Hills and Valleys

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I’ve walked among the shadows
You wiped my tears away
And I’ve felt the pain of heartbreak
And I’ve seen the brighter days
And I’ve prayed prayers to heaven from my lowest place
And I have held the blessings
God, you give and take away

Every year as fall begins, the colors change and there is the perpetual scent of bonfire in the air. Every year, I curl up with a coffee or hot chocolate and marvel about my year and that it is coming to an end. But this year, I cannot wait for it to end, this year has been filled with valleys.

I know that I should be anticipating the ascent, the climb up the hill to a place where the sun can be easily seen, but honestly I just want to get 2017 over with. This past year began with a tire blowing out on the highway, continued with surgery and rounded out with the loss of my grandmother. As the year progresses, the valley has only grown deeper, and the climb seems like a lot of effort just to roll down the other side to a new valley. But in the valley, I will lift my eyes to the one who sees me there.

This is why I have not written about myself lately. I have been struggling with my health since May, and after a summer of fatigue and pain, my doctor finally was able to pinpoint the cause. My gallbladder had to be removed quickly. While all that was happening, my family in Michigan was learning about a special form of dementia that my grandmother had been diagnosed with. It was rapid and tore away her mind and her physical body. It devolved quickly and she passed away a few weeks ago. But when I’m walking through the valley end, no I am not alone!

With everything going on, writing has not been a priority. Yet as I sit and type this, I am reminded that no matter how bad these things—tires and gallbladders and dementia—seem, they are all temporal. Tires can be replaced, gallbladders can be removed and dementia will eventually end. There will be pain, there will be sorrow, but there will also be healing. Because You’re God of the hills and valleys! Hills and Valleys!

I want this valley to end so the healing can come, so the joy will be obvious and the pain will be lessened. The joy and the pain of it all is what makes it life. I am constantly looking for moments of strength to begin the journey upward, because I know the valley can seem deeper than it actually is. I know that life will fade, but joy makes way for hope. And I am hoping for a mountain top experience. Because on the mountains, I will bow my life to the one who set me there.

I am not naive to believe the hills are pain free; this year has truly prepared me for just about anything. It has also caused me to put my trust in the Lord, who is not temporal but is eternal. I have had to hope in the Lord, who is not safe but is good. I have had to place my faith in the Lord who in not distant but is near. I pray, Father, you give and take away every joy and every pain, through it all you will remain over it all!

I am not looking for a way out of this year; going through it all has made me stronger, softer and an encourager, but I am looking for for this leg of the journey to come to a resting place. And, I keep singing, No matter what I have, Your grace is enough no matter where I am, I’m standing in Your love.

Lyrics from Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells, this song has brought me to tears and reminded me to hope in the goodness of the Lord.

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Representation

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When I think about the future of the church, I sometimes get overwhelmed with possibilities. As a woman who preaches and teaches the Word, I struggle with the lack of female representation in the Church. I struggle with knowing how to live out my call with very few women to watch. I struggle with my own insecurities when I hear men say that they “recognize women in leadership and pastoral positions.”  I struggle with that being enough, because I want to see how other women do it, I want to see something beyond recognition. I want to see representation.

Recognition is saying, “I acknowledge you.” Recognition is passive. Recognition is not saying you are a valued voice and member. Recognition is not an act of equality, it is an act of legality. Recognition is not enough.

Representation, on the other hand, is actively making space for a voice is that is needed and trusted and valued. Representation is not tokenism, but is a show of respect and honor. Representation is an act of equality, especially in the Church. In the Church, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

Representation is what Christ did when He rose from the grave, and gave the good news to the women! He defeated death, abolished the Law, established a new way and He gave that message to women. These women were the first people (other than Jesus Himself) to proclaim the resurrection.

Representation is the woman at the well, whose garment of shame became one of righteousness. Her dignity and voice were restored so that she could go and transform her community from the inside.

Representation is what the two twenty-year-old girls I sat with this weekend long for. They know God has called them, but they do not necessarily know to what, because of a lack of representation. They understand recognition, but they want to see the call lived out.

