Don’t Trip Over Me

I clearly remember the day I decided to leave my childhood church. I had walked away from that particular body of believers (who were and are amazing people) when I decided Christ was the last thing I wanted to pursue. When I returned after my two year hiatus, I was broken beyond recognition spiritually and wanted anyone to tell me the pain dulls someday.

Actually, I wanted more than that. I wanted someone to hear about my wounds and tell me how to heal; because I had no idea how to do it myself. Growing up, I was the picture-perfect Christian kid. I knew the right answers. When Christ renewed my faith, I knew the right answers but my life made those answers feel foreign, unfamiliar and unobtainable. 

I needed help but was given the impression I seemed “fine.” I was experiencing redemption, but I felt anything but fine. The day I told old friends why I needed a fresh start, a few people gave me very vague answers. I heard lines like, “I’ve been there.” “I know why you’re hurting.” 

… But in my childishly adult 20-year-old mind, those particular responses had come too late. I’d sat wounded and feeling alone for months. I had needed someone more spiritually experienced to get me back on track and it felt like that counsel never came. I’ll always remember the confusion I felt when I was told someone understood my struggles right before I walked out the door. I had no clue I had people to go to to get help… until it was too late. They seemed too perfect to include me.

So, I left and “started over.”

That was close to ten years ago now. Christ saw my spiritual hunger and gave me a Body of believers who loved me deeply but didn’t let me get away with anything. Change isn’t always a bad thing, and to this day, 3,500 miles away, I’m genuine friends with people from both churches. 

I was told recently that I seemed like a very “open book.” As a pastor’s wife, that sentiment is both terrifying and terrific. Too little transparency and people feel as if you’re fake. Too much transparency and your ability to co-lead with your minister husband gets hazy. I want to be relateable; I’m afraid of being a stumbling block.

As I struggle with finding that balance as a new wife to a pastor in training, I’m constantly kicked back to how I felt drowned in loneliness when I first came back to the Lord. I let people see my healed and now-beautiful wounds because I’m learning leadership first starts with being touchable. 

You don’t have to be perfect to be in my group of believers. You don’t have to have all of your sin “Christianized” before being a godly impact on others. You simply have to be willing to realize Christ is the source of your joy and your love. When you realize that, your story loses its shame and Christ changes the game by being the Victor.

If you stumble over anything when you notice I’m an “open book,” may you stumble over the Cornerstone of Christ just as I did.

Terrified Truth-Speaker

I have a shepherd’s heart that comes to life when I write. There are a million things I could write about to challenge thought and prayerfully provoke change in our failing world. But I don’t. There are just as many things I could cut up into a four-part series and feed to you bit-by-bit to increase my readership. But I don’t. 

Why? 

Because we now live in a world where when truth is spoken, we feel attacked, undervalued and demoralized. When truth is spoken, we don’t often change our respective lives to rise to such truth. Instead, we shut our ears, close our eyes and scream, “That’s not nice! That’s not nice! I thought you liked me!” 

And before you turn me over to the firing squad, please know I’m the worst of the worst. I may have a shepherding heart, but I absolutely detest getting corrected, challenged or criticized.

I used to rub shoulders with homeless druggies, drunks and all around God-haters (yay, job!). In those circles, I had no fear blatantly sharing truth. They were so desperate for help, they welcomed the times I willingly adopted their rhetoric but spoke truth. They weren’t “nice” in their responses, but it was obvious truth went soul-deep.

I’m more hesitant to share truth with a fellow Christian because of how they’ll respond than I ever was calling a meth addict to attention. So, because my skin has been bruised by a follower of Christ a time or two, I’ve stopped sharing truth that needs to be heard. 

It’s funny, really. Up until this week, I blamed everyone but myself for how weak American Christianity has become. But the fact is, I’ve stopped heralding life-changing truth because, well, because I want to be liked? Crap, maybe I’m a part of the problem.

So, for that, forgive me. I seem to have slipped up and forgotten what being a Truth-speaker is all about. Truth — actual truth — is a conduit to soul-deep change, which honestly isn’t fun at the onset.

But oh, hallelujah, it’s a glorious thing when a sinner like me sees God’s Son despite my wretchedness. Writing simply to tickle your ears isn’t worth you missing out on seeing the same miracle in your own life.

