Tuesday, September 10, 2013

To Bravely Be

Today is a day of remembrance for many. It's a day of triumph and pain, but mostly, a reminder of strength.

Eighteen years ago, the only thing I ever wanted was to be healthy. I wanted to have a mind that wasn't plotting my demise and death, and eyes that saw a worthy human before them and not Ugly. Bad. Useless. Annoying. Loud. Pretentious. Emotional. Usable.  A litany of descriptors and labels followed me around.

I hated me for all that I was not. I hated me for all the things other people told me I ought to be and for all the things they thought I should be able to do and didn't. Or couldn't. Donald Miller said it best: "The great stumbling block of the creative mind is the awareness of self from the perspective of others."  This awareness was an albatross of obligation, this contract to conform that was both other and self-imposed. I carried the weight of it all for as long as I could until I just couldn't anymore. And unfortunately, that's all any of us who are concerned with pleasing others have to look forward to: The moment we can't carry their demands any longer.

That heart-wrenching moment really is the beginning of something majestic - but it must rupture everything held falsely precious first. All that you hold dear must lie as a sacrifice on the altar of willingness and become only a memory before healing can begin.

My moment came 6 years ago, September 11, 2007. I stepped onto a plane headed for Paradise, Utah (no, seriously) where I surrendered my life, my choices, and my dignity (for a time) and became willing. It was truly one of the most ugly and pathetic experiences of my whole life, literally handing over my mind to other people who could take care of it better than I could. There just comes a point in some people's lives when all of the words, and the bullying, and the abuse, and the judgement and silencing literally breaks you. And by "you" I mean a person's soul, the very essence of them becomes something else, entirely. It took a good, long time for me to see that only in an act of both absolute surrender and bravery can a soul that broken find repair.

And I did.

I am still not perfect. I am still not "good". I am not now and never was "bad". I am definitely still not you. I'm not measured or defined by standards. I am not wearing labels or walking the way I've been told is acceptable. I'm just alive and trying and enjoying and failing and embracing and adventuring and being and HUMAN. I am who I am because I am supposed to be who I am.

And if I'm honest, that's all I want: To bravely be myself.

To stand however I see fit to stand.

Even if it is alone.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Breathing Deep

I used to think it sounded so cool, that phrase, “born again.” I know most people hear “born again” and think of Christianity and salvation and rites of passage, I did, too. And when I prayed the salvation prayer, I passionately believed I was truly living for the first time.

But, I had a secret and a sadness and neither of them would leave me alone in my new life. For 14 years the secret and the sadness followed me around like pathetic strays, and because I was a pathetic stray myself, I fed them to keep their company and starved myself.

My dark night of the soul lasted half of my life time. I had to look death in the face of her half bald head over a hospital sink and choke on life support before I realized that I was not living, not even a little bit.

When a baby is born, it cries. It’s alive, but, that first breath, that first expansion hurts. I guess I spent a good bit of my life afraid of that first breath, and perhaps that’s why I fooled myself into thinking I was already alive for all of those years.

It’s a lot of work being born, and it took me a long time to be ready to take that first breath. I was scared of the pain, of all that was unknown before me, of life without my strays. I wasn't sure I had what it took to live a successful life, or even just a life that didn't get in anyone’s way. But there I was, being wheeled out of the hospital, going into treatment, euthanizing my strays, holding a job, learning to eat, running for joy, and doing the very best I could to live.

Six years ago today, I woke up from a coma, came off of artificial life support, and started making my way through.

This sixth year has been the hardest in my recovery. It’s no longer new to me; the novelty of it has worn off. Now, recovery is hard work, attentiveness, intentionality, and honesty. Sounds a lot like living, doesn't it? While I am so grateful that is true, it is still hard, in the midst of a year that feels like great loss in community and faith, to not long for my strays.

And I realize this year hurts because in losing, I’m taking my first breath. And coming to life hurts.

On this gift of a day, I acknowledge the pain of what was and let it pass, and breathe deep this new life, expanding my lungs with the unknown and the possibilities.

