My journey to Thailand: Where it all got started

It's a dangerous business,

I wanted to catch you all up on something exciting that has been taking shape in my life in the last three months or so.  It’s something that actually has its roots close to 9 years ago, and causes me to continually be amazed at how perfectly God is weaving this story of my life.

9 years ago I was in the midst of student teaching high school English in a small farming community in Oregon known for two things: it’s Future Farmers of America program, and it’s drug use.  I remember 3 things very distinctly from that time in my life:

  1. Trying to convince high school freshmen — who wanted nothing more than to either do drugs or  become farmers — to try and care about the literary nuances of Romeo + Juliet was, by far, one of the most difficult tasks I had ever faced.
  2. Although I was in my fifth year of college, I was still frequently mistaken for a high school student.
  3. Pursuing a career as a high school teacher was not what I wanted to do with my life.

A few months into the experience, as much as I loved my students and the opportunity to help shape young minds, I knew I would be on a fast track to burn out if I stayed in that career.  But not being one to quit, and not knowing what other viable options would be available to me with degrees in English and Philosophy, I decided to stick out the year.

With an open road in front of me, and no agenda of my own to occupy thoughts, I was open to just about anything.

During those key, formative years at university, I was connected with Cru (we still called it Campus Crusade for Christ back then).  This on-campus ministry shaped my understanding of what it meant to be a follower of Jesus in several crucial ways, not least of which was their emphasis on missions: being willing to go wherever and do whatever in order to be able to share the good news that a new kind of life can be found in Jesus Christ.

I knew that an English teaching degree was an open door into any country.  I could go and teach English overseas for 2 years with a missions organization, get my travel and adventure fix, hopefully get to talk a little bit about Jesus, and in the meantime figure out what other than teaching that I wanted to pursue.

(In reality, I probably didn’t think much past the two year commitment.  I was 22.  Seriously.  How do 22 year olds make such big life decisions?)

With this new direction of teaching English overseas and going to live missionally in a new country, I began to think about a destination.  I’d heard from other people who went into missions that they just knew what country they were drawn to.  I didn’t have any magic cloud shapes appear to guide me, but I did start to notice that one country more than any other grabbed my heart and made it beat a little bit faster when I thought about it.

Thailand.

As a philosophy major, I studied several different religions and had been intrigued by some of the classes I’d taken about Buddhism.  Having already spent a considerable amount of time studying the philosophical worldview and religious beliefs of Buddhism, I wanted to go to a country where I could have conversations and interact with people who were on this path.  As a 95% Buddhist nation, Thailand was the obvious choice.

In January, I found a missions organization that wanted to send me to teach English overseas, and I started praying more about this new adventure.  April came around—2 months before graduation and the time to actually formalize my commitment.  With the novelty of planning a new adventure wearing off, I started thinking a little bit more about the situation.

During this time, someone asked me if I had ever thought about going to seminary.  I loved school (can you say triple major?), and loved studying the Bible, so going to school to study the Bible sounded like a dream come true.  What if, before I went off to be a missionary, I actually got some formal training in theology?

Needing to make a decision before graduation, I went for a hike with my friend Adena, one of the staff members from Cru and a trusted mentor.  We went to one of our favorite spots, Bald Hill, hiked up past the abandoned barn, and made our way the 2 miles or so up to the top of the hill that overlooked my college town of Corvallis.  Sitting on a bench facing west, watching the sunset behind the mountains, the conversation went something like this:

Me:  Remember how I was thinking of going to Thailand?  Well, what if I went to seminary first?

Adena: YES!  Absolutely that is so perfect for you.  You’ll never regret getting that training.  I think it’s what you should do.

Without fail, every conversation I had with family/friends/mentors went almost exactly the same.

Message received.  Thailand would have to wait.

So in August of 2006, I packed up my little Ford pick-up truck with everything I owned and moved to southern California and started at Talbot School of Theology.

Over the last 9 years, Thailand has lingered quietly in the back of my mind.  As I had other opportunities to travel, I could still tell my heart was pulled to Thailand.  But the timing and opportunity never seemed to work out.

But then a year ago, I started learning more about an organization that is on the ground in Thailand, helping rescue kids out of the sex trafficking industry, and bringing restoration and healing through the care they offer to these precious rescued kids.  Almost as soon as I heard about it, that little piece of my heart that was tied to Thailand so many years ago started stirring again, and I thought, maybe, just maybe, this is the time.

In December I hosted a jewelry party to help raise money for this organization, Destiny Rescue, where we could purchase jewelry made by survivors of human trafficking.  My friends came over and we learned about the work that they are doing, and the brutal and stark realities of human trafficking.  Then we prayed for Thailand.  We prayed for the kids that were rescued and still in recovery, and we prayed for the kids who hadn’t been rescued yet.  We prayed for this organization that is on the front lines of battling one of the greatest evils of our day.  And while we were praying, that little stirring in my heart about Thailand got a little more insistent.