Prodigal Mind, Redeemed Soul

My life has been filled with asking God’s forgiveness and <trying to> force His permission.  Two years ago, that approach to Christianity was ripped to shreds when the kingdom I had built for myself was demolished. Christianity became about Christ being alive in me; not me being alive with Christ showing up on occasion. Learning to surrender on a daily, hourly and minutely basis has been an unfathomable adventure. 
Recently in a reference letter, I was described as a prodigal. I chuckled and wiped away tears as the remainder of the letter explained why my story blessed fellow Christians rather than scarred them. 

For some reason, I never expected God’s redemption to go as deeply as it does. It’s a beautiful thing when I look at my best friend and I know he only sees scars, not seeping wounds. 

It can be a terrifying mental trip trying to protect that redemption. I often forget that though my life in Christ is my responsibility, I myself am (hallelujah) Christ’s charge. What I can’t handle, He can. What I don’t understand, He does. 

A couple days ago, as I sat haggling over whether I was pleasing God “enough,” I broke down crying. The what ifs are intimidating. As a redeemed and treasured prodigal concerned I’m not hearing God correctly for my future, it’s ulcer-forming. That particular day, I wasn’t getting the “go-ahead” I thought God and I had set up to guarantee I was doing things correctly. 

Fine, Jesus. I really don’t know what to do anymore. I’m done. You get the pieces of this mess. Do your thing. Get me out of the way. I…I surrender. Help me. Help me surrender. 

Believe me when I tell you I expected silence after that prayer. I expected the arbitrary reminder that God’s peace and grace were enough… As if that would silence the questions in my mind. 

Instead of holy silence, as I muttered “I surrender” God gave me the answer I needed along with total peace. 

It was as if I heard God whisper, “I just wanted you to give up control. I just wanted you to trust that I know your heart’s desire. I wanted you to surrender control, but even more than that, I needed you to surrender the idea that you have Me figured out. I love you, sweet Child. You are no longer a Prodigal, you’re a Child I treasure. You didn’t hear from Me for so long because you weren’t looking for Me, you were looking for your comfortzone.”

We talk so often of surrendering plans and “control” to God. What about surrendering the expectations of what God will do after we surrender?

Being Like Christ is Enough?

I’m so done pursuing them. After being brushed off  for the third time, that was my only angrily hurt thought. Who needs friendships? I’m just.. Done. D-O-N-E, Lord. Ya hear me? Done! It gets old when you’re friendship is only observed when they need something from you. Telling God I was done felt justifiably good.

Inevitably, God brought two things to mind. The first being a story near to my heart of a man who pursued a woman for over a year with no apparent understanding that his pursuit wasn’t appreciated nor reciprocated. When the woman stepped away, he stepped closer in friendship anyway. He knew what God was calling him to do. It never seemed as if much else mattered; he was on a mission. The man still acts as if he won’t give up until God tells him his mission is complete.

Though the couples’ story still brings a smile to my face, God’s second reminder sent a chill up my spine. God’s pursuit of me. I was reminded of God’s beautiful pursuit of the risk-taking, independant, don’t-need-anyone girl. I was the girl who, even when she had nothing, swore she’d never come back to Christianity. Yet little by little, God proved he could run faster than me. He never stopped giving me reasons to look for him.

What if He had given up? What if he had felt my cold responses one too many times and stopped being available? 

There are times where backing away from a friendship is beneficially the right choice. I’m not a stranger to that need. However, I think we as humans make that call too often; maybe even too quickly. The second we face friction, we decide we’re done. No one would really blame us anyway, right?

As a believer in Jesus Christ, I am called to so much more, though. I’m not merely called to being a poster-child for Christ’s mercy. I’m called to be Christ-like and Christ-filled. 

Even when Christ feels the sting of rejection, he continues to pursue with love in undeniable ways. When was the last time I chose love over anger? When was the last time I chose to answer in love rather than making promises to never try again? When was the last time I was satisfied looking a friend in the eye and telling them they knew where to find me when they wanted actual friendship?

With that, I can only choose to let God pick up my bruised heart and whisper, “Teach me how to love even when I don’t get loved in return.” After all, being Christ-like will never mean I’m ultimately liked.

