Jesus Calling…(“Just be with Me.”)

Before I really get into this post, a few things that this IS and a few things it ISN’T.

What this ISN’T:

– It isn’t for anyone else, really. I wrote it for me because I needed to put “pen to paper” on this topic. (So why publish it? Because I feel like if it has the potential to shed light for even one person needing some, then it is worth the vulnerability of my shaking hand clicking “Post” when I am done writing.)

– It is not the “typical” story of growing up Catholic and “leaving the Church.”

– It is not an attack on Catholicism.

– It is not a rant on the current happenings within the Catholic Church.

What this IS:

– Firstly, my thought is that it’s “overdue” to be sharing this. But, my reason for not writing this until this very moment is, well, that I haven’t been ready. For probably a handful of reasons (perceived shame or anticipated negative reaction, actually trying to figure out how to write out my feelings, being a nerd writer and wanting to be inspired to type without forcing myself to sit down and do it, etc.). Regardless of the combination reason that exists, it is what it is and now I am writing it.

– Secondly, it’s personal. Deeply so. It’s my own and no one else’s, and so I hesitated the need to even publish it.

– Thirdly, this has been years in the making. And I don’t mean this post. I mean the actual content; the story of discovery beginning from when I gave my life to Jesus in 2006 and today, July 26, 2019, when I am attempting to capture 13 years of a relationship with my Savior into a blog post. This has been the most captivating, challenging, amazing, emotional, transformational, humbling, difficult, grace-filled, trying and complicated roller-coaster

– Lastly, it is likely going to stir questions or reactions if you know me. Please know that I welcome your feedback. That might sound odd but for those who have a personal relationship with me, you may want to say something and I welcome it – truly.

With all of that said, let’s get into it. [Now, at the time of posting, I’d also like to add that this is LONG; I didn’t realize how long and detailed I would get but it flowed out of me. So, sit back, relax, and enjoy a long story…Thanks for reading.]

Giving your life to Christ sounds very “born again Christian” – right? That’s what I thought. Until I did it myself. At Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) in the summer of 2006, as we were praying and singing “We Are One Body” in the auditorium at the University of Maine at Farmington, I humbly prayed to God through tears, giving my life to follow Him – regardless of what that meant for what I thought my life was going to look like. CLI was a game-changer week for me. Prompted by my Mama to go, I embarked on this intensive week, hosted by the Catholic Diocese of Portland. So while it was named Christian Leadership Institute, it was born in and formed in Catholic teaching. I was raised Catholic, attended Mass and Sunday School every week with my family. (For those who want the backstory, my maternal grandfather was Catholic, so my Mama was raised Catholic; and my paternal grandparents were both Catholic, so my Dad went to Catholic school K-12, the whole shebang.)

After that summer, the Catholic Church became the epicenter of my free time outside of school and extra-curriculars. Through CLI, I met and formed lifelong friendships with people who had a wholeness to them – a real authentic vibe that I admired and saw as wonderful friend material (I was right – these people are still dear friends of mine). It was a whole other world that opened up – the regional and state youth ministry networks through the Diocese were really unknown to me because my local parish youth ministry that I was involved in did not attend regional or state events. So, these became my social circles. I’ll fast forward a bit here to say that essentially, I was ALL IN – I went to every regional and state event, ended up seeking out and joining a new youth ministry at a different parish about 30 minutes away from home because my parish’s group just wasn’t serving my desires in engagement. I attended the “Advanced Christian Leadership Institute” (ACLI) the following summer, and grew deeper in my leadership and faith through the intensive training we received. By my senior year, I was discerned (essentially a prayerful voting process) onto the Maine Diocesan Council for Catholic Youth (MDCCY). This group of sixteen youth (4 youth from each of 4 regions in the state) served on a one-year term to plan, facilitate and lead all of the regional and state events. Not just a huge honor, but an extraordinarily tight-knit group and a huge time commitment. We also had 1-2 adult leaders from each region. I look back on MDCCY as one of the most transformative roles I’ve ever taken on – I am so grateful for the community it formed, again, many of these are relationships that I maintain to this day, despite time and distance. In high school and to my family, I was the “super Catholic one” – and I was okay with that. Proud of it.

All of this diocesan involvement in the Church led me to pursue a Catholic university education, particularly a Jesuit one. I sought out the Jesuit universities because of their deep devotion to education and a well-rounded, spiritual experience of college. Jesuits believe in “cura personalis” (care of the whole person) to become “men and women for and with others.” These principles resonate deep in my heart and I am truly glad that I was “ruined by Jesuit education” (a joke that Jesuit-educated students say due to the worldview shift that inevitably occurs as a result of the Jesuit way of teaching; it’s a good thing!)

