Mountainside Chats With God

Mountainside

I met up with a friend tonight. Mostly because another minute home alone was going to do me in. Sometimes my thoughts are too loud and my bedroom walls amplify them, as if that’s possible. That’s what happens when you overthink and re-evaluate every decision you’ve made….well, since you started making your own decisions.

We walked along the aisles of a chain bookstore as she spoke of disappointments and frustrations. The questionings of the mid-thirties mind. I wonder if the world has us going through midlife crises sooner or if this is how it’s happened since the beginning of time. Either way, I remind her she isn’t alone.

And she isn’t. You aren’t, either. We’ve all experienced it. Regardless of age, marital status, job placement or ministry opportunity there comes a time where we wonder if we are doing anything of significance. Are we truly living out are calling? Are we making a difference? Are we just wasting time?

We decided to take a drive up to a place called Harris Hill. Depending on the time of day or night, there’s a variety of activity there. We pass the go-cart track, the old timey children’s rides, the park campgrounds, the museum and reach the lookout. From there you can see the valley wedged between the surrounding hills. It’s dusk which means almost all of the benches and swings are full. All but one, so we settle in to watch the last red sliver of sun go down. The air is cool, surprisingly cool, considering it’s been in the 90’s all day.

Everything is green. Fresh. Alive. Lush. The river weaves in and out of the forestry below. We sit perched taking it all in. It’s beautiful.

“So what do we do now?” She asks.

“Wait just a few more minutes.”

“I mean, about life.”

“I feel like the advice is the same.”

As we look out at His kingdom, we pray. For guidance and wisdom and strength to get through the next few minutes. And then, the next few after that.

After our whispered “Amens” we are reminded of Jesus and how He would often go to the mountainside to pray. He needed those moments to connect with the Father and hear His voice. Those moments recharged Him so He could do what He was called to do– heal the sick, love the unlovely, and disciple a ragtag band of misfits. I can only imagine how tiring it all must of been. Because, I mean, people.

I’m not sure what those mountainside chats between God and Jesus sounded like. Maybe they sounded like the prayers that my friend and I offered. “God, we just want to be faithful to what you’re calling us to do.” I imagine God smiling, both at Jesus and two silly girls on a mountainside, and saying, “I am so pleased with you.”

You see, I’m not sure it’s all about the doing. Sure, I believe we’ve all got a holy calling. Unique callings that ultimately all have the same goal: to bring glory to our Heavenly Father.

So, I guess, the most important thing we can do is continue meeting with God just like Jesus did. Keep asking Him what to do and when to do it and He’ll help us do the things we are supposed to do when we are supposed to do them.

Let’s commit to a few more minutes in His presence. May our mountainside chats with God, wherever they may take place, prepare us for whatever tasks or Heavenly assignments come our way: this week, this month and every day until the day we meet Him face to face.

To God be the glory!

 

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Be YOU: Wisdom from an 8 Year Old

BE YOU

I was tired, hot and hangry*.

It was Friday afternoon and we were closing up shop after our Rummage Sale’s second full day of operation. This is our youth group’s largest and most profitable fundraiser of the year and it takes hours upon hours of work to prepare for the event. We’d spent weeks sorting clothes, moving and setting up tables, hanging clothing racks and pricing items and we were all looking forward to it being over.

During the Rummage Sale, the temperatures in our area hit tropical level hotness when only weeks earlier (on Easter morning) snow covered the ground.  Between the heat, the crazy breed of 7AM rummage sale shoppers and the longs hours I was exhausted. All I wanted was a cold shower, a big ole burger and my comfy bed.

That afternoon as I locked up the bay doors to the garage, my best friend’s 8 year old daughter came up to me and with her green eyes wide with excitement asks, “Can I show you something I made for you?”

I growled a “sure” as I continued working. She unrolled a piece of paper and lifted it up near my face in order to get my attention.

BE YOU

I read it out loud back to Grace, “Be You?”

“Yup.” She smiled and skipped away.

“I’ve been struggling to be me since I was her age,” I thought to myself. Now at 31, I still question whether I’m my true self or just some fraud. My eyes constantly noticing the things in others that I seem to lack. From the completely shallow (like the length of my hair or size of my waist) to more weightier topics (like my long list of insecurities).