At the time, I had actually been planning a trip to South Africa for the following summer, but it just recently had fallen through.  I was trying to figure out what to do instead with the vacation time and money I had budgeted for South Africa, and here I was sitting in my living room and praying for Thailand.  Again.

Afterwards, as we were cleaning up, I asked the representative from Destiny Rescue if they ever led trips to Thailand so people could see and be a part of the work that is happening.

And you know what?  They do.

And you know what else?

It’s finally time for me to go to Thailand.

Ok, well, not until June.  For 2 weeks.  But still…it’s exciting!

9 years ago God planted a dream in my heart.  He never forgot, because He was the one who put it there in the first place.  As for me, I can’t wait to see how this story continues to unfold.

You can learn more about Destiny Rescue at www.destinyrescue.org.

Advertisements

Discipleship: 7 Reasons Why It Matters

I love this article by Carey Nieuwhof about discipleship in the church today.  He has poignant insight about how the church has missed the mark on discipleship in many ways, and he provides thoughtful suggestions for moving forward.  I appreciate his diagnosis when he writes:

I agree that often Christians in the West are immature. I agree our walk doesn’t always match our talk.

But I also think the average North American Christian is about 3000 bible verses overweight.

The way many leaders approach maturity is to assume that knowledge produces maturity. Since when?

It’s wonderful that people understand what they believe, but knowledge in and of itself is not a hallmark of Christian maturity. As Paul says, knowledge puffs up. Love, by contrast, builds up. And some of the most biblically literate people in Jesus day got by-passed as disciples.

The goal is not to know, but to do something with what you know.

Discipleship is one of those things the church really can’t afford to ignore.  It can look really different depending on church culture and methodology, and be adapted and implemented in a variety of ways to suit our context….but we can’t afford to overlook it.

By the way, when I’m talking about discipleship, I’m talking about a lifelong process of FOLLOWING Jesus, INTEGRATING our faith into every area of our life, and MULTIPLYING our impact for the kingdom of God as we pass our faith on to others.

When we disciple people, we want to help them deepen their faith as a follower of Jesus in such a way that it translates to actively applying and integrating what they’ve learned into their day-to-day actions and decisions.  Eventually, as disciples draw closer to the heart of God and start to learn and care about the things that God cares about, they’ll have a natural outflow of wanting to serve, and begin investing their lives into others, thus multiplying the impact of discipleship.

The importance of discipleship will never go away.

Here are 7 reasons I think discipleship is essential:

1. A lost culture

The values of western culture continue to move further and further away from how God designed life to be lived.  Accepted attitudes about money, sex, power, and human dignity have never been further away from what God has communicated about his design for human flourishing.  The church has to respond not by telling people they are wrong (because they stopped listening a long time ago), but my showing how the life that Christ calls us to is actually a life worth living.  The answer is not to shout more loudly, but to live more authentically like Christ.

2. A generation gap

These statistics from the Barna group should make us take a long and hard look at what we’ve been doing, and what we need to change to reverse these trends:

  • 5 out of 10 in their fifties and older attend church weekly.
  • 4 out of 10 thirtysomethings
  • 3 out of 10 twentysomethings
  • 6 out of 10 spiritually active teens left the church in their twenties

(For more, check out this article and this article)

3. A loss of literacy

Biblical literacy is at an all-time low.  Fewer and fewer Christians are regularly reading the Bible, much less memorizing or meditating on what they are learning.  Christians used to be “people of the book” and now we are people of bite-size social media theology and feel good sayings.  (Read more here and here)

4. A promise of God’s presence

(Ready for some good news yet?)

In the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus promises to be with his followers in their disciple-making endeavors.  “Surely I am with you always.”  Sure, we know that God is always with us because of that whole omnipresent thing, but there is an assurance that we will get to partner with God in a unique way in the work of discipleship.  Not many other enterprises come with that guarantee.

5. A reminder of God’s goodness

When we walk through life with someone we are investing in, and as we continue to point them to Jesus, we have a front row seat to the work God is doing in our disciple’s life.  Few things in life will bring greater joy than the living reminder we see before us of God’s active presence and goodness.  You will most likely be changed just as much as the person you are discipling!

6. A fulfillment of God’s command

God has clearly left this task for his followers to do.

Do you really believe Jesus was serious when he said, “Go and make disciples”?

There’s not a lot of wiggle room here that I can see.  Less memorizing.  More doing.

7. An example to follow

Jesus bet his life’s work on discipleship.  Robert Coleman puts it this way:

“His concern was not with programs to reach the multitudes, but with the men whom the multitudes would follow.” (From The Master Plan of Evangelism)

Jesus discipled 12 men for 3 years, and entrusted them to carry on his his message after he left this earth.  Jesus didn’t build a structure, or create a 5-year program strategy.  He discipled.  He instilled his life into a few close followers and trusted that they would then pass it on to others, who would pass it on to others. If we want to be like Jesus, we need to follow this example.  We need to disciple.