My time at Creighton was when I began to engage in my “adult spiritual life.” Of course, the shift to college is radical for everyone. For me, one thing that attracted me to Creighton was the idea that the youth ministry vibe could continue in the college years through campus ministry offerings and other faith-based social groups. This was correct – in some ways. I attended various retreats offered through the campus ministry center (Catholic of course, as it was a Jesuit university), and I also joined Intervarsity Christian Fellowship and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA).

Let me make something super clear, because this is important. Since giving my life to Christ in 2006, I had only ever engaged in faith conversations or spent time socially with fellow believers in a Catholic context. Not to be intentionally exclusive; it was just the way it was – and frankly, I never really thought about that until I was in college and got into FCA and Intervarsity.

I genuinely didn’t really get the whole praise and worship vibe, the hands in the air, the methods of extemporaneous prayer, and, most importantly, I really couldn’t relate to the discussions when people spoke about Jesus as someone who could have been sitting on the gym floor in a circle with us. To me, it was foreign to think of a relationship with Jesus being so…informal? That might not be the right word.

At first, I rejected it. I’m just being honest here. I judged it. I thought it was weird, informal, inappropriate even. But what was really going on was that I DIDN’T GET IT. I couldn’t understand why people were talking about a personal relationship with Jesus because I genuinely didn’t have one. So, I couldn’t picture it. I couldn’t feel it. And therefore, at the root of it all, I was jealous that it seemed so easy to them. And that was the thing, it was easy for them – because they had simply accepted God’s love and counted Jesus as a friend. I was told that by multiple friends and I just couldn’t wrap my head around it (Thinking “But they’re not checking off the boxes! Eucharist! Mass! Confession! I don’t get it! I do all of that and I don’t have what they have with Jesus!”) So when they would tell me that I could have it too, again, I just didn’t get it.

I was rooted in the Church tradition, teaching, ritual. It was formative to me, it was what brought me to the auditorium that day in 2006 saying “Yes” to God. But I began to question – not harshly, and definitely not out loud – the meanings behind it all. Sure, I knew the canonical explanations for things. I specifically remember going to the Burbank Branch of the Portland Public Library across from Deering High with my Mama, asking for a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Mama and I laughed at their shock as they showed me, a 17-18 year old girl, to a tattered (and outdated) copy of the catechism instead of to the Teen Fiction section for a copy of “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. (Note: Fear not, I was not too good for Sisterhood, haha! I owned the whole series!). So, I could explain to you the parts of the Mass and why each thing was done and said, for the most part. As a career youth altar server, I still can nearly recite the entire Mass. But what I began questioning and chewing on in the early years at Creighton 2009-2010 was “why?” and “how do I get what they all seem to effortlessly have?”

With those questions inherently came self-doubt and even shame. Pressing down those thoughts and believing that I needed to spend more time in St. John’s Church, read more Catholic books, attend more retreats, go to Confession more often, etc. And I did all of that. . I felt as if I just kept working harder, being better, I could earn the relationship that others seemed to have with Jesus. I believed that I needed to earn God’s grace and my salvation in some sense. But when I questioned the Catholic “route” to getting there, I felt like I was calling into question everything I believed I stood for. It was scary. It was something I didn’t talk to anyone about who “knew me as Catholic.” I even started seeing a Spiritual Director. A Jesuit brother on Creighton’s campus.

Grappling with these questions of my faith identity and relationship with Jesus was not the only thing we discussed in these sessions, or in my InterVarsity bible study. Of course, you add in the stressors of college, the dynamic relationships, the being away from home, and a few personal life events which shaped my college experience, and you’ve got more than enough to fill a spiritual direction session. He was great to deal with all of my “stuff” and help me unpack it all.

But what permeated my mind throughout these sessions and every time I was trying to just “be a better Catholic” because I believed that was the prescription to a better relationship with Jesus was the nudging that maybe I was off. Maybe something wasn’t right about that line of logic.

My years at Creighton were fruitful, wonderful, dynamic, and full of so much more than what this post is discussing, of course, but this thread ran through it.

I remember that one of the biggest things I struggled with was just to sit in peace with God. I kept saying Psalm 46:10 to myself “be still and know that I am God” and forcing myself to sit in the pews at St. John’s in the dark (the church was open 24 hours; it was amazing). I would feel restless and distracted at times, other times I felt peace. I wrote in my journal (some of which are posted on this blog), and I sang. I cried. I even nodded off sometimes.

But since I’m being utterly honest in this post, the lingering thoughts were always me convicting myself for my sins, resolving to be better, to be good enough to earn God’s love. Like I said when I was witnessing others’ testimonies and even simple comments that pointed to their deep personal relationship with Christ…I just didn’t get it.

I kept down the road of “Be a good Catholic. Check off the boxes.” Now, an important note. I am not saying that checking off these boxes didn’t do anything for me. In fact, quite the opposite. My relationship with Jesus grew through these practices – attending daily Mass during the week for a period of at least two semesters with a few close friends, regularly going to Confession, etc. So I am not, nor will I ever, condemn these experiences I had as wrong, misguided, etc.

