“I Was You” – Guest Post

My amazing friend, John Johnson, wrote this and shared it with me today. And with his permission, I’m sharing it with all of you. Thank you, John! I’m so grateful to follow Jesus with you.

 

“I was you”

I was you

You wouldn’t know it now

My brand has changed

What you see now is “The Church guy”

The “Christian guy”

It is hilarious to me, that when I meet you…

You think I am “one of them”

I used to sit in the back

Hoping no one would notice

Hoping no one would talk to me

It was safe back there

Before I ever prayed in a circle

I prayed my wife wouldn’t make me go

Make me go to church

Make me sit through “their stuff”

I was the “Agnostic guy”

I shined my adamantium, agnostic, armor with pride

I looked down upon people I now love so deeply

Felt sorry for their need for “magic solutions”

My old brand was just fine

Only it wasn’t fine at all

I was carrying way too much of “my stuff”

Like a poison that “stuff” leaked out

It was slowly killing me

It was hurting those around me

I thought I could do it all

I thought I needed no God

Slowly, they started to chip away at the armor

Nothing spectacular

They showed me their brand

Like a relentless jingle

Their openness, love and gentle prodding

Got stuck in my head

And before I knew it I wanted “it”

At first, I turned down many invitations

I fake smiled and shook hands with many folks

Mysteriously, at some point, I started to say yes

I said yes I will go try this, I will go do that

Yes, I will go learn something there

As I started to say yes, the brand only shined clearer

I started to see glimpses of a different way to be

Glimpses of a different me

All my stuff came crashing in on the old me

I asked that He take my stuff

I was so tired of carrying it

So tired of hurting and hurting others

I wanted to Love, unconditionally

The way I was loved

The way their brand taught me to love

The brand they were showing me was Jesus

It is now my brand and people see it

I still feel like an imposter some days

Some days maybe I am?

Most days, I am just grateful

Grateful that the jingle got stuck in my head

And Jesus changed my heart

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Growing Into Your Skin

At some point, you have to stop apologizing for being who you are and wanting what you want.

(Are there legal, moral and ethical boundaries to that statement? Absolutely, but that’s not where I’m going with this.)

I don’t think there’s a magic formula for when that point comes, but there is a point. Especially if you’re following Jesus. Our faith tells us the more we follow Him and do what He tells us to do and love the way He asks us to love, the more we are being transformed and renewed – heart, soul, mind and strength. Which suggests to me that along that journey, the things we should start to want are the things God designed us to want, useful things that God can and will use to build His Church.

Jen Hatmaker is funny (okay, she’s not funny…she’s hilarious!) – so she uses it. (reference her newest book, “For the Love” – the whole thing.) Jeremy Cowart is an artist (except, let’s just say it – he’s cool, as in the for real, if there was an actual cool kids table, he would be the ringleader because he just is. He pulls off the hipster hat without looking ironic. He does art things that are, for lack of synonyms, cool. But now I’m gushing…) – so he does that. Andy Stanley makes things so easy and so obvious and so clear – so he does that again and again and again in ways that make us go, “Oh yea, we probably knew that. Now we’ll remember and go do that.” (Is this not the Andy Stanley effect?)

For me, it’s like this: I want to speak. I want to write. I want to pastor a large, growing church. It’s not because I think those things are the only way to lead people to Jesus. But they are avenues, and I believe they are the avenues God built me and gifted me to use. (You may be doubting the writing part because I abuse the ellipses, the dash and the parentheses like it’s my job, but…well – just go with it because I’d like it to be my job.)

I used to apologize for wanting those things because it sounded cliche and ambitious – and definitely, definitely not “holy.” Except holiness has a lot to do with getting in the lanes God invites us unto to do the work He set out for us to do, i.e. being set apart. So, I can fight it, or I can lean into it.

I’m leaning in. Not necessarily in the way Sheryl Sandberg described it, but then again, maybe so.

It only took 34 years, but I’ve finally grown into my skin. And the good thing about skin is that the dead parts are constantly falling off and giving way to new parts, but the shape stays the same. Skin can both stretch and retract. In other words, it’s capable of handling our lives. And so, I’ve decided to live in mine. And yes, that means it will need to continue to get tougher. But hopefully that toughness will be what protects the soft and tender insides. Growing into my skin means unapologetically going the places God asks me to go – not in the hopes of achieving fame, but of playing my part to make Jesus known.

Are you living in your skin, or trying to cover it up? What lane has God opened in front of you that you may be hesitating to use?What do you want? Is it possible that what you want is something God can use?

On having people

We all need people. Some of us have people by birth that stay our people throughout life. Some of us seek out and/or stumble upon our people at different points in life. Some of us have a dynamic combination of people from multiple sources. Wherever the people come from, we all need people. Especially if we desire to do what God told us to do, which is to love all of the people. Loving all of the people requires having our people to keep us going. Know what I mean?

