Love your neighbor.

There was this hashtag going around on Twitter last week called #EmptyThePews, and normally I don’t like to get into this sort of thing, but I think we just need to talk about it.

The hashtag was trying, among other things, to get people to boycott church. People were using it to explain why they left the church or left their faith entirely.

Reading some of the thoughts expressed through #EmptyThePews breaks my heart. This is partially because people have left their faith, I guess.

But most of all, it’s because I fully understand their reasons why. None of it confuses me at all.

I think Christians have done a great job of following rules, regulations and doctrine and a terrible job of loving. One of the most important instructions Jesus gave is to love others as much as we love ourselves. And I think we just get it wrong.

Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that ‘love your neighbor’ means ‘love your neighbor if…’

We collectively added a silent ‘if.’

If they’re not gay, or or if they’re not addicted to drugs, or if they’re not a democrat, or if they’re not an immigrant, or if they haven’t had an abortion, or if they’re not a single mom, or if they’re not gay one more time because we tend to get hung up on that one, etc. etc. etc.

All of those little ifs after ‘love your neighbor’ seemed to replace the ‘with no agenda and with reckless abandon because we’re all human and deserve to be known and loved’ part.

If someone can commit themselves to loving that way instead, I have a hard time believing the gates of heaven won’t swing open wide for them regardless of gender identity, race, political beliefs or even struggles and shortcomings.

When I first started going to church and was still figuring out my faith, if someone told me, “I just can’t get on board with Christianity,” my response would have been: “No! That’s so sad! Why not? How can you not love Christianity? It’s just the best!”

Today, my response would simply be, “I totally get it.”

I do. And that’s what breaks my heart more than anything.

I’ve seen Christians insert ‘if’ after ‘if’ into the commandment ‘love your neighbor’ until it doesn’t look much like loving your neighbor at all.

I think we need to stop focusing on our own agenda and start following Jesus’ lead.

If our goal is to show those around us what God thinks of them, we should love our neighbors regardless of where they’ve been or where they currently are because that is exactly how God feels about them.

If our goal is to obey God’s most important instructions, we should realize that He has already given us everything we need to start loving fully: a whole bunch of other people who are made in His image just like us.

Quiet love, in my experience, has always been a lot more effective than loud hate.

In fact, one of my all-time favorite moments in the Bible is in Luke chapter 23. It’s when Jesus is hanging on the Cross between two other criminals who are also being crucified.

One of the criminals is loudly yelling obscenities, hating and spitting on Jesus and those around him.

The other criminal, believing Jesus is who He says He is, turns to Him and quietly says,

“We are being punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But You have done nothing wrong. Lord, please remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”

Jesus turns to him and smiling says,

“I will tell you the truth – today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Jesus, asking no questions, promises to bring him straight to heaven. Why?

Because in that moment, that man chose to turn from hate and quietly love his neighbor – who just so happened to be Jesus.

That simple act got him a one-way ticket to heaven from his death bed, so imagine what other good it can do.

I think we can all do a better job of recognizing that no church is perfect and neither are any of us.

So I think Christians have a new challenge on our hands:

#FillThePews.

Show up. But as different people with changed hearts and one mission: to love and be loved.

No ifs.

#RealTalk

Advertisements

Look up.

“He does all things well.” – Mark 7:37

I read this verse when I need to be reminded to look up.

The first time I read it, I immediately thought of a photo I took of the sun setting over the mountains somewhere along the Appalachian trail in New York. appalachian trail

Vince and I had gone on a super intense hike that day. I was sore, tired, thirsty, hangry, hot, increasingly wary of every bug or plant that brushed against my leg, and to top it all off, the rocks we were climbing were slippery because it had just rained.

Every time we reached what I thought was the summit, I looked up, and there were only more rocks to climb. What amazes me is I kept looking up. I don’t know why. I guess I knew deep down if I failed enough to guess correctly, one of these times, I had to be right. Eventually, the climb would lead to unimaginable beauty. Some part of me, no matter how deeply buried beneath mud and exhaustion, knew there was beauty left to discover. 

Then one time I looked up, and there were no more rocks above me. Hallelujah! We had reached the top. And I only cried twice.

Here at the top, the temperature had dropped, which meant there were less bugs. And the rain had cleared the way for this restorative sunset. 

This sentence captures exactly how I felt standing at the summit, looking up at the sun sinking over the mountains to my left and the moon resting over the city I love to my right:

He does all things well. 

I didn’t want to believe that during the climb, but once we made a fire, this would be where we camped for the night. Which meant this was the view I would see when I opened my eyes that morning. And it was unmistakeable. Despite my best efforts, I could never make anything as perfect as that sky. There’s something about climbing far above everything that clears your head. 

The problem is when you have to climb back down. Everything comes back to haunt you. It’s easy to look up when you know your eyes will be met with the beauty of the sun rising on a new day. It’s harder to keep looking up in hopes of catching the sun setting over a day you might wish to forget. 

But reading this sentence in Scripture made me realize something: not only was this true 10,000 feet above my problems (okay, that may be an exaggeration), it’s true now in the midst of anything I’m going through. 

When I think about any chaos or uncertainty I’m facing now, there’s fear and anxiety, but there’s also this strange peace. The same peace I felt in the mountains. I think it’s because there’s a part of me, no matter how deeply buried, that still trusts God knows what He’s doing. I know if I keep looking up, eventually, it will make sense. There is unimaginable beauty left to discover. The climb will lead to something I never could have fathomed on my own. 

The idea that I can’t do everything on my own used to scare a perfectionist like me. But I think I have wrestled with it long enough that it has honestly become such a relief. I just don’t trust myself to do all things well. Mostly because I can point to a lot of proof that I don’t always. Which is why I have to believe there is a God who has it all figured out. When I see how He paints the sky at the end of a long day, I’m reminded. 

25.The sunsets in Tuscany are unbelievable.

You could take a photo and convince someone it’s a painting. One time, an old guy from Australia who has worked as a metalsmith living in Tuscany for 15 years told me the reason the light catches your eyes in the surreal, orange-y way it does is actually because of pollution.