I’d love to hear your thoughts!  Why do you think discipleship matters?

Have you ever discipled someone before?  How did you see God work?  What did you learn from that experience?Dallas Willard Discipleship Quote

To All My Single Ladies

single (1)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

I know this can be a hard day for several of my friends not currently in relationships.  I know it can also be a hard day for people in relationships, as they face unrealistic pressure and expectations to have a perfect relationship on this day.  I don’t know where you’re at as you read this, or what season of life you find yourself in.  What I do know is that years ago a wise woman talked to me about appreciating each season of life for what it has to offer.  Since then, I’ve tried to live more fully into what each season of life has for me.  I’ve trained myself to look for the benefits of where I’m at in life, instead of wistfully wasting my life wishing for what I don’t have.

Life comes with all kinds of seasons.  When I was in grad school, I loved soaking up the opportunity to learn, to sit under leading scholars, to network with my peers, and to take one too many study breaks getting fresh baked cookies from the café on campus.  When I lived by myself for a year, I learned to appreciate the quiet and solitude, to value more intentional time with friends, to understand more about who I am as a person, and to find out just how clean I really do keep the kitchen when I don’t have others to blame for not doing the dishes.  When I moved back in with roommates, I learned to trade in my space and independence to make room for relationships, and learned to appreciate how great it is to walk through life so closely with a few godly women.

Some seasons come and go more quickly than others, while others seem to linger like an unwelcome guest.  In my life, the season of being single has stretched on for longer than anticipated.  And yet, rather than begrudgingly endure, the longer I stay single the more I’ve learned to love this season of my life.  I’ve learned to not only endure, but to embrace and genuinely love this stage of my life.  With each year that passes I’d like to think I’m learning to live more fully into what this season of life has to offer, and to live more fully into who God has called me to be.

What has helped me, more than anything, is to practice gratitude for all the things available to me in this season of my life, and to pursue the things I know I have time for in this season that I might not have time for when another season comes along.

I choose to think about what I have, and not what I don’t have.  I’ve spent the last year of my life choosing to be thankful for what this season of life can offer.  I can travel.  I can invest deeply in friendships.  I can be independent and plan my schedule without worrying about how it affects someone else.  I can invest in new activities.   I have a LOT of freedom.

I also think there will be other, new things to be thankful for in other seasons of life.  Things like having a partner who always has your back, and settling down and building a family.  Things like never having to find another roommate because you’ve found your forever roommate, and never having to do awkward first dates ever again.  Things like experiencing the joy of children.  I’m not saying one season is better than another.  I’m saying that I think what we are called to do is find the joy and gratitude that comes with each season and do our best to do each season well.

As I think back over the last year of my life, I see so many ways in which being single freed me up to pursue so many incredible opportunities.  If you’re wondering what could be so good about being single, here’s what it has looked like for me over the last year:

  • I picked up paddle boarding and now I love hitting the water and exploring local harbors.  I also started doing yoga and playing basketball once a week.
  • I crossed items off my bucket list, including a life changing trip to Israel where I got to walk where Jesus walked and see the history of the Bible come alive.  I ran a half-marathon, and took a road trip up the whole length of the California coast.
  • I asked a friend to help me build a table, and learned a few new skills in the process.  And now, one of my favorite things to do is have friends over for dinner and we sit around this table that I built and we share life around the table and pour into each other’s’ lives.
  • I went on a 3-day solitude trip and camped out at Lake Tahoe, letting my soul breathe deeply of the beauty of God’s creation.
  • I paid off all my debt, and learned how to make and follow a budget so that I’m able to give, save, and be financially independent and responsible.
  • I studied the Bible and read books that deepened my faith.
  • I started learning about and getting involved with a non-profit that fights against human trafficking, and I’m planning a trip for this summer to Thailand and Cambodia to learn firsthand about the work they are doing.  I’m training for my second half-marathon and planning to use it as an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for this same organization.
  • I practiced being quiet, listening to God, setting aside time for solitude, and seeking God’s guidance for my life.
  • I invested into my community and built deeper friendships.  I hosted dinner parties and practiced cooking.  I learned new recipes, and ate healthier.
  • I did go on a lot of dates, and continued to learn more about what I’m looking for in a man, and, maybe more importantly, more about what I’m not looking for in a man.
  • I took a lot of fun trips to places like Big Bear, San Diego, and Santa Barbara.  I explored new restaurants and discovered new coffee shops.
  • I pursued my dream of writing, and finished a 9-week discipleship curriculum that we are now using at my church.
  • I invested in younger women and poured into their lives, and tried to point them to what it looks like to follow Jesus.
  • I learned to walk more closely with Jesus.
  • I was able to be there for my friends and support them when they were going through hard seasons.
  • I learned more about who God made me to be, and what I want to do with my life.

