An Algorithm of Waiting

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I filled out a questionnaire, thoughtfully wordsmithed some answers, and uploaded a couple of my favorite current pictures—is this what the start of a relationship looks like in 2017? Me waiting for profile views and wondering what is wrong with me when I get none? Or better yet, only getting matched with guys who love country music and whose favorite leisure activity is “shooting.”

To clarify, there is nothing wrong with George Strait being your favorite singer, but that could not be further from my musical tastes. And if you go shooting for sport, that’s fine for you, but I am anti-gun (a personal belief that after 10 years of living and serving in the urban context, not a political statement). Why can’t the algorithm factor this in?

And yet here I am trusting that this is what I am supposed to be doing. Ten years ago I was in a prayer room at our ministry center when I heard the Lord speak to me. I prayed for openness and peace and He answered with a string of words I was unsure I was actually hearing. Up until this day I was 85% committed to the single life for the sake of the Gospel. Afterall, what man would want to join me in the hood, forever? So that day in the prayer room changed it all. The Lord answered my prayer for openness and peace with, “You were made for relationship, and will one day be married.” It was not audible, but I am certain that is what was communicated.

These were not the words I wanted to hear. I was hoping for something like, “Peace will come on Friday and openness is something we will work on, there is a special grace for that.” But no, I received an unexpected answer to a request I thought was routine. And that is how the Lord tends to work; I want peace and He wrecks my life, I want to rest in Him, and He decides I need a white water rafting trip through rivers of frustration and jagged rocks of trust. When I want to sing It is well with my soul, He seems to want me to mean it. And I tend to enjoy the challenge and thrive on the adventure.

So when marriage was the answer to my plea, I did not want to hear it. It took two years to embrace the answer I did not want, and then it became something I was waiting on. It became this unfulfilled promise of the Lord. I joined Sarah in the long game, no Nine-Month-Mary for me, and it has been ten years of my lack of faith and His continual faithfulness.

I’ve considered taking things into my own hands, you know, becoming a serial dater—whoever, wherever—until something sticks. But that leads me back to all those biblical tales of not waiting on the Lord: King David, Sarah, Moses, the Israelites, the list is long and those highlights let me know that my God is a Deity of His Word. He saved Rahab and her descendants, delivered His people from Pharaoh, gave Hannah a son, and He sent the He Messiah for His people. I am so much like the folks of the Bible—they thought the Messiah would come in as a strong political leader, bashing the system and instituting justice; Sarah thought she would be a young and spritely mom; Mary thought she would be married before conceiving. I always thought I would meet my match in the context of service in the local church. God has other plans.

So I will wait on the Lord who is a God of promise. And when I grow impatient, I will wait some more, and when I feel contentment for a season I will praise His name. And when I am unraveling, I will look to the past. For I know what the Lord said, and He is faithful.

 

 

A Gibson Girl Leaves Stars Hollow

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I stumbled into Stars Hollow by accident. It was season two and I needed an escape. I had left my home of Milford, Michigan, for the big city of Chicago. Within weeks of arriving, the Twin Towers were hit and my new home went silent, people were more cautious, classes were cancelled, and plans were made “just in case” something were to happen. I needed to return to the safety of a small town where everyone knew everyone, where Main Street was real and people stopped to talk to each other. I needed to be in the quirky and oddly familiar world of the Gilmore Girls.

I spent a lot of time with the three, sometimes four, generations of Gilmore; their witty banter and pop-cultural references made me smile knowingly. When we would gather—there were several of us who would watch together—we brought snacks and laid down our studies for an hour to visit the snow globe of American idealism. I spent all four years of college retreating to the beauty of the gazebo in the center of town, rolling my eyes at the shenanigans of Taylor Doose, and being carried away by the melodies of Sam Phillips (as a side note, during my childhood she was a well-known CCM musician who went by Leslie Phillips, who my mom loved, so even she harkens back to a simpler time).