The limestone along the coast is worn down by the salt in the Mediterranean Sea, and the wind sweeps the dust particles through the air, distributing them throughout Tuscany. When the light hits the particles, they are high enough in the atmosphere and small enough that it reflects to make everything look like a watercolor. Natural pollution from sulphur dioxide can also occur in the same way through releases from volcanoes and wildfires. I remember feeling sad when I first found this out. The magic of a romantic Tuscan sunset can be explained away by natural air pollution. 

But I keep looking up at them.

Maybe there’s still something magical about the fact dust particles floating around in the air only magnify the beauty of the sky there. It takes nothing away from the whole experience, except the water you drink from the tap might taste heavy. 

I was made from dust, and I’m grateful there’s someone bigger than me I can put my fullest trust in. I’m relieved to know I only magnify His beauty by reflecting all that He is. He does the hard work. He takes anything toxic that tries to cloud His majesty in my life and uses it to refine me into a more beautiful masterpiece still. What’s more, His sun rises and sets every day. Faithfully.

He is consistency, and that is the greatest gift.

Where I fail, He measures up.

In peace or chaos. Through the climb or at the summit. Whether things feel like they’re falling into place or falling apart.

I want to learn to keep chasing the steadiness of the sunrise and sunset.

I want to know how to keep looking up in hopes of catching glimpses of beauty.

And I want to trust with unwavering certainty He does all things well.

#RealTalk

Paris.

I took a weekend trip to France once.

It made me realize that I don’t think life is about achieving impressive goals. I think it’s about creating honest stories.

I took the trip during my sophomore year of college when I was studying abroad in Florence, Italy. I had never been to France prior to the trip, or out of the country for that matter, but I always wanted to go.

Most of what I knew about France, I knew from watching Beauty and the Beast. I had no idea what to expect. Like most girls my age, I was attracted to Paris because of the fashion and the romance and the shimmering lights.

I never knew how much I adored traveling before my semester abroad either. To be fair, I imagine traveling is much different when you’re relying on your own finances and trying to navigate the real-world responsibilities of adulthood – a full-time job, bills and housing situations. But at twenty years old with a scholarship, financial aid from my parents, no apartment and no responsibilities, it felt too good to be true.

I am a goal-oriented person. I am always working toward a future something. I am never satisfied unless I am achieving a goal or on a path that is pointing directly to one. I have always looked at life as a series of destinations, all strung together to achieve one final outcome. When I look back on my life, I’ll feel fulfilled knowing I accomplished what I set out to accomplish.

Maybe that’s true in some respect. But I read a book one time written by this guy who wrote down all of his memories. Every day, he would sit at a computer and write as much as he could remember from the day, in as much detail as possible. They all began to come together to form tiny stories, and he eventually compiled them into the book I was reading.

You would think reading a book about someone’s life would be boring. After all, you’re living life, so why would you want to also read about it?

By writing down all of the memories that were meaningful to him, the author of this book was somehow able to compile a story that was relatable and held my attention. It was a book full of his most engaging memories, some big and some small, but none meaningless. There was no ultimate conclusion, or plot, really. But I felt oddly fulfilled after reading it.

It sounds silly, but after I read that book, my perspective changed. I don’t think life is so much about reaching destinations and achieving goals. I think it’s more accurately a series of moments, all strung together to create a story.

Maybe that story could be put together in a book or a movie. Or maybe not. It doesn’t have to reach some groundbreaking conclusion or solve a problem or achieve a goal. You could say the story itself is the destination, or the goal, but I don’t think that’s the point.

I think fulfillment comes in the search for meaning. And you find it in moments that are significant to you, big or small.

It’s strange which moments stand out as significant, though. Usually the moments in which I’m standing there thinking, “I have to register everything that’s happening right now. This is an important moment,” aren’t the ones I remember most vividly.

I’m sad to say I don’t remember much about my first kiss.

I remember where it took place and when. But I don’t remember how I was feeling or what I was thinking. I was over-thinking it, and because of that, the details of the moment just sort of didn’t register.

Then, there are moments that seem small and insignificant at the time.  Instead of thinking about how I need to soak it all in, I am just living in them.

Those are the ones I usually remember the most clearly in hindsight. Sometimes I don’t know why I remember certain things. Sometimes it becomes obvious after a while, and sometimes it remains a mystery.

In either case, those are the kind of moments the author of the book I was reading would write down in the most detail. The big moments were the most exciting, of course, but the small, seemingly insignificant moments somehow were the most moving. I think they’re the kind of things most people don’t think about.

When I visited Paris for the first time, the whole weekend felt like a dream come true. I was determined not to miss a single second.  Consequently, I don’t remember most of the exciting things that happened in any detail.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.42.08 AM

Me in front of Notre Dame!

I know we went to the Louvre for free with our student IDs. We went to mass on Sunday at Notre Dame, and we visited the Palace of Versailles.

I took the cliché selfie in front of the Mona Lisa. I wandered through the vast palace and gardens at Versailles wondering what it would be like to own so much land and so much gold. I ate a crepe on a street corner as Nutella ran down my hands. I put a snail in my mouth and promptly spit it back out, and I paid way too much for the season’s first pumpkin spice latte at Starbucks.

I moved through the motions as I checked goals off of my list of destinations I felt obligated to reach.

There is one moment that stands out above the rest whenever I think about that weekend.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.41.22 AM

A peek through the window at the Versailles Palace gardens

For the longest time, I could not for the life of me figure out why I remembered this, of all things, so vividly. But the feeling of it has not left me.

My five roommates and I had just arrived in France and were taking the bus from the airport to our hostel in the city center of Paris. It was about an hour trip.

It was late in the evening, and we were exhausted from traveling all day after missing our connecting flight. We each had a backpack with a change of clothes that was feeling heavier by the minute, and we boarded the shuttle in a blur of excitement, stress and fatigue. There weren’t any seats left together on the bus, so we split up. I had been traveling with my roommates all day, so this was secretly fine with me.

I chose a seat by myself near a big window. I noticed the bus had WiFi. I began to fiddle with the settings on my phone before deciding I should enjoy the French scenery, and I could survive without WiFi for the hour. I decided to listen to music instead. I flipped through song after song and couldn’t decide on anything I wanted to listen to. I turned my phone off but left my headphones in my ears so no one would talk to me. I leaned my head against the window and decided maybe I should sleep. I couldn’t get to sleep because of the overhead announcements and finally settled on simply looking out the big window as the engine rumbled to a start.