I Wish I’d Known

In most people’s eyes, I had everything a 22-year-old wanted. I had my independence, a great job, friends and accquaintances on both sides of the religious spectrum. I’d sown my oats and lived to tell about it. I needed nothing. 

I was voted “Most likely to get hitched and have 3 kids by 19” in school. At 22, I was about the only one who had never filed for a dependant on my taxes, left the country to explore or declared a pursuit of some high-falutin’ doctorate. As far as the dating thing went, let’s face facts, shall we? When your fellow 20-somethings harken back to school days and the once-popular football guys still chuckle that, “You don’t mess with Harris. She’s a piece o’ dynamite” you get friends, not dates.

With the ever increasing use of social media, I saw all my friends pass me up. Dating relationships, amazing careers, marriages, kids… Fame. They had it all it seemed, and I was stuck in the town where every time you sneezed the mayor requested a new weather report. 

I wanted to be noticed. I felt hidden. I wanted someone to want me… I felt overlooked. People said my high-end(ish) job made me successful. I felt stuck and taken for granted. This was adulthood? Would I ever see beyond the 7,500 people who could still recall in great detail what buck-teethed, awkward 9-year-old me was like?

I missed out on so much because I was constantly comparing my journey to someone else’s or knocking on Heaven’s door asking for a preview of my exciting life 15 years down the road. I wanted everything that wasn’t mine to have. Very rarely did I giggle at the silence and dance when the music stopped.

No one ever told me my desire for more would make my life have meaning if I could be content. The last words out of my mouth at night wanted to be, “Thanks, I guess, for my loneliness, my boredom, my routine, my annoying ho-hum, do nothing life. Yay air. Amen.” To be content in those things? What was the point in moment-by-moment, not fantasy-by-fantasy or expectation-by-expectation?

Doing that would require being content in the constant Person of Jesus Christ. That would require being accepting of the fact that experience builds character, and sometimes that character has nothing to do about me. Contentedness means appreciating loneliness and routine because, if I’m willing to listen, I’ll have more time to pray for people and be a part of an unseen battle.

At 22, no one saw the need to tell me my “stupid routine life” mattered. As a 26-year-old, I wish I had known then the joy of sacrificing my expectations at the feet of the Master who knew the beauty of my future.

I wish I had known the beauty of taking the time to ponder the vastness of never being bigger than the God I serve.

Stuttered Leadership

“Your stutter disappears when you sing. It’s like Moses – so cool!”

To be quite honest, the very first thought upon hearing my acquaintance’s thoughts weren’t very nice. I handle being observed a lot better 1-on-1 than I do in a Church crowd. I wanted nothing more to deny I had a stutter at all. It only made me stutter more. 

Though I somehow got through the totally unexpected comment, I walked away with only one question on my mind:

Why? 

The man was right. When I sing, you would never know I struggle with English. When I sing, no one has time to ask questions about my authority in being on stage. I always wanted to be a singer. Up until I was 19, there was nothing I wanted more.

Why couldn’t God agree to re-writing my story so my life and career could be something I’m comfortable doing like singing?

As it stands, I’m pursuing a career in writing and secondly in ministry – two things I’m highly uncomfortable doing but have been firmly called to do. (We would include the whole bit about what God has called me to in relationship here, but that’s just not gonna happen) Every time I step into ministry, I’m nervous. Every time I write, I can hear myself questioning what the heck I’m doing. 

I feel incredibily inadequate in the shoes God has commanded me to fill. The sweet congregant’s comment about my “stutter” just made me realize it in a different light.

I started pitying Moses. I mean, he was probably a blastedly good shepherd. Exodus shares that he was a shepherd for 40 years. I betcha a million dollars that man ruled the whole sheep-thing. He was probably really comfortable with his dumb animals in the desert.

But regardless of his comfort level, God, in His infinite wisdom, put the stuttering shepherd in front of the Egyptian King and in charge of an entire nation. Poor, poor Moses. The guy just wanted to be comfortable. But… You can’t challenge a king and a nation without talking, stutter and all.

Moses really wanted God to pay attention to the fact that he stuttered. God paid attention to it and made him the leader of exiled Israel anyway. Again… Poor Moses.

Again… WHY?!

