Jamaican Learnings

I’ve been back from Jamaica for less than 24 hours and already the question has been asked multiple times, “How was it?” There is no good, elevator answer to this question. It’s complicated. So, as the plane descended into Charlotte from Montego Bay I tried to put down some of the initial learnings of our team…

IMG_3396You say that the first shall be last. When we experience a new culture, a different way of viewing the world we become overwhelmed with the importance of the small things. Lord, you taught us to be humble.

Each new experience is an opportunity for us to see. To see a culture different than ours. To see the suffering of others. To see abundant hope that exudes an unrelenting faith in Christ. Lord, you taught us to open our eyes.

The hand of one student at school, the smile of one person with a developmental disability, the joy of one adult in the infirmary, the speed of one little boy-all of them over time, whether speaking or mute, reveal to us the importance of relationships. Lord, you taught us to be patient.

True joy lives in the words of a song, the slap of a card game, the smiles of new friends, and the connection of a team. Lord, you taught us to laugh.

On the surface we wonder what reading scripture or praying for someone can do. We wonder how wasting time with children will change their lives. Then, in an instant, we realize we just may be someone’s miracle and we understand the missional impact of relationships. Lord, you taught us to grow.

In spending time with others, we share space with them. In sharing space with others, we bear witness to their suffering and hope. In bearing witness to their suffering and hope, we affirm their value and worth. Lord, you taught us the ministry of presence.

In all things, in all places, in all ways we served God.

Front-Row Seat

I don’t really like long, holiday weekends. At all. Don’t get me wrong, I thoroughly appreciate not having to work (although in ministry there is never really a day off). But I still don’t like them. I dread their coming for one reason: it’s an extra day (or two) of being alone. Oh I’ll go to the store or to the gym, but for the most part the whole weekend is typically spent by myself. I avoid social media so I don’t have to see what others are up to on their holiday weekend.

But…this holiday weekend was different. Very different.

A few months ago a good friend encouraged me to set down roots. I took his words to heart and have mulled them over many times. The last time I took steps to do that I was hurt deeply. Was I ready to take that risk again? What do roots mean for someone who has a soul full of wanderlust? What does adventure look like staying in one place?

I wasn’t sure I knew and that was terrifying. Even though I had no answers, I renewed my lease at the beginning of May. For the first time since 2013 I’m living in the same apartment in the same city. Since that moment a few weeks ago, I’ve lived in a terrible state of vulnerability. There are many changes happening in my life, quite a few I have no control over. That’s scary. I’ve been told there is amazing fruit that happens when you set down roots, but that vulnerable feeling was almost enough to make me run. And run fast.IMG_3227

So as this holiday weekend approached I wasn’t looking forward to it. Then this amazingly beautiful thing happened. I saw the fruit. No wait, I didn’t just see it, I experienced the fruit in the depths of my heart and soul.

In the hugs of friends I’ve known now for 5 years. In the joyful conversation on their front porch while looking at the lake and later watching the sky turn shades of pink and purple as the sun set. In wasting the day away poolside with a relatively new friend. In drops of water splashing one another that were highlighted by smiles and laughter while kayaking that night on Belews Lake.

In being part of someone else’s family in such a way that you know siblings, spouses, and kids. In fireside chats. In conversation that simply flows without effort. In silence too. In counting stars. In deep belly laughs from an inside joke. In knowing I always have a place to go when life gets too hard.

In leading worship and worshipping with the same people. In knowing their names when I look out from the pulpit. In working with friends who trust my “holy spirit urgings” and go with the flow.

This is community at it’s core. It’s the beginning of fruit from putting down roots. But it’s also the fruit of having a wanderlust soul. Community doesn’t have to be experienced one way and I am so grateful that in my life it isn’t. The pressure to have it look a certain way was too much. For me, it’s both/and not either/or. I am who I am because of the people and experiences in my life. While traveling or staying in one place. They’ve shaped me and my life. I’m excited (most of the time) to lean into the vulnerability of putting down roots in this stage of life. There is so much adventure there to discover and I have a front-row seat.

“Cause your whole heart’s a village. Everyone you love has built it. And I’ve been working there myself. And that’s where I’ll be. With a front-row seat. To watch you life your life well.” (Village by Cam)

The Next Thirty

As 2016 began I was filled with hope, cautious optimism, and a bit of dread. 2016 would be the year I turn 30. 3-0. I flip-flopped for months, sometimes within the same day, even the same hour, between being thrilled to be 30 and wanting to stop time forever at 29. Society considers me a failure at 30: semi-successful career, not married, no kids, very little money in the bank, and still renting instead of being a homeowner. Thank you society for placing simplistic, unrealistic expectations upon my life that are based upon some obscure standard.