At first, the scenery was mostly highway. I questioned whether we were in Europe or America as we rolled past familiar sights: gas stations, fast food restaurants, grocery stores and factories. We eventually left the highway and began bumping along down a two-lane road as vineyards and farmland and foliage moved past the window, making it more apparent that we were, in fact, in Europe.

The bus was moving at break-neck speed, but the scenes shifted slowly and lazily. Two girls, about my age, who were also studying abroad sat behind me chatting the whole way. I contemplated whether their chatting was going to annoy me and if I should turn music back on to drown it out. But there was something oddly soothing about their conversation.

They weren’t talking about anything significant. It was early October, and they mentioned they were excited to see their families again at Christmas once the semester came to an end. They discussed the souvenirs they would bring back, laughing about how their siblings didn’t deserve souvenirs. They planned what they were going to do the following day in Paris. They spoke contentedly about how this was their first time outside of the U.S. and how much they have enjoyed traveling around Europe so far.

I felt a weird sense of peace enjoying their conversation from an outside perspective without having to actually engage in it. It felt like life was moving all around me, but I was just observing rather than participating, which strangely took a lot of the pressure off.

“I’ve travelled a lot within the States, but this is my first time to Europe,” one of the girls said.

“I’ve never left the East Coast!” the other girl responded, slightly ashamed and slightly amused. “What is your favorite place to travel to in the States?”

“I love Maine. It’s just beautiful. Everything seems perfect. Straight out of a postcard.”

I don’t know why this surprised me. I had never thought about Maine.  I had no idea what it would be like, but it sounded like I had to go.  There were places on my bucket list in the U.S. to visit – places like California, Hawaii and Texas. Maine had never once crossed my mind. I remember feeling oddly comforted by the idea of traveling there. I don’t know why. I made a mental note to mention it to my parents and see what they had to say. The girl said something about sailboats and rocky shores. I decided to add it to my bucket list and do some research once we got to the hostel and into better WiFi.

They continued to chat about Maine, and it became background noise as I looked out the window and wondered what Maine is like. I heard my roommates wake up from their sleep and begin talking loudly and excitedly as we neared the center of Paris. A seat opened next to them, and I thought about joining their conversation but decided to continue pretending to listen to music instead.

The bus seats were made of scratchy blue material with hard cushions underneath, but they felt comfortable compared to the airplane seats we had spent so much time in that day. The whole bus smelled a little musty. There were pull-down trays, and for a moment, I thought about how wonderful it would be if there were snacks. Or even better -coffee. I searched my purse, but I didn’t find any snacks.

I felt kind of sad that the bus ride was only an hour and a little overwhelmed by the idea of having to haul myself off of the bus and use the mental energy to check into our hostel. What was my name again? Where was my passport? I made a mental note to dig that up in a few minutes.

As we inched closer to our destination, I secretly wished there was more time to sit there contemplating whatever I was contemplating.

Screen Shot 2017-03-21 at 11.40.42 AM“There’s the Eiffel Tower!” my roommates squealed. “You can see it out the window!”

I couldn’t actually see the Eiffel Tower out my window, but the bus became chaos as study abroad students climbed to the windows where you could. I stayed in my seat looking out the big window and felt this strong sense of peace. That’s what I remember most above everything else: the feeling of peace and contentment.

I don’t know why it felt so nice to be going somewhere new, surrounded by strangers and chaos and enjoying things as they passed from an outside perspective. There are few other times in my life I remember feeling so undeniably peaceful.

I don’t remember much that happened after we reached Paris that night. Although I do have a picture of the tiny street corner, illuminated by an overhead store lamp, and the sidewalks glittering with fresh rain. It’s a pretty picture, but I don’t remember taking it.

I still can’t figure out exactly why that moment on the bus registers with any significance in my brain five years later, or why it’s the first thought that pops into my mind when I think about my first trip to Paris.

I wasn’t overthinking it, but it was still important to me. There’s no ultimate conclusion or lesson behind it. It’s just a nice memory.

I did end up going to Maine almost every summer after that. It is just as beautiful as the girl described, complete with postcard-esque sailboats and rocky shores.

And, I got married in Maine last year. So maybe that memory was foreshadowing something. After all, I met the boy I married on that trip abroad.

Getting married wasn’t a goal of mine, or a destination I felt I had to reach. It was just something that happened because the timing was right.

The day I got married is such a big, impressive memory that stands out compared to that small, honest moment on the bus.

But together, they’re both part of a meaningful story. I think this is what I will look back on in my life one day and feel the most fulfilled.

What memories stand out as most meaningful to you?

What do the stories you’re writing sound like?

#RealTalk

You are a branch.

img_2549

I learned an honest lesson about myself last year from a church I only attended once by accident. 

That church taught me that I am a branch. 

If you think that sounds weird and hippy-ish: correct.

But here’s the thing. Finding a church I felt connected to in adulthood in the bustling city of Manhattan proved a lot harder than when I was in college amid the cornfield nestled suburbs of Ohio.

My husband and I now belong to a wonderful church and are extremely grateful, but let me just tell you, it was tough to find.

There are lots of churches in New York, so that wasn’t the problem. To be honest, the problem was me. My relationship with the church has always been similar to my dating life. I romanticize everything. I can’t accept imperfection, and I certainly can’t love something the way it is, flaws and all. I need it to benefit me. 

I am married now and still learning to let go of these things in my relationship, but I like to think I’ve come pretty far. 

When I was in high school, my pastor always quoted Charles Spurgeon, saying: “The day we find the perfect church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join.” 

He is right, but sometimes I wonder whether I’ve committed my life to proving him wrong. 

Last year, I was lamenting to some friends about my quest to find the right church. There is a church here in NYC that I’ve heard several of my friends rave about. It is one of those contemporary, mega-churches. So already, I had my doubts, because a congregation of more than a couple of hundred was outside of my comfort zone. 

I was curious after talking with my friends though, so I visited the website one afternoon. The church’s mantra is “Welcome home.”  

