Lee University Poster Child

If you went to Lee University (like I did), knowing your “strengths” was as common as knowing your phone number. (Yes, I just imagined a dude saying “Ay girl, can I get yo strengths?” Help.)

StengthsFinder is a book-turned-program that a lot of universities and businesses use as a tool to help their students and employees capitalize on and develop their strengths. I sat down as an eager freshman and took my strengths test, “my top five” (yes, that’s a commonly used phrase) turned out to be:

1. Individualization
2. Competition
3. Belief
4. Positivity
5. Responsibility

Regardless of if you think the program is bull or accurate, I know that it helped me be intentional about cultivating the things I knew I was good at. Now, the point of this post isn’t actually to discuss how much I love StregthsFinder (but I should totally be featured in the next Lee University alumni magazine for writing this), it’s to point out a huge lesson that I’m learning about strength:

I was in a staff development meeting at work the other day when a guy I work with, whom I highly respect, made a comment about how one of the authors of StrengthsFinder defines our strengths a lot differently than we think. He said that “strengths aren’t necessarily just the things that we are naturally strong at, but they are the things that when we do them, we feel strong.” He then asked our staff, “What makes you feel strong?” While in that instant, it pertained to our job descriptions, I left thinking about that question and I haven’t stopped since.

What makes you feel strong?

I’m not talking about your God-given strengths or abilities…

What, when you are doing it (even if it’s not easy), makes you feel strong?

Or…

Who, when you are with them (even if it’s challenging), makes you feel strong?

That’s the question I’m encouraging you to think about. It didn’t take me long to realize the things that make me feel strong and the people who, when I’m with them, make me feel strong.

So, do it; even if you feel inadequate of doing it or inadequate of being with someone. The good stuff, the opportunities in life to feel strong, don’t always come for free (as they say); but when you try, I think you’ll find that you’re a lot stronger than you thought you were.

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The place where demons taunt you…

Have you ever felt like you’re wandering?

Call it “wandering,” “the valley,” “a low,” “the wilderness,” “obscurity” or whatever you want. Regardless of what you choose to call it, wandering is lonely, painful and quite honestly, the most uncomfortable place to be.

Jonathan Martin, in Prototype (by the way, if you think I’m going to stop referencing this book anytime soon, you’re wrong…so, just go buy yourself a copy), calls this place “the wilderness.” He explains why we, as humans, dislike the wilderness so much,

“In our culture of constant access and nonstop media, nothing feels more like a curse from God than time in the wilderness. To be obscure, to be off the beaten path, to be in the wilderness feel like abandonment. It seems more like exile than vacation. To be so far off everyone’s radar that the world might forget about us for a while? That’s almost akin to death.”

The first time I read the header to the section on the wilderness, I literally laughed out loud (and not in a good way), “The Gift of Wilderness.” The dialogue in my head went something like this, “Gift…GIFT?! This must be a joke.” It wasn’t. And in a much shorter time than I imagined, Jonathan’s words had me trying to rethink the way that I look at this time of obscurity in my life,

“…God draws people into obscurity — into the wilderness — not because He’s angry with them or because they aren’t “successful enough,” but because He wants to go deeper in His relationship with them.”

I paused when I read that line, and had there been a lightbulb floating above my head, I think it literally would have started flashing obnoxiously. Deeper, deeper…DUH, He wants me to go deeper with Him.

I use busyness and a social life to avoid dealing with problems I’m facing and mostly to avoiding fleshing things out with God. This is the scenario I always try to hide from…I’m sitting in my room, lights off, candle burning, Bible in front of me, tears streaming down my face, everything I don’t want to deal with swelling up in my head. Sound familiar? I don’t want to feel the pain, yell, and fight until someone wins…and let me tell you, it’s NEVER me. But, if we don’t fight, how is our relationship with Him supposed to grow or change (cue another lightbulb moment)Jonathan describes this uneasy situation much better than I can, “Amid the constant noise of our daily lives, we don’t have to reflect too deeply on what we’re afraid of or what we’re suppressing or even what we love. But the wilderness is where our demons come out to taunt us. That’s why most of us don’t want to go there.”

Maybe, just maybe, we can start to see this place of pain as more than just that, pain, but also as a place of growth and healing.

Yes, I’m wandering. But, if force myself to sit down, and have that fight with God…even if I have to have the same fight a million times over, maybe I’ll come out on the other side shiny and new.