This has been my constant inward grappling all these years– wanting to fully accept myself with all my dents and bruises while allowing myself to be imperfect. I’d like to be gracious with myself and my short comings and stop badgering my soul. I’ll be the first one to tell you I’m not there yet. I’m still learning to be kind to myself in the process knowing there will be moments that I forget its ok to be ME.

It’s obvious I’m no master at all of this, but I want you to know you don’t have to conform to some kind of mold. You have complete freedom to be you– to be fully you. Whatever that looks like. Silly. Witty. Sassy. Quiet. Inquisitive.

If I’ve learned anything from Grace’s note, its that maybe I should love me as much as others do. They don’t love me because I’m like someone else, but they love me because I’m me. And if others can love me for me….maybe I can love me for me too.

*hangry= Hungry + Angry

Finding My Way Home

finding my way home

A friend came to visit me recently. She’s a few years younger than me and exponentially more athletic. Like a good friend, I thought since she had driven hours to spend a few days with me I could at least make sure she had a good time.

If you know anything about me, on free weekends (they don’t occur very often) I like to spend time vegging out watching Netflix. I always tell myself I should be productive and get some reading, writing, or cleaning done. That becomes difficult when they make every episode of the Frasier series available. What other options do I have but to start from Season 1 Episode 1?

Instead of making my friend endure through hours upon hours of a show she’s never heard of, we decided to spend our time doing some site seeing and hiking. When I say “hiking” read walking through the woods at a pleasant and mostly non-strenuous pace. Well, non-strenuous for some people. I, for one, was huffing it both days.

Our first day’s hike took us to a local state park that had beautiful waterfalls, stone bridges and lots and lots of stairs. We captured a few selfies to remember the adventure– one of which we took on “Lover’s Lane”. We laughed at the name of our selected trail, but I secretly hoped I might find a single, bearded lumberjack along the way. 🙂

photo (6)

I didn’t find my lumberjack, but it was fun none-the-less.

The next day we decided to visit a Nature Center that had numerous trails and a scenic overlook that would show us the river and the valley below. I’d hiked there the previous summer and I didn’t remember it being too difficult. I remember enjoying the view and thought it would be nice to experience it again. The trail head included a map showing the different colored routes you could take. Each one indicating how long the trails were, where they’d join and which one would take us all the way to the overlook.

The over-sized map also included warning signs letting us know that this was a rattlesnake preserve land and that even though we most likely wouldn’t see one, if we did, to proceed with caution and report it to the Park Ranger. You won’t have to worry about that, Ranger Man, if I see a rattlesnake the entire hillside is going to know about it. Also, I’ll be the blur running past you at record speed.

We didn’t see a rattlesnake on our hike, thankfully.

But we did get lost.

You see, even though we had taken a picture of the map with our trusty iPhones, and there were colored markers every few yards, somehow we got off track. We started off following the red trail, but somewhere in the middle of our hike the red markers disappeared and all we saw were yellow markers. There was no overlook and there certainly wasn’t a bench. I was convinced we had been walking exclusively uphill at an 80 degree angle. The sky was getting dark overhead and I was hearing the slight rumbles of thunder in the distance. Of course the Weather Man’s prediction of rain would be 100% on the money while we were stuck on some trail not quite sure if we were coming or going.

I was getting discouraged and my brain was just beginning to hit panic mode. I didn’t want to get stuck walking circles in the woods–especially if a storm was coming. In a moment of pure genius, my friend checked the compass on her phone. I’m sure she did it because she realized I was starting to fray around the edges. We had managed to have ourselves pointed in the direction that led us out of the woods and back to the Nature Center within minutes.

We had read the signs wrong, but we made it back home.

As we walked through the parking lot, and drove down off the hill, I wondered how often that has happened to me in life. I was walking around, enjoying my company, the lovely views and gotten myself off track. Realizing I wasn’t quite sure where I was, began to panic noticing the dark clouds. And yet, I’d make it home safe and sound all because I knew what direction would lead me there.

I’ll be the first to tell you I’ve gotten off track before….many, many times. I had mistakenly thought I was doing the right thing only to find out that along the way I had taken a wrong turn. Sometimes I’m quick to see my misstep and other times I’m out there wandering like the Jews in the desert circling the same mountain over and over again.

Then, there in the midst of my panic, confusion and uncertainly I finally stop and set my eyes back on God. My focus back now where it should be, He leads me out and leads me Home.

His grace welcoming me back.

Forever Alone: The Single Girl Struggle

love-316640_1280

Let me be clear about a few things before I get started on this enlightening rant.