In Manhattan, I would guess a lot of people crave community.  You would never think that you could feel isolated surrounded by so many people and so much activity all the time, but Manhattan is big enough that it’s almost impossible to feel connected to anything at all. The thought that a place could feel like home in this city is so overwhelmingly comforting that there is no doubt in my mind why this place draws people in by the thousands. I decided to check it out.  

I have to admit I had some preconceived notions about the church before attending because of things I heard, but I tried to stay as objective as possible the first time I visited. It was a chilly October morning when I turned the corner to the location where church was being held, but everyone was still gathered outside on the sidewalk talking, laughing and hugging. I thought it was a good sign that people seemed to enjoy each other’s company so much. One of the pastors was standing outside the doors greeting everyone. 

I walked over to meet him, he clasped my hand inside both of his and beaming said, “Welcome to CHURCH!” 

He was very excited about church, which I thought was another good sign. 

The ushers inside all had vacant stares and complacently said, “Hi welcome to church” without attempting to direct me anywhere.  

I dismissed this because it was the early service and navigated through the maze of red and black concrete on my own until I found where church was being held, which was in the main room of an old Manhattan nightclub.  

Signs that said “Welcome home” were plastered on the walls. I have a tendency to sit in the back corner at these things when I don’t know anyone, and I’ll walk away with a biased opinion formulated from my half-experience of sitting in the back corner. 

I decided that I was going to make an effort to engage this time so I could form a well-rounded opinion after getting the full experience, so I picked a seat front and center. It was highly nerve-wracking, but eventually, two girls filled in next to me.

I looked around. Everyone was in vintage clothing, and they all looked fabulous and grungy at the same time. A woman was walking around greeting everyone. She recognized I was new right away and came over to meet me.  

“Glad you could come today,” she said with the same complacency as the ushers.  

I turned around to shake her hand and began to introduce myself, but she walked away before I could tell her my name. This didn’t affect me nearly as much as it should have, because it happens all of the time in New York.  People ask how you are but don’t have time to listen to the answer and don’t care anyway, so I just brushed it off. 

The worship band walked onto the stage, and the two lead singers were this guy with a man bun (I knew there had to be a man bun around here somewhere) and a girl with long, brown hair. The worship songs were amazing. It was loud and intense, and everyone lifted their hands and closed their eyes.

We sang with only our voices a couple of times, and it gave me chills. One guy in the back was praying loudly the whole time that God would fill the place, and I believe He really did. Afterward, the sermon was amazing too. My eyes actually filled with tears several times. 

Everyone seemed to genuinely want us to be there and feel loved (except for maybe the ushers who hadn’t had their coffee yet), so why did I feel slightly uncomfortable the whole time? Here’s why I thought it was: 

The church meets in a nightclub. The whole idea is that “it’s not about the place in which we gather. It’s about the reason for which we gather.” 

That is true. Church can be held outside, in a club, in a hotel, in a prison, in your house. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the reason we’re together as one – that’s church.

In fact, the pastor said during his sermon that “you won’t change the world by being in church on Sunday. You’ll change the world by being the church everyday.”

He wasn’t saying that we shouldn’t be in church on Sundays.  He was just saying that if we don’t take the lessons we’re learning in church, let them transform us and let that transformation show through in our everyday lives, it’s kind of a waste of time.

I’ve always heard things like that said in reference to places that don’t have the means to meet inside an actual church building, whatever the circumstances. It’s a great blessing to have a physical building dedicated to God where you can meet to worship Him, but even if you don’t, you can still attend church.  It counts wherever two or three are gathered in His name, and it doesn’t have to be reserved for just Sunday. 

I guess it bothered me at first that this church meets in a club because I thought the overriding theme was that it’s trendy. I think sometimes Christianity tries to appeal to a large generation of millennials by purposely meeting in places that aren’t actually churches – that are instead nightclubs, lounges, bars, cafes, basements and gymnasiums – places that seem “hipper” than regular churches. 

To those saying, “It’s not about the place in which we gather,” I would say yes – that’s exactly right. It’s not about the place in which we gather. It’s the reason for which we gather in that place. Is the reason because of Jesus, or is it because it’s trendy? 

This church is also known for its celebrity attendees, its pop culture references and its tattooed pastor. There’s nothing wrong with any of those things. There’s nothing wrong with celebrities attending church, there’s nothing wrong with using pop culture to make church relevant, and there’s nothing wrong with a pastor that has tattoos. 

What I was struggling to figure out is whether the church was using those things to draw people in, or simply trusting God to just do what He does best: show up and love people. 

Sometimes, I catch myself thinking this way – saying to God, “It’s not enough for you to just win people over because of who you are, like you’ve been doing since the beginning of time. We have to dress you up and make you popular and relevant so that people want to associate with you.”  

But God isn’t concerned with being cool and relevant. He’s been uncool so many times that it probably phases him just as much as that lady dismissing me before I told her my name phased me. 

He wants our hearts. 

He doesn’t want us to say, “I like You because You’re cool and popular.”  

He wants us to say, “I love You because You first loved me.” 

I was ready to write this church off because of those observations. 

But then I thought about it and realized why I was actually uncomfortable. 

The things I picked out as imperfections are the same imperfections I see in myself. I thought about all of the churches I had given up attending and started to notice a pattern of running away when I realized that I was pointing one finger at them and three fingers back at myself.

The sermon that made me cry was actually very fitting. 

The pastor was talking about John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me, and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing.”

It’s saying that God is the vine, and we get our life and breath and being from him.  The only way to do and be all that we are capable of is to remain in him.  

The pastor said that so often, we try to be the vine and make God our branch.  We try to be the center, to be in control and to manipulate God into doing stuff for us instead. 

We think spending time with God is all about praying, “Do this for me, give that to me, bless me and serve me this way.”

But in order for our relationship with God to make sense, we need to understand that we are just branches. He already knows everything we need. Spending time with him isn’t about asking from him what he already knows we want; it’s simply about being with him, enjoying his presence and remaining connected to him.  

The pastor, who is a former basketball coach, kept yelling, “You are a branch! You. Are. A. Branch!’ 