As I sat with these two amazing and Godly women, I knew I had to step up my game. As they shared their hearts and their minds and we fellowshipped, I thought, If this is the future of the Church in America, there is hope.

As I sat with them, I realized that the women who I looked up to have paved the way. They have toiled and shed tears and blood, and had backs turned on them so that I can stand in a pulpit. They have been talked-down to and mansplained and been “recognized” so that I can have a seat at the table.

As I sat with them, I was encouraged and challenged. I have been asking myself, “What am I willing to go through so that these two women can answer the call on their lives?” I am not sure, but I know that I am willing to walk alongside them and see what fire comes, what joy comes, what pain comes and what representation comes.

*The church leader that said this did not in any way imply anything negative. He is a dear man and a champion of women, it just got me thinking.

A Broke Student’s Guide to Giving

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So you’re broke? But you still want to give back, and not just tithing to the church. When I was a college student I felt perpetually broke. My heart for the poor seemed to be overshadowed by my need for textbooks, food and tuition. Now, ten years later, I am a missionary who still has a tight budget, but has learned about new and creative ways to give not just dollars, but also time and other needed resources.

So here are a handful of practical ways the average student can give back.

Micro-giving

Micro-giving is the future of fundraising. There are many apps that rounds up each purchase you make to the nearest dollar and automatically gives the extra change to a non-profit of your choice. You can set limits daily or monthly. His Kingdom Funding is seeing great success in these “round-up” accounts.

When you are already spending, what is an extra 37 cents?

Sign up for shop-to-give services

AmazonSmile is the best example of a shop-to-give service. You sign up, pick the charity of your choice, and then buy your normal stuff- and Amazon gives a percentage of your purchase to the charity you picked. There is no extra money coming out of your pocket. Just know that your items are doing good!

This is the simplest way to give, you literally do nothing different. You shop, they give!

Volunteer your time (and gain experience in your field)

At the organization I work with,World Impact, we have medical clinics and many of our volunteers are in med school. The beauty is they get to work with a physician and learn about high risk communities. The student gets practical experience and the organization gets much needed help.

For the past 3 years I have spent many hours with marketing students from Pepperdine University. They are tasked with aiding me with relevant market research that provides best practices and surveys of millennials that I do not have daily access to. And I hope the students get something out of this, I have seen some of them in their jobs after graduation and we have reminisced and they have thanked me- one even went into nonprofit consulting! Many nonprofits need skilled workers in their offices, schools, clinics and after school programs

Even an hour a week can make a difference.

Shampoo, body wash, tampons and toothpaste

Buy two, donate one. Homeless shelters, street outreach teams, food pantries, churches, homework clubs, camps and even pregnancy centers need every day toiletries. There are always kids, teens and adults that go without, so when you head to Target to grab a bottle of Suave, pick up an extra one. Start a basket on your dorm floor and once a month take it to the donation spot of your choosing. Pray for that ministry and find other ways to connect your floor mates to the outreach they do.

These simple acts can be a game changer.

Get social

So many times we think giving needs to be a huge act, while in reality any amount helps—even using your social media platform to promote a charity you love. If you run, run with a purpose. If you do direct sales, give a portion of the sales one month a year. If you write for your school paper, find ways to tell the stories of alumni who are active in steering change.

Giving also does not need to be a solo effort. Get together with a group of friends and pool funds to sponsor a child, or put together a campus awareness event. Gather monthly and pray for missionaries, nonprofits and those in need. Plan and sponsor creative service events to raise funds, or go together to volunteer at an organization.

Small, creative ideas can make a big difference.

Just give

The bottom line is, if you are willing to look outside the box, there are plenty of ways to give back. The Lord will direct your heart. And in the words of a dear friend of mine, “Where your heart is, there your wallet will be also.”