But, what I was coming to realize was that while they gave me fulfillment and peace, I was not truly believing certain specific (and pivotal Catholic beliefs) that lay within the traditions. What I was coming to realize is that the list of Catholic tenets were simply not necessarily in line with my beliefs. I don’t mean that they’re evil, pointless, or baseless. Quite the opposite. It’s almost like if you could have a “light” version of them, that’s what I believed in. Let me explain.

– I always have appreciated and had deep respect for the Eucharist. The Eucharistic prayer during Mass is beautiful, sets me into a place of reverent prayer reflecting on the Last Supper. But I have truly never believed that in transubstantiation. I believe that the priest is saying a blessing and that the process is symbolic, respectful, and traditional. But I never truly thought of it as more than a symbolic recollection of the Last Supper.

– I think that there are many Popes, bishops, and Catholic saints through the years who are incredible testaments to a life of faith. I think there are thousands of incredible men and women who have led lives that we can look to as wonderful examples – and I do. But I have never believed that these people were hand-picked by God or, frankly, any holier than you and I. (Careful, before you jump here. I’m NOT saying I’m anything close to these folks in terms of their dedication of their lives to the faith. What I am saying is that priests are human. Bishops are human. The pope is human. They sin, they fail, they do not possess special powers nor do they have any greater rights than you or I to bless, pray over, etc.)

– I think that Confession is a beautiful practice. I have always enjoyed it as a time to speak to a priest and discuss my shortfalls and sins. But I have always viewed it as an option – and that is simply because I don’t believe that the priest has any power to “speak for God” or intercess for us any more than you or I do for each other. Again, I’m NOT saying that this practice is wrong or bad. In fact, I really enjoyed going to Confession. But for me, it was an honest, vulnerable conversation with a person for whose intelligence and spiritual maturity I admire and whose advice I value. I never left thinking “welp, now God has forgiven me because that was with a priest.” I believe that God forgives me because He is a loving God who created us and knows we are sinners. The act of voicing them to another human being is the crucial part, and so Confession was a time to do so. And, its therapeutic nature was greatly treasured. So, for me, the necessity was the voicing of it to another person – the “admitting” the sin out loud to another person and to God – NOT the fact that it was to a priest. The benefit of the priest, to me, was two-fold: (1) they’ve heard it all before, so they are likely going to have some awesome advice – which is true, and (2) they can’t tell anyone, which is comforting because then you know your conversation is private (also true).

There were other things, like the fact that while I might attend Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation, I questioned why it was “required.” Here’s the thing, guys. I knew all of the above things to be true and I continued “identifying as” Catholic. But, I also knew, intellectually, that those beliefs are inherently NOT Catholic. I knew that with those being my true beliefs, I was definitively not Catholic. I just wasn’t ready to fully put a period at the end of that sentence.

I lived in that unease for, well, from 2013-2018. Truly. Typing that out now hits me in the gut because I really have grappled with this for so long. Trying to understand and process the shame I put on myself for “not being who I have been” when really, it was the culmination of realizing that I simply didn’t fit into a definition and that was okay. Trying to process that it doesn’t mean that my relationship with Jesus is different, because that has never been grounded in a religious practice anyways. Trying to formulate my thoughts into a journal entry or blog post that could maybe capture it. And, even just honestly admitting to myself that pursuing the Catholic Church as my outlet for practicing my faith had simply become dishonest.

Now a fair question would be “Christina you said you grappled from 2013-2018. So, what happened during that time? What happened in 2018 to resolve it?” Fair questions folks, fair questions.

To the first part: what happened during that time? Well, I graduated from college, had a transformational year of service with AmeriCorps at Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago (chronicled in lots of other posts), and then took a job with my current company, CCS Fundraising. Because of a high percentage of our work within the Catholic Church and my Catholic-filled resume from high school and college activities and coursework (I had enough credits to have a major in Theology), I was unsurprisingly placed to work with the Archdiocese of Chicago. I was on that contract for 2.5 years, fully integrated in the Archdiocese and working with more than 30 priests in executing and managing diocesan/parish fundraising campaigns. It was a really great experience, honestly, and I look back on that time with fond memories (and tired ones! It was a ton of work and I did not do a great job at balancing work and life).

Anyways, my time with the Archdiocese was a peek behind the curtains in the Catholic Church in a way that I had never experienced before. Please know, I do not say this as a slight to the AOC in ANY way. But what it did give me was a LOT of time (60+ hours a week) of working in Catholic parishes and therefore thinking about and immersing myself in Catholic teaching.

