Take chances. Abandon all the rules. Ditch the recipe. Color outside the lines.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

4 Lessons I Learned The Hard Way

When I say that I learned these lessons the hard way what I mean is that I learned then by… well, by screwing up.  Which I tend to do quite a bit of and which I’m grateful to say allows me to experience God’s grace in fresh and new ways quite regularly.  So, today I thought I’d share a few of my screw ups with you all and the lessons I’ve learned from them with the hope that you get a new perspective or at the very least be able to relate to one or two of the struggles.

1) Sometimes silence speaks louder than words.

I know some things about some stuff, and if I’m being honest I do like to flex my intellectual muscles sometimes… Ok, Ok, a lot of times.  Some of that probably comes from my voice and opinions being squelched at one time in my life and a desire to make sure that doesn’t happen again.  The other part of that comes from the justice lover in me needing to make sure that no (perceived) falsehood goes unchallenged and that no space of hurt goes unredeemed.  Which are innocent enough desires, but maybe a little self-involved.  So, I talk and what happens is sometimes I talk so loudly that nobody hears me.  Then I find myself frustrated and misunderstood and unheard.  I end up achieving the opposite of what I want.

Just within the past year I’ve learned that sometimes my silence speaks louder than my words.  Sometimes choosing to say nothing says everything.  I have found that I have more power in one sentence, well thought out and spoken softly, than I do in any long angry speech.  How did I learn this?  Well, by giving a lot of fruitless long angry speeches that hurt people and sabotaged my message.  Luckily, God didn’t vote me off the island! In fact, in the midst of this, He called me to speak for Him and I was once again overwhelmed by His grace.  As always, I find that He has much more faith in me than I do. 

2) Just because God brings something into your life doesn’t mean you should try and fit it into your plans.

Talk about learning a lesson the hard way I feel like there are times when this lesson still hasn’t quite sunk in!  So here’s how this usually works in my life:  God gives me some lemons. They are some pretty good looking lemons, perfectly ripe, and I think to myself, “Oh these must be for the lemonade I was planning on making!”  Well how do I know God wasn’t planning on using those to make lemon cookies or lemon meringue pie, or a nice lemon sorbet?  Well, I don’t.  I just know that I want to make lemonade and God gave me lemons.  I get one ingredient and assume I know what recipe God’s using. 

I fully believe that God brings things into our lives with purpose and planning.  I also believe that even if we make the wrong thing with our lemons that doesn’t mean God’s going to be upset with us or that somehow our lemonade will be cursed.  I’ve just learned that maybe I should ask God what recipe He’s using before I start squeezing lemons.  After all, His recipes always seem to turn out better than mine for some reason.

3) Self-care is not selfish.

So here I am, the retreat minister, who is constantly telling people of the need and benefit of resting and being still, and I am actually the worst at taking time for myself.  I have to purposely put on my calendar “Do nothing” in order for me have a day of rest.  Seriously, I schedule times of nothingness.  I know this sounds like a bad Seinfeld episode, but really it’s true!

For a long time I thought that doing anything for myself was being selfish and so I worked and worked and worked for other people until I finally just collapsed in exhaustion and burnout.  You add the belief that self-care is bad to the fact that I have an anxiety disorder and you get panic attacks, depression, and addiction.  A recipe for destruction if there ever was one! 

One thing that really opened my eyes to the fact that not only is self-care a good thing but it’s actually something needed and important, is discovering that even Jesus took time to get away and be alone and rest.  You see this several times in the gospels, especially after times that are more draining and demanding of His spirit.  He would get in a boat alone and sail across the sea or he would go for an early morning walk and leave His disciples sleeping.  I imagine during those times He took naps or maybe just laid on the beach and listened to sounds of the ocean, taking in the love of the Father.  Self-care needs to be a priority for us.  We can’t give to others if we don’t take time to receive from the Father. 

4) Independence is not the same thing as strength.

I was at a conference recently during which one of the speakers ended with this prayer, “God protect me from the illusion that I am an independent being.”  I asked him afterwards what he meant by that and he told me, “Choosing to live independently is choosing to live outside of community, and ultimately leads us to believe that it is up to us to get everything together on our own.  Where is there room for Christ in that?”

