeply about education, income inequality, and mountains of other political issues, but I won’t flash them all over my Facebook wall at the risk of nullifying my credibility to talk about Jesus.  I want my life to be like the Hawk Nelson lyrics: “Let my words be life.  Let my words be truth.  I don’t wanna say a word unless it points the world back to You.”

So, from here out, I am fasting from almost all election talk online.  I will only share Donald Trump memes (I was so serious when I said that) and political posts that have a direct, immediate, and significant impact on my community (for example, Western Carolina University and the Koch Brothers debacle, and how much it is hurting one of my favorite professors).  I’m finished with everything else.  I obviously will still have opinions that I’d love to share.  I’d also love to hear your opinions too, so we can learn from each other.  But, I’d rather talk privately, preferably over good coffee or Mexican food.  Until March 24th, however, we cannot talk about politics over chocolate.

For listening:

An Open Love Letter to my Grandmother

Dear Granny,

The world already seems discombobulated without you in it, and selfishly, I miss you.  I miss sitting in the floor by your monitor heater, simultaneously laying my head in your lap.  I miss asking you about your day even though your response was always some variation of, “Ya know, I’ve just been dawdling around here.”  I miss you asking me to go sit on the porch with you even if you did not feel well, because you somehow knew I was secretly hoping you’d ask.  There is a void in my heart that will never be full without these things.

But, I would not bring you back to this world; you have already served it well.

You were always scared of nursing homes, and you were intentionally independent.  I know that it is no coincidence that you went home to be with Jesus merely hours before you were scheduled to be transferred from a regular hospital room to the resident nursing home.  You did not even know that’s where you were going.

But God did.

As painful as it is to feel this way (and even more so to write it, because writing something always makes it official), I love God for His mercy.  You devoted your life to taking care of other people, and you never wanted anyone else to take care of you.  You would not even let us buy you Dunkin Donuts without offering to pay us (plus extra “for our trouble’).  You only relented when we distracted you and mentioned that the glorious variety box had a delectable Boston Cream doughnut inside with your name on it.

You continually held joy and contentment, and a nursing home would have stolen that— your very identity— from you.  I’m certain Jesus hasn’t taken any part of you other than your fragile little body, and even though you have only been with Him for a short time, I’m sure that your joy has been made whole.  You are complete.

I have spent the last two days pondering my memories with you.  I am so grateful for who you were and what you taught me.  I could never say, “thank you” enough, but here’s my futile attempt at trying.

Thank you for teaching me to love simple things.  I often fall victim to thinking I have to “do something” or “be something” worth being.  You were content in loving your family and working hard, and your legacy reminds me that life is not about achieving.  Love is what matters most.

Speaking of family, thank you for showing me that investing in people and extending genuine hospitality is important.

You were not materialistic, but you taught me to take care of my possessions and appreciate heirlooms.  Among my favorite things you’ve ever given me are my cake platter, punch bowl, and pearl bracelet, and I will cherish them forever.  (Just not as much as I will cherish you.)

Thank you for always being interested in knowing people, really knowing them… not on a superficial, surface level.  You were so observant, and you loved to learn about what made people tick.  You found unique ways to make people feel special.  My very favorite memory of you involved an elaborate treasure hunt around your new home when I was probably four or five years old.  I do not even remember what my “prizes” were (probably little yard sale trinkets).  My biggest spoils of victory were the laughter and bliss that can only be come from a little girl spending a springtime afternoon with her grandmother.

Even though I was a rowdy teenager who turned into an occasionally temperamental adult, you never made me ruminate on my flaws.  You never tried to change anything about me, and you only spoke about the good parts of me, even if they are few.  You gave me confidence.

Thank you for sharing moments like my college graduation and my wedding with me.  I’ll remember them even more fondly knowing you were there.

Thank you for being a quiet leader.  You were the matriarch of our family, and you created a line of self-sufficient women.  Yet, you never felt it necessary to boast in your accomplishments.  You were okay with being in a room full of people without being the center of attention.  You did not have to be right or even be heard to feel validated or loved.  This is one part of you that I try to emulate most, but it will take me awhile.

The other part of you that I try my hardest to replicate is your kindness.  You were not only kind to the people you loved, but you showed grace and compassion to people you barely knew and even some people who had wronged you in the past.  You taught me that it benefits no one to hold grudges, because grudges become bitterness.

Thank you for showing me that education never stops, and that self-education is important.  You got your GED as an adult, but you loved books like Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind as a child.  In truth, you remembered more about their plots than I do, and I have two degrees in English.

Most of all, thank you for showing me what a genuine relationship with God looks like.  You showed me what it was like to walk in the spirit.  You taught me that God’s presence is not defined by our emotions or human eloquence; a simple “Thank You Lord for this food” or “Please protect my family today” is always enough, and our hearts are what God searches.