I’m really trying to believe the words that Jonathan ended this chapter with (and maybe you can too), “All the good stuff happens in obscurity.

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Time of Death: September 7, 2013, 11:59 p.m.

Well, it’s time to be completely honest. The last three months of my life have been the hardest I have ever faced (and am still facing).

As I sit here thinking about what I want to write, it seems cliché, but really, don’t a lot of things have a cheesy stereotype? So, you can look at this post and see something corny or you can look past the almost vapid expression and see the simple truth. And let me say, this post doesn’t come from a place of healing or a place of even fully comprehending what I am trying to challenge everyone to do…but I do know that it is true (and that I’m challenging myself too).

Okay, back to my sob story (sarcasm is my way of deflecting, can you tell?). Well, the actual story isn’t the important part, so I’ll just skip to the part that I hope becomes my ending. In Cold Tangerines, Shauna Niequist so beautiful articulates what I want to change my mental disposition to:

Before the wars are over, before the cures are found, before the wrongs are righted, Today, humble Today, presents itself to us with all the ceremony and bling of a glittering diamond ring: Wear me, it says. Wear me out. Love me, dive into me, discover me, it pleads with us.”

I didn’t save this delightfully worded paragraph for the end of my post, because reading it isn’t an ending, but it can be the thought that spurs on the beginning of change. And, as inspiring as that paragraph is, I think we can all say that sometimes it’s really difficult to just “wear” Today.

Now, maybe it’s because I’ve been watching too much Grey’s Anatomy (hence the title of this post) or maybe it’s because I met an amazing Australian woman at a hostel last week, who told me about how she wanted to enjoy life, so she quit her job, left everything she knew and has been traveling the world ever since… but, either way, I’ve been thinking about that ominous question we all ponder at some point:

If I was going to die tomorrow, would I still be living life the way that I am?

I’m not trying to get all heavy on you…but, seriously, if you knew that the end of this week was also the end of your life, would you still be living how you are right now?

Or…

Would you be with the person you love?
Change the way you treat people?
Quit the job you have?
Serve Christ differently?
Seek forgiveness from someone?

Or, maybe, just try to enjoy Today a little more?

Yes, in all reality, there are practicalities we have to consider (since I genuinely hope none of you die by the end of the week). Yes, there are some things we have no control over.

BUT, we can start doing something different. We can start making changes. And maybe, just maybe, if we start to make some progress, we’ll start to see that Today truly is a gift.

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I don’t dream of driving my children to soccer practice in a suburban.

I don’t dream of a white picket fence.

I don’t dream of the details of my wedding.

I don’t dream of driving my children to soccer practice in a suburban.

I don’t dream of ministering by teaching a Sunday school class.

I don’t dream of luxury.

Let me be clear, I don’t think dreaming of those things are bad, in any way. But, because those aren’t my dreams, I’ve always felt different. I grew up in Southern Christian Suburbia. This place, Southern Christian Suburbia, told me to order The American Dream, with a side of church (of course).

I’m not sure exactly when I realized that that’s not the life I want, but I always look back to these certain instances in high school where I was not on the same page as the people around me. All of my friends put great amounts of time and energy (okay, ALL of their time and energy) into making sure they were in committed relationships. I, on the other hand, was more concerned about seeing if my boss would let me become the first 15-year-old manager and making sure that my next speech for Speech Club (yep, that happened…for six years) was the most compelling one yet. I also remember a sleepover where my three best friends and I were lying around talking about weddings and they had their colors, bridesmaids, location and dress picked out…They asked me what I wanted for my wedding and I said, “I should probably find a groom before I started making those kinds of decisions.” Then, when I was 16, the opportunity for me to go to China on a missions trip arose. I remember being the first one to turn in my form and deposit. Everyone else was hesitant, I couldn’t convince a single one of my close friends to go, so I just made new friendships with my fellow adventurers. These instances may seem obscure, but they mean something to the development of my dreams.

I’ve always been blessed to have the most wonderful parents who, even though I think it sometimes scare(d)(s) them, encourage me to want those different things. Of course, getting older and going to college allowed me to meet other people who have different dreams too (although, there was still an overwhelming amount of girls that were only at college to pursue their MRS degree). So instead of the dreams I was told to dream,

I dream of an apartment in the city.

I dream of being with the person whose love makes me better (and vice versa).

I dream of seeing so much more of the world.

I dream of using my talents to show people the love of Christ.

