Some thanks to my brothers

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Over the last few years, God has had me on a fumbling journey into ministry, marriage, and motherhood. I don’t have a thing for the letter M, really, it’s just that these three words hold so much weight because they have been the avenues God has used to shape me the most.

When I walked onto my Bible college campus in Cincinnati, eager and ready to study the Bible, one of my first meetings was with my academic advisor, who was there to help me select courses based on my proposed ministry goals. I enthusiastically expressed my desire to serve in ministry of some kind, maybe student ministry, and he let me know that it might be best to consider going into children’s ministry since not many (if any) churches would ever hire women for positions in student ministry.

I was shocked. I had never heard of this. My home church had women who served in ministry roles of all kinds, and I didn’t know some people thought women couldn’t use their gifts to minister to others because of their gender.

So I switched my major to music ministry because I could carry a tune. Then I realized I couldn’t figure out how to read complex music to save my life, and after many hours of struggling just to turn on the software to help me study music, I had a come-to-Jesus moment in my dorm room at 1 a.m., realized this was not my thing, and changed my major to biblical studies and general ministry.

Then something incredible happened. During my junior year of college, I got a phone call from my (new) academic advisor that a church in North Carolina was looking for a student ministry intern, and specifically wanted to hire a female to help grow their ministry to teenage girls. I went to visit, accepted the internship, and spent my senior year of college in a beautiful, southern town learning how to work in a church and ministry setting. It was a hard, brave, and beautiful year.

By far, though, one of the things I cherish most about that year was how much my two supervisors poured into me. They saw something in me that I couldn’t see yet, and they called it out when I was too afraid to pursue it. “You’re made for ministry,” they said, “and you have a gift.” I have to tell you very honestly that this terrified me. For all the right reasons, and then a lot of paranoid, made-up ones. I had heard some unkind things about my gifts and my gender going hand-in-hand, and it made me, at a minimum, nervous.

Something started that year, though, that gave me confidence. My student minister from high school wrote me a letter, too—encouraging and challenging me to keep pursuing Jesus and His calling on my life. I started opening my eyes and looking for the ways my brothers were encouraging women to use their gifts, and to my surprise, I found many.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, there’s a scene where Judge Taylor acknowledges a request that women and children be removed from the courtroom. While he denies the request, he says, “People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.” And while I can tell you a lot of stories about the things that have been hard, I can tell you more stories about brothers who have encouraged me, who have gone before me, who have defended me, who have challenged and respected me.

Maybe my perspective has changed, or maybe I’m looking for something different these days. Regardless, today, on International Women’s Day, I want to honor and thank my brothers. Your support, encouragement, and affirmation of the women you know and work alongside means so much, more than you know. Your voice is a loud one in this conversation, and the words you use to affirm your sisters in Christ are heard clearly. We are grateful to you, for the ways you push and challenge us to grow and follow Jesus, first, and to use the gifts He has given not for our glory but the glory of God and good of humanity.

Thanks, first, to my dad, who always pushed me to think critically and deeply. Thank you to my husband, Kyle—you already know all the words I can hardly find to express my gratitude for you. And a big, long thanks to my brothers in Christ: Todd, Jeff, Jon, Shawn, Jamie, Nick, Danny, Aaron, Matt, Jake, Petie, Don, Greg, Jim, Neil, Eric, Jared, Anthony, Jay, Brian, Brett, Dan, Paul, Ron, Taylor, Ryan, Justin, John, Nate, Travis, David, Mike, Tyler, Nathan, Sean, and Josh.

To my sisters in the United States: let us remember to be so grateful that we live in a country where we have the freedom to vote, to use our gifts and voices, and receive an education. We live in a time where we don’t have to choose between gentleness and leadership, where we can seek both hospitality and knowledge of God—a world where we can nurture the children God gives us and do work we love and supports our families. Let us be so grateful, and let us not forget our sisters around the world who do not have the same. May we use our energies to fight on behalf of the voiceless.

Happy International Women’s Day, friends, and a special thanks to my brothers.

seeking God over parenting theory

seeking God over parenting theory

Hi friends. I’m over at The Lookout Magazine today talking about how in the early days of parenting, I tried to be a perfect mom and then eventually began to rely on God instead. Here’s an excerpt:

I had a conversation with myself this morning, and it went like this: “My son’s 20-month appointment is coming up. I should probably research what vaccines he’s going to get, but I’m seeing Jayla today and I need to remember not to talk about it because she is very offended about vaccines. 