Our people are the ones who show up for us consistently. They pray for us, encourage us, and challenge us. They aren’t scared away by our messes. In the best circumstances, they are actually willing to jump in and get messy too. Our people know us (I mean, really know us), and we know them, and somehow that’s okay.

I have people. I have AMAZING people. I have parent people and little people, and an incredible husband people. I have sister people, small group people, team people, and running people. I work with phenomenal people who I also get to call friend people. I know these are all my people in part because they all know my primary love language is dark chocolate (and coffee…and red wine…I digress).

There are still a lot of things I want in life. Things I want to do. Things I want to accomplish and see. But the older, and hopefully wiser, I get, the more I realize that the greatest things in my life will always be the people. Jesus said, “Love God. Love people.” The relationships I build, the ones I nurture and the people who only by the grace of God stand by me through all of life’s storms, will be the trophies I carry.

Who are your people? Whose people are you?

We’re all Better Together!

It’s funny really…

(I have a secret, but you have to promise not to tell anyone…are you close enough for me to whisper?)

I lead a church whose vision and primary call to mission is that “Life is Better Together,” but most of the time, I just really like to be alone.

Oops.

I love people (but people can be hard to love). I’m energized by people (except for all of the times they totally wear me out – for instance, the little people that live in my house ALL THE DAYS). I think better out loud with other people there to respond in the moment (and, surprisingly, I still keep most of my thoughts to myself).

For some of you, this may be shocking. Those of you who know me are still getting over the fact that I’m keeping most of my thoughts to myself despite all evidence to the contrary. But, really, I think it’s just funny – and so the kind of thing I believe God loves to do.

God has a history of taking the biggest skeptics and making them champions of their own skepticism – take Paul, for instance, or one of my favorites, Nicodemus. That God would take someone comfortable, and even proud, in her independence and make her the mouthpiece for co-dependence is guffaw-worthy at times.

So, why am I telling you my secret? Because I’m going to keep championing better togetherness the rest of my days since I am absolutely convinced it is life at God’s best for us. But, I want everyone listening in, whether it’s for a moment, a season, or over the long-haul, to know that it’s hard for me too. And even though I’m convinced we need God, we need each other and the world needs us, my temptation will always be to hide, to not get too personal, or too vulnerable. But if I keep showing up, and you keep showing up, then even on the days it’s by accident, we’ll find ourselves together – and life really is better that way!

Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down…

I never understood the game “Ring around the rosey.” First of all, what is a “rosey?” I get that a “posey” is a flower, or at least I think, but I could be wrong about that. In this game, you hold hands and skip in a circle until it’s time to all fall down. And then, for seemingly no reason at all, you stand back up and do it all over again. The 8-year old boy that lives inside of me (and don’t read too deeply into that – we all have a nose-pickin’ mud-pie lovin’ adventurer somewhere inside, 8-yr old boys are just least ashamed and more likely to exhibit those tendencies – now back to what I was saying…) the 8-yr old boy gets the fun of seeing how fast you can make the circle go and how violently you can yank each other to the ground. I don’t know exactly what my issue is with the game, but I think I have trouble with any game that doesn’t have a clear definition of winning and losing, and thereby a strategy for winning. Competitive much?

So, why so much thought about a childhood game? It’s actually what came to mind yesterday as I watched the frenzy surrounding the falling financial market. In a society where we often hear about the widening gap between the haves and have-nots, it occurs to me that the stock market, when rising, fits that description, but, when falling, feels like one of the few places where we’re all in it together. There is a trickle down effect whether you have lots of money invested in mutual funds or none at all. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down. (My financial advisor husband would want me to point out that we should not, however, panic about the current market scenario :))

I am not an economist. In fact, I managed to walk away from a 4-year liberal arts degree and 3 years of post-graduate work without ever setting foot in a business school or taking an economics class. (I regret this, by the way.) But for what it’s worth, I think there are moments where we have a choice to panic, or embrace the reminder that we’re all in this big LIFE thing together. We need each other. And I know that can be scary. We’d prefer to think that our economy could thrive no matter what happens with the Chinese economy, but it just isn’t true. We like to believe we will always have it in us to get back up off of the ground, but even at the age of 34, I’m realizing it will take a few more hands to pull up off the ground and into a standing position.

Maybe a clear win isn’t just a set of numbers on a score board. Maybe the big win really is when we all stand back up TOGETHER.

How are you defining winning in your life right now? How are you helping someone else stand up again?

Better Together!

The Main Thing

To keep the main thing the main thing, everything else must change.