And we are.  I think we need to stop trying to manipulate God into doing what we want, and instead, trust that God knows what we need. 

We, myself included, need to stop thinking, “We have to make God cool and relevant and edgy in order for people to love and accept Him.”  

I’ve caught myself doing this many times. I find myself thinking of ways to make God sound cool and Christianity sound fun in order to get people to understand, and most of all, to get people to accept me as a Christian. I mean, I can’t have people thinking that because I go to church, I’m uncool and no fun. So I have to bring the church’s reputation up to today’s standards.

As a church, we need to accept our position as a branch connected to God’s vine, and remain in him, so that he can dictate our steps. Through him, our church will be equipped to do the work he planned for us to do, long before we were even around to do it.

Finally, the criticisms I had for this place came to light during the sermon and made me understand what people mean when they say it isn’t about the place in which we gather.

The building I was standing in wasn’t the church, no matter how church-like or un-church-like it was. 


The body of Christ is the church. I am already a part of it. 


My quest to find the right church has led to so many dead ends because I’ve been looking for the wrong thing. 

Rather than finding a non-existent perfect place of worship, I should be looking for a group of people committed to following Christ, picking themselves up and brushing themselves off when they frequently mess up, who recognize their need for His grace. 

A group that I can relate to, commit myself to loving and serving through their imperfections and allow them to do the same for me. 

I need a place that feels like my Father’s open arms I can run into no matter how badly I’ve messed up. 

I need a place that feels like home. 

And I don’t think that feeling comes from a place.

Much like that church, I’m not actually aiming to be perfect. I think I am doing some things right and some things wrong.

I’m aiming to be a branch.

If our goal is to know God, love God and help others do the same, we need to let go of this false image we try to create, accept our flaws and let our real God just be who he is, fill the imperfections and welcome us home.

#RealTalk

Be better.

aw7b0pkceaeonde

I wrote this after I got off of work today and didn’t intend to share it because it’s nothing incredibly profound, but sometimes, you just need simple reminders of things you’ve forgotten.

I’m really introverted, so speaking with people I don’t know very well or have just met on the phone or in-person is scary to me. But I also love listening to people and hearing their stories, which just so happens to be what I do for a living, so phone calls and in-person conversations with strangers are pretty inevitable.

The only thing that has made it easier is practice. When I was in college, I realized I needed to shake my anxiety about social situations if I ever wanted to be successful in my career by just facing them head-on again and again and again. Eventually, it really does get easier.

Now, I can pick up the phone and order a pizza like it’s no big deal. In college, I would have most definitely argued with my roommate extensively about who was going to make that call. Now Seamless exists, thankfully, so introverts everywhere can breathe a sigh of relief, keep calm and order pizza online.

When I was working as an assistant dance instructor in high school, my studio had this policy for correcting young dancers. We would give one compliment about something they did well, then a criticism about something they could work on and end with a compliment about something we like about them.

This way, they would be encouraged to be receptive to constructive criticism at the beginning of the conversation and encouraged to push themselves to be better by the end of the conversation.

You wouldn’t lie to them, obviously, but it would force you to not immediately focus on what they are doing wrong, but also think about two things they are doing right. At the same time, it would encourage them to think that way too.

As silly as it sounds, I’ve gotten into the same habit at work of giving myself one compliment after every interview about something I feel I did well, then thinking of something I can improve upon and finishing with one reason why I believe I am good at what I do.

Trust me, I’m aware that it’s super lame, but it really works to boost my self-confidence and help me become better at my job. I tend to beat myself up a lot because I am a perfectionist at work, but then I read an article that asked this question:

“If you treated a friend the way you treat yourself daily, would that person want to continue being friends with you?”

I thought, “NO WAY!”

Once I started rethinking my thought process, (That’s right – rethinking my thought process. Just like inception.) I watched my internal monologue shift from “I generally suck at this” to “Hey, I’m pretty good at this. But I can be better.

That realization has been incredibly liberating for me.

So, moral of the story, I think giving yourself compliments is important so you don’t stop wanting to be friends with yourself. Go ahead. Build yourself up. Treat yourself. Live your best life.

Because even if you have nobody else, you still have YOU!

#RealTalk

Control.

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-3-54-16-pmToday is supposed to be about celebrating love, but I think for a lot of people, it’s also about experiencing hurt.   

I know that is a pretty depressing thought, so you’re welcome for bringing you down just when you thought your week was starting to look up. It is only Tuesday after all, so we can’t get too carried away with our it’s-almost-the-weekend excitement quite yet. I’m just trying to help you manage your expectations.

But I think it’s an unfortunate reality that any holiday that celebrates love – Thanksgiving, Christmas, even birthdays and anniversaries – can also be a reminder of lost love.

I’m really bad at dealing with people when they’re upset.

I want to be there for them – a ray of hope in the darkness, a constant source of companionship, conversation and cookies. But really, I am awkward and shy, and I never know what to say.

So I give uncomfortable hugs, keep my distance and say cookie cutter things like:

“I’m so sorry – you are in my thoughts and prayers”

and:

“God knows what you need”

and:

“Don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s anything I can do.”

I try my very hardest, and fail my very hardest in some cases I think, to respond to pain from a christian perspective, and in the most loving way I know how.

I’ve witnessed a lot of people who are scared, upset, hurt or worried about what the future might hold for them in ways I can’t possibly imagine.

There are a lot of things I’m still trying to figure out, but there is one thing I recently learned I can do to change my perspective.

In trying to comfort those who are upset, I’ve noticed a lot of well-meaning, kind-hearted christians say something to the effect of: 

“Just remember that God is in control.”

I know I have heard those words from my own lips many times. It’s part of my cookie cutter response to situations I am uncomfortable in.

Hypocritically though, whenever I am upset, hurt, worried or scared about something, hearing that one sentence always infuriates me. And I’m not easily infuriated.

I have cringed whenever I’ve heard myself say it. For the longest time, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.

The intentions behind the sentiment are nice, but it never gets any easier to hear in the moment.

I always thought maybe this is because I am a terrible person. But it turns out, hopefully, that’s not entirely true.

I know people aren’t meaning to upset me when they say this. I know I am not meaning to upset anyone when I say it. And I do believe it is true.