I could probably keep going, but I’m sure you get the idea.  It’s not that I want to brag about how great my life is.  I really don’t, and my life is far from perfect.  There are plenty of hard things and painful moments and stupid and sinful and selfish choices I made in the midst of all these things.

I really want you to know

But I really want some of you to see that being single can be a beautiful thing.

I really think some of you need to hear that singleness is not a disease.

I really need some of you to know that there is nothing wrong with you.

You are a complete person.  You have a full life to live.  You have a God who loves you deeply and perfectly just as you are.

This season of being single comes with its fair share of challenges.  Believe me, I know them well.

But the beautiful thing about you is that you always have a choice.  You can choose what you will let your mind dwell on.  Yes, your heart will ache, and ache deeply, on some days.  You’ll wonder what God is doing, and question if you can really trust Him.  But you don’t have to let your emotions define you.  Let yourself feel those emotions when they come—don’t ignore or repress them—but don’t let those emotions control or define you.  You might feel alone, and you might feel hopeless.  Those are real emotions.  But there also deep and profound truths you can choose to hold on to and let your mind dwell on.

God is good.  He hasn’t forgotten about you.  You can trust Him.  You can choose to stop feeling sorry for yourself, and instead practice gratitude for what this season of life has to offer.  You can choose to pursue everything available to you in this season of life, because before you know it this season will be gone, and you’ll never get it back.

I’m choosing to use this season to live fully into everything God has for me in this stage of my life, and to become more and more who God created me to be.

Today, for my Valentine’s day, I’m going to have coffee with my mentor and catch up on life.  I’m going to go run and train for a half marathon.  I’m going to go shopping with one of my friends.  I’m going to meet another group of friends tonight and we’re going to have dinner and play games and enjoy life together.  I think it’s going to be a great day, and there’s nothing better or worse about my day, or yours, based on a relationship status.  Your day will be what you choose it to be.

As you go throughout your day, let me leave you with a few questions to reflect on:

What season of life are you in?

What are you thankful for in this season of your life?

How are you using this season to live more fully into who God created you to be?

What truths do you need to be reminded of to help you hold on to God during this season?

Here’s a few pictures from this past year.  As I look back at these memories, I’m pretty sure I would consider myself incredibly blessed to have another year like this!

Riding a camel in Israel
Riding a camel in Israel
A reunion of college friends for our friend Hillary's wedding
A reunion of college friends for our friend Hillary’s wedding
Summers in the park with my LifeGroup community
Summers in the park with my LifeGroup community
Building a table and hosting dinners for friends
Sunset paddleboarding at Lake Tahoe
Sunset paddleboarding at Lake Tahoe
A friend's birthday at Magic Mountain
A friend’s birthday at Magic Mountain
Summer surf days with these girls
Summer surf days with these girls
Santa Barbara and coffee with this sweet friend
Santa Barbara and coffee with this sweet friend
Running a half marathon with these inspiring women
Running a half marathon with these inspiring women
Roommate date to Big Bear
Roommate date to Big Bear

Together again: The miracle in a manger

For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

From the earliest moments of human history when we rebelled against our Creator, we were separated.  Humanity and divinity were torn apart, humanity choosing to go our own way.  Life became striving and toil as we lived under this curse of separation from the One we were made to be with.

Only God could bridge this gap, unseparate that which was separated, save the human race He had so lovingly created.

We had to wait for God.

Wait for a Savior.

Wait for the one who would reconcile humanity back to God.

Wait for God to make a way to bring humanity and divinity back together again.

And then one night, the perfect solution was born.

Two natures—divine and human—came together in one perfect baby.

One perfect baby who would grow up to be a man who would save all people.  God with us.  Human and divine together again, lying in a manger in Bethlehem.  That which had been separated, humanity from divinity, came together perfectly united in a baby who would grow up to save all of humanity.

Glory to God in the highest.

God has come to that which was his own.

Glory to God in the highest.

Humanity has been reunited with our Creator.

Glory to God in the highest.

God has made a way.

And on earth peace among men.

In this life we now live, reunited and reconciled to God, we can finally find peace.

God is reconciling all things.  God is redeeming all things.

No more striving.  No more earning.  No more impressing.

God has come down.  We don’t have to climb up.

Cease striving.

Be at peace.

God is with you.

For today in the city of David there has (1)

Something You Can Build A Life On

In the swirling chaos of life, the advertisements competing for our attention, the online barrage of news and opinions (that often contradict each other), the relational conflict, the budgeting and financial pressure of making ends meet, the crises all around the world, and the unrest we hear about every day in the news, in all of this thing we call life, aren’t we all just looking for something we can rely on?

What is steady?  What can we trust?  What can we anchor ourselves to and find shelter through the rocky storms of life?