I am STILL trying to retrain my mind to see the lie that being independent is being strong.  We were created for community, to bear one another’s burdens, we were never meant to do life on our own.  Not only are we hardwired for community with one another but we were designed for community with God!  From the moment of humanity's creation God shows Himself to be a God of community, a God who wishes to walk with us in the coolness of the garden.  When we, when I, pursue independence I’m essentially saying to God, “Nah, I don’t wanna hang out with you, I’m good on my own thanks.”  I exchange His strength for my own which, is a pretty piss poor substitute. 

If you can relate to any of these, I hope maybe my lessons offered some insight into your struggle.  If you can’t relate to any of these, well then maybe you can just learn the lessons vicariously through me so you can avoid the hard part! Either way, my desire is that you see the greatness of God’s grace interwoven in the nooks and crevices of the hard lessons and that you get the wonderful opportunity to experience it in your own life. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The Misfits

I’m sure it will come as a huge and utter shock to everyone when I say this, but when I was in high school I wasn’t one of the cool kids.  I know, I know, I’m sure EVERYONE assumed I was like homecoming queen or something! *sarcasm*

I was really good at weaving my way in and out of different social groups, “playing the field” so to speak, but as for actually being one of the cool kids that everyone wanted to be like and hang around… yeah I sucked at that.   The reason I sucked at that is probably because I wasn’t too great at playing the whole “look perfect, act perfect, and dress perfect” game.  I was more into the “wear baggy clothes, only brush your hair if you have to, and listen to angsty punk rock music” game. 

I think I’ve always been kind of different in the sense that I never went with the flow of what everyone else was doing.  In junior high my differentness made me a target for the ones who were better at conforming.  With that came name calling and peer pressure.  I quickly learned to wear my individuality like armor so that it couldn’t be used to hurt me.  I went to a private school and so expressing myself was quite a challenge but I managed to find a way through bright colored shoes and baggy pants. 

“I don’t care what anyone thinks about me!”  I declared.

But it did care.  I cared so much that I tied my identity to my differentness.  I wanted to be seen as a rebel.  I wanted to be known as a rebel.  This is who I was.

Because of this it was impossible for me to relent any part of myself for the sake of other people’s comfort.  I couldn’t cover my tattoos or wear pink or show my soft side because, as I would argue, that would be “hiding who I am.”  Which sounds pretty reasonable, at least it did at the time, but it sabotaged by ability to create spaces of grace for people around me.

There’s this verse in 1 Corinthians where Paul talks about this idea of “being all things to all men” and he also talks about “being free from all so I make myself a servant to all.”  This use to be a really frustrating passage for me and each time after reading it I would curse Paul’s name and be like, “Really, dude?  Ain’t nobody got time for that!” 

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (ESV) 
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people that by all means I might save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

I’ve heard some argue that these verses are proof that we need to be extra careful that we’re behaving correctly.  Recently, someone I know used the last part of that passage as an argument as to why we should mix grace and law in our sermons because “people can’t handle extreme grace.”  In essence, we should water down and conform our truth so that everyone stays happy/attending church/paying tithe.  (Insert angry Jess tirade here).

I do NOT agree with either of those things.  In fact, I’ve recently had somewhat of an “ah-ha” moment when it comes to this passage and it doesn’t frustrate me nearly as much anymore.  What Paul is saying here is not that we should bend and conform truth to fit within everyone’s belief system.  What Paul is talking about here is the idea that we should meet people where they’re at.  That we should get down in the mud and grunge of their life (or come up to their white towers) and show them why they need the gospel. 

Back to high school Jess, I was unable to relinquish any part of my “style” or attitude because my identity was tied to it, and really ultimately because I was insecure in my identity.  I lived in bondage to this identity and did all I could to tighten the shackles.  Paul is able to minister to different people groups why?  Because he is confident in his identity of freedom in Christ!  He is no longer bound to have to look, act, or communicate the gospel one particular way.  See, it’s not the message that changes, it’s the vessel. 