Shattered Glass at My Feet

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I have spent much of this year on the verge of tears. I have been trying to see the positive, to see God’s hand of provision. I am thankful that my health is intact, but most days I wonder what else can go wrong? I have been struggling with how to respond to the negative, and how to celebrate the positive when it often occurs moments before a hardship.

Now I want to be clear, no one has died, I still have a home, a job, and an amazing community around me. I am not Job or David on the run. I am just having a tough season for me. I know that many of you are going through much pain and loss and hurt. This is just where I am and what I found this morning.

I ran through my normal routine: I got dressed, did my makeup, grabbed my lunch, found my keys, locked up the back door and headed to the car. Then I saw it, I realized my car had been broken into. Surprisingly, nothing was stolen. It still runs. But the shards of broken glass litter my driveway, my front seat, my yard. These fragments are but a reminder of why I live in the neighborhood and why I work with World Impact.

It has been eleven years of this urban living, each day new and exciting, the unexpected always lingering in the background. I have never grown tired of the lifestyle or this place. There have been moments of soaring joy and intense pain—and yet I have never thought about about leaving. This morning’s driveway findings do not change a thing. The odd pain and struggle of this year do not change a thing. These events have not made me rethink my calling, and much worse could have happened. This event, while annoying and costly, did not actually hurt anyone. In fact, the broken glass made me more committed than ever to incarnational living and the life transforming work of the Gospel.

Today might not go down in history as an important day, nothing about this day is that special, but today I choose to recommit to following Jesus in the city. To see people as He sees them. Christ, while on earth, was all about the potential of the broken, the inner workings of the shattered, and the worth in the damaged. I need to be about that also. When the sun hits the glass splayed across my backseat, the sparkle is like that of diamonds. I want to see the worth in the broken.

So, as I see the shattered glass at my feet, I think of how Christ would have reacted, with love and forgiveness overflowing. My heart breaks for the pain the person who caused this damage must be in. I want for them to find peace, I want for them to be creative not destructive, I want for them to build community instead of destroy, and I want them to know life and not desperation. So, while I clean up, I will pray for my neighborhood. While I sweep the glass into the dustpan and pick up the pieces of my splintered year, I will choose joy for myself and hope for my community.

Advice

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I am turning 36. I am officially entering my late thirties. It seems impossible—I was just 22, beginning my somewhat “adult life,” but alas I have been adulting for a well over a decade. With that in mind, I thought I would impart ten pieces of advice I default to. None of these are groundbreaking, they are pretty simple and quick. So, here are Candy’s wisdom, advice, and life lessons.

What you do not post online is just as important as what you do post. Your social media is a digital record of your life. Just because it happened does not mean you need to archive it; some memories can just be for you and some poor decisions do not need to be shared.

“Make space for someone if that is what you want.” -Sumi Flanagan. Sumi is a dear woman who led a mission trip I went on in high school. We recently reconnected and she imparted wisdom and encouragement. She has been in full time ministry for decades and I have always admired her life, and she encouraged me to be more open and to intentionally make space.

Bloom where you are planted. The Lord may lead you to unexpected places, and when He does, grow healthy roots and produce beauty. In the chaos, in the pain, and in the mundane seek the Lord and create beauty.

Obedience is rarely easy, but always worth it. We all know hindsight is 20/20, but trusting in a God who has proved Himself faithful for 4,000+ years of recorded history is just plain smart. He is faithful when we are not. He is good when we are not. He is forever when we are not. Obey and trust that He knows what He is doing.

“You’re an everybodyist.” -my mom. Be an everybodyist. Be inclusive. Love people. Never intentionally leave someone on the outside. Jesus was an everybodyist, the Church should be, and I try to be this way daily.

“I’d rather be alone than with the wrong man.” -Lady Mary. I might struggle with my singleness, but Lady Mary hit a homerun with this piece of dialog. Nothing could be more true; I will always prefer singleness to being in the wrong relationship. I am not saying that marriage is easy, but it might seem easier if you are with the right person (although, I have no experiential evidence to back that up).

