Praying for Blue Skies

Praying for Blue Skies

I’ve been doing a lot of praying for blue skies.

Winter seems to be lingering in Upstate New York. The air has a bitter bite to it’s blow and the grey clouds mask the sun entirely. Everyone is sick of the dreariness, myself included. I’m counting down the days to a fresh pedicure and flip flop season.

The blue skies I’m praying for aren’t merely physical. 

It’s been hard to get out of bed lately. The snooze button has become my morning companion and my mental math has greatly improved. I can barely form comprehensible sentences in the morning (ask any of my previous roommates), but I can add 9-minutes to the current time in a jiffy. And I’m not just talking about hitting the snooze once or twice, but for an hour. AN HOUR.

The lack of motivation goes far beyond just getting out of bed. It has bled into every (if not all) areas of my life. Including writing. Every time I sit down to write I feel like I’ve gone dry….as if the last article I wrote would be the last article I’d ever write. It’s been as if there’s just nothing left to say. Maybe I’m not really a writer, but I’ve been living on some borrowed grace.

So, it’s had me wondering, “Can someone go through a mid-life crisis at 31?”

I was sitting at my desk typing late one night, when I looked down at my hands and noticed a spot that I had never seen before. It could have been the poor lighting, or the fact that my eyes were tired (isn’t that an old person excuse?!), but I could definitely see a spot. An age spot. I had already been noticing some grey strands trying to hide between my blonde locks. In an attempt to hide them, I decided to make a slight change in where my hair parted. No one else can see them, but I can hear them laughing maniacally and calling out, “I’ll get you my pretty!” like the Wicked Witch of the West.

At a recent family dinner, I was struck by how mature my 14-year old niece was looking. She was wearing long dangly earrings and there was a faint shimmer on her cheeks. Make-up was once used for dress-up and now she’s using it for real. Like for real. What happened to her holding me hostage on the couch to read…and then re-read…every Berenstain Bear book she owned?

Then, talking to my mom that same night, I remembered this year marks 10 years since I graduated from college. That might have been the final straw.

From my lack of motivation to the intense sadness at realizing I’m getting older to feeling like I’m always going to be in this rut– all I’m seeing right now is cloudy skies. I’ve been praying and crying and praying some more begging God for some relief. While running some errands this week, I started praying again. As I drove, there were grey clouds ahead of me and grey clouds in my rear view mirror. I was surrounded.

Passing an airport, I noticed an airplane taking off and I began remembering the different times I had flown. Each time, the same thing happened. Eventually, we’d get above the clouds and above the clouds there was sunshine. Glorious sunshine. On the ground, the clouds may have shielded the sun from me, but once above them there was nothing hindering my sight.

Here below, it may look like there’s no sun at all. Miles in every direction you may see nothing, but clouds, but I can assure you there is still a sun. It shines big and bright and warm. It’s everything you remember it to be and more.

Just keep climbing. Don’t level off at a lower altitude before you’ve broken through the clouds.

I know things are hard right now, but this is all temporary. Your current struggles are your future victories, but (as much as you want to) you can’t give up. You’ve got to hold on to Hope as a lifeline– constantly pointing your face towards the sky for the moment that the break in the clouds finally comes.

But for now, as we stare at the clouds, this is my prayer for you and me (taken from Numbers 6:24-26): The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

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What Community Looks Like

What Community Looks Like

She shuffled to the front of the sanctuary with a sense of determination in her gaze even though it was clear she carried a heavy burden. Each step forward bringing her closer to unloading her weights and closer to the freedom she desired. Everyone sat in hushed silence patiently waiting for her to reach the summit. As she turned toward the congregation, we noticed her eyes were brimming with tears.

And in her words was a confession.

Before a crowd of friends and strangers she rent her heart open exposing an area where she needed help. I sat silently in shock– not because of the nature of her confession. The confession itself was something that most, if not all, of us could confess at one time or another. What caught me was her courage to admit she needed help.

She had no shame in her voice as she stood bare before us. Just a simple boldness.

As she spoke, people began to gather around her and I saw first hand what community was meant to look like and it was beautiful.

I’d been longing to see community in action. Not just in service projects, either. I think we sometimes confuse service with community. Community is much more than that. Does it involve that? Many times it does, but you can serve a stranger and never get to know them. Never know their story, their heart, their struggles.

Community is about relationships.