Loving my kids looks different at every stage. Rumor has it they won’t crawl in my lap to read books when they’re teenagers (rumors are often false, right? please?), but their need to be close to me will still exist. How will I wrap my arms around them when they’re walking out the door with my car keys? I don’t know yet, but I’ll keep changing my methods until I figure it out. The main thing is loving them without condition. Everything else must change.

Reading books isn’t just something I do with my kids. Reading gives me a lens into a world much bigger than I will ever experience in person. I love to read! However, my husband refuses to add more and more boxes of heavy books to our limited storage space, books waiting to be moved with us when the time comes to change homes (because change is inevitable). And so, I have learned to read via my iPad, which means moving past my preference for the feel and weight of an epic novel, the texture of the pages, the smell of the dust from the bookshelf where the book was living between reads, and the literal experience of a book good enough to be dubbed a “page-turner.” I still buy some books in hardcover…change is hard.

To keep the main thing the main thing, everything else must change.

Nowhere is this perhaps truer today than in the Church. As Carey Nieuwhof puts it, we have to love the mission more than the model. The mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ has never changed, but to keep that mission at the forefront, everything else about how we live out our mission as the Church must change. And that’s hard.

On Sunday, I will head to the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church along with hundreds of other pastors and church members from across the state. In the weeks and months to come, thousands of others in our denomination will do the same, each to their own Annual Conference. I wonder how much will look the same as it has for years. I wonder how much will change. I wonder if we’re ready to engage the big questions like which pieces of our model are we hanging onto more desperately than our desire to see people changed by the Lordship of Jesus Christ in their lives. Or, what about the really big questions, like whether denominations have had their day in church history. What if denominations served a great purpose for bringing Christians together for larger mission in the world, but now their systems, bureaucracies and processes have grown burdensome and distracting from that very intent? Are we willing to scrap the model for the mission? Or are we willing to let the mission suffer for the sake of maintaining the model?

I’m a church planter. Or, I was a church planter. I’m not sure how long you can hang onto that title. The church I helped plant is now 5 1/2 years old. When we started, everything looked different, so it was easy to look down from our trendy, hipster-laden, direct trade coffee-drinking perch at those other places still drinking Folgers from styrofoam and think we obviously had the market cornered on keeping the main thing the main thing. We loved Jesus, and our skinny jeans were the proof. But five years in, there are already things we love about how we “do church,” and I wonder if we are being careful enough to continue loving Christ more than our model. What happens when our relevance becomes irrelevant? Will we cling to our sacred cows, or commit to a way of doing church that is designed for constant change?

To keep the main thing the main thing, everything else must change. I want to be part of doing the hard work, knowing that the hard work never ends. The hard work isn’t a phase, it’s the path of faithfulness, and Jesus warned that few would follow that narrow road. I don’t have all of the answers, but I want to commit to walking that narrow road together – it’s better that way!

A Prayer to Start Lent

ash cross

It’s easy to see all the ways others should repent. As ISIS beheads and Fifty Shades rakes in millions, it’s tempting to feel at best defeated, and at worst, morally superior. But God, as we begin a season of reflecting, remembering and begging for your mercy, as we walk with Jesus toward the cross, will you please show us the ways our sins nailed you to that place? Will you please show me my sins?

Jesus, please open my eyes to the areas I choose blindness so I can avoid action. Make me aware of the emptiness of all of my excuses. And even in that place of repentance, please give me a new understanding of what it means that you went first. You took on sin, pain, suffering and death so that I could have hope – even in my insistence on doing things my way.

Jesus, help me make much of you in the coming days and so much less of myself. Please give me the strength to take up my cross and follow you.

Showing Up

Two weeks ago my husband called me at 1:30 to see if I had eaten lunch yet. I had, but he continued to pester me anyway. He even tried to talk me into a “second lunch” complete with a milkshake. I was busy, trying to cross things off my ever-important to-do list so I blew him off.

Then he played the trump card, “What about a lunch date with me and Jacob?” he asked. Jacob is our 5-yr old son who is in kindergarten.

“What?!” I yelled into my phone. “Tell me you didn’t pick up Jake early from school?” I cried.

“Sure did,” he replied with a grin in his voice. “I decided I was done working for the day and I wanted to see my boy. You should have seen his face when I walked in his class.”

My heart should have melted. I should have been so proud to be married to that man in that moment. But the smart part of my brain hadn’t caught up to the busy part of my brain yet, so instead I told him that I wished he would have consulted me (yes, I said “consulted” as though we were a business or legal firm instead of a family) and I would see them at home after they finished their milkshakes. I had stuff to do.

I can’t believe I’m telling the internet about this.

My son’s face when his dad walked in the room…the image eventually sunk in. There are so many moments of our kid’s childhoods that we will forget and they will forget, but I’m pretty sure they will remember the moments we showed up. They will remember the times we showed up for “no reason” except the reason that’s the very best – just because we wanted to see them.