I love you, and if I ever have/adopt a daughter, I’d like to call her Adelaide.  I know that a part of you would hate the idea of a namesake because you are the most humble person I’ve ever known.  The other part of you would smile meekly with tears in your eyes, not knowing quite what to say.

I wish there was some way I could phone you in Heaven.  I know exactly what you’d say as you were about to hang up.

“Have a good day.  I wish it for you.”

I wish it for you too, Granny, but I know I don’t have to.  I doubt you could be any happier than you are at this moment.

granny 1.jpg

 

 

Why Falling in Love is the Most Important Thing We’ll Ever Do.

Over Thanksgiving, I had the incredible opportunity to serve on my church’s first international missions team in Maniche, a small Haitian village in the mountains.

I am going to be brutally honest. For a few weeks leading up to the trip, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I prayed desperately for God just to “help me make it to Haiti,” because the last time I could remember being so tired was right before my first bout with depression. I was genuinely concerned that my health might start to deteriorate if I kept going at the same pace.

As always, God delivered exactly what I needed.

I have never been on a mission trip, but others have constantly told me that you will walk away feeling more loved and served than the level of love and service you provided the people around you.

These stories were accurate.

The citizens of Maniche have almost nothing, but they gave all they had to make us feel welcome and home. They do not live a glamorous life full of iPhones, electricity, or even clean drinking water, but what they lack in resources, they make up for in community. I have never been a part of something so tight-knit, and I come from a small town where I have played on sports teams, worked with small staffs of people, and experienced bonds I never thought could be outshone by any love in the world.

If love were a volleyball match, the Haitians would have beaten me 25-0 every single day.

Although everything they did was dripping with the love of God, here are just a few ways the community of Maniche loved our team more than I personally am capable of loving:

Our cook, Bezta, thought we were getting tired of Haitian food, so she cooked us spaghetti (granted, it was for breakfast, but it was an incredible gesture nonetheless).

100_1050

We visited schools that had virtually no supplies for students and teachers, but the students sang is welcome songs and delighted in our visit. One little girl, Jordalee, absolutely stole my heart, and teaching her a secret handshake became the highlight of my trip.

100_0936

100_0866

An elderly gentleman who has been working on the village’s irrigation system all morning climbed a 50-foot coconut tree just so “the Americans” could try fresh coconut. We also got our own individual coconuts, none of which we could finish despite our efforts to eat them all.

100_0697

100_0702.JPG

The family who owned our guesthouse (which was a profitable business endeavor, but not enough for a luxurious lifestyle by any means) ran a generator for us in the evenings and nights so we could have a fan in the Caribbean heat. We were the only ones the Maniche with semi-consistent power, and I cannot imagine the expense it ensued.

No matter what activites we participated in, our new friends always thanked us. Even if we mainly stood aside and observed them digging an irrigation canal, making homemade jelly, or teaching school children despite a poverty epidemic, they showed gratitude for our presence alone.

That’s love.

Before I left for Haiti, I was caught back up in the vicious, self-inflicted cycle of “not good enough.”

My house couldn’t be clean enough.

I did not cook enough.

I never got through nearly enough material at school.

I wasn’t devoting enough time to my loved ones because I was always working on something for school or our home.

I didn’t do, have, or perform well enough for my impossible standards.

I’m not sure when the American epidemic of work-a-holicsm began, but it is almost impossible to avoid. I believe our tendency to overwork ourselves comes from some romanticized ideal that we are special and that we all have some Earth-shattering calling that will change the world so long as we find it.

I’m bursting everyone’s bubble, including my own: none of us are special, and very few of us will end up in history textbooks one day.

And you know what? That’s okay.

I asked my World History students this question the other day: “What makes Alexander the Great great?” Many of them responded with summaries of his military accomplishments, but one student’s response was completely the opposite.

“If this is a mater of my opinion, he is not great. Just because a person has power and can lead an army to victory does not make him great.”

I could not agree more. The only thing that makes any of us, rich or poor, powerful or anonymous, great is the love of Jesus that He declared over us. If Jesus thought love was important, then may we never neglect showing it in exchange for marking things off of our growing “to-do lists.”

In Haiti, I learned that “God reigns over nations” (Psalm 47:8), and He does so in many ways. He created a breathtaking world in six days. He continually heals the sick and meets the broken in the middle of our messes. He proves His power over and over again.

100_0647.JPG

He also created a species capable of belief, perseverance, and love, and that is why we are the best display of His glory. But, with that esteem comes great responsibility.

100_0677.JPG

My life may seem luxurious and over-the-top compared to many in Maniche, and it should given that Americans are global 1%ers. But, my “callings” in life that become obsessions for me are not worth any more in the eyes of God than the calling of Haitian people: care for their families, grow enough food to survive, and serve the communities around them. Neither I nor them accomplish anything if what we do is not done in love.

Luckily, we have the chance to fall in love every day of our lives if we choose to do so.

Thank God for that!

For Listening: “Proof of Your Love” by For King & Country