I’m not mad/angry/bitter towards well meaning people who try and encourage those of us who are single. I understand that MOST of them were not single as long as some of us have been. So, they don’t understand that we’ve heard the same things many, many, many, many, many times before. Sure, repetition can sometimes be helpful. Like when trying to memorize the colors of bomb wires so you know which ones are safe to cut and which ones aren’t. They also don’t understand that even though cliches are cute, they are seldom helpful.

When it comes to encouragement for the single ones around you, let me let you in on a few things.

Some of us single people feel shame about our singleness. We often wonder what’s wrong with us. Do guys prefer short hair and mine is long? Do guys prefer girls who drive cars without rust spots? Do I not pray enthusiastically enough in public? Should I lose 50-100 pounds because I’m too fat for a boyfriend? Am I too opinionated? Too passionate? Too short?

Not enough.

Too much.

Unworthy.

Insufficient.

Just some of the words or thoughts we struggle with. For some of us it is a daily struggle. Some days I can’t go to a church service, young adult meeting, grocery store, or gas station pump without wondering why I’m single. I’ll look around and wonder how they have someone and I don’t. Ya, sure, I’m judgmental. Add that to the list of reasons why I’m single.

Seriously though. There’s this idea that you must be messed up if your still single. That if you had your crap together you’d be married by now. There’s some sin you haven’t dealt with and your singleness is a punishment from God. Yes, I’ve often thought God withheld a good thing (like a spouse) from me because I wasn’t perfect. Horrible theology, I know, but it seemed like the only viable solution. God hates me, I’d think.

Also, married people tend to think that we have these Hollywood ideas in our head about marriage. No, we know marriage won’t solve any of our problems. We know it won’t be easy. We know its not all hand-holding, giggling and loving eye gazes. We get that some days you struggle with how you could love the person farting in the bed next to you. We get it.

But we want to wake up next to a farting partner, instead of the pillow husband we’ve crafted. That we’d rather get tortured each night with the horrendous “dutch oven” than fall asleep with tears falling down our faces asking God one more time for a mate. (Again, I’ve heard stories. I know there will be tear stained pillows after marriage.)

It’s also not helpful to tell people they’re “too picky”. Listen, I didn’t wait 30 years to marry some schmuck. Sure, he may not be a bearded lumberjack who will sing me love songs and buy we chocolate when I’m being an emotional basket-case, but he’s not going to be just any schmoe. Trust me, I’ve gone on dates with schmoes. It’s horrifying, but the stories lend themselves as warning signs for the teen girls I counsel.

I once heard, “You’ve got to be a Ruth to get a Boaz”. There’s a lot of encouragement that mirrors this sentiment. Please, don’t tell single girls this. Ever. Firstly, the story of Ruth is a tad bit weird. If it were a movie, there’d be wedding bells as the credits scrolled, but God never intended it to be a chapter in the “How to Snag a Mate” book. Besides the fact that its not practical in our society (we don’t follow the Old Testament kinsman redeemer protocal in this century/country)– it was meant to be used as an example of our relationship with God. Secondly, this type of encouragement adds fuel to the “I’m not good enough” fire already raging in our minds.

EVERYONE (single, married, divorced, widowed, etc.) is going through a process of growth in their lives. Hopefully, we are getting more mature, more loving, less selfish and all that good stuff. Saying that there’s some kind of running rubric for my character and that when I get a certain grade THEN I’ll be ready for marriage is….dumb.

Give. Me. A. Break.

I should state here that I’m not saying that married people believe this. What I am saying is that sometimes the things we say can come off a certain way. Like, for instance, that we’ve got our crap together and you don’t. I assure you all, I am not perfect– just in case you thought that or something I said made it seem like I thought that.

And my favorite of all “He’ll come when you stop looking for him.”

NEWS FLASH: That’s not happening. Not today. Or the next.

I don’t know how you just stop wanting something like that. Ask me to stop wanting chocolate, and I think that’d be an easier battle to win. And I’m the girl who eats chocolate everyday. Like its MY JOB.

And define: “looking for”. I mean, I want a husband. I’m certainly open to the possibility of going on a date with the guy helping me at Verizon. Or contemplating stopping my car in the middle of an intersection because I saw a bearded fella, wearing a red flannel shirt riding a motorcycle (This thought did actually go through my mind). But I’m not at home every night staring out my window longingly with a can of Nutella in one hand and a spoon in the other. Ok, SOME nights I do have a heaping spoon of Nutella, but I’m never starring out the window at the same time. 😉 I’m still living life. I’m still enjoying my friends, my family, the opportunities I get to serve. I just also want someone standing next to me and enjoying it all with me.