It’s about really listening. And not the type of listening that is more focused on formulating a response. We can get so caught up in wanting to “fix” someone or bring them comfort that we forget that sometimes the best thing we can do is just hear them out. Stop trying to solve problems and just listen. No need to search for the perfect cliche or some other over used nugget of wisdom. Just let them to share.

There’s this Asian restaurant in my town that I’ve been wanting to try so I invited a friend along so we could experience something new together. Any time you add food and friends you’ve got a recipe for an enjoyable evening. The Pad Thai and spring rolls were pretty great, too.

As we ate, we talked and I shared with her how I’ve thinking about the purpose of church (a post about this coming soon) and how I think community is or should be involved. It’s a topic I struggle with regularly and I’ve been wanting people’s insights and wisdom on the matter. She mentioned how we can’t just surround ourselves with others our own age or position in life.

Community is multi-generational.

I believe community needs to be diverse. No one grows when they surround themselves with people just like them. We need to hear stories from our older, wiser, more experienced community members because they’ve got a wealth of knowledge. Knowledge gained through years and lessons learned. We need to listen and learn from our teens who may not have years behind them, but can certainly have insights that we can glean truth from.

There’s this older couple I know. They’re both nearing the 90-year mark and within the past few years, I’ve made it a point to connect with them because they’ve been through 90 years worth of stuff. That’s an entire 60 more years worth of stuff than I’ve been through and they still love and follow Jesus. I’ve got a lot to learn from them.

On the other hand, I know this 14 year old girl. Actually, she’s my oldest niece. I wouldn’t say she’s your typical teenage girl by any means, but there are days I remind her that if I catch her talking to a boy that I won’t be afraid to kill him. She rolls her eyes at me when I say that– she has picked up some of my sass. I also see her amazing capacity for compassion, too. I’ve got a lot to learn from her.

The beautiful thing about community is that everyone is valuable and everyone is needed. No one should be excluded or looked down upon. No one should be called obsolete. Or insignificant.

We need community. We NEED it. And I’m grateful that I get to experience it–whether in the four walls of a church or in the corner of a quaint Asian restaurant. It is there within community that we can heal and mature…and be refined through relationships.

Leave a comment and let me know how you’ve seen community in action.

Unanswered Questions

Unanswered Questions

I’ve got questions.

Some questions are less serious in nature like:

“Why do I love beards so much?”

“Do you think Starbucks will ever deliver?”

“Is there a chocolate only diet?”

Don’t get me wrong, those are important questions. Beards, coffee and chocolate are ranked pretty high on my list. In the scheme of things though, if they went unanswered my life would continue on much like it does. No matter the reason, I’ll always love beards. Even if Starbucks doesn’t take my suggestion and start delivering, I’ll still stop in and buy my White Mocha in person. And chocolate, well, chocolate seems to be around for the long haul.

Some questions are a bit more serious. Like my questions about God, spirituality, faith, church, death and (ya even) singleness. I can’t just sweep these questions under the rug and ignore them. They need to be expressed, discussed and studied…in a safe environment.

Not everyone understands the questions you’re milling over.

There will be people, upon hearing your questions, who will immediately get defensive. They’ll rattle off answers left and right making you feel like an idiot for even verbalizing such a foolish question. Have you ever met someone like that? If you have, and I’m sure you have, did you ever want to ask questions around them ever again? Probably not.

Sitting around a table last night with some friends, we began discussing things we’ve been wrestling with in regards to our faith. Each person shared what was on their heart and no one judged them for it. And I realized, love listens.

Listening to a podcast this week, the theologian was discussing how we can go through phases in our life where it seems like we have more questions than we’ve got answers. Either we’ve read a book, taken a class, gone on a trip or experienced some kind of life event but something has caused us to re-evaluate our beliefs. Whatever the case, most of us will go through it to one extent or the other.

“It’s normal,” he said.

As I’ve been wrestling and questioning and searching I’ve often felt very alone. I often kept my questions to myself and wondered what was wrong with me. Questions were bad, right? It was a sign of backsliding or a mark of the beast or something. I’m not sure anyone outright told me my questions were bad, but it was usually implied by the contortions of their face or the way their head tilted to the one side with raised eyebrows that indicated that maybe I’d better just keep those things to myself.

Sometimes I was the voice saying, “Just be quiet. Keep that to yourself.”

Hearing that my searching and questions were normal brought me immediate peace. My shoulders immediately relaxed and it was as if the ground stabilized again.

Driving home after meeting with my friends I began to thank God for the opportunity to share transparently with people and to not feel ashamed or any less of a Christian. As I prayed, I recalled Jeremiah 29:13,

If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.