So what does that mean for me now?  Well, sometimes it means that I can cover my tattoos when I go to speak in more conservative churches. Other times it means I get to Mohawk my hair and wear ripped jeans and hang out with awesome youth students.  Sometimes it means I speak out for the voiceless and other times it means I stay silent and allow people to chew on and work through truth.  Some days it means I get to be a cool kid but most days it means I’m still a misfit.  And you know what?  I kind of love being a misfit!  Besides, there is one place I fit perfectly, intertwined and tangled in the spirit of my Savior, and really what could be better than that?  There may be days when I don’t fit, when people reject me and exclude me, but I am accepted and treasured by the Creator and Carver of the universe—The ultimate Cool Kid. 

God is limitless and therefore the gospel is limitless.  It is for the misfits and it’s for the cool kids, and let me tell you both desperately need the freedom that it brings.  It’s for the high society and the homeless.  It’s for the self-righteous and the self-loathing.  That’s the beauty of grace really, that all need it and all can access it. 

So, today, may you be set free from the bondage of your self-made identity.  May you come to see and be confident in your true identity as a free and flawless child of God.  May you be sabotaged by the gospel of grace.  May you embrace your misfit side and may it empower you to meet people where they’re at with the freeing power of God’s grace.  And may you be fully aware that rejects are royalty in the kingdom of God. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Only God Can Judge Me (but He Already Has)

One night this week I listened to some one speak of God with vigor and passion.  But it was not the God I know.  There was fire in his words, commitment in his voice, and energy in his eyes, all fueled by a lifetime of belief.  He called others to his cause and he was happy to do so.  But I was saddened.  That night I heard once again of a God not unfamiliar to me, the God of judgment.  The God that leaves His believers trembling in fear at the thought of falling short.  The God of demand and expectation.  The unsatisfied God. 

I sat in silence as I heard these words focusing all my energy in controlling my facial expressions so it wasn’t blatantly obvious that I was not a fan of what was being said.  I thought to myself how can anyone serve such a God?  How easily I seem to forget that I once believed in Him too.

Now, let me be clear, it’s not that I don’t believe in a God of judgement or complete and pure justice, because I do.  In fact, I so believe in a God of judgement that it requires me to believe His standard in much too high for my reach.  His standard is so high and so resolute that He is the only one who could accomplish it.  Which, as I understand it, is the whole point of Jesus. 

The way I see it is, if you believe in a God that is still judging us, you must believe that Jesus wasn’t enough.  Not only must you believe that Jesus wasn’t enough but you also must have the audacity to say that somehow your measly acts of obedience could pick up where He fell short and get you the rest of the way into God’s pleasure.  Are we really that arrogant?

One might argue against me, “There are many verses that speak of God’s wrath and judgment in the Bible!  What about those, huh?!”  Once again I repeat myself, I am not saying that God is not a God of judgment, I just happen to believe that the judgment has already happened.  If you don’t believe me, if you think God’s wrath has not been quenched, I dare you to re-read the account of Christ’s crucifixion and say to me that what happened to Jesus wasn’t enough. 

And did God do this because He was angry with His Son?  Of course not! He did this because Christ LITERALLY became the sin of the world—ALL the sin of the world. 

God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God. -2 Cor 5:21 (NET)

He did this so that while we were actively against God and deserving of judgement, the judgement could be poured out and we could be reconciled to God FOREVER.  Now that’s some serious one way, bring you to your knees, love!

But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. Romans 5:8-9 (NET)

Look, you guys know me, you know I’m not shy about my junk (and there’s a lot of it).  You know I screw up more often than I get things right.  I fall short more often than I make it to the finish line.  I break things, because that’s what people do.  That, however, is not who I am. 

Because Christ got it right, I am perfect even when I screw up.

Because Christ finished it, I am a success even when I fall short.

Because Christ reconciled things, I am an ambassador of wholeness even when I break things.

See, it has everything to do with Christ and nothing to do with me.  That’s what makes grace so outlandish really.  The One who deserved blessing received wrath so that we might share in glory.  How could anything we do ever compare to that gift?

May you know, confidently and completely, that God is not angry with you.  May you stand boldly in the truth that there is now therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  May you be empowered by the knowledge that God’s wrath was satisfied by Christ’s willing and chosen sacrifice on your behalf.  May you wrestle and struggle with these facts and may coming to believe them reassure you that who you are is not defined by what you do.