I’m also not looking for a man to complete me. I am looking for a life partner because life seems more FUN when you’re experiencing it with someone you love.

I guess I should leave all the single people reading this with some encouragement. A few weeks ago my (married) BFF sent this to me. In all my years of hearing all the cliches, Bible verses, etc. this has been the thing that has brought more life and hope than anything else.

singleness

 

P.S. If you happen to be a single, bearded, flannel wearing gentleman then look no further! I’m witty (obviously), I ‘m a brilliant writer (again, obviously) and I’m pretty good lookin’.

**Disclaimer: This is NOT a complete list of lines I’ve heard in my singleness journey, but I thought that was enough for now. Maybe a Part 2 some other time. **

I’m done with you.

Done_stamp

Have you ever been hurt by someone? Yes, of course, you have a pulse. I think that comes with the territory.

In the midst of that pain, frustration, disappointment have you have said within their earshot (or under your breath): “I’m done with you!” Their failures now outweighing any good they had brought to your life. You comfort yourself that its the best choice. Better to cut ties than get hurt later on AGAIN. No one is going to call me a fool. I’m getting out while I can.

I’m done.

I’ve said that about a few people in my life. Some just a faint memory, others fresher wounds. Just this week, I uttered those words again. I’d had enough. “See ya later!” my heart declared. And that, was that.

A few days later, I’m in a worship service minding my own business. Just trying to focus on Jesus, but struggling to do so. I feel Jesus nudge my heart.

“Hey Holls.”

“Uh, ya? What’s up, Jesus?”

“Remember how ______ hurt you this week? How you decided you were done with them? Remember that?”

“Uh, ya…”

“Ya, I never do that.”

Huh….

I began to remember the stupid things I had done. The times I had grieved the heart of Jesus. Some, maybe even most, of the time doing it knowing full well that I was hurting Him, but not caring cause I was gonna do what I wanted. Each time, though, He’d still be there.

I’m sure I’ll continue to hurt him from time to time. And He’ll remain the same. His steadfast love being…well….steadfast.

Today, let’s take some time to thank God that His love is nothing like mine. That His love won’t give up on you no matter how many failures, slip-ups, tantrums you throw. His love will never run out, but is continually “on tap” and accessible.

His love never fails. (1 Cor. 13:8)

I was wrong.

It’s true. Mark the date and time because this type of admission is something to be noted!

Last I checked, I am a lot like you and the rest of humanity. I don’t like hearing I’m wrong or admitting it. I’d rather defer to how I was forced into the action because of someone else, thereby excusing my stupidity. Or how it wasn’t really wrong, but just a minor infraction. It’s “no big deal”.

All joking aside, I’m a perfectionist. If I commit to a task, a project, a friendship, a position– I’m doing it full force. Nothing is done half-assed. At an early age, I concluded that you needed to earn love and you earned it by doing things better than everyone else. I very quickly learned the things I excelled at and proceeded to highlight those things for everyone to see in the CHANCE that I might be found lovable. I wouldn’t attempt anything I couldn’t do well for fear that I’d look like an idiot. (Except for that one time I took Latin in high school to impress a guy. Ya. I was that girl.) This thinking is one of the reasons why I’ve shied away from starting and maintaining a blog– there’s this fear that if it isn’t perfect and others are doing it better than me then maybe I shouldn’t even attempt it.

One day away from completing an almost perfect week at camp, I did something dumb. I didn’t kill anyone or re-mix a Miley Cyrus song at muster, which in my estimation would have been inexcusable on all counts. In the grand scheme of things, I’m sure some people would shrug it all off and say “Huh? Whatever.” They’d move on without a second thought, but I spent the next 12 hours thinking about what I did. Part of me resigned to the fact that I’m some kind of screw-up and another part of me that just wanting to forget it ever happened.

Luckily for me, I’ve got friends who love me and because they love me they bring correction into my life.

WHAT?!?!

Am I for real? Did I just admit that it was a good thing to get told I was WRONG. Well, this is 4-weeks fast forward from the event. Let’s go back to the day after my “slip-up”.