“Community should refine us, not consume us.” -Erin Lane. I read this maybe a year ago and it has taken about that long for me to lean into it. Find, make and keep friends who sharpen you, encourage you, pray with you, all while allowing you to be who Christ has called you to be. Good friends are hard to find, so when you do hold tight.

“Clothing should skim not cling.” -Oprah. LOL, she said this over 20 years ago and whenever I get dressed I still think of it. Dress however you want, this is just my go-to rule.

Love what you do. There will be seasons of life when this might not be true, when you gotta pay the bills. But if it can be true, make it so. I have had the honor of working for World Impact for eleven years. I love what I do (most days). There have been tasks within the ministry I have not loved, but I saw how it added to the vision and empowerment of others, so I did it. But for 80% of my time with WI I have loved every second of it.

Follow your calling. The Lord will call you to do some crazy things and you have His authority to get it done. When He gives you a vision, a dream, a task, He will provide the way to accomplish it. At thirteen I heard God call me—a suburban kid with no city experience— to Urban Ministry and I believed it. My parents prayed for it, and now I am living into it because Christ made it happen. He will part the Red Sea for you, and if needed He will decimate the opposition like He did with Pharaoh’s army. So we have no excuses; we can move forward and not look back.

So this is the advice I have for you, this is the wisdom of the old being handed over to the young, take it or leave it.

A Checklist for the Selfish Single

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Dear Christian Single Ladies-

Today I forgot to bring my headphones to the coffee shop (the worst!). But my forgetfulness instead plugged me into conversations and eavesdropping. I have been thinking about all the blogs and articles I have read that tell single people what we should do with our free time, like we have all the “free time” in the world.

I don’t know about you, but I rarely have enough time to write this blog, let alone partake in a list that mostly benefits others. But today, I encourage you to unplug, listen to the world around you, read a book, engage, and be selfish. I even took some of my time to put together a selfish checklist—something to do with our eternal amounts of free time—let’s check some of these off.

Selfcare. Be selfish with time for yourself. Put on a face mask, maybe paint your toenails, watch an episode of Schitt’s Creek, and laugh. Carve out thirty minutes a week to focus on yourself. Take a yoga class, go to the pool, seek space for you. Be intentional about setting aside this time, don’t just do it when other plans fall through. You are worth the time to pause.

Read for Fun. Be selfish, pick a book that isn’t all about work or school. Shift into a different gear and give your brain a rest. Just read a book for fun! I just read The Animators, The Hate U Give,  and Sleeping Giants. They were so different from my life that they gave me an escape, while also challenging my mindset. Books are friends, too.

Read for Growth. Be selfish with your beliefs. Pick a topic and grow in it. A few years ago I wanted to define my theological position on women in ministry; so I read and read and read some more, until I came to a conclusion—a biblically sound conclusion. Last year I wanted to understand more about Christian discernment, so I read and learned so much! Figure out your beliefs.

Explore. Be selfish with the place you’re planted. Love where you live! Learn all the ins and outs of your community, become an expert. Find the best coffee, best tacos, favorite food truck, most epic music venue, local bands, artists, and bookstores. Be adventurous in your hood.

Build. Be selfish with your friends. Build into people, whether it is mentoring tweens or being mentored by an older woman. Seek out healthy singles and couples who speak truth into your life and who you can bless with childcare, spontaneity, and vicarious living. My married mama friends are some of the most loving, sacrificial people I know, and they always have awesome snacks! Relationships are worth the time.

Boundaries. Be selfish with the lines you drawn in your life. Set your boundaries and keep them, with men, with friends, at work and in ministry. Define things and let go of ambiguity. Learn when to say no and when to say yes, because both matter deeply.

Do Nothing. Be selfish with your mind. Literally do nothing. Once a week I will just lay in my hammock in the back yard, sometimes with headphones, sometimes without, and I will just sway and pray. I listen to my neighborhood, dogs barking, cars driving too fast, sirens in the distance—the whispers of my community. While doing this I find myself praying for those who live around me. When music is playing I drift in and out of praise, looking through the leaves to the stars. That hammock has been a place of peace. Take some time and do nothing.