“I wonder if he’s getting enough nutrition. He didn’t eat fruit last week and has declared war on vegetables. Maybe he won’t grow this year. What if he doesn’t grow? Must remember not to ask Betty about it because she’s a vegan and would die if she knew my kid was on a steady diet of chicken and more chicken. 

“He didn’t sleep last night. I wonder if he’s teething. Must remember not to mention that to Susanne because she believes in the attachment theory and would shame me forever if she knew I didn’t go rock him back to sleep.” 

That sounds like a fun conversation to have with yourself at 6:30 a.m., right?

Read the rest here.

where else would I go?

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I feel like it is my duty to show you this picture.

I’ve been a journaler since I could write legibly, and I have the elementary pre-teen angst journals to prove it. They’re mostly filled with elaborate stories about boys I liked and American Girl dolls I wanted, but in between all the elementary crazy, there’s a question or two tucked in those pages about the meaning of life and spiritual curiosity. We grew up going to church on occasion, and we always showed up for the big holidays, Christmas and Easter. We dressed in our best, sang carols, and read the story of baby Jesus coming into the world as a yearly tradition.

Ever since I was a little kid, I loved learning about this big, infinite God who created everything there ever was. In my little eyes—I could never get enough of him. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to know God. I’ve been curious about what God had to do with the human existence, if anything at all. As a fourth grader, I can remember being up late at night wondering if life had meaning, if any of this was real, and if the way I saw the color red was the same way someone else saw the color red. I was a spunky, philosophical little thing, asking adults questions like, “Do you think God exists?” as icebreakers to conversation.

During my middle school years, a family friend invited some of us to attend church with them one weekend. I’d never heard of a “Christian” church before, and coming from a very mainline Protestant background–those evangelical-types always seemed a little funny to me. It was everything I didn’t recognize or understand; people were dressed in jeans and approaching God like a familiar friend instead of a frightening man in the sky. I envied the way they spoke of God, as if they are referring to someone they’d just been with that morning, and I wanted to know if I could have access to a God like that.

When the worship leader got up to lead us in music, everyone all around me started singing right out loud, which was startling at first. A few raised their hands, some sang while sitting, and a small crowd quietly hummed to themselves. Because I loved music, I sang along with them, and wondered if the God they were all singing to could hear me, too.

I don’t remember anything about the sermon that day, but I do recall picking up a Bible for myself that morning and reading it with my own eyes. The first thing I read was in Romans 10:11-13, “For the scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” I couldn’t stop reading. I took a Bible home with me that morning and poured over its pages for the next several weeks.

I met Jesus that year.

I was in seventh grade, and seventh grade is a particularly cruel time in anyone’s life—much less a girl’s. Seventh grade was a hard year for me for all kinds of reasons, but mostly because in lots of ways, I felt like I was losing my sense of home. Although my parents tried their best to maintain stability through the divorce (and I can never thank them enough for that), there was an inevitable piece that always felt broken and torn, no matter how much we wanted to put it back together. I had two addresses instead of one, different closets, different school busses—all kinds of different, really, and I had the zits to prove it.

But there on that Sunday morning, Jesus became my home. And every time I come to write, I come back to that truth—that there in my awkward years of wearing leopard-print pants with clogs (true story), Jesus met me. It was a naïve and simple faith, but it was Jesus all the same.

I’ve grown since then. My understanding of who Jesus is has continued to change and evolve, my perspective of God is bigger and richer, and in many ways harder and more complex. I don’t believe there’s a simple answer to everything anymore and there are days I actually long for the simple faith of my youth. But even still–even in the midst of my existential wandering, questions, and doubts, every time I come back to the Word, he is there, reminding me. Jesus is my home.

As I prepare my heart for Advent this year, I’m reminded of the picture at the end of John 6 when Jesus is talking to his disciples. At that point, many of his followers had decided he was no longer worth following, and Jesus says to them, “You don’t want to go away too, do you?” And Peter replies, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” I relate so much to Peter in this exchange–as I continue to grow and pursue God, I’ve watched people walk away from Jesus or just quietly drift into a faithless sleep. And I’ve drifted, too, of course–I’ve been in and out of a vibrant faith, sometimes even crawling my way back to trusting and believing God. But Peter’s words to Jesus touch me. When the uncertainty or pain of life feels like it might swallow me whole, I am just like Peter, saying, “Where else would I go, Lord? You are my home.”

During this Advent season, it has not escaped me that regardless of our circumstances, or no matter how far away God feels sometimes, he is not like our feelings. He is so much more, so much bigger. We can have as much of God as we want, and he withholds no good thing from us. 