It’s a basic question every human has to answer.  What can I trust?  What foundation can I build my life on?  What can I know for sure?

We need a foundation to build our life on.  We need something we can trust.  We can’t build any sort of structure, any sort of life, if there is not a firm foundation to build upon.

This need for something we can trust, something we can build our lives on, is not new to the 21st century.  When the apostle John wrote a letter to first-century followers of Jesus, he addressed some of these same basic questions.

As he writes to these early followers of Jesus, he is writing to communities of believers who have been persecuted because of their faith.  The Jewish religious leaders of the day were opposing those who claimed that Jesus was God, and the ruling political power of the day, Rome, also sought out and persecuted the followers of Jesus.  It is to these people, the harassed and persecuted, those who have everything to lose by their allegiance to the cause of Christ, that John writes to give them assurance that they can, indeed, continue to build their life upon their faith in Jesus.  John assures these early Christians:

 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life and this life is in His Son.  He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.  These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life (1 John 5:11-13).

If you have Jesus, you have life.  If you know Jesus, you can have confidence that you know God.  If you don’t know Jesus, if you don’t have a relationship where you have trusted Christ and chosen to make Him the foundation you build your life upon, then you don’t have this life with God that is accessible only through Jesus.

Can it really be that simple?  Can we strip away the noise and complication and confusion and find this rock-hard truth that there is, indeed, an opportunity presented to us to live reconciled to God, to live a life with God rather than struggling against God, and to have confidence that this life will continue with God into eternity?

John writes to assure his readers, YES!  Yes, it really is this simple!  Yes, you can have confidence in your relationship with God!  Yes, this is something you can build your life upon!

Our confidence is not based in ourselves.  Our confidence is based on the complete work of Christ, and that if Jesus really is who He said He was, if He really did conquer the grave and rise from the dead, then we, too, can find a new kind of life in Him.  A kind of life that not even death can stop.  A kind of life that breathes and thrives and loves and overcomes.  This is the life offered to us in Christ.

The child-parent relationship is one that can never be broken.  Your mom and dad will always be your mom and dad.  No matter the status of the relationship, you will always be their biological son or daughter.  Nothing you do can ever change that connection!  This is one thing in life you can know for sure.

In the same way you can know that your mother is your mother, you can know that your Savior really IS your Savior.  Jesus really has come to offer us a new kind of life, to save us from the ways of this world and the consequences of our sin and show us a new way to live.

If you have come to believe that Jesus is God, and trust that He really did conquer death and rise from the dead, and you recognize that His death on the cross paid the penalty you could never pay for the wrong things you have done in your life, you can have confidence that you really do, through Jesus, have a new and lasting relationship with God.  A relationship that will last through eternity.

That sounds like a solid foundation you can build a life upon.

This reconciliation to God is just the beginning, and we have a whole life ahead of us where we learn how to live this new kind of life, to understand what the ways of God are, to find what it means to trust God and live our lives for Him, and to learn the patterns of walking through life with God.  But it starts with being reconciled to God through Jesus.

You CAN have confidence that you have a relationship with God.  This gives you a foundation that you can build a life upon.

Over the past year, I’ve been developing a curriculum called Following Jesus: Learning to Live and Love Like Jesus.  The first lesson is what I’ve just been writing about:  Finding Confidence in Your Relationship With Jesus.  The book includes 9 studies total that look at what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and I’m excited to tell you that you can now check out this resource for yourself!  All 9 lessons are available as a PDF download here.  There are student copies and leader copies, and I’d encourage you to grab a friend and go through these together.  If you live locally in Orange County, you can also pick up a hard-copy at the bookstore at my church (Calvary Church of Santa Ana).

Following-Jesus-Photo

I would also love you to join me as I spend the next few Wednesday nights going through this at my church.  We’ll be meeting Wednesday nights at 7 pm and walking through and discussing these foundational lessons about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Showing up

I want to be the kind of person who shows up.

But there are a lot of reasons why I don’t.

So as I sit here and think about how I go about being the kind of person who shows up, I can think of two main reasons why I bring less-than-my-whole-self into so many situations.

The first problem is that I don’t always know how to show up.

I like the idea of showing up.  I like the idea of bringing my whole, real, and vulnerable self, of being fully present, of engaging unreservedly, and of fighting fiercely for my convictions.

But I don’t always know how to do those things.  Or I don’t know what it looks like to be fully present in certain situations.  I can think of a small handful of people I know who do this consistently well, and anytime I’m around those people it is a breath of fresh air.

Two of the authors I’ve been reading lately who inspire me in this area are Brene Brown and Shauna Niequist.  If you haven’t heard of them, you really should look them up on Amazon and order one of their books (I’d recommend starting with The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown and Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist).  Brene Brown is going to give you more of a researched, thought-out approach of what it looks like to bring your whole self into situations, but she does so in a way that is engaging with great stories and illustrations from her own journey of how she has grown in this process.  Shauna is a great storyteller who invites you into her life and has this engaging, charming, honest way of writing about the simple moments in life that makes me want to learn how to engage with life and the people around me the way that she does.