So why did it always make me so angry?

This year, I figured it out because of how Jesus responded when Lazarus died.

I saw this tweet and decided to read back through the story of Jesus and the death of Lazarus. It is a pretty moving one.

Jesus had become close with a man named Lazarus and his two sisters – Martha and Mary. When Martha and Mary sent a letter to Jesus to let him know that Lazarus was sick, He knew God was in control. He didn’t think for a second otherwise.

Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death.”

He had the power to heal Lazarus no matter what. When Jesus returned to the village of Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters lived, He learned Lazarus had died and was laid to rest in a tomb for the past four days.

Even then, Jesus knew God was in control.

He said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.”

When Martha took Jesus to see Lazarus in his tomb though, Jesus didn’t say anything. He was silent.

He only wept.

But He is the Messiah, with the ability to do anything at all – even resurrect from the dead – something He assured Martha He would do.

So why was He weeping? Didn’t He know God is in control?

As I asked myself those questions, I realized something: Jesus did know. And so do I.

Being reminded God is in control when I’m upset is meant to make me feel better, but it actually upsets me even more. Not because I don’t believe it, but because it’s a disguised way of telling me to dismiss the hurt that I feel.

Jesus never dismisses pain. He embraces it.

He hurts with me. He allows it to be real.

He eventually uses it to mold me, challenge me and strengthen me. But before that, He simply comforts me while requiring nothing of me.

He is patient with me.

He sees me wounded, and at first, He says nothing.

He is silent.

He takes my hand and weeps with me.

There is always a period of healing, but first, there is always a period where I am allowed to come to Him and just be hurt.

A fun fact I learned: The word “Christian” is derived from a Greek word meaning “Like-Christ.”

I think there are certain ways that as Christians, we can work on living up to that title, and I think this is one of them.

Before you and I find ourselves criticizing someone for being upset instead of peacefully trusting that God is in control, I think we need to ask ourselves if that is the most loving thing we can do in that moment.

Sometimes our friends need us to gently remind them what is true, but other times, they need us to just hold their hand, weep and allow the hurt.

I think when you lose someone or something you love no matter the circumstances, it is hard because you are genuinely afraid of the uncertainty missing something can bring.

And while fear can sometimes indicate we aren’t trusting God fully, it most often indicates that we’re human.

God knows that. He made us human and expects us to be human.

We need to expect that of each other too.

We don’t need to dismiss pain. It’s okay to feel it. It’s okay to let it be real. It doesn’t mean you trust God less.

You are allowed to trust God and be hurt. They are not mutually exclusive feelings. God will still lead with love and reveal why we don’t need to be afraid in His own timing.

God is in control.

If we forget, He will remind us.

What we need to be reminding each other is this:

While we are waiting on God to break the silence, it’s okay to weep.

#RealTalk

Thoughts from the exit row.

bce01-403599_4209002221439_1585668444_nThis is a follow up to my previous post, thoughts from the airplane. Because, traveling.

  1. Lady at front desk: If I seat you in an exit row, are you willing and able to help out in the event of an emergency?
  2. Me: Sorry, I kind of spaced out for a second because you speak with the monotony of a teenage girl giving a speech in English class, but if you asked if I want lots of extra leg room, the answer is yes.
  3. Flight attendant: Are you willing and able to help out in the event of an emergency?
  4. Me: Am I willing? No. But am I ABLE? ……..no.
  5. Yessss. I scored the exit row! I am so crafty and just straight up fooled those people about my ability to save lives. I should be a spy.
  6. I call the window seat!
  7. ohhhh I have to sit next to the air marshal. This just got less fun.
  8. Excuse me, scary looking man? Are you going to kick me off the plane if I annoy you? Because I feel like there’s a significantly high chance of that happening.
  9. *puts heavy suitcase in overhead bin like a champ*
  10. *immediately gets big head about it*
  11. Psh. Am I able. I can’t think of anyone more able!
  12. *looks around to see who is admiring my superhuman powers* Everyone: staring at phones.
  13. Am I even allowed to listen to music in the exit row? Or do I have to be aware of my surroundings and alert at all times? Goodness, this is a drag already.
  14. Excuse me, scary looking man? ….oh. That was not a good look. Nevermind.
  15. Wow my phone is about to die. Is there a USB port around here? I mean, this is the 21st century. I’m not asking for much.
  16. We get to watch movies on this plane! yay!
  17. Wait how do I work this screen thingy? I don’t know how to use anything that’s not a touch screen. What are buttons?
  18. I can’t believe they’re making me touch buttons. What am I, a peasant?
  19. I give up on technology. I’m just going to stare out the window.
  20. I tried to look out the window and accidentally made eye contact with the air marshall, so now I’m going to pretend I’m texting.
  21. Wait. We’re in the air, and he knows I’m not texting. I need a backup plan. Backup plan!!
  22. Wow. If I was talking out loud, I would be the most annoying person on this plane.
  23. On second thought, I think I’m the most annoying person on this plane anyway.
  24. My head is a crazy place sometimes.
  25. What if the air marshall could hear my thoughts?
  26. Flight attendant: *does exit row spiel* Do you have any questions?
  27. Me: Yes did you get that tie at Macy’s because my husband has the same one I picked it out for him.
  28. Me in real life: No.

Quit.

screen-shot-2017-01-20-at-3-40-14-pmI was recently reminded of something I learned a while ago and wanted to share because I thought maybe this lesson could be passed on as a piece of unsolicited advice. The best kind, I know.

“Basically, you are exactly what we’re looking for. We really want you.”

I knew in my heart I had already made up my mind that this opportunity wasn’t the right thing. But those words still felt really good when I heard them on a sunny Thursday, sitting across from important people in a big, beautiful office in Chelsea.

I think when you have big dreams and are in a city like New York where there is so much opportunity to pursue them, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important.

I think it’s important to choose fulfillment over temporary happiness. But I think that can be a hard distinction to make. Especially with so many distractions.

Have you ever met someone who is unhappy where they are, but has given up so much to get there that they feel stuck? Have you ever felt this way?

While dreams require hard work, sacrifice and dedication, I don’t think the right dreams will require everything you have. Because if you give up everything, you might eventually find you have this dream and nothing else. And then I think you need to question whether the dream instead has you.