Tomorrow morning, I will run a race, at the end of which my closest friends will be waiting. I really hope I kick the races ass and get the PR I'm hoping for...but if I don't? There will be another race...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Barrier of The Mind

I don’t know how to explain the feeling I get when I cross a finish line. In the moments before, I can see all of my training flashing before my eyes; remember each pain and sacrifice that went into that singular instant of victory. Foot strike after foot strike, eyes forward, motion forward. When it gets tough, I remind myself: “This is the only place you have to be right now. A runner is all you have to be right now.”

I find my rhythm; this soul deep heart beat between the road and my feet. We are all that exist as the world fades. Running is my favorite place to be; a simple, safe place.

No matter the distance, when the finish line is in sight, when the run ends, it always seems like it has come so quickly. There is excitement, and a little bit of mourning because on the other side, the race is complete. There is always another race, but they are never the same. Every race has its own set of obstacles and distractions to overcome, so each victory is, sweetly, different.

Today, I was given a gift: I got to watch the joy eek up the face of fellow runners as they raised their fists in triumph and, one foot after another, let their struggle and fears fall away. I didn't get to run, but I had so much fun cheering the runners on as they rounded the 12.5 mile mark. To see another overcome, to see a person do something they didn't believe they could do and to see sheer glee take over their face when they realize they have done it – it just might be the only thing in this world that’s better than crossing the finish line myself. How very cool that I got to be a part of that, a part of their race, today. My favorite moment was seeing my friend come speeding down the chute, with a big FAT grin of a face, and hearing her daughter, usually so shy, shouting out, “MOMMY!” and giving her momma a high-five. I am so very proud of her! 

So many things in this life will try and distract us from the finish line: Money, people, cancer, fire, anger, change, hate, rejection. The only way to stay focused, the only way to make it to the finish line, in a race or in life, is with each other. Some days you may be the one running, hitting your stride, and others you might be the voice shouting over the noise, “You’re almost there! Looking good! Finish strong!” The success of these runners, of my friend, was my success; their joy was mine, too.

I’ve never really known how to answer someone when they ask me why I run. It’s kind of a crazy thing to get into, admittedly, and no answer has ever felt complete enough to bother sharing. But, today helped me understand why a little better: Running breeds community.

Even though it’s considered an individual sport, it’s bigger than any one runner or any specific race. It’s a lifestyle, a culture, a belonging: We need each other to make it. The road to the finish is strewn with well wishers and encouragement if you’ll listen for them. Screaming and clapping and smiling for hours are the least we can do for our community, when it’s our turn. We are all runners in one sense or another and a runner is all you have to be to belong – it’s enough. We journey together, even if it appears separate. You may find this terribly idealistic, but I believe it to my core. Distance is an illusion; a barrier of the mind.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Epic Authenticity

I am not a girly girl. I never have been. I did try once, but poking yourself in the eye with one of those brush things with the black gunk on it even once was too much. It’s not that I don’t want to have long, luxurious hair, or perfectly lined lips, or a lovely, lithe body: It’s that I just don’t, and I never will. I am not those things and I don’t have those things. It used to be a really big deal to me that I wasn’t like the girly girls – the pretty ones, with “come-hither” stares that line magazines and sitcoms (mostly, I wanted to be like the ones in the sitcoms, but funnier). But I wised up. It took a very long season of extreme pain and futile efforts in just about every realm possible in life, but somewhere after all of the hospitals and scars and scales and toilets and MANY “dark nights of the soul” I began to see what my idea of “beauty” was; it was hideous. And it wasn’t mine.

We are exposed to over 2,000 ads DAILY, and the advertising industry makes a whopping 100 billion a year . The National Eating Disorders Association website states that in the United States alone, 30 million people (20 million women and 10 million men) struggle with some form of eating disorder, and we know there are MORE than those because many cases are not reported . In 2011, total sales in the beauty and personal care industry were roughly $426 BILLION . Are you starting to see the bigger system here? Who do you think is benefiting from you hating your body? NOT YOU.