I struggled the rest of the day (okay, I’m still struggling) with the fact that, according to one man, my inadequacies are out in the open but God still has me up front in a leadership role. I would love to now leap into a long, divine monologue God gave me late at night answering every deeply seeded need in my heart. But I can’t, cuz hallelujah, He didn’t give one. I was only reminded of one very hard, incredibly gorgeous truth:

When I am seen as inadequate, people are led to look at Christ who is more than adequate. 

Silencing the Parents

I was always that kid who moved mountains to keep things level.

I’d love to say my fear of disrupting the peace was something I sculpted into my pint-size personality over time, but that’d probably be a lie. As a 6 or 7-year-old, I heard my parents discussing finances (not arguing, fighting or crying… discussing) after they’d sent me to bed. I heard the phrase “we can’t do that right now” and took matters into my own hands.

From then on, I struggled to tell my parents what I wanted (Suzy Home Bake, anyone?) or what I needed ($15 for band supplies or fail the class…?). Now that I’ve been ‘adulting’ for a few years, I understand what my parents were doing that night. Their hesitation over the checkbook didn’t mean I was a burden as another mouth to feed. It didn’t mean I wasn’t wanted. It just meant budgeting would be a good idea for the next 15 days.

Sidenote: For all I know, they could have been talking about putting money towards a road trip, not some desperate necessity.

It didn’t matter what the scenario was, though. I wasn’t going to be a burden on my parents… 

Anytime I talk to my mom about my annoying people-pleaser skills (I mean ‘tendencies’) as a child, the reaction is always the same — utter frustration, heartbreak and an explanation of reality. It’s all stuff I’m completely aware of now, but the underlying question is still there: Why was letting your dad and I provide for you so hard for you to do?

I, unfortunately, don’t have an answer for her. All I know is I was fairly positive I understood life and could help my parents survive it by knowing more than they did. It’s sad. It’s unfortunate. Honestly, the idea of my future child doing that makes my blood boil.

But the reality is, no matter how much logic I can pour into that misconception to make it disappear, I’m still in danger of doing it. Only now, I’m the adult-child kneeling before my Heavenly Father uttering the words, “I don’t think I should bother you with this heartache…” 

Without hesitation, I hear Him chuckle as He replies, “You know better than to think that, but since you do, come sit with Me anyway. I just want time with you.

And, just like my earthly parents, as I sit with my Father God, I start to understand He understands me better than I understand myself. He knows what I need and, though it feels life-threateningly large to me, He handles it because He can.

Wait, what was I worried about, again?

             

More Than a Pharisee

Knowledge has never been wisdom. We just live in a culture that doesn’t want to admit that.

I have always been attracted to studying theology. Seriously. I was the 9-year-old (Yeah, you read that right) who smiled like an idiot when the pastor was confusing because it meant I got to ask more questions. I was also the 5-year-old that was jealous of the 8-year-old sister because I thought she was the only one allowed to learn the Greek alphabet. I loved geeking out on theology.

If I’m honest, I still do.

God put me on the path to a Christian College 3 years ago. All that basically means is even the Accounting Majors have moments where they geek out about the Greek jargon in the 7th chapter of Mark. Its really fun. It’s even quirkier.. It’s totally safe ground for a Christian.

But it’s also incredibly easy to only gain knowledge and never allow knowledge to turn into wisdom. It’s that constant self-editing moment of asking whether what I’m voicing about my Theological passions and views is actually seen in my character. 

There isn’t an accredited class on that, though, and I would be nervous to use that language with my accountability partner… So, we just ignore it altogether. We’ll get there. Sanctification (being made holy) is all a process. God’ll get to it in me eventually, right? 

Whether you’ve got your feet up Spiritually or not (I love my temporary bubble… I’m just not used to my bubble), let me remind us where the break between knowledge and wisdom leads us.

If we stick with the wisdomless knowledge, we are the modern day Pharisees. I know Jesus called them Vipers and that makes it easy to paint them as some horrible monster within the Church. But let me point out they were the respected, loved and honored teachers of the day. Everyone wanted to be as respected as the Pharisees.

That respect came because of their knowledge. But their knowledge wasn’t enough in the eyes of the Ultimate Master, Jesus Christ.

Instead, God used people like Peter and John to build the Church. People who had the firsthand Scriptural knowledge but also the humility to admit when they fell short and needed help gaining wisdom.