There is a part of me that is a reasonable adult (mostly).

Then, there is another part of me that has all of these childhood dreams – some that are meant to become a reality and some that are better left as dreams.

Regardless, that part of me is surprisingly difficult to say no to when opportunities arise. That part of me wants temporary happiness – to be exactly what someone is looking for and to be wanted. I have to constantly remind that part of me about the fulfillment that only comes from what’s truly important.

I think sometimes opportunities are presented to us so we can learn from them, but not necessarily pursue them. This concept is unbelievably difficult to grasp for someone like me who has a fear of missing out.

But there is this really inspirational guy whose book I read a few years ago named Bob Goff. He says, “Every Thursday, I quit something.”

He decided to quit something every Thursday for the rest of his life – big or small – because he believes simplifying your life is fulfilling.

It just so happened to be Thursday when I heard those words: “You are exactly what we’re looking for.”

So, I decided to quit believing I need to take every opportunity that comes my way because I’m afraid of the question, “What if?”

I’ve noticed that feeling really only stems from my lack of trust in God’s timing. The words I heard next as I passed up on the opportunity were: “It sounds like your decision is made.”

As hard as it was, hearing that I had made a decision felt even better than hearing that I was wanted. I think this is because being wanted brings happiness that comes from others, but being decisive brings fulfillment that comes from yourself.

God is a pretty cool guy.

I think sometimes He allows doors to open for us simply because He knows we need to experience shutting them ourselves to fully understand we aren’t meant to walk through them.

There is some unsolicited advice to propel you into the weekend. 🙂 Now, here are some invasive questions:

What has you? What doors are open in your life that God is trusting you to shut?

Thursday comes once a week. What can you quit? 

#RealTalk

“For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace.” –1 Corinthians 14:33

33 reasons 33 is the coolest.

a71e2-unnamedHappy Birthday to my wonderful husband! Every year with you has been amazing so far, and I have a feeling this will be one of the best years yet. Here are 33 reasons why:

1

33 is the largest positive integer that cannot be expressed as a sum of different triangular numbers AND the smallest odd repdigit that is not a prime number.

That’s right. A repdigit. We’re off to a good start here.

2

33 is, miraculously, the eighth distinct semiprime comprising the prime factors (3 × 11). Its aliquot sum is 15; itself a discrete semiprime (3 × 5) in the following aliquot sequence 33, 15, 9, 4, 3, 1, 0.
(Note: 33 is the 8th composite number to descend into the prime number 3, the others outside of this sequence being 30, 26, 16, 12. Just note that.)

33 is a Blum integer, since 33 is a semiprime with both its prime factors being Gaussian primes. What’s more, it’s a Størmer number, since the greatest prime factor of 332 + 1 = 1090 is 109, which is obviously more than 33 twice. (Obviously.)

Also, 33 is the smallest diophantine number which has yet to be represented in the form a³ + b³ + c³, where a, b and c are integers.

(Am I hearing this right? YET TO BE REPRESENTED? Get it together, math.)

I got all of this information from Wikipedia, and I don’t know math, so the accuracy is questionable. Okay, let’s move on.

3

33 is the atomic number of arsenic. So if you need to poison someone, this is your year. Let’s be honest. You live in New York and contemplate poisoning people on the daily.

4

A normal human spine has 33 vertebrae. So no one can call you spineless. Not this year.

5.

33 is, according to the Newton scale, the temperature at which water boils. Fun fact: At 33, you can just look at water and boil it. Hogwarts, here you come.

6.

33s are also known as long playing records, or LPs. Time to bring back your hipster beard, because this is the year of the vinyl Daya album from Urban Outfitters.

7.

The divine name of God, Elohim, appears 33 times in the story of creation in the opening chapters of Genesis.

So may you be reminded this year that the Name above all names holds your life in His hands always. (Aww look – I can be serious.)

8.

According to Al-Ghazali, the dwellers of Heaven will exist eternally in a state of being at age 33. Clearly, it is the perfect age. No matter how old you get, you can always be 33 in heaven according to this guy. Make choices this year accordingly. Just in case.

9.

33 is the numerical equivalent of AMEN: 1+13+5+14=33. So you should make prayer an even bigger part of your life this year. And, instead of saying Amen at the end, you should say: “1+13+5+14 and goodnight.” Just to switch things up.

10.

33 is the title of the first episode of the 2004 Battlestar Galactica television series in which the Cylons came every 33 minutes. Finally, Battlestar Galactica has some significance in your life besides just being a source of endless jokes for your wife about who you are as a person.

11.

The 33 Strategies of War is a book by Robert Greene. Time to memorize those for our next argument.

12.

In French, Italian, Romanian, Spanish and Portuguese, 33 is the word which a patient is usually asked to say when a doctor is listening to his or her lungs with a stethoscope. Whenever someone asks how old you are this year, you have to hand them a stethoscope and make them listen to your lungs while you answer. You can never be too careful.

13.

33 is the number printed on all Rolling Rock beer labels. Because now that you’re closer to your mid-thirties than your early thirties, you can begin your slow descent into mid-life alcoholism. Better get a head start on that crisis you have coming up. (Just kidding. Love you.)

14.

The number 33 was discovered to lead to the essential meaning of life (the Bible) in Dan Brown’s 2009 novel The Lost Symbol. It sounds like you have a big year ahead. When you find out the meaning of life, please share it with your wife so she can figure out what in the world she is doing with hers.

15.

December 2, 1983 was a Friday, and it was the 336th day of the year 1983. The next time you can reuse your old 1983 calendar will be in 2022. Both calendars will be exactly the same! Assuming you just have that calendar still lying around. I mean, who doesn’t save the calendar from their birth year for no reason at all?

16.

33 years ago on Dec. 2, Michael Jackson’s Thriller video aired on MTV for the first time. So whenever you’re having a bad day this year, you can break out that dance.

17.

33 years ago, Carnegie Mellon professor Dr. Scott Fahlman invented the first emoticon: the smiley.

Wait…what’s that you just said? “I vow this year to stop making fun of Elizabeth for being a social media obsessed millennial because the year of my birth actually also gave birth to all I constantly make fun of her for?” Oh, okay…I mean, if you insist. #emoticonsaregood #emojisaregreat

18.