There is a bigger purpose to my questioning and seeking. It’s not to be rebellious or to try and find a loophole in order to do things my way. All of it is to know God more– to truly know His heart. I can no longer live off truths I’ve been told second hand, but need to explore. We need to seek. Children are told stories of adventure, but adults live them. (Or in a biblical analogy, babies drink milk, but adults eat meat.)

God is not troubled by my questions. He is not insecure or defensive or even worried. Not in the least. In fact God is pleased I want to know more because it shows I’m interested in participating and not satisfied in spectating. In my looking, I may have unanswered questions, but I know I will find Him because that is where the compass of my heart is set.

“In the silence You won’t let go
In the questions Your truth will hold
Your great love will lead me through
You are the peace in my troubled sea”

My Lighthouse (Rend Collective)

Do you have unanswered questions? If so, lease leave me a comment and let me know how your search is going. I’d love to encourage you or pray for you on your journey!

Jesus isn’t Santa.

Jesus isn't Santa

Jesus isn’t Santa.

If you’ve read any of my recent posts, you may have noticed I’ve been asking God some questions– mostly the “Why?” question to be exact. I’ve also admitted that I need help. The struggle has been real. Gut wrenching, anxiety inducing, don’t want to get out of bed….REAL. Praying has been difficult. Hope has seemed just beyond my reach. Regardless of that, I’ve continued to pray, continued to seek Hope and held on for dear life.

Thankfully, I’ve had numerous friends, who are much wiser and much more stable than I am, come alongside me acting as a practical conduit of God’s love. After talking in length to one such friend, she asked me “What lie are you believing about the character of God?”

Huh. Well, you see I went to Bible school. I have a degree in Bible AND theology. I’ve read the Bible through front cover to the maps in the back. Not just once, either. Numerous times. I don’t say that because I think I’m awesome stuff, but to make a point that I’ve made before– I KNOW a lot of stuff about God. Sometimes that head knowledge doesn’t translate correctly. Sometimes you can know all the right stuff, but be living as though that stuff isn’t true.

Like the Truth that Jesus isn’t Santa.

Sure, Jesus wears hippie sandals and a robe (usually a white one). He’s got a beard and hands calloused from a long day in the wood shop. He smells a little fishy, but the kids are ok with it and come to Him anyway. Santa on the other hand wears a furry suit and shiny black shoes. He’s got a beard too, but its white and contains cookie crumbs and milk dribbles. He’s got a labor force to do the hard work for him, but gets all the glory for making the deliveries. Kids like him, too.

Everyone knows that Santa is keeping track of who is naughty and who is nice. He’s got an alphabetized list with all of our names on it. He’s always watching us and he’s keeping score. He saw me doing 64 in a 55 this morning. He heard the words I mumbled when I opened my car door and snow fell on my seat. All that before 8:30 a.m. Suffice to say, I’ll be getting coal for Christmas.

With all that Bible knowledge I have, I know Jesus is aware of all that stuff too. He knows my thoughts (I’ve heard Santa isn’t a mind reader), which exponentially increases my naughtiness I assure you. With everything that’s been going on, well, with my entire life as the gauge I’ve been living as though Jesus IS keeping score. He’s so stinkin’ good at math and easily sees I’m not measuring up. Since I’m bad He’s keeping some gifts from me. Like a husband. Like a miracle check in the mail to pay these medical bills. Like a new car.  (Insert whatever it is you’ve been asking for and not getting)

All of that– its all warped. Jesus is very much aware of everything I do, say, and think. He isn’t some sadistic moral score keeper though. He doesn’t take pleasure in my mess ups or failures thinking its one less kid to bless. Actually, He loves to give good gifts. Not the Target clearance aisle gifts either, but the top of the line, A-grade stuff. One of my favorite things to do is find the perfect gifts for those I love and can barely contain my excitement as they open it. We’ve already determined that I’m not perfect or even a very good person, and if that’s how I feel– how much MORE does God love giving gifts. He’s just as amped up with anticipation as He says, “Hurry up! Open it! I can’t wait for you to see it!”

And His greatest gift towards me isn’t a 60k income, a new hybrid Nissan or a sexy bearded lumberjack husband. It’s Himself.

In giving Himself for me, He moved my name from the naughty list to the redeemed list. My sins are no longer counted against me, but have been assigned to Jesus. That transfer makes me wholly accepted and fully pleasing to a holy, righteous God. Not by my works (or prayers) but all because of Jesus.