Where I grew up we had town festivals, great high school sports and a “down town” where people strolled, stopped at the local bakery, nodded to the meter maid, and stopped in to see Tim Twiss, who was basically our town Troubadour. It might sound like I am making this up, but if you read the works of Thomas Lynch, Milford’s undertaker and bestselling author, you will know that Milford is Norman Rockwell set in motion, and that Stars Hollow was the perfect escape for this Gibson Girl.

I continued on with the Rory, Lorelai, and Emily in my post-college life as I moved from Chicago to the Philly area. I watched Rory navigate college, relieved those years were done, yet also desperately missing the friends who I had lived with for that period of my life. As I entered adulthood, I found comfort in dormroom drama and awkward first dates of Rory’s Yale experience. Once again I found an escape with the girls Gilmore.

When the show finished, I would still watch it on DVD. I realized that I was relating less and less to Rory and more to the plus-sized sidekick, Sookie, who never allowed her size or weight to affect her life. She never talked about needing to lose pounds or struggling to find a pair of jeans that fit right. No one tried to change her, no one called her fat, or told her to hit the gym, she was loved and accepted for who she was. So, I took cues from Sookie and her body positive life—I embraced my curves and style the way she and her community did.

But now several years later, and after watching the reboot, I do not know how I feel about returning to Luke’s. I wonder if I have outgrown it. I feel the same way when I visit my hometown, like I do not fit there anymore. Milford Bakery might have the best donuts in the world, but they are no longer my donuts, just like Gilmore Girls is no longer my comfort food. I have surrounded myself with, in the words of Rory, “supremely real characters.” The cast of my community makes my day-to-day fun and the unexpected beautiful. Home is not a place I return to, it is where I am, and I have moved on to living in the unknown of my own life rather than the safety of the snow globe.

Hopes Dashed

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Recently I told a friend I was going to join E-Harmony; she was not unsupportive, but she wondered why I wasn’t finding anyone in the local church. And, to be totally honest, I have always thought that someday the man for me would show up at church, and we would get to know each other in the context of service and Christian community. But alas it has been 35 active years in the church and no such blessing has been bestowed upon me. So, at some point this year I am joining a dating site.

My dear friend was not going to take this sitting down, so out came her phone, and she texted a single guy she knew. He was open to meeting someone and so was I, so we met at church and went out to lunch with our mutual married couple friends.

He was a total gentleman, fully committed to the Lord, and active in his church—a church I love. I thought he was handsome and enjoyed our post-church lunch; it was a bit awkward, but in the  good first date way. After lunch we exchanged numbers, he walked me to my car, opened the door and suggested we go out again. I said that I would love that.

He texted just the right amount. Over the course of that afternoon we were both involved in our Sunday afternoon plans, he was fishing, I was caffeinating. It was lovely getting to know bits of his life before our next outing; there was the right amount of disclosure without oversharing. And then I read the words I feared, “I come from a big family and someday I want a big family.”

I sighed; my hopes were dashed. We had been so transparent from the get-go that I knew I had to be honest with him; I had to break the post first meeting spell. “I do not want to shut down what could be, but I do not want kids.” My reply was the end of any future with this man.

I want to be clear: I would not want him to change his God-given desire for a family, just like I would not want someone to expect me to change my childfree desires. Neither is wrong and neither is right, they are simply different.

I know this conversation will happen again and again, but I did not expect it this quickly. We both wanted this to lead to more and yet our long term desires displaced the existing chemistry. And that is the Lord’s work in His children—there are missionaries the world over who choose singleness every day for the sake of the Gospel, there are men and women who part ways because of separate callings and desires.

Ultimately, this is what dating is all about: getting to know the ins and outs of another person’s desires, thoughts and plans. Seeing if things might grow together or if they are meant to be separate. You get to see the hope of something begin and end, over and over again. But one day there will be one that the hope only has room to grow—the desires match and the thoughts are valued and the plans are encouraged.                                                  
That day will be beautiful, but until then I am open to the adventure and the occasional set up.

Impressions of Communion

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Recently I oversaw communion for a gathering. As I prepped, I reviewed the liturgy, filled the tiny cups, broke the bread, and placed the elements on the table. I also asked three members to serve; they replied with “Yes” all around.