So single ladies, use your free time to be selfish 😉

*This blog was written while listening to GoodBye Party playlist

Let’s Dance

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Dear Christian Single Ladies,

Long, long, long ago there was a night in college that I danced with freedom and utter abandon. It was one of those nights that you can never forget, the nights that feel like a dream but for a brief time they were your reality. The sun was setting on a warm Chicago night, I was on the roof of a parking garage, and a great band was playing a small show for a group of us. We danced. I remember everything about this night, the colors in the sky, the slight hint of chocolate in the air, the hand drums beating the sun down and the light breeze that kept our bodies cool as we danced and danced. I want to dance like that again.

I have forgotten how to be unencumbered, life has caught up with me. I was talking with one of you lovely ladies and we were chatting about shame—the shame we feel being single, the shame we feel about not being moms, or in one case not even wanting to be a mom. The shame has weighed us down. This shame is something we have accepted, we have allowed the opinion of others to overwhelm our freedom in Christ.

I will start with me: I let the church’s preconceived notions of femininity and mile markers win. We, single Christian women, let American Christianity set the standard, but it is time we look to the actual standard maker—well, the standard breaker—Jesus. Jesus asks us to follow him, Paul tells us to be unashamed, and we often feel shame in our obedience because it does not look like the current norm. Well ladies, screw the norm.

We must live counter-cultural lives, and that can be especially tough in our faith communities. Every time I go home, people ask if there is a “special someone” in my life. I used to boldly say no and move the conversation to another topic, but recently I have noticed that I feel bad when I have no one to tell them about. I kind of imagined, after years of no man in my life, people would stop asking and talk to me about the rest of my life. But maybe my life on its own is not impressive, maybe my life by itself is not important. These are the moments when shame rears its ugly head, and I have to choose joy and praise for the position the Lord has placed me. I like my life, and like many of you I want to be part of setting a new standard within my circle of influence.

Ladies, we can begin to reframe the conversations that are harmful. We can introduce new questions to the singles in our community of believers, we can dig deeper than a “special someone” and ask about calling, travel, obedience, struggle and joy. We can work together to erase the stigma and shame of singleness.

We are meant to dance unhindered by shame, disconnected from societal pressures and be fully filled with the Spirit, who will lead. We have to help set new standards for the next generation of women, we have to be present, so they can see representation of single, Godly women who lead, serve, and obey.

So tonight, turn the music up and let go. Throw off the shame list you hold on to, put on garments of righteousness and dance in the knowledge that you are seeking the Lord, being obedient, and you are representing Christ in your actions. Hold your head high when you enter church on Sunday morning. Your singleness is not for others to comment on, it is not your identity—Christ is.

Love ya ladies

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To all the Christian single ladies

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Recently I read a random article about sexual desires and the single Christian woman. I was hoping this article would be helpful, with spring fever alive and well, but it was not. It was full of “advice” for humans, either married or single, not just for singles. Many of the articles written for my demographic miss the mark, do not apply to me, are far too general, and they are not at all vulnerable.

As someone who struggles with vulnerability because of the pain it can bring, I challenged myself to begin writing what I would want to hear. And as I chatted with other single friends about blogs, posts and articles for us, they too expressed a longing for something more real. So here it goes:

To all the single Christian ladies,

Sunday I went to church and heard a sermon that had very little to do with my life. It was good, it was full of truth, but it was about running from the Lord when you know His will. That is such a deep and rich topic, and many in the room where connecting with it. I have been working on my heart of disobedience and wondered: what happens when you are being obedient and the Lord’s promises still go unanswered? That is how I, a single woman in her mid-thirties, feel. Sometimes I think God forgets about me, and I know some of you feel that way too.