I see someone show up when our group of friends is sitting around in my living room, or around the dinner table, and someone takes that first risk of inviting us in to something really hard she is walking through and she invites us to be present with her in the journey.

I see someone show up when I’m in staff meetings and rather than keep with the status quo, someone takes a risk to share an idea, to question the way things have always been done, to put their heart and their passion out on the table and see what others have to say about it.

I think I showed up a few weeks ago when I was having dinner with my dad.  He had come down to visit, and we went up to the mountain lake of Big Bear for some father-daughter time—the first time we’ve ever spent that much one-on-one time together.  We found ourselves at a great little restaurant called the Peppercorn Grille, and as we talked I started opening up to my dad about some things in my life I’d never really shared openly with him.  I still remember that moment when I knew I could either steer the conversation away, or I could press in and take the risk of inviting my dad into some places in my heart I usually kept tucked away.  And I remember feeling incredibly vulnerable and afraid of not being well received as I thought about which direction to go, but thought it was time to take a risk and open up.  And I encountered understanding and love, and had the privilege of having my dad speak some words into my life that I desperately needed to hear.

As I try to think more about what it means and what it looks like to show up, though, I don’t think it is as simple as just being willing to share openly.  I think there are plenty of people in the world who are looking for anyone and everyone to emotionally vomit on, and they’ll talk to anyone who will listen.

I was walking up to my office one day when I passed a woman on the sidewalk.  I politely asked her how her day was going, expecting a quick passing conversation.  Instead, this perfect stranger started telling me all about her litany of medical problems she was having and how she was feeling about all of them.  PERFECT STRANGER.  As I was hearing all about her ear infection and overproduction of ear wax, among other things, I slowly started to back away and probably made a not so gracious exit with an excuse of needing to get to my next appointment.

Just because this woman was willing to share openly about what was going on in her life, does that mean she was showing up?  Was that true vulnerability, bringing her authentic self to the situation, or was that something else?

As I said, I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it means or looks like to show up.  But as I navigate learning how to do this in my own life, I’m starting to think showing up might be more about offering yourself to others, not needing something from others.  It’s knowing that there is strength in vulnerability, and that when you show up you are bringing your best self, your whole self, to the table and you know that you have something to offer.  I don’t think showing up is about needing or demanding from others.  I don’t think showing up is about over-sharing and emotionally vomiting all over other people.  I think showing up feels like discernment and wisdom, strength and authenticity, but also risk and vulnerability.

People can be vocal without showing up.  People who act out of their insecurities, or ask others to take care of their problems, or talk about everything wrong that has happened to them doesn’t feel like showing up.  People who invite others to see their brokenness and don’t ask others to fix them or carry their burdens, but rather just be present with them—because that’s what you do with the people you love—that feels more like showing up.  People who share their authentic, messy, broken, yet real, passionate, and beautiful self because they know that might be just what is needed to open up a situation and bring true connection—that feels more like showing up.

People who show up have convictions and are willing to fight for them.

People who show up don’t let fear guide their decisions or actions.

People who show up don’t worry about how others will receive them.

People who show up know they have something to offer.

People who show up choose to risk vulnerability.

I’m pretty sure the feeling that comes right before showing up is fear and a crazy sense of vulnerability, and the showing up happens when we decide to not care and say what needs to be said or do what needs to be done anyway.

This brings up the second reason I don’t show up.

Fear.

Showing up is hard.  Risking vulnerability is hard.  Putting my real and vulnerable self out there is hard.

If I fail, I can’t say it’s because I didn’t really try.  I did try.  I gave it everything I had.  Too often I’ll hold back because then I can tell myself that my failure doesn’t really reflect on my ability, and I can convince myself that if I really wanted to I could have done it.

Showing up risks failure on a much deeper level, a level with no excuses left other than realizing I wasn’t enough.  I’ve spent most of my life trying to avoid that very situation.

Showing up comes with a cost, and I think that’s where wisdom and discernment come into play for knowing if the risk is worth it.  I don’t think we are always supposed to show up.  Bringing our whole selves into every situation of every day would be exhausting and probably feel a little bit like trying too hard.

But not showing up at all, that, I think, has to do with letting our lives be ruled by fear.

What helps me more than anything to step into this area of my life is to realize that I’m not going down this road alone.

I am deeply grateful for the community I live in that is learning how to do this with me, and for the people who are giving me so much grace for the bumps and awkward moments I’m hitting along the way.

But even more than that, I’m thankful for a God who shows up.

The root meaning of the word confidence is “with faith” (con is with and fid is faith).  With faith.  Someone with confidence is someone with faith.  And I think an essential component I’ve found to be able to show up is the confidence to step into those moments knowing that I am not alone.