Because 30s are the new 20s, according to Friends Reunited.

 

19.

Because Buzzfeed described 33 as the most “zen-like year of your thirties.”

20.

The average resting heart rate (HRrest) for a 33 year old is 73 beats per minute.
Okay, okay fine. It’s true. This list is longer than expected, and I am running out of clever ideas.

21.

This could be you! “Jennifer Aniston Adopts 33-year-old Boyfriend”

22.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi also turns 33 years old this year. So you and bae are growing old together.

23.

David Foster Wallace offers you this advice about turning 33. It’s only a little depressing.

“I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time.”

24.

Edmund Hillary was 33 when he became the first man to reach Mount Everest. Also, at the age of 33, Anita Dhake had saved enough money that she was able to quit her day job, retire early, and travel the world.

Talk about an “Oh shiz. Better get my life together.” moment.

25.

Wait….this is supposed to make you happy about turning 33 because it’s the coolest. Sorry for the brief reality check.

26.

Wow I am seriously running out of things to say here.

27.

Like there is not that much to say about 33. I’m sorry. You are old.

28.

I’m sorry – I didn’t mean it! I’m just getting hangry.

29.

You will always have a wife eight years younger than you! One day, she’ll be able to wheel you around when she goes out for her morning runs. Weeee!

30.

I love you.

31.

If you think about it, it’s really just the 20th anniversary of your 13th birthday. Happy puberty!

32.

That would suck to turn 13 again. So just take comfort in the fact that the worst years (middle school) are behind you

33.

Okay, joking aside. 33 is a good year. It is going to be YOUR year! It is really such a blessing to turn 33.

Here’s why:

The number 33 is connected to the promises of God.

The 33rd time Noah’s name is used in Scripture is when God makes a promise with him – the Eternal promise to not destroy the world again with a flood – and seals His pledge with the sign of the rainbow (Genesis 9:12 – 16).

The 33rd time Abraham’s name is used in the Bible is when Isaac, the child of promise, is born to him when he is ninety-nine years old (Genesis 21:1 – 2).

The 33rd time Jacob’s name is found in scripture is when he promised to give a tenth of all he had to God when he had a vision of a ladder reaching to heaven. This is commonly referred to as Jacob’s ladder. (Genesis 28:10 – 12, 16 – 22).

And finally, most importantly, the significance of 33 is also seen at Jesus’ death at the age of 33. His sacrifice was the fulfillment of countless promises concerning the Savior of man.

The same God who died on the cross for your sins and was miraculously raised to life three days later so that you may know Him intimately and infinitely, is the very same God that is by your side every step of the way this year.

Just like Noah, Abraham and Jacob, He knows you by name.

His love for you and power over your life has remained constant since He came to this earth to save you before you were even alive to know that you needed a Savior.

He knows what you need and when you need it before it’s even a thought in your mind, and He has never failed you and never will.

It’s okay to not have everything figured out. You don’t need to, because He does.

Accept any challenges that come your way this year as part of your journey, find out what you can learn from them and continue allowing yourself to grow and be shaped into His masterpiece.

I hope and pray that you can find peace, fulfillment and joy in His promises this year, and walk closer with God than ever before as you continue to know and love Him deeper.

#RealTalk

Happy Birthday, my love!

What hurt most as a young journalist watching the election.

9718a-screen2bshot2b2016-11-092bat2b2-19-102bpmAdmittedly, this is the first year that I’ve ever followed a presidential election from beginning to end. (I know, I know.)

 

I have nothing to compare, but it seems to me one idea that was lost in this election is that the media are supposed to be here to inform, not influence.

From last year until last night, I personally haven’t seen a lot of election coverage that is truly objective and presents only the facts (All of them – withholding information is still a matter of opinion.) Maybe more of it exists that I’ve just been missing.

Walter Cronkite described a journalist’s job as holding up a mirror – journalism is simply there to reflect the truth and not distort it.

Captain obvious here: Not all, but some people don’t always tell the whole truth. (Again, withholding important information is as dishonest as lying.) So, the media are supposed to be here to check and balance.

Although news seems to have strayed far from its Cronkite days (and not just in the past year), there are still reputable organizations out there that do a good job of providing accurate and detailed insight into what’s going on.

So, what I began asking myself is: before you form an opinion, which you are perfectly entitled to, would you take time to question how that opinion has been formed?

I’ve spoken with too many people who have told me they don’t pay attention because it’s depressing and makes them angry, and they would rather not know what’s going on in the world.

I spoke with a lot of people right after this election didn’t go their way who said they used to pay attention, but now they’re checking out.

This doesn’t come from a place of judgement because I spent many years feeling the exact same way, but I believe this is the wrong approach.

I can’t get through a lot of news coverage with dry eyes.  But the freedom to have access to that knowledge and information is something that too many people outside of the U.S. don’t have, and it’s something that I don’t ever want to take for granted. It’s worth a few tears to take advantage of a freedom that people have fought for and are still fighting hard to protect.

There is one truth that hasn’t been distorted – information is powerful.

No matter where you stand on any of the issues that face our world today, please consider staying informed.

Please don’t let anger, disappointment, fear or uncertainty compel you to push aside your right to know.

I never wanted anything to do with politics. As a journalist, I eventually became obsessed with the news, but it took me a long time to even go near politics. But this election in particular (and living in New York, I think) has taught me that it feels good to be a part of something.

It feels good to be informed.
It feels good to be involved.
It feels good to commit to finding and telling the truth.

An old but still great Relient K song sums it up pretty well: “Apathetic’s a pathetic way to be.”

Despite whatever you may feel that is telling you otherwise…will you possibly examine your apathy and consider getting rid of it? I want to work on doing the same.

Not just because of what happened last night and not just because of what will happen over the next four years.

Don’t let your pursuit of the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth become passive because you no longer believe it’s worth asking the tough questions.

Your involvement in important issues has always mattered.
Your commitment to staying informed has always mattered.

And regardless of the messages you’ve heard or how you felt when you woke up this morning…

you have always mattered too. 🙂

 #RealTalk