I dream of helping the poor.

I dream of being satisfied with just what I need.

Like I said, the things I don’t dream of aren’t bad, and in one sense, I want the same things as everyone else, I just think I’ll get there my own way. In Jonathan Martin’s book, Prototype, he quotes Henri Nouwen, “One of the tragedies of our life is that we keep forgetting who we are.” My dreams, they are part of who I am. I think I wrote this to remind myself of that. So, maybe, this is your reminder to examine your dreams (whatever they are) and remember who you are.

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I’m Responsible (as seen on The Accidental Extrovert)

My wonderful friend, Kelsy Black, allowed me to guest write on her blog, The Accidental Extrovert. The post below was originally written for and posted on her blog, so take a second to check out her quirky, insightful blog.
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Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 9.10.07 AMResponsibility.

While the real, Merriam-Webster, definition of this word includes phrases like “being liable” and “able to answer,” it really just seems like a distant ethical standard you may remember your mother teaching you. It’s not a word that defines our culture or generation (or country, if we’re being honest). But, it’s a word that, if we paid closer attention to it, we could be living in a significantly better world.

What if you looked at every connection, relationship and endeavor through the eyes of responsibility?

I imagine us at work, concerned about being able to answer that we did everything right, not just quickly. I see us realizing that relationships involve a lot more than just emotions. Responsibility in a relationship doesn’t mean that you have to have it all together; it just means that you’re liable to tell the truth. It means that even when quitting is easier, maybe figuring out how to move forward is the right and responsible thing to do. I picture us not abusing substances, so that the next morning, after making an irresponsible decision, we can’t just (as Jamie Foxx says) blame it on the alcohol.

But what about responsibility for bigger things outside of your personal surroundings? I know, I know — you’re tired of hearing the phrase “social responsibility.” Even though it’s one of the buzzwords of this generation, it’s one of the things that we’ve gotten right. So, what is your responsibility to the world outside of your own? And why are you responsible?

You (Well, I’d say 99.99% of you) are fortunate enough to rarely have to worry about your basic needs being met. You know you have a bed to sleep in, clothes to wear and food to eat (and let’s be honest, probably a heck of a lot more than that). Now, we all know that we didn’t pick the life we live, so, for that same reason, shouldn’t we be responsible to help the people who didn’t pick their lives in the slums or their lives without freedom (etc.)? My personal opinion is yes, yes of course. And for those of you who may have differing opinions, we have serious beef.

Now, I’m going to assume that most people reading this wouldn’t disagree with my statement above, but I’m also going to assume that most people haven’t let the feeling of responsibility grip them enough to do something about it.

Yes, I feel so strongly about this responsibility that I work for a non-profit that exists solely to eradicate those exact problems associated with people living in poverty. Does that mean you have to work for a non-profit to show responsibility? Absolutely not (and I hope you already knew that answer).

You can, however, show responsibility, create change and help those in need without dedicating your career to it.

I think it’s actually pretty simple; we just have to consciously make decisions to do it. So, you may be asking, “How exactly do I do it?”

Here are a few suggestions of (very simple) ways to show responsibility for those who need someone to take responsibility of them:

  1. Support a cause. Shop on websites like Sevenly or Movement 52, they have awesome clothes, but it’s actually going to support very worthy causes (and they give you the exact details of where your money is going).
  2. Shop responsibly. When you’re at Target, purchase from the Feed USA clothing line, instead of Mossimo…because the money you spend on that line of clothing is actually going towards feeding your fellow Americans that live without knowing when they’ll eat their next meal.
  3. Sponsor a child. Don’t think it actually makes a difference in their lives? I beg to differ. Not only have I seen the children at People for Care & Learning‘s (the non-profit I work for) orphanages lives changed by sponsorship, but I know that it actually improves children’s lives all over the world. If you like the facts, like I do, here’s a great article on how Sponsoring a Child Can Change the World.
  4. Volunteer. I guarantee that there is poverty, not only across the world, but in your “backyard.” I, myself, live in a city where 30 % of the people living here live under the poverty line. You might not have money, but I know can find a way to make some time. There are organizations everywhere that are in need of help, so that the people you share a city with can live another day.

Take a risk by getting involved, choose the opposite of easy and comfortable, spend your extra money on something other than yourself and, most importantly, let responsibility drive you to find the niche where you can inspire hope in someone else’s life.

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Love that simply exists.