My husband and son, reading Unwrapping The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
My husband and son, reading Unwrapping The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp

a deep sigh of relief

a deep sigh of relief

We took a little four-day vacation this week, and I finally put my money where my mouth is: I turned off email, deleted social media from my phone, and reduced the noise and clutter. I filled the silent spaces with nothing but thoughts, prayer, books, and laughter. I let myself be bored and remembered that the world doesn’t always need me.

Verdict: it was good.

Isn’t that a humbling thought? The world can go on without us. Happy fall to you, friend, wherever you find yourself today. I sincerely pray the same for you–a deep sigh of relief in a manic and rushing world.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. –Matthew 10:29-31 (ESV)

why I’m quiet about my messed up story

why I’m quiet about my messed up story

This past week, my close friend and mentor Kelli wrote an article for Today’s Christian Woman entitled “Your Messed Up Story.” When she originally asked a few us of to consider being interviewed for it, I was in a particularly busy season of life and at first denied the request. Not because I didn’t want to, but I just didn’t have time. But the more I thought about it, I couldn’t put her article out of my mind—mostly because of a promise I made in recovery years ago: I wasn’t going to be defined by my mess, but if there ever came an appropriate time to talk about it and give God glory through it, I would.

Bulimia nervosa is defined as an eating disorder characterized by binge eating and purging, or consuming a large amount of food in a short amount of time followed by an attempt to get rid of it. I started binging and purging when I was 17, during my senior year of high school. I had started gaining weight due to a back injury from cheerleading, and with a serious shift in metabolism, and I started feeling really out of control. There were a lot of other spiraling circumstances during that time of my life; my body was just one of them. But for whatever reason, I was hyper-focused on my body, and pretty soon I was in over my head. During my freshman year of college, I backed off a bit—making promises to myself that was “my last time.” But you can’t really talk yourself out of a disorder, so by the time summer came, I was back into the routine, and binging and purging had become a “normal” part of my life.

The irony of all of this (besides the obvious) was that I was a biblical studies & ministry major at college, and a ministry intern at a non-profit (and later a church). I feared if I told anyone I would be seen differently and “unfit for ministry,” although I know now that I could have been honest–back then, I was living in a state of anxiety and paranoia. Perhaps what’s most frightening about the whole thing was my ability to hide and pretend. When people asked about my rapid weight loss, I had answers ready. “I’ve been working out,” (total lie) “I’ve been watching what I eat” (kind of the opposite, actually), etc. Perhaps my ability to lie was the scariest part of it all—I was in a giant web and felt like anyone close to me would have walked away had I been honest. How could anyone trust me after I had been so deceptive? I was ministering to teenage girls while I was suffering from an eating disorder, and who would ever hire (or listen to) someone like that?

To sum it up: throughout the next year I was broken in a thousand ways—sharing my struggle with close friends and my then boyfriend (now husband), confessing to my parents, and going through a year of counseling. Oh, and did I mention? I was a resident assistant for our dorm on our Christian campus that year, too, so while I was counseling others and leading them in weekly Bible study, I was going through my own personal hell. Looking back, it would have been more honest to give myself a leadership break, but I didn’t because I felt a compulsion to not let everyone know what a real and serious mess I was.

It’s been seven years since then, and I’m fully recovered. One would think that after the hard work of recovery, I would have no problem sharing my story and giving God the credit for all the ways I’ve been healed—emotionally, physically, and spiritually. But when Kelli’s article released on Thursday, my first reaction was panic. I said to my husband, “Oh… crap.” When he asked what was wrong, I responded, “Oh, well—nothing. Kelli interviewed me for this article and I was really honest and now I kind of regret it.” After reading it, Kyle said, “Wait, why do you regret it? It’s the truth.” “I know,” I said, “But now people will actually know I’m kind of a hot mess.”

“But isn’t that the point?”

Husbands, I tell you.

I don’t talk much about my eating disorder and recovery because—here’s the embarrassing truth—I don’t like how it makes me sound. It makes me feel like a crazy person, or that I’ll be perceived as one, even though I never have perceived anyone else with an eating disorder as crazy. So I’m quiet about it because it’s not really a conversation starter, and I mostly just want to manage the way I’m perceived by telling you all the lovely things about me, first. Which is actually just gross. But I think that’s how all of us are when it comes to our sin, mess, and baggage. We don’t bring it out into the light not just because we’re ashamed of it, or because we don’t believe God can use it, but because—frankly—we’re worried about people’s perceptions. What will people think if they know __________? It sounds so elementary, right? How can we be adults and still be trying to manage people’s perceptions?