There is something epic when you reach a new age bracket. It’s a new beginning. A new season. As I move forward into my 30’s, I bring with me all of my experiences and feelings of my first 30 years. In this new transition for me, I see that “society” has it all wrong. I look at my life and shake my head in awe that I’m only 30! Only 30 and I’ve developed relationships with people all over the world (you name the place and I probably know someone, or know someone who knows someone); traveled nationally and internationally listening to stories and engaging in new, unknown cultures; impacted the lives of 100s of children and youth (good and bad); graduated with two masters from two distinguished universities; known the importance of team and won two state volleyball championships; found my way not with ease but with messy, stumbling mistakes; loved in a way that’s broken my heart (more than once); given sacrificially; learned new skills; taken up new hobbies; developed the art of mindfulness (on and off my yoga mat); moved way too many times; held family close even when there are miles between; stood up for causes I believe in; and deepened my relationship with Jesus. This only scratches the surface of my first 30 years, but I’d say it’s a pretty great scratch.

There are expectations of who we should be and what we should accomplish by 30, particularly for women. I’m so glad my life didn’t meet those expectations. The way I lived my first 30 years is authentically me. My deepest desire for all young women as they journey toward 30 is to laugh in the face of convention and be you. Be the you God created you to be. When you do that, 30 becomes a celebration not a reason to wear black and mourn. It becomes a reason to look forward to the next 30 years with a real sense of hope, not a faulty one.IMG_3066

In the words of Tim McGraw, “in my next thirty years” I want more of the same from my first thirty. More love. More joy. More Jesus. More laughter. And yes, even more pain. Along with it I want a deeper ability to more fully engage those things. I want to experience them in the very core of who I am in such a way that I lean into them instead of shying away. Embarking on my next 30 years there is so much adventure to be had. Let’s do this.

Going Hungry for Transformation

Last month our youth group participated in World Vision’s 30 Hour Famine. Check out what I wrote about our experience below…

It was toward the end of our 30 Hour Famine and two of my youth were debating whether or not to have a piece of fruit and cracker at our last juice break. They were so close to completing the 30 hours with only water. – See more at: http://www.30hourfamine.org/2016/05/going-hungry-transformation/#sthash.7yjYIjtt.dpuf

Creating Space for Easter

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It’s Easter Monday. The sun is finally out, it’s beautiful outside, and I find myself reflecting and wondering what’s next. Passed is the excitement of sunrise and worship services, Easter lilies, egg hunts, Easter baskets, processionals, and the resurrection of Jesus. The long, hard road of the Lenten journey reached it’s end in joyful celebration. What’s next?

The Lenten journey is not one that I particularly enjoy, but it is one that I’ve sought to actively participate in since I was a child. I remember fasting on Wednesday during lunch with my dad. We placed my lunch money in a little white church bank that was donated to some charity at the end of Lent. I remember giving up candy and soda and social media all in an attempt to draw closer to Jesus.

This year I chose to continue to give up alcohol. Not drinking was a decision I made at the beginning of 2016. I made it not because I feared being an alcoholic, but because I honestly acknowledged how much space it was taking up in my life and in my wallet. Alcohol became an easy go to at the end of a hard day (or even a good day). A glass of wine. A beer. Sometimes very little, and sometimes too much. All of it taking up too much space. There wasn’t room for anything else.

I also attempted to give away 40 things that I own, one for each day of the Lenten journey. I’m not sure I gave away exactly 40 items but I came pretty darn close. Now at the end of 40 days I keep seeing things that I don’t need. I’ve always wanted to live in a space that was filled with books, travel souvenirs, and photos of my family and friends. A space that was a representation of relationship; of living life with others. Trinkets, clothes-stuff-had clouded that space. It was suffocating. It had overtaken the space that I had to be filled with relationships.

I didn’t just give something up for Lent, I also dove into a Lenten study called Redeemed from Sacred Holidays. My story, my voice is one that I’ve never been confident in sharing with another without a deep relationship with the person. The journey through Redeemed (along with other important words and people) encouraged me that I had something to say. That my story mattered. As I exposed the lies told to me by myself and others, I created space for my story to be redeemed. Correction, I created space to remember that my story has already been redeemed-I simply needed the space to claim it for myself.

Yet, this year, as my Lenten practices draw to a close, I find that once again I feel no closer to Jesus than I was 40 days ago. But what I have realized is that there is now space. There is space to breathe deeply. There are parts of my life-physical, spiritual, and emotional-that are now free, unoccupied, open. There is now space for Jesus.

So what’s next? Next is Easter. Next is breathing in the beauty and grace of the resurrection story. Easter is not a day. It is a season. My Lenten journey created space for Easter. It created space for a new journey. Space to continue to celebrate. Space to continue the formation and growth of my faith. Space to ponder my gifts, my story. Space to grow already established relationships and cultivate new ones. It’s a hard truth to claim that I feel no closer to Jesus, but now I understand that I needed to do something else. I needed to create space for Jesus to be near me.

Holy Thursday. Holy Table.