Ladies and gents, if you’d never been visually beaten to death by the ideals of what a few “powerful” people believe to be beautiful, you’d never have thought that you weren’t. Your self hate pays for someone else’s life, while you, dejected, tired, and hungry bemoan your body at the water cooler with your friends at work, or as you shop for new clothes, on Facebook as you announce yet another diet beginning, or in front of your sweet daughter, who hears every word and reads every whim of body hate on your face as you poke and prod your body while you look on in the mirror.
I do not want to breed more shame, I do not want to condemn another soul – we are so good at doing that to ourselves- but I do want to call out to you because I am afraid. I am afraid of another generation of girls growing up like I did, with their childhoods stolen from them by toilet bowls and treadmills because no one told them the story isn’t true.
If you are anything like me, I “dieted” because I believed I had to, to be accepted; because no one wants to be disconnected. Yet, that’s what happens to those people perceived as ugly or fat, isn’t it? We ignore them, make fun of them, judge them. We don’t want to experience that (and this is another problem, that the same ideals that make us hate ourselves make us hate other people).

So in our pursuit of acceptance, we label others as unacceptable. We chase diet after diet to avoid being unaccepted and potion after potion because we believe what these products and diets sell us. We can’t even see that they aren’t selling us the ideal body; they sell us a fairytale. They make us believe that if we can look a certain way, be beautiful /thin/buff enough, we can have a great life. We get so mesmerized by the possibility, by its simplicity, by the fact that its almost in our reach. What a great story teller this beauty industry is, huh? Liars.

You know what I want in life? Authenticity – in body, heart, and soul. Isn’t authenticity what we are all looking for, after all? Nobody wants knock-offs, right? So why are we chasing a knock off body? A fake story? I don't know about you, but I'd rather connect with an authentic person than one who is only physically beautiful. 

Can we, as a culture, please focus on authenticity? On accepting who we really are, who others really are? There is nothing wrong with who we really are. And if we focus on authenticity, we can give this world SO MUCH MORE than a pretty face or butt! I have my own butt. I don’t want yours.

What does it look like to authentically be you? Ask yourself: If the ads on TV, the magazine on your coffee table, the people on TV, if they weren’t what you accepted as your standard of beauty, would you see yourself as beautiful, as authentic? What can you do to reset your standards of beauty? What’s stopping you?

Let your story of becoming authentic touch the soul of another person who is killing themselves under all of the layers of untrue stories and self hate trying desperately to become that fake image. Get naked by telling them your story. All of it. Don’t hide the ugly parts (you may be the only person who actually thinks they are ugly). Let’s not starve ourselves and the next generation by proxy. Let’s not throw our money to the pigs so that the beauty industry can have a “beautiful” life.

Let’s tell a different story – a real life epic of a fake world turned authentic.



Monday, May 6, 2013

I'm Doing It (Learning to Live in Ordinary Courage)

Remember learning to drive? Who taught you? Did you go through a driver’s education course with a dozen other freedom-hopefuls? Or was it the torturous hours with mom or dad in your high school’s parking lot on Saturday mornings? I had a little of all of the above. It was comical to me how difficult and challenging it was to learn from one environment verses another. The teachers were all teaching the same exact content, but the surroundings were somehow different. Place, be it in my heart or physically, made the content and understanding of it far more accessible. Turns out, it’s a lot easier to learn how to drive without your mother nervously screaming to you about the pedestrian approaching from 100 yards away.

I am learning a whole lot in this new environment I’m in. The lessons aren’t necessarily different; in fact, I’m convinced the content is the same and that this education I’m earning would come after any demanding season of life, for any person open to true introspection.  For me, I’m just shy of forty days out of ministry and I’ve not had the privilege of someone showing me how to live in the aftermath, how to walk through the emotion, the turmoil, the simultaneous joy and disappointment. That’s been hard, and in the hope of not wasting the realism of being the first I’ve known to openly share the journey, I hope my words will help someone else, somewhere, somehow. I’m hoping that writing down my experiences will solidify these lessons for me, too.

What I’ve learned so far:

You'll want to say a lot of tactless, wounding, insensitive, and unkind things to those who have hurt you; but, if you hold your tongue long enough, you'll realize that only perpetuates the pain and shame cycle. You will find more merit in speaking of the good, and you’ll see the freedom in choosing to fight for forgiveness instead. You’ll recognize all of the humanity involved, including your own, and you’ll begin to see grace as the only repayment necessary.