After Sunday’s sermon I talked with my pastor friend, who had no idea how I am feeling or what I am going through, and he said the Lord had a word for me—and I think this word could be for you, too. “You are not missing anything.” After he had spoken, I took a deep breath (and in all honesty, held back tears) because I knew that the Lord had met me. As I meditated on the word given to me, I heard two things. First, I am not missing out on anything by not being in a relationship. Second, the reason I am single is not because I am incomplete as a person. I am not missing anything. I know it feels like the world is hooking up and disobedience will lead to desires met, but God has not disappeared and He has something for you.

I often think there must be something wrong with my desire for a husband because it has yet to be met. But I know there is nothing wrong with this desire; and whether you desire a companion, a husband, an encounter, or to simply to be wanted—all of this is valid. And when these desires are not met, it is not because there is something wrong with you, it is not because you are in sin, it is not because “you are trying too hard.” Unfortunately, it is probably just God’s will, and He is Sovereign. I know this sounds trite, but it is also an encouragement. You are enough and He is faithful. You are not missing anything.

Recently I told a man I had feelings for him, but it did not go as I thought it would, and I had to be intentional about not letting lies creep in. I felt rejection and loneliness, but I know that although my situation is momentarily painful, Christ will show up. Single friend, when this happens to you, He will comfort you, He will understand your tears, and He does hear your prayers, they matter to Him. Singleness is a long road in Evangelical America. But know that you are important to the Body of Christ and the Lord will bring seasons of peace. Because you are not missing a thing.

Now onto sex. It is OK to want sex, to have chemistry with someone and to desire physicality. And if you are walking in obedience, things might not be simple, and you might have to walk away from something that you want in the moment. It is hard, and it sucks. But on this journey of holiness, give yourself grace—lots and lots of grace. Clearly you should be intentional with healthy boundaries, but when mistakes happen and sin creeps in, trust in the Lord and His grace will cover it all. His grace will cover shame and you can walk boldly as His daughter. Everything around you is telling you that you are missing something, but you are not. You are not missing a thing.

Single ladies, your struggles are valid and while memorizing scripture and working out are good, they will not change your God-given desires for a husband, for a physical relationship, or for someone to want you. In this season, it might feel like you are missing out or that your desires are misplaced, but as I have been learning that is not true. ‘Cause girls, we are in this together, and we are not missing a thing.

With love,

Candy

Mother’s Day

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Originally posted on May 4th 2016, updated and revised

I have sat through 35 years of Mother’s Day sermons. I have sat next to barren friends with tears in their eyes, I have sat next to content single women who serve in the children’s ministry, I have sat holding a friends child so that she could worship freely, and I have sat alone and lonely.

Motherhood has always alluded me, as an adult single, never married Christ follower, Mother’s day has just been another Sunday I call my mom. My Sunday routine is the same, go to church, go get coffee, go home, call my mom- nothing is different- except on this Sunday Moms are recognized, women who have bore children are exalted.

I have often felt that my child-free life screams from the pew on this day. As the women around me are gifted with a rose or some other flower, I sat happily in my childlessness but sad that mothering is being viewed so narrowly in the church. I am not a mom, but I do love kids. I am grateful for a church that gives all women flowers on this day. It was not to belittle the sacrifice of being a mom, but to be inclusive of those who may want to mother, but because of circumstance, singleness, infertility, timing, can not. Motherhood should not be viewed as purely biological.

I once read that there are two types of moms: the ones who are mothers by circumstance and those who are called to mothering. Either type can actually have children, but neither have to want them. There are single, barren, married, and waiting women who are called to mothering – they staff our nurseries, they hold babies, they mentor young people, they help in homework clubs, they take in orphans and they fill our mission fields. They love nurturing and caring for children. There are others who love their own kids and have no desire to deal with other people’s kids; but they are gifted and called to other things.

So Pastors and guest speakers, as you prepare your sermons for Mother’s Day, be inclusive of those that mother yet have no children. Be gracious in the language around the “sanctifying” act of childbirth; God uses many things to sanctify His children. Celebrate the women of your congregation, what they contribute, and the mothering spirit many of them bring to the sanctuary. And maybe ask a mom to fill your pulpit.