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A few weeks ago I stumbled upon the show Blue Bloods. Now I may be 6 years behind in discovering this show, but better late than never. In so many ways this a classic New York City cop show staring Tom Selleck and Donnie Wahlberg (who I remember from New Kids on the Block) that has very little about it that makes it stand out from the other cop/crime dramas on TV, save for one thing: Sunday dinner. Each episode the entire family gathers for Sunday dinner. While their careers intersect and they may be at odds with each other for one reason or another, every week without fail the Reagan family gathers together at the table. It’s the most important part of every episode.
The table. So much happens at the table. When I was growing up every day finished at the table. If family dinner lasted less than an hour it was a rarity. Even as my sister and I got older, and we became more involved in our various activities, we still gathered at the table every night and especially every Sunday after church. We were just ordinary people doing an ordinary thing, yet somehow it became holy.
Part of my heritage is Polish so each Christmas Eve we celebrate Wigilia. While not exactly scripted, it is very structured. We begin with a traditional Polish prayer that the family has been using for over 50 years. Same foods: pierogi, white fish, mushroom soup, potato soup, a green vegetable, and bread. But in between the prayer and food we break opatki with one another. It’s the consistency of a Catholic communion wafer. We approach each other one at a time, break off a piece of each other’s opatki and then gift that other person with words about the impact they’ve had on our life the previous year. By the end we are all a hot mess of tears and laughter. The hardest years are the ones where someone is missing for the first time. The table just doesn’t feel complete.
Gathering at the table. We gather together with family. We gather together with friends. We gather together with strangers. Such an ordinary, everyday, almost mundane act, yet in the midst of it there is an imprint of the holy. And life is changed forever.
On a basic level what happens at the table is that we eat and receive sustenance for life. But gathering and being present at the table has a much deeper and more spiritual meaning than that. At the table we enter into relationship with one another. At the table there is modeling of behavior, of manners, of how to be fully present with a person. At the table we bear witness to one another’s joy, pain, celebrations, and grief. At the table we bear witness to another person’s value, worth and life. At the table we have conversation, we have fights, we debate, we fellowship. At the table we allow others to see our authentic selves. There is laughter and tears. At the table, without even realizing it, we experience the presence of God and walk away changed.
For three years the disciples walked and followed Jesus. Some fishermen-unschooled ordinary men. Others had been looking for the man who would be the Messiah and had found Him. This was the rabbi, the teacher they had been looking for. In the Jewish tradition, the men chose a rabbi under which to study and learn the law. They were to follow so closely to the teaching that they became covered in the dust of the rabbi. The disciples had walked alongside, behind Jesus every step of the way. They were covered in Jesus’ dust, filthy, whole-hearted followers of Jesus’ teachings.
In three years they had gathered at the table hundreds of times. Breaking bread together, sharing life with one another. Today when we gather at the table it’s often seen as hospitality. When my friends would come over, my parents would feed them and we would sit together at the table. A friendly and generous reception of friends, guests, or visitors. But in that day, having a meal together, breaking bread together was so much more. It was a covenant between two people. It was a binding agreement between two or more parties as a gracious means of being in relationship with one another. Both were invested in an established relational bond and unwavering commitment. That’s what was happening when they gathered at the table.
This time, as the disciples and Jesus gathered at the table, it was for the Passover meal. A meal to remember God’s deliverance of Israel from bondage in Egypt. So they ate roasted lamb and baked unleavened bread.
Passover has a script. Each aspect of the meal was to remember the covenant that God made with the Israelites that night as they fled Egypt. It was at the table that they remembered. But this Passover. This Passover, Jesus went off script. Jesus broke bread anyway. Yet, this time the words Jesus said didn’t fit the old covenant. They were no longer remembering their deliverance from Egypt. Jesus asked them to remember Him. Out of Jesus going off script comes a new covenant with Jesus. A new reason to gather at the table.
As if that wasn’t enough to throw the disciples off balance, Jesus says that someone is going to betray Him and that Peter is going to deny Him.
This year, for the first time I noticed the word used to describe how Peter responds to Jesus. Vehemently. Peter forcefully, with such emotion that no one could doubt how he felt, told Jesus, “I’m not going to deny you. I’ve followed you for three years. I’m the guy you said you will build your church upon. I’m the guy who knew you were the Messiah! I walked on water! I may put my foot in my mouth but I’ve followed you! Can’t you see that I’m covered in your dust? I’ll never deny knowing you. I’ll never deny that I’m one of your followers!”
Jesus knew. Jesus knew what was coming His way in just a few short hours. And this is where grace abounds: Jesus gathered at the table anyway. Jesus broke bread with them anyway knowing that in mere hours one would betray Him and another would deny Him.
It’s always been Judas’ betrayal and Peter’s denial. It’s always been someone else who would so easily turn on Jesus. I’m struck by how their story seems to be my story. Jesus shows me the same grace every time I choose to follow him. Jesus knows that, just like with those He broke bread with at the table, I’ll betray him and choose to go my own way.
Even in the midst of our denial, our betrayal, our brokenness Jesus meets us at the table. Especially on this night.
He knows that our voices will be among the crowd crying “Crucify him!” tomorrow. But he meets us there anyway.
On Sunday I watched our youth gather in small groups at the table. It was messy. Awkward. Yet so unbelievably holy. Jesus was there. Jesus is here. Jesus knows that even though we come to the table followers of Jesus covered in His dust-we will deny. We will betray. Yet he meets me at the table. That’s grace.