“Most of us have at least a handful of people in our lives who truly love us for who we are and not for what we can do. The rest of the world cares for us only to the extent that we meet their expectations. Most of the voices we hear come from people who want something from us. No wonder it’s so hard to tune our hearts to the voice of the one who calls us beloved just because we’re His.”

The paragraph above (found in Jonathan Martin’s book Prototype) has been rocking my world for the last week. Without adding much, I’ll make this a short and sweet reminder…

You can’t run away from the love of Christ. You’ve done nothing to deserve it, but He simply loves you because you exist. He sacrificed His entire being to show you how much He loves you.

By Jesus’ example, we know that love is sacrifice, forgiveness and a choice that has to be made. Love isn’t going to be convenient or even obvious. So, whether you need to accept someone’s love or need to do a better job at giving love more freely, let’s look to the greatest example that there ever was and ever will be. He wants His love to change my life (even more), I hope I let Him and I hope you let it change yours, too.

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What a Mess…

I think I finally realized that the verse in the Bible, “Life with Christ is clean, uncluttered, organized and orderly” does not exist. BUT, for some reason I’ve been living under the assumption that I’d see it as a reference at the bottom of my daily devotion in Jesus Calling.

Now, why I would think that, I’m not sure. Because if my life is any indicator of the importance of order in a Believer’s life, then I would look nothing like a follower of Jesus.

In fact, I’ve never felt my life being pulled towards messiness more than now. Through a series of promptings from my boss, my relationships and reading Prototype, I’m finally seeing that mess isn’t just a part of life, but it’s actually what makes life real and beautiful. So, for that reason, I’m challenging myself (and since you’re reading this, you) to rush towards the mess.

I have this incredible privilege to work at an organization that has a vision entirely caught up in getting messy with others. We engage with orphans, widows, homeless, uneducated and people that call the worst slums in Cambodia their home. No matter how systematic our stance or how holistically we approach poverty, it is a mess. But, I can say that this is the thing that, almost singlehandedly, has shown me how gorgeous dirty things can be. Helping, loving (because that’s simply what we’re called to do) and leveraging our power to give opportunities to others creates change and beautiful relationships amidst the mess.

Speaking of relationships, isn’t that one of the places we’re most scared of being involved in mess? In platonic or romantic relationships, I’m positive I’m not the only one that can say I’ve been burned, disappointed and let down. I can also say I’ve done the burning, disappointing and letting down. Those three words are some of the messiest words I’ve experienced. But, I can also say that within the messy confines of those relationships I’ve had the most beautiful, amazing, fun, memorable, wonderful experiences in life. I suppose relationships are the ultimate Catch-22. And one I’m willing to deal with. Fear should never keep us from being willing to jump in. Now, don’t think that I’m not saying you should exercise caution often, because you should; but you shouldn’t blur the lines between caution and fear. I would gladly relive some of the bad I’ve experienced within relationships, because of all the good that came from them as well. Messy relationships are okay; in fact, that’s what makes them real.

The last section of mess I want to talk about is the mess within Christian community. This is, without a doubt, the hardest one for me to write about. But, as I mentioned earlier, Prototype, a book written by my former youth pastor, Jonathan Martin, has challenged me to dive back into the mess of Christian community. I have spent the past four years of my life talking about how drawn I am to Jesus, but how repelled I am by church. But, Pastor Jonathan put it in a way that’s making me thinking twice, “There is no gathering of people who meet in the name of Jesus, however formally or informally, that is not messy, and no relationship that is not complex.”

He goes on to say, “When you’ve been scarred by encounters with crazy Christians, or find yourself inexplicably drawn to the person of Jesus despite the rather absurd people who seem to think they are conducting His business in the world, it really is tempting to ask, ‘Can’t I just have a relationship with Jesus and not the church?’ Actually, no. You can’t.” While I wish I could give you the depth that he does on this messy relationship with the church, I’m just going to suggest you read the book for yourself. But, I will say, he reminded me of why I need Christian community, “Even now, I need somebody to love me enough to take me by the hand and lead me into the joyful celebration of my belovedness. That is what Christian community is all about.” Church may be messy and imperfect, but it’s being run by humans, how could we expect it not to be? Instead of looking at the imperfections, we should look at the power that a community full of Believers can hold.

All of this to say, life is messy, but there is a point. Through this mess we can help others, find people to love us and engage in community that encourages us. Let’s stop being scared of the mess and begin to “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:18).”

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