Hayley, one of the servers and a dear friend, was really excited. She then conveyed this story to me with happy tears in her eyes: “When I was a kid I thought being able to serve communion would be so cool—all of the people serving got to church early and would stand in the back. I thought they were, like, drawing up plays for the best way to pass the elements, but I knew they weren’t. Then one day I realized that I would never be able to to serve communion, because I am a girl. I noticed that only men did this. It made me really sad, so this will be my first time ever serving communion.” Her joy and excitement made me reflect on my own communion journey.

I grew up knowing that deacons served communion, and it just happened that all the deacons in the Baptist church of my youth were men. But when I was a teen my family began attending a different Baptist church. At this church communion was also served by deacons, but here there happened to be a female deacon, Bonnie Lupa. I remember taking note of this, not necessarily that she was a deacon, but that she was a woman serving communion. Her gender did not hold her back from what the Lord had called her to.

I also vaguely remember trying to start a conversation about a women serving communion on the drive home from church. No one took the bait, this was not something that seemed abnormal to my parents, or even out of place, so I hoped that this was normal.

And maybe this is where my journey to Biblical equality all started, maybe it began when I saw a deaconess pass the Body and the Blood, maybe that was the moment when Galatians 3:28 began to come alive. Maybe my parents not making a big deal out of it began to normalize something that seemed so extraordinary. The maybes are endless, but what I know for sure is that seeing a woman serve communion left an impression.

So on the day when I handed Hayley the Body and the Blood so she could pass the plate to all who were gathered, I stood in unity with the men and women in that room. Together we affirmed Hayley’s identity and calling, together we took the elements in unison—dropping our titles and individuality—together we proclaimed that “in Christ we are all one.”
As an aside I hope more churches invite women to partake in the communion liturgy. Giving girls and young women the examples needed to see themselves represented in the local church is exceedingly powerful.

Intentions

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When I moved to Wichita I began the practice of setting a word or phrase as my intention for the year or a season. This move was hard for me; I had to leave the place where I became an adult and where much of my identity was formed. I moved away from a community I loved and, in all truth, thought I would spend the rest of my life serving. During the packing and purging I found myself constantly repeating “journey onward.” This simple phrase became a mantra, hashtag, and bit of hope. As I arrived in my new apartment and unpacked and explored I found “journey onwardmorph into “smooth landing.”

Ever since these experiences, I found myself setting an intention for the new year. Last year I found that “openness” was to be my word: I was to be open to new people, places and experiences. This openness has led to deeper relationships, exploration, and adventure. Because of the intent to be open, I have felt God move in new ways within me and throughout my community of friends. I have learned a new level of vulnerability that brought tears, strength, and depth. One of the highlights of this past year’s journey through openness is a mentor relationship with Lisa, a co-laborer and friend, that has pushed me past my comfort zone and into hard truths that I might not have ever dealt with.

The push came from the books Lisa had me read and the conversations and prayer that followed. She had me read David Benner’s The Gift of Being Yourself, which is a game changer if the reader is open to the process. That book lead me to Desiring God’s Will also by Benner and Discernmen by Henri Nouwen. These two books came in handy as I led a Bible study at my new home on discerning God’s will. Every other week up to 12 of us gathered, shared food, and prayed together. Setting my intention to be open led to so much!

This past year my community was broadened because of this openness. A local worship leader, Abigail, reached out to me and some other women in our peer group on Facebook to get together. We did, and have every month since. Each month we gather for a meal and time together; there has been laughter, prayer, tears, and overwhelming joy. These gatherings led me to ask Anna to be my roommate. I barely knew Anna, but I was open to the prompting of the Spirit, and it was confirmed by those around me. I want to celebrate this past year of openness and look forward to this being a regular part of my life.

Even my coffee shop encounters are because of openness. Sometimes I leave the headphones off and meet new people, building something new. There is a Friday night Worship service at a local church that I go to, and when I got there God used one of His amazing daughters to speak truth to me. Truth she had no idea how badly I needed, truth that she was obedient to deliver, truth I may have missed if I had ignored the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

All of this is not to brag about how open I have been. I know there are things I have missed and opportunities I have shut down, but I set an intention to be Open and the Lord has been faithful to challenge and encourage this openness. This year I have set a new intention that for the time being I am treasuring in my heart, but it was inspired by Mary and the Advent season. Setting these intentions has changed me, pushed me, and forced me to seek the Lord in new and sometimes uncomfortable ways, but it has been worth it every time.