It works in reverse too. I can think of several frustrating days that were turned around completely by a visit from my boys, my husband, my parents or a friend. There was one time in particular when I was under water and my sister took time away from work and her family to fly from Ohio to South Carolina and help me get back on my feet. In three days, she took me out for a girl’s night, had my house cleaned, and filled my freezer with 14 crockpot meals – lifesaver doesn’t begin to describe it here, folks! But all of that pales to the simple fact that she showed up.

The Bible teaches us that God delights in His children. Can you imagine how God feels when we show up, when we choose time with Him over all of the other things begging for, and often demanding, our attention?

I preach often about the fact that we are supposed to be the church, not go to church (we go to worship – I know, semantics). However, it’s equally true, that “we can’t be the church until we go to church” as pointed out by Karl Vaters here. In other words, we need to show up for God and with God. And when we do, we can be confident that there is joy and delight written on His face and imprinted back onto our lives.

Can you picture His face? You are His joy and delight, not when you get it all right, but when you show up.

On Sacred Space and Wanting It All

My Monday nights are sacred. I spend them with my community group of 11 other women. We laugh – oh, we laugh. It’s the really loud, genuine laughter that has nothing to do with being polite and everything to do with the hysterics of letting loose and being ourselves. We sigh – the deep kind that comes from a place of weariness we don’t need to find words with when we’re together because we all get it after another week of fighting the good fight, working hard at jobs, working hard at home, cleaning up after kids and then doing it all over again (and again and again). Inevitably, tears brim for a few who’ve had a particularly tough week; and when they spill, there are 12 wet faces in the room because women don’t let other women cry alone. We just don’t.

Believe me when I tell you our husbands and our families are happy to give us these Monday nights away. As a wise friend told me about a year and a half ago, it’s not fair to ask our husbands to be our girlfriends. We need our mothers and our sisters and our girlfriends to understand the things the men in our life never will. And that’s okay.

But there are times like last night when I leave a little bit frustrated because it feels like it shouldn’t be so hard. It’s not that we shouldn’t cry, it’s that we shouldn’t have to cry every week. Life shouldn’t be taking such a heavy toll and wearing itself all over our 20- and 30-something faces. We shouldn’t constantly feel like breaking point is only one more burnt piece of toast away.

But the alternative is giving up, and I can’t make myself believe that’s the answer. Maybe life is supposed to be that hard when we’re living it all and not content with getting by. Maybe hard is just par for the course when we’re fighting for the kids in our homes and for all of the kids outside of our homes. Maybe weariness comes when we refuse to live comfortable lives and instead fight for better marriages, better schools, stronger communities, and the list goes on.

The truth is I deeply admire the women I sit with on Monday nights, and really all of the courageous women in my life. I am humbled by the fact that I get to see them fighting and sometimes cracking, but then they get back up and keep going. I am grateful to know that when I’m flailing, I’m never flailing alone.

We’re better together, and together is when we find out that the “all” we’ve been wanting we’ve really had all along.

On Giving Up Cable…Two Years Later

That’s right, it has taken me two years to get over the loss of cable enough that I can talk about it. Unlike others who have gone before me, I didn’t give up cable without a good measure of kicking and screaming. And I definitely didn’t give it up and instantly realize how much better my life is without it, how much more time my husband and I have to connect, and other nonsense like that.

A few months out, I was more like,

What’s going on with Tony and Ziva on NCIS? (that’s right, the reference is two years old)

I don’t know what type of countertops everyone in America is getting without HGTV – should I be coveting granite or concrete?

I can’t believe I’m reduced to watching Duke basketball games via gamecast? Hmm, it seems awfully convenient that we gave up cable at the end of college football season…Clark and I need to talk about this!

oh, and, “How in the sam hill am I supposed to get dinner made if I can’t sit the children mindlessly in front of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse?!?!”

I guess it’s obvious we didn’t give up cable because we’re emotionally and psychologically healthy beings who knew it was the right thing to do, but because we needed to work on being slightly healthier emotional and psychological beings – less connected to fictional characters and more connected to real people and real families whose drama isn’t tidy enough to put on tv. No, that’s not true either. We gave it up to save the money.

But, give it up we did, so here’s what I’ve learned two years later:

In short, without cable, I learned – finally – that I actually had more time than I had been complaining about not having. I learned that I had never lost my love for reading, but I had given it a backseat to less superior story-telling on a screen. My kids learned that chasing lizards and building habitats of sand buckets and soccer balls is more entertaining than Mickey’s clubhouse…most of the time. And, occasionally, my husband and I do have better conversations that may or may not be attributed to the lack of background noise.

I can honestly tell you that it took me at least a year and a half to get over missing cable, but I did…it was right about the time when we got Netflix.