I believe in a God who shows up.  I believe Jesus Christ is one of the best examples you will ever find of someone who unreservedly put himself on display and offered himself up to the world, knowing that many would reject him.

And I believe God continues to show up today.  I believe God is with us, every second of every day, and that He will never leave or abandon us.  So that fear of being left alone out in the cold, or showing up and being rejected, isn’t as scary anymore when I realize I’ll never really be alone.

And as I think about the excitement of serving alongside a God who is at work in this world, whose Spirit is doing incredible things, bringing hope and freedom and light to the dark and broken places in our world and also in the hearts of people, I want to show up too.  I want to join in with God in the work of bringing hope to the hopeless and light to the darkness in our world.  I know that my half-hearted effort will have little to no impact, but I think that if God is at work and he invites us to show up with him, bringing our whole selves and our whole effort to bear on the situation in front of us, then I think we get to start seeing real change happen in the world and in the lives of people around us.

It doesn’t mean I’m still not afraid.  It doesn’t make showing up any easier to do.  But it does help me find the strength, the confidence, the faith, to press forward and move into those uncomfortable situations rather than running for safety.

Today, I have faith that my God will show up.  So today I will show up too.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.  What does showing up look like for you?  What are stories of when you have seen other people show up?  Let me know below!

IMG_9867

Faith, Doubt, and My First Car Accident

I can still vividly recall my first car accident.  Especially the part where I totaled my mom’s car.

I was 17, driving my mom’s forest green Dodge Neon to soccer practice.  I had just pulled up to a stop sign in the neighborhood by my high school, waiting and watching the cross traffic, ready to turn left and hoping to not be late to practice.  I saw the oncoming car slow down to make a right turn onto the street I was waiting on, and then I saw that same car lose control, skid straight towards me, and slam into the front of my mom’s car (thankfully no one was hurt—but the damage to the car was extensive enough to declare it totaled.  Yep, that’s right.  I totaled a car by sitting at a stop sign.  What did YOU do when you were a teenage driver?).

After the dust settled and I was back on my way to practice, my hands shook as they gripped the steering wheel.  For the next few weeks, whenever I sat at a stop sign, I eyed every car driving by as a potential wrecking ball bound for impact.

Before that accident, I had never questioned the safety of sitting at a stop sign.  It took a few weeks of safe driving experiences to finally move out of that stage when I suspected any oncoming vehicle of devious means, but eventually life as a teenage driver went back to as safe as could be expected.

It’s been 14 years since that accident.  Thankfully since then my driving safety has suffered little more than two slight accidents where I was rear ended.  Even with those, I experienced some minor PTSD for the next few weeks of irrationally bracing myself when I slowed down, expecting the car behind me to barrel into my bumper.

As I think about life, specifically in regards to faith and doubt, it helps me to think about how I react to car accidents.

I’m going through life thinking everything is fine and then – WHAM – something happens that completely knocks me off base.  Sometimes it is something unexpected, or sometimes it is something expected that fails to deliver and becomes a major disappointment.  Either way, my regular pattern of life gets hammered by a brutal reality check.

Over the course of my life I’ve driven countless hours in a car, and I almost never suffer anxiety about getting rear ended.  In my day-to-day experience of the world, drivers stop when they are supposed to stop.  It’s not until that regular pattern gets disrupted and I have a reason to question my experience, based on this new data of actually getting rear ended, that I’ll experience some sweaty palms and heart palpitations when I get behind the wheel for the next week or so.  But then, after a few weeks of reassuring normalcy that cars indeed will not crash into me on a regular basis, my anxiety subsides and I go back to my normal driving routine.

Let’s think about this now in the context of faith and doubt.  We all have the things in life that we place our faith in.  By the way, I like to define faith as trust in what we have reason to believe is true.  Based on our understanding and experience of the world and this life as we know it, we choose to place our trust and order our lives according to that which we believe to be true.  Faith, I think, is more of a choice about how to order our lives, what we choose to acknowledge as trustworthy, and how we make decisions in line with what we believe, and less of a feeling.

What I’ve observed in my own experience is that I’ll be going through life as usual, with no reason to question or doubt the things I’ve placed my faith in.  Then — WHAM! — the rug gets pulled out from under me.  Tragedy strikes, hopes are crushed, life hasn’t turned out how I thought it would, someone I trust hurts me, or some other life experience happens that makes me question if my way of thinking about the world, and how I’ve trusted certain things to be true, can really be trusted after all.

The question we’re faced with in these moments, as doubt creeps in and we wonder if we can really continue trusting those things we have set our faith in, is how much we let these unexpected moments define our experience of life.  Maybe it’s just me.  Maybe I’m a much more fickle person than you.  But I have a sneaking suspicion that if we’re honest with what we really think, we all have moments of serious doubt at times.

What, then, are we to make of the tension that exists between faith and doubt?