Not everything you were told to believe to be true of yourself will turn out to be true.

This goes both ways, it turns out, to both positive and negative realities. In my elevated position as a person in ministry, I was told my Self was the enemy, the exact opposite of holy – no, the words were not that direct. Ministry breeds a culture of “reading between the lines” to decipher expectations. I may have read a demand for qualifiers that were not, in fact, there. Yet, how would I know? I was so fearful to lead anyone in the wrong direction, to tarnish my witness with someone, so neurotic about it that I questioned every thought, every desire, every word, and every motive. It was so exhausting. I lived in a constant state of defeat, in a condition which indicated I was not “free in Christ”. It is wearying, to pretend to be something we are not. I was convinced I was the black sheep, the “Extreme Make-Over” project that would one day be so great, if I’d only become enough of what I was told to be, but who was not yet, no matter how painful or shaming the “pruning” of my earthly gardeners had been. They meant it well, but, they needed pruned, too. The hardest part of it was that I wanted to be what others told me to be. I thought this intangible, untouchable “person” was the “real me”.  It was utterly devastating to fight to find her every day, and to come home empty handed, believing others had found their “freedom in Christ”.  I just kept wondering why my freedom was so hidden if God wanted me to have it.

I have a new vantage point now, though, as all of us find in seasons of change. And while I can see I do have much to offer, and though I feel more freedom this side of ministry than I ever did inside of it, I realize I’m not as marginalized as I viewed myself to be. Much of it was self-imposed. I was so busy comparing myself to others that I could not appreciate who I was. How is it so easy for us to look at our peers and see them as gifted, to respect what they bring to the table, and to just as quickly dismiss ourselves?

You'll begin to separate people's expectations of you from the reality of who you are and to joyfully accept your limitations.  

Self-pillaging began to bottom out for me, recently. I shared perhaps the most unacceptable thing about myself with a friend, something that completely defies the expectations of others, and though there was some degree of a shame hang-over in the days and weeks that followed, I found, mostly, a nimble lightness in my heart. These little buoyancies, I’ve noticed, pop up each time I recognize myself trying to meet an expectation of another, and then, politely, declining the invitation to play. This is the freedom I’ve been scavenging for, I think.

Not all who profess to be friends, are, and that’s okay.

It is a very busy world out there, and between the pressures on all to be a little bit of everything to everyone, sometimes things like friendships get the left overs, if that. Many times, our friendships are birthed far more from convenience than from common ground. Suffice it to say, once you remove that convenience some friendships build upon, they cease to exist.

That made me angry for a while, well, still does, a little. However, I’m choosing to believe that each friendship served a purpose in its own right, and there is only one way to redeem them: To appreciate them for what they were. I’ve begun a mental list of what each person taught me, and when I feel resentment rising, I recall their list, embrace what was, and release my expectations.

Traditional Saturdays are life-giving.

Ministry often requires odd working days and hours. For well over three years, I did not experience a true “Saturday”. It’s now my favorite day of the week! I have really enjoyed the chance for a slow, late start, for a day to watch movies and do laundry and catch up with friends on a mountain hike, or to play with my niece and spend time with my family. It is a great benefit in this new season.

You'll only remember the good looking back.  

The first few weeks post ministry have been a roller coaster. The most challenging part of it has been those moments when, in retrospect, I can only recall the beauty of my season in ministry. It reminds me of a eulogy, when loved ones speak of someone who has passed away. No one talks about what a cranky, bitter person they were, or how much they smoked, or how they never, ever, not even once paid their rent on time. We remember only what was beautiful about them, their kindnesses or quirks, what we loved about them. This is challenging because it leaves us room to second guess ourselves: Was this the right choice? Have I messed up? Were they really all that bad?

While I do have to remind myself that my decision was both well thought out and well motivated, I am glad my focus is on the positive. It was one of the greatest times and privileges of my life, and I could not be who I am, nor be prepared for this day without that wonderful set of experiences.  However, it serves us all well to make a choice, whatever that is, and to wrap both arms around it, consequences and all. No choice can be made half-heartedly in hopes of living wholly.

Reclaiming faith as faith and not a job requirement will become all consuming.