So here is to setting intentions and sticking to them, even when it leads to tears, even when it leads to pain. In the words of Madeleine L’Engle, “On the other side of pain, there is still love.” Getting through the tough stuff makes the good stuff even better, and by spending last year focused on being open, I have seen love grow in very unlikely places where hurt once took root.

A Liturgy of the Ordinary

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Liturgy means so many things to me- this is the final installment of a four part series on this topic.

Liturgy is an order of worship, an order of life, patterns that repeat, events that occur again and again. Often liturgy is reserved for the sacred, a holy separation of the repetition and litany of the work week and the time intentionally set aside for the Lord. Yet, lately I have seen my lines blur and boundaries that were once clear dissolve as the sacred and secular collide.

Maybe this is what the wholistic spiritual life looks like. The margins get thin and the everyday becomes part of the liturgy that was once lived out only in the pew. The sacred spills into the aisle and out the door into the mundane, creating new beauty in the ordinary.

The coffee shop becomes the foyer where community is greeted, the living room transforms into a sanctuary, a manger is repurposed into a throne for the Baby King. The everyday is seen through the a new lens of potential where nothing is as it seems.

The season of Advent is constantly reminding me of this perfectly imbalanced life. The life where the Savior invades and the Divine demolishes the divides my mind has constructed. Everything is His and the liturgy of the everyday is gently nudging me to see myself as Holy.

As I walk in holiness, Christ walks before me—breaking down walls, speaking truth, preparing good works, and unfurling the hem of His robe, so all that touches it is healed. The ordinary, the everyday becoming other; solely because He is present. That is what Advent is about: Holiness becoming flesh and flesh becoming holy, and the ordinary becoming sacred.

Walk with me in this journey of an everyday liturgy, where the woman at the well is a community changer, the homeless man becomes an Image bearer and where we are holy because He is Holy.

A Liturgy of Advent

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Liturgy means so many things to me- this is the third installment of a four part series on this topic

Advent is the time to anticipate the coming Savior. The Baby King gestating, Mary’s belly growing, and Joseph planning their departure. The drama of Advent is often lost in the beauty of familiarity. The Gospels become rote and the miracle becomes normalized.

“Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” A shock must have rushed through her. There must have been a fear of the angel, an awe in its overwhelming presence, and anxiety  of the uncertainty to come. And yet she said yes. Mary chose obedience in her obscurity, the Christ child over a carefree engagement, and the gossip of strangers for the good of salvation.

“A virgin will be with child and bear a son.” This was an immaculate conception—something no one could prove. Her fiancé was plagued with questions, but a dream changed everything. The cosmic plan could have fallen apart—Joseph could have departed and  divorced the maiden quietly. And yet he obeyed. When faced with doubt, leaning toward betrayal, he slept and found instructions by morning light.

“While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth.” When her water broke, so did four hundred years of silence and waiting. Waiting and anticipation gave way to the promised Messiah from the line of David lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes. The tiny human and Holy God was here.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” The multitude of angels sang out in fanfare and celebration This is what the heavens proclaimed and the Prophets promised—a King.

We wait with excitement by lighting the candles, reading the scripture and celebrating each day. May wonder confound the known and the mystery of Advent be ever beautiful. May it never become mundane. May the familiar awaken the mystery and open our eyes to join in obedience with Mary and Joseph, in waiting with the Prophets, and in praise with the angels. The Liturgy of Advent reminds us that no matter our expectations, Christ is coming, and the unexpected will become truth and this Truth incarnate paid the ransom for our freedom.