I walked into a staff meeting where a friend who witnessed everything the day before was waiting to talk with me. He quietly took me aside and let me know he had been praying about what happened and felt like he needed to tell me some things. He graciously explained his heart (more so God’s heart), and honestly pointed out an area in me that needed some work.

No one likes that. Get real for a second. We’ve already established that most people hate being told their wrong.

And I’ll be honest, I walked away from that conversation devastated. I’m sure it was partially due to the fact that at the time I had been sleeping on a mattress 3-inches thick for the past 5 nights. Or more likely because that correction drew out some insecurity in my heart. If I wasn’t perfect, then I wasn’t worthy of love.

As much as it hurt, I couldn’t shake the fact that I knew my friend cared about me. He wasn’t out to make me feel like crap, but he wanted to call me UP to a higher standard. I tucked away what he said and when I had the opportunity I spent some time discussing it with a trusted mentor in my life. And through that I learned even more Truth:

For one, just because you screw-up, doesn’t mean you ARE a screw-up.

We need people in our lives who love us enough to point out areas that need to be removed, purged, or sanded off. Letting your friend walk around with their zipper down may save you from an awkward conversation, but it leaves your friend exposed and open for future humiliation.

Just because you do something wrong, doesn’t mean you need to carry shame. You do something wrong, you ask for forgiveness, repent and move on. Live and learn, folks.

We’ve become spineless as a culture. We are busy proving how right we are and how wrong everyone else is. We are slow to seek for forgiveness, but prefer to state our “good intentions” thinking that will smooth things over. If we want to grow and mature in Christ, we’ve got to be discipled. And being discipled means being disciplined.

To clarify, this does not mean EVERYONE gets to speak into your life. BUT you should have people you trust that can (and DO) speak into your life when you need it. Allow people into your life who will sand off those rough edges. If not, you will very quickly become stagnant in your ways. I promise you, it may hurt at times, but its worth it.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend,
But the kisses of an enemy are deceitful. (Prov. 27:6)

The heart of the matter & crap….

A few nights ago, I sat across the table from a friend who was broken.  He didn’t say much at first. There were some awkward silences. Some far off gazes, but I could tell something was weighing him down. Like any good friend, I made awful small talk. I directed his attention to a commercial on the big screen. I poked fun at myself. I discussed chicken wing sauce options.

Nothing.

I’m not good at surface conversation. I have no real use for it. Correction: there is NO real use for it. I’ve run out of things to say about the weather, or the Yankees, Miley Cyrus and/or twerking. I’d rather know what’s on your mind or in your heart. It’s there where intimacy happens, community flourishes and fellowship becomes a reality.

So, I threw out the small talk and started asking some harder to answer questions. In return, I got a piece of my friend’s broken heart as he shared some recent disappointments. He let some people down– people he loved and who loved him in return. His posture, his tone, his lament were poignant as he recalled his actions. How could he rebuild their trust? Could he make it up to them?

Maybe it was better to be alone than to hurt anyone ever again, he wondered.

“It’ll happen again. I’ll hurt them again.”

And he’s right. He will. I will. You will. As much as we love our friends and family, there will come a time when we will hurt them. Our words, choices or actions unintentionally causing them pain. So we think the answer is to shelter them from us. Or guard our hearts from them. Either way, it’s a subtle division in attempt to hoard the shards left of our hearts. We feel tattered and torn so we attempt to self-preserve.

I’ve mulled over C.S. Lewis’ words on this issue: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

More than a broken heart, I fear a hard heart. A heart that is no longer moved to compassion or concern for those around me because caring means letting someone IN.

So, what sage advice did I give my friend? What brilliant words of hope did I offer? None. Instead, I offered my heart and a listening ear. I reassured him that there were people who would love him no matter his mistakes. (As a side rant: Loving someone regardless of their mistakes isn’t excusing or promoting those actions, but letting that person know that those actions don’t determine their identity. More to come on this.)

Sadly, this hasn’t always been my response. I’m ashamed to admit that I’ve walked away from friends who made stupid choices instead of loving them through it and I regret it. It was selfish and immature and a faux safeguard. It seemed the RIGHTEOUS thing to do. Bah! As a result, I’ve lost my opportunity to be an influence and source of Light in their life.

Let’s truly love people. Love them when their neck deep in crap. I’m not asking you to love their crap, but love them in the midst of it. Stop being afraid to get dirty and dive in. Live out the words “You’re not alone.”