And it has. I find myself in some sort of mental gymnastics related to my faith, if it can be called that anymore, on a daily basis. It’s an excruciating journey, but one I could not take in the midst of a life in ministry, and yet one that is entirely necessary.  I have the time and space in this new environment to open myself up to the lessons and questions of my heart and of God. There are a lot of days I just want to find the off switch and power down this mad house (those are usually the days with a lot of wine & cheese in them) but overall, I am deeply grateful for the space, the questions, and, gracefully slow, the revelations of truth.

Life will feel normal and strange all at the same time.

And, perhaps, this is the win: That each day requires a motion in uncertainty, an element of trust and risk, willingness to miss-step and laugh at oneself…courage.

In her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Brene Brown says it this way: “Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor-the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” She later refers to this as “ordinary courage”.

I’m living a life of ordinary courage now. I’m telling my WHOLE story, devoid of shame or restraints, and I needed a new environment to learn how to do this. I’m still learning how to do this. But you know what?

I’m doing it.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


All I know is that I did it again. I bolted from a social situation where I was feeling a sense of panic and fear, for no visible reason, and in my worry I propelled myself home without so much as a glimpse in the rear view mirror. As I loped up my apartment stairs into my empty home and turned the locks on my security, I wasn't filled with relief or gratitude for the safety of home.  Each click of each lock sliding into its designated space filled my heart with sadness. I recognize now the irony of my fear: I long to connect and I evade it all the same. We do that sometimes.


In her book I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t), Brene Brown says: “Shame is about the fear of disconnection.”  Many of us, from a young age are told we are “too” of something.  I was always too loud, too emotional, too much of a dreamer to hang out with the cool kids, or even my own family. So I spent my growing up years (meaning until last month) trying not to be those things because being those things meant being alone, disconnected.  My efforts to not be those things turned into anger at myself because I could not successfully fight being myself. This resentment incubated in my person and eventually unleashed in many painful, tortuous ways. I nearly lost my life for all of the anger I had at myself for being who everyone else told me not to be, for being what kept me living in isolation, disconnection, and shame.

I was only able to emerge from this disconnected space when I was able to share my story with a community I trusted. In exposing the ugly truth of who I really am, I was able to see that I’m not that ugly: I’m human. Slowly, others stood up and said, “Me too!” and I wasn't so alone any more. We can do that; end another’s loneliness with that simple revelation.

Tonight, I heard the words I've so often spoken and thought behind closed doors, painful words that label and cage and bruise. But they didn't come out of my mouth; they were from a friend, of herself. And tonight I had the opportunity to connect with her, to be the voice shouting in the dark “ME TOO!” And I didn't  I let her heart fall flat on the floor, bouncing around, and I stared on like I had no idea why it was palpitating and oozing like that.

Vulnerability brings connection; shame brings disconnection.

She was open to connect, crying from the pain of the openness, and I stayed silent and closed off, thereby leaving her, to some degree, in shame.  Her freedom is my freedom and both of must risk to be free.

I want this freedom. I want the friendship and I want the togetherness of “me too.” Can I silence the voices of all the people and systems who tell me not to be me because it is wrong or ugly or unacceptable long enough, courageously enough to end another’s shame?

To end my own?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

On When Nothing Fits Anymore

I hate when spring rolls around every year and I have to start wearing clothes that don’t cover up all of my wobbly bits. There’s such comfort wrapped up in my scarves and sweaters and cups of hot tea. There’s a safety in the barrier they create; a warmth.

There’s protection there, too. In my winter state, things are expected to remain the same, frozen in time, hibernating. Underneath the snow and ice and thick sweaters, all that could be lies dormant, hidden away from scrutiny and observation.  No bikini ready body or bud  is expected to emerge, yet.

And in some ways, I think this is grace. That a period of silence falls upon us every so often, that the diets and charades die and this particular lifelessness, or the feeling of it, can be hidden, for a while.

I might be emerging from another winter, just about to thaw out and trudge through the miry field of early spring where nothing is solid. I’m not convinced it won’t snow again and cover up all of my attempts at blooming, but I suppose the dawning of spring isn't something I can have arrive at my will.