While I think there is much to be unpacked in that question, I want to focus on one aspect of the relationship between faith and doubt that I’ve been thinking about more lately.  And it’s this:

Doubt is seasonal.

I think it is normal, natural, and actually healthy for our faith to go through seasons of doubt.

For faith to remain vibrant, and for us to not settle into ruts and do things simply for the sake of doing things, we have to constantly remember why we chose to orient our life and follow certain paths to begin with.  Seasons of doubt make us question what we really believe, and out of that is a healthy process of seeking the truth and either reaffirming that which we previously believed in with a renewed faith, or refining our faith and shedding false belief that hindered us from being growing people.

When I was driving during the weeks following a car accident, I questioned the safety of the drivers around me.  Generally speaking, I have faith in the rules of the road, and faith that the other drivers on the road will be following the same set of rules as I am.  I have faith when I’m driving down the freeway that the car next to me will stay in his lane and not drift into mine.  I have faith that cars will stop at red lights and go at green lights.  I have faith that cars will drive on the right side of the road.  We literally could not function as a society and drive our individual vehicles to and from work, soccer practice, dinner parties, and the grocery store if we did not all have faith that other drivers were following the same set of driving rules.   So it’s no wonder that when someone breaks one of the rules, resulting in an accident, that our faith in the safety of driving is shaken.  We panic.  We reevaluate how safe driving really is.  We question if we can trust what we previously trusted.  We wonder if there’s something we could have done differently to prevent the situation.

Maybe my response to these feelings of doubt is to look into buying a safer car.  Maybe I realize I’m not as aware of the other cars around me as I should be.  Maybe I realize my own guilt of being a distracted driver and resolve to change that.  Whatever my response, this disruption of my normal assumed safety is a good cause for self-examination and re-evaluation of what I’ve previously trusted.

However, just because I’ve been in an accident, it doesn’t mean I give up driving all together.  It reminds me that there really are no guarantees of safety in this world and that at any moment things can come crashing in and disrupt my day-to-day routine and experience of life.

Just because my faith has been shaken, just because I’m experiencing doubt, just because I’m questioning God, it doesn’t mean I give up my faith all together.  It reminds me that I live in a very fallen, very broken, very messy world and there really are no guarantees of safety.  It reminds me that at any moment things can completely fall apart, and there literally is nothing I can do to prevent it.

But just because I have doubts, it doesn’t mean I throw away my faith all together.

I’ve found over and over again that in these seasons of doubt, if I run away from God and stop trusting Him altogether, if I run away from my community of faith, I wind up running away from the very answers I’m looking for.

I’m not saying faith should be blind.  I’m not saying that we should just ignore hard questions and pretend everything is ok.  I’m actually a huge advocate of intellectual honesty in our faith.  I’m saying we should give God the benefit of the doubt in these situations and rather than running away, we should lean in even more.

Yes, ask hard questions.  Yes, be honest about how you’re feeling.  But do so as you press into God.  So the rug got pulled out from under you?  Do you think you’ll find the answers you’re looking for apart from God?

In my own experience, I’ve found that even though it’s one of the most uncomfortable feelings, entering into my doubt and not running from my fears has helped bring resolution sooner and grown my faith in significant ways.  Sometimes it hurts like hell, and often things get worse before they get better, but running away from my doubts and questions has never helped at all.

This is one of those sticky, messy areas of faith.  It’s the real life, dirty, gritty, blood-sweat-and-tears part of faith.  The part where I’m very aware of my humanity.  The part where I do a lot of yelling and cussing and crying in my conversations with God.  But it’s also the part where the dark corners of my heart, the places where the hope and love of the gospel haven’t penetrated to yet, get brought to the table and some real breakthroughs happen.  It’s where the most real growth and change happen.

I wish I had more answers.  I wish I could tell you that bad things won’t happen.  But the truth is, sometimes life can really screw with you.  Hard things happen, and we are left with lots of questions.  The point of all this is to say that when you find yourself with those hard questions, that you can take them to God and see what He does with them.  Don’t hide the questions.  Don’t feel guilty about asking them.

I wish I could tell you I know the answers to some of those hard questions.  I wish you had answers for some of mine.  All I know is that every time I hit one of these seasons, God is right there in the thick of it with me.  And the more I’ve learned to lean INTO him rather that away from him, it’s turned out a little bit better.

Remember that it’s a season.  Eventually, after an accident, you get back to a place where you can be on the road without being driven by fear.  Eventually, after a crisis, your faith will stop expecting the worst to happen.  I know that if you’re in a crisis of faith right now, it might not feel like it.  That’s ok.  This is where community is such a beautiful thing because where your faith is weak I can lend you some of mine.

Lean into God.  Lean into your community of faith.  Bring your questions, your heart, your honest self to the table.  Don’t let your fear drive you.  Lean in.  I know you can.