The songs of Advent- a Spotify playlist

 

A Liturgy of Silence

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Liturgy means so many things to me- this is the second installment of a four part series I am posting on this topic

I used to think that yoga was all the silence I needed. My instructor speaking to us about our next pose, a scripture playing in my mind. This sunset yoga class was my comfortable silence. The class was purposeful silence—or maybe silence is the wrong word. I was quiet, but the instructor was not, the teens leaving basketball were not, the staff cleaning up the pool were not; but I was and I was doing something.  And yet, lately I have been encouraged to seek the Lord in silence—no music, no conversation, no words flowing from my pen—just sitting quietly in the presence of the Lord.

These moments have not been easy, they have been wrought with mental check lists, daydreams, wandering thoughts and self doubt. I have sat in a beautiful cabin, on a hillside overlooking the expanse of Kansas farm land, and on a bench in the midst of the city—and I have heard nothing. Nothing but a buzzing fly trapped by the window, a train bringing grain from the heartland to the rest of the nation, and the hustle of the people and cars going about their busy lives.

I think the quiet and the silence are not the issue, maybe it is the stillness, the feeling that either my body or my mind must be active, that both can not rest at the same time. But that is crazy, I do not think I am wired that way. And yet, those who I seek instruction from say, “Do not force it,” “Be still,” “The Lord wants to speak to you in the quiet,” “Be available to the presence of the Lord.”

I know He is there, and yet in the liturgy of stillness and the sanctuary of nature I feel lost. Maybe because this place is not my home, perhaps the silence makes me uncomfortable, or I just do not know how to listen to the Lord the way I listen to people. I often equate stillness to idleness even though they are not the same thing.

I am learning how to show up in the Divine Presence and just be. I am training my ear to hear, my heart to listen and my mind to seek His truth, especially in the stillness.

A Caffeinated Liturgy

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Every Sunday I head to Reverie Coffee Roasters on Douglas and order a drink from some the best baristas in the country. They know my name, ask how my week has been and make me a mocha or latte that is delicious and beautiful. I take my simple white mug and plate to a table or the counter and spend two hours reading, writing, journaling, or praying. This has become an integral part of my Sunday liturgy. This is an intentional space that is a set aside to meet with the Lord.

These Sundays at Reverie have yielded significant spiritual growth and personal awareness, but beyond that it has led to some unique conversations. One week there were two young men sitting near me talking about the small-mindedness of Christianity. I interjected and we spent almost an hour talking about how Jesus loved people who were different than himself, and that there are followers of Christ in Wichita who love Jesus and people. We departed ways with smiles and Facebook friendships.

There was a Sunday when I was having a hard time staying focused on my reading. I also forgot my headphones and I overheard the girls next to me talking about Drake and Rihanna. One of them could not remember what awards show they had just made appearances, and I offered, “The VMA’s.” After that we spent several shallow moments talking about how we love that Rihanna has finally found a good man. Then we spent many deep moments talking about the book and Bible on my table. Now, most Sundays we wave to each other as Julie* counsels women from her church and circle of influence and I study and pray that truth and wisdom will reign in her conversations.

There was that eavesdropping incident a week ago, and then there was this past Sunday, as I sat at the counter between a man in uniform and a young women journaling. The man in the Air Force was talking about the lack of good Indian food in Wichita with one of the baristas and I agreed as I was pulling books out of my bag, Desiring God’s Will by David Benner, the Bible, and a journal. We chatted for a few minutes about ethnic food and moving here from the east coast—he was a transplant from DC, and I was one from Philly. We talked about Michigan in the fall and he shared that his wife is from there. We realized quite quickly that she is from the town where my parents now live, where I had just been visiting.

He glanced at my books, and asked, “So are you a pastor in town?” My heart swelled with joy. This manly man asked me—the woman with purple hair and a nose ring—if I was a pastor. I answered no, and told him about World Impact and what I do. He wanted to know about my books, because he was going through a study at his church on God’s will. We talked a bit more, then he headed home. And I thought to myself, I love this place.

Over the past year Reverie has become my church. These are my people, these are the stories that matter, these are the people who influence me and who make me think. This Sunday liturgy has become so much more than reading, writing and praying—it has become community and home. Although I am not a pastor today, maybe someday I will be. Listening to and loving people seems to be something I am good at.

*Name changed for privacy.