What I found on the other side of confession was that no one—not a single person—was as hard on me as I was on myself. And I was met with grace. So much grace. As Kelli so eloquently wrote, “Sharing not just our ‘before and after’ stories but also our ‘in the middle of it’ realities points others not toward ourselves but instead toward the Cross—toward the redemption and grace that saved us and keeps on saving us.” Yes, it would be easier if God took a big magic wand and waved it over this part of my story. He hasn’t. But he continues to save me every day, in the bathroom, at a restaurant, in my kitchen, and in the mirror … directing me back towards someone so much bigger: Jesus. So I should be over perception management and striving for perfection because that’s kind of the entire point: Jesus is perfect and I can never be. So there you have it: I’m kind of a big hot mess and saved by the only One who has ever been perfect—and I continue to be rescued from the darkness that lives inside of all of us.

on Lent: what do you do?

I’ll just come out and say it: this it the time of year I’m a little jealous of my liturgical friends. As an evangelical at heart (and in practice), our church doesn’t practice Lent in the traditional sense … but me? During this season of my life, I’m slowly becoming a sucker for stillness and rhythm, longing for a sense of balance and accountability.

So, I’m curious (you know I love input)–for those of you who practice Lent as a part of your church community and/or in your homes, what do you do (or not do)? What practices do you put in place during this time of year? What habits do you reevaluate or reconsider? And how do you (and your family) intentionally draw closer to Jesus?

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(That’s one of mine, by the way.)

a day late: i want to be daring

This year, I want to be daring.

I probably won’t jump out of a plane, travel the world or hike Kilimanjaro. That’s just not the kind of daring that’s calling me right now.

(Maybe when Keegan starts using the toilet. Then we’ll consider it.)

I’m interested in a whole different kind of daring these days.

About a year ago, Kyle and I read a book together that has radically changed the way we live. Sometimes we read together, it’s true. And in almost every occasion, I make it through about two pages of what his book before I exclaim in a melodramatic voice, “I JUST DON’T GET IT!” He almost always puts my book down after three paragraphs … mostly because of indifference. I love non-fiction like I love tea; give him a novel or biography about someone who’s dead and he’s set for weeks. We’ve reconciled on this–we have different taste in books. But in this particular instance, we both wanted to read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. (Sidenote: I briefly talked about her work last year and how it was changing my life and I was telling people in Target about it, and a year later I can say it has actually changed my life.)

Because see–I read her words about the power of vulnerability, being willing to fail, and letting myself be seen right before I did approximately all of those things. I applied for a new job when I was 41 weeks pregnant (people usually don’t recommend this) and I interviewed when I had slept for just one hour. Dare greatly? Willing to fail? Uh, yeah. We plopped ourselves into a new church community with a newborn and opened ourselves up, willing to be seen. Kyle started grad school and sat in a class where he admittedly felt like a kindergartener and dared so greatly by sitting in a room full of experience. I knew something wasn’t quite right in July when I was still feeling blue, so I said it right out loud and walked myself into a support group for women suffering from postpartum depression, and I’m a better mother for it. During 2013, we most certainly dared greatly.

And so this year as I look ahead, I feel ready to be daring all over again, in lots of other ways. I want to live a less scared life. I want to stop being so afraid of failure, judgment, vulnerability, being seen, and all kinds of other things that hold me back from living a wholehearted life and following Jesus fully. I want to be daring and invite people I know and trust to tell me the hard truth about myself. I want to go through the beautiful (albeit sometimes painful) process of growth and change, because I know there’s nothing sadder than someone who’s decided to stop growing. I’m going to pay attention when I’m tempted to shut down, and learn from my mistakes and failures instead of never take any risks at all.

During a class with the Influence Network a couple of weeks ago, Jessi Connelly said it this way, “There’s no such thing as a perfect mom. So if you can’t be a perfect mom, the other option is being a mom who is unwilling to admit she’s wrong.” I lost my breath for a moment thinking about all the ways I’ve seen relationships fall apart or parents shame their kids simply because of pride. Isn’t it true? Haven’t we all ruined a relationship, burned a bridge, or had to ask for forgiveness because we held on tight to pride and didn’t just say, “I’m sorry, I made a mistake?” I want to be daring and ask for forgiveness, say I’m sorry and mean it, and reconcile when I need to. I want to let other people get a word in and listen more and talk less.

In all these ways, I hope to be daring. So here’s to 2014 and another year of daring greatly.

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