My feet keep getting caught in the mud, where the thawing meets what was. My shoes from last season don’t fit anymore, they seem to be falling off of my feet and when I trip, looking around for a hand to help me up, the one I’m looking for isn't there. He isn't, entirely, there.  Nothing is as it was.

And this place, this time, it is foreign. I long for the safety of the season before.  The people, the words, the language – there is no harmony between this and what I know. What I thought I knew.
Nothing fits anymore.

From jeans to routine to truth, everything just feels a bit…off, not quite right. Yet, I am weary of willing away the need of spring, the necessity of re-birth. Perhaps in the melting away, I’ll find a new safety, a new normal. Or maybe, I’ll just find peace with my wobbly bits, sans the cover up. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

This is Our Race

The events of Monday’s Boston Marathon have been on my heart and mind non-stop for the last 48 hours. I’ve replayed the events looking for some shred of meaning in each of them, especially the moment I realized the horror. My boss’ quiet yet frantic question, “Have you heard about the Boston Marathon?” It was just minutes after the blasts when she snuck around my office door and asked, like one afraid to break the words of death to a loved one.

As I watched the footage of runners, spectators, smoke and chaos, my heart sank. It’s funny in a way that it’s not: My very first thoughts had nothing to do with the physical pain or the loss of life or the disgusting nature of whoever plotted to harm so many in this insidious way; my first thoughts were for the runners, staring headlong into a goal cut short, ripped away from them. I couldn’t stop imaging the disappointment of bone-deep commitment turned mute.

As a runner, I think I understand. I know the hours, and sacrifice, and pain that goes into training for a distance race. And I watched with sheer sadness at that being stripped away from each runner in a matter of 12 seconds, whether they finished the race or not. Every win was tarnished and every incomplete race became another tragedy.

Yet, the running community doesn’t see it that way. From Twitter, to the streets of suburban Denver, I’ve seen runners taking this disgusting act of cowardice in stride, wearing race shirts to support our friends, dedicating miles to their honor, enduring and overcoming with each new moment, the same way every runner takes each new mile. It seems my running brothers and sisters see triumph all over the face of this mess.  I’ve read account after account of altruism and beauty far outshining the darkness of this evil plan: So many ran INTO the danger.  In my heart, I am revived by the truth of solidarity in Something Bigger than.
We are Boston, and now, this is our race.

Hate cannot win. Fear must not be allowed to choke us. We cannot let go of what we love so much, what we value in each mile, each life, each pounding foot –fall, for the evil that fills one person or groups sickened heart. Instead? We must take that laborious, painstaking first step out of bed, to our closets. We must lace up, and we must run. Each and every step is an affront to the hate, a statement of resistance to fear.

Most importantly, we must pray. We must pray for peace in the midst of hate, peace in the heart that tortures itself with hate, peace in the hearts maimed by hate. Wounds will heal. Hate erodes.

We are Boston. This IS our race. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Reason We Are Here

Ifyou've ever been on one of those wretched online dating websites and, againstyour better judgment, created an "Online Profile" for said website,you've seen the question I hate: "What do people first notice about you?"

Beingas how none of us are people other than ourselves, I don't know how anyonepurports to answer this question with any degree of honesty. However, I knowwhat I assume I should write in that box, if I'm attempting to think like otherpeople. 

Ibore so much shame at these self-imposed marks in the aftermath of theirarrival. I spent many summers indoors and in long sleeves. It was a kind of"coming out" the first time I decided not to cover up my scars. Inthe process I lost friends, was stopped and inundated with questions from strangersin places I'd never even been, and I was the subject of manywhispered judgments and shunning.  The way people stared:With pity, they looked at my scars, through me, and kept their distance, likethey might catch my sadness. Yet, was I supposed to live the restof my life as some social-pariah simply because my struggles were visible?Hadn't I overcome? 

I refused to believe that what I'd been through was all I would everbe - that scars were that thick. I realized people might be, butthat didn't mean I had to accept their ignorance. Searching for truth to standon, I turned to Galatians 6:17, where Paul talks about scars, "From nowon, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks ofJesus." Jesus' marks were not only a part of His story, they were Hisstory: The reason He came to the world in the first place. If Jesus was neverbeaten, never cut, never scarred then none of us would know hope. Yet, we do.All those who trust Christ bare the marks of Jesus; we bare the story He wrotefor us. Our scars are the reason we are here. And just as Romans 8:1 states,"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in ChristJesus." We are not condemned - we are created. 