There wasn’t much difference between the characteristics of the Pharisees as teachers and the Disciples as teachers. Outside of cultural norms, they had the same minimal foundation. But the most important difference was there: 

The Disciples didn’t stop with Scriptural knowledge. They let the Master teach them wisdom in order to change their character. By doing that, they became more like the Yahweh they worshiped. 

Every Season’s Worth

I depend on laughter most days. Even when I’m knowingly distraught, I’m usually the one quick with a one-liner to make sure no one else feels as if they’re being held captive by the need to cry. (Sidenote: If you do that too, just know it is the most frustrating thing for those who love you.) Humor is fantastic. It’s incredibly powerful, necessary and–believe me–a lifesaver during the weirdest of transitions.

I like humor. It’s easy to define: You laugh= It was funny. No high IQ required to understand that one.

I may be more comfortable with humor, but I honestly struggle with how the majority of white America handles sorrow.

One of the hardest things to get used to while living around a different culture when I was a kid was the fact that most were of the opinion pacifying someone’s hurt too early was the worst thing you could do. What that translated into? Someone crying like their heart was being torn in two and everyone encircling them but rarely coddling the one who was hurt. Why? Because tears needed to happen. 

Holding them would make the tears stop and honestly, only God should be the one to determine that.

When King David lost the son conceived with Bathsheba, he secluded himself for days in order to mourn and to pray. He understood the need for tears. He understood the need to let emotions run their course. He understood God was still present when the tears flowed and, in some ways, sorrow so deep made His presence easier to comprehend.

We seem to shortern the things that can make us heal the most: tears and circumstancial loneliness are two of the hardest ones. Your heart hurts? Find someone who can make you laugh. You’re lonely? Quick! Get in a crowd so you can appear to fit in but still struggle with convincing yourself you belong.

What if we’re stealing some of the deepest transformations within ourselves simply because we’re uncomfortable (and ready to be fun to be around again)?

What would happen if we acted as if we believed God wasn’t lying to us when He says there’s a season for everything? What would happen if we believed God was/is sovereign enough to know what our hearts need to go through in order to become more like Him? 

What would happen if we embraced what we needed rather than only praising God’s goodness for the the things we wanted?

Invaluable…?

3 brain surgeries and a “pacemaker” (VNS) should’ve killed my desire to live.   

Honestly, I’ve  heard countless times someone else’s opinion that, “there’s no way [they] could survive all that.” But I did… Every trauma became a story to tell and a reason to value joy. 

I grew up getting used to being “friends” with people who loved being around me as long as my parents or siblings were there to catch me when the seizures hit. Not once did I question my value in life. I constantly questioned my purpose… But I kept going. I knew someone thought I was valuable enough to withstand the heartache. 

This past week, I think I’ve gotten my brain around why God allowed so much to happen to me when I was young. Life hadn’t hit me yet, singing Jesus Loves Me still made me smile and gave me hope. His verbal reminder of His grace, power and sovereignty convinced me the first time. 

I rarely shouted at the Heavens for proof. I rarely had fears that I was believing in the wrong thing. 

Now, as an adult, the smallest test of my faith sends my heart into over drive and my tearducts into over time. “What if” becomes thrown at the Heavens with a bitter taste of resentment and absolute fear that I’m just a pawn in a Deity’s game. 

I have no reason to doubt God, but my life has given me lies of other things to view as powerful. Those other things have limitations, but my fear of their impending impact often leaves me unable to see the weakness in their power. 

I’m not proud of my doubts. I can very quickly identify with Thomas and Peter of the Bible as one more test looms close. All I hear God whisper is, “Baby Girl, trust Me.” … Instead of running into His arms to find comfort, I respond with:

“But Jesus! You’ve forgotten what I’ve done. You’ve forgotten who I am. Are you sure you’re bigger than this new fear? Can I trust you?!

And then, I remember the one thing that quiets my heart immediately. I remember where the battle for relationship first began and my value was first declared. 

The Sacrifice of the Son on the Cross spoke my value and future before I ever had a reason to prove Jehovah wrong. Over 2,000 years ago, He saw this timid, terrified girl-within-a-woman and allowed His son to die for me anyway. 

I may have “grown up” enough to make Child-like faith an option rather than a necessity, but this little girl will always need the Father who gave her value in the first place.