Thisis the truth I must walk in, as you must, to face the world at large. Yourscars may be visible for everyone, or they may be neatly tucked away in therecesses of your heart, protected by an iron will to never tell anyone aboutthem. I challenge you: Do not hide! We have a story to tell: An inspired, divinelywritten story that was never meant for us alone: Our stories need to get outso others can find Hope. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Hardest Thing

I have spent 3.5 years as a staff member of a local church, and these years have been some of the most incredible, transformational, fun, adventurous, and rewarding years of my life. They have also been humbling, difficult, frustrating, arduous, and terrifying years. Ministry is the hardest thing I've ever done: And now it may be the hardest thing I will ever leave.

Ministry was not hard because I didn't love it or believe in it. It wasn't hard because I had to sacrifice in a number of ways, work long hours, or give up seeing my family very much. It was hard because people are hard; disfigured and stained by sin, myself included. And it was hard because I love these broken-yet-new people. And I, broken-yet-new, was loved by them. Everything became one thing. When church and work became one in the same, the beauty of each was lost for me- and I want the beauty & joy back.

I was called to this season of ministry in a very delicate time of my life. I was searching for a purpose. Paul shared about the purpose of all believers in Ephesians: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The “good work” I was privileged to be a part of was helping others see this truth of God’s intent for their lives. The irony of it all was that I was learning how it applied to me at the very same time. I was a leader by title, maybe even by calling, but I was and am a fallen soul underneath all of those labels. I need Jesus, like those I served, so very much.

And when I struggled to lead in ministry, or I was weary of trying to be the Perfect Christian (or Perfect Leader, Perfect Strategist, Perfect-fill-in-the-blank) because I was so visible in the church or was frustrated because I knew I would never be more than myself, I clung to Galatians 6:9, "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Today, I can see that harvest! I see the faces and lives of many incredible people who have given of themselves to serve God and to know Him, to love the people of our community and church, and whom I was privileged to serve, love and know. I can see the harvest of God’s work through them, and me, though I doubt any of us will see it in whole, this side of Heaven; and even this is a gift. My being called away, my heart moved to the next season, this is a gift also: "In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” Proverbs 16:9 says it so well – I never planned to move on from ministry, but God has asked me to take a break and journey with Him to another “good work". I am scared because I do not know my future, but I do know who holds it, so I cling to Him and trust.

Even though serving and ministry are meant to be about others, I can’t help but give credence to what being allowed to serve in ministry gave to me, what the people here have gifted to me. There have been so many firsts for me here: First out of the country mission trip, first half marathon, first promotion, my first season of health and whole-hearted living. None of these experiences would be mine without the incredible people in this church. Through my time with the church, I have learned so much about who God is and how much He loves us on a personal level. I have learned what true grace-not “grace” dressed as shame-looks like, feels like, and slowly I am learning how to give this to others. My faith has become just that: My faith, and God has become My God.

I've learned how to walk with integrity, how to appreciate different gifts and strengths in others, and how to appreciate my calling and to love how it differs from the callings of others. The lessons are many and vast in their depth and breadth; I could not possibly share them all now. I’m not even certain I have learned them all fully as of yet. However, my head and my heart are full of stories, so many stories, of God’s provision, of His love and my church’s love, and of victory (both my own and the church’s) and of laughter (mostly at inappropriate times)! Though my path is diverging from that of professional ministry for a time, the memories go with me, and I am filled with joy unspeakable that they are mine.

As this season winds down, I am struck with how hard it is to truly let go of this community, as one of its leaders. I have been privileged to serve. God forgive me for the times I lost sight of that fact.

C.S. Lewis said, “Love is not an affectionate feeling but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good, as far as it can be obtained.”

This is how I feel about my church. I want only the best for them. If I could say one thing to the staff and community I have served and served with, it would be the words of E.E. Cummings:

“And this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart: I carry your heart (I carry it in my heart).”