What I was coming to realize, more and more, was that I really just didn’t subscribe to a lot of what would “make me Catholic” versus “simply Christian.” That might read harsh and it’s not meant to. But it’s why I said earlier that it’s as if I believe in the “light” version: I don’t believe the Eucharist is transformed but I revere it as a symbolic remembrance. I don’t believe priests have the power to forgive sins on God’s behalf, but I appreciate the ritual of regularly naming ourselves as sinners and confessing our wrongs. …Make sense?

Let me set the scene for you real quick. I was managing upwards of eight parishes at a time, running concurrent fundraising campaigns. This means weekly meetings with eight parish pastors, volunteer committees, and driving all across Chicagoland to do so. I legitimately left my apartment between 8-9am and got home regularly after 9pm because of evening meetings with volunteers every Monday-Thursday nights. Mixed into those days were grocery store trips and workouts and errands, but let’s just be clear. I worked a lot. And I was in churches ALL THE TIME.

Yet on Sundays, I still attended to and belonged to a Catholic parish. I still questioned whether or not I really wanted to be there. There were a few Sundays I can recall where I drove or walked to church and then didn’t go in – I drove home, or, I went to a non-denominational church with a friend from Mercy Home.

I remember clearly the feelings of shame I put on myself during those questioning times. I remember feeling guilty and at the same being mad that I felt guilty because surely that meant I was placing that unfairly on myself and perhaps not going was my authentic desire (which it was).

Other weeks, Mass was fulfilling and exactly what I needed. That’s perhaps why it’s been such a roller coaster for me. I had times where I was thinking “well it feels good so it must still be what I need.” And, I think it was what I needed – at that time. I needed to be there to unpack more about how I felt about religious adherence versus personal relationships with Jesus. I truly believe that every step along this winding road was exactly what I needed to reach the point where I am right now.

When the project with the Archdiocese wrapped in 2017, I was moved to Texas for work. I was at a secular client in a new city where I could count the people I knew on one hand. This experience was, well, transformational in a lot of ways (candidly: some mild depression, some strong homesickness, some unhealthy relationship attachments, and other grab bag items for another day’s conversation). But perhaps most striking was the fact that finding a Catholic Church to attend Mass at was something that felt secure – for good reason, “Catholics can always come home” was the banner at my childhood parish and I felt that. I felt like by going to Mass, there was emotional familiarity in a place where nothing felt familiar.

So I joined the parish and attended intermittently. Again, I struggled stronger than ever with the question of “Christina, why are you attending Catholic Mass if you legitimately definitively don’t believe in some of the most pivotal Catholic teachings?” Well, that question is the reason I was in and out of Mass, inconsistently attending while also checking out other churches – Baptist, non-denominational, etc.

A friend at my new client was a catalyst for this change. Because I have not asked her permission for inclusion here, I will refer to her as Sarah. So, Sarah was someone who definitely had the personal relationship with Jesus thing going for her. It immediately took me back to Intervarsity and FCA days. I was SO thirsty for that personal intimate relationship with Christ and she had it! I clung to that and wanted to learn more, know more, assimilate from her what I could understand and how I could have that myself. Sarah made it look so easy. I told myself she must be like me, a duck – seemingly calm above water but paddling rapidly underneath. But, frustratingly enough to me, I realized as I got to know her better that Sarah was really not paddling rapidly trying to stay afloat like I was. She seemed, well, like she was floating. (Duck analogy over now.) I don’t mean that she didn’t pursue God – quite the opposite – I just mean that she didn’t seem to be stressed about how to go about it. She just went to the feet of Jesus as she was, time and time again, and was loved, filled, forgiven and completed every time. Sarah invited me to her church and after (embarrassingly months) some time, I went and met her there.

It rocked me. Again. It felt easy, it felt right, I learned so much. The pastor was engaging and I heard the message in a way that I hadn’t before. Speaking plainly, I was spoken to by the pastor as a sister-in-Christ who is on a pursuit just like he was. We sang songs that captivated my heart and began to make me feel like Jesus was my friend – bringing me back to the craving of my heart that started back on that gym floor during FCA years ago.

Yet here’s the thing. I pushed back. I told her and her husband how much I enjoyed it, and I never went back. I didn’t know how to process how I was feeling. What I realize now is that God was continuing to be patient with me, setting people in my path time and time and time again to lead me closer to Him. Sarah was one of those people, and I am ashamed to admit that I really didn’t ever tell her that – nor did I give her the proper gratitude for the transformation she stirred in my heart by inviting me to sit with her and worship God together that hot Houston morning. So, Sarah, if you ever read this post (and goodness, if you get this far into it (4,043 words later!!!!), thank you for sharpening me and loving me, even when my heart was hard and I pushed back against you.

So if dear reader, you’re still with me, thank you…I promise that I set out this post to be far more concise but the words are flowing out and I know that God is guiding me because this is transformational to get out of my heart and put into words. Side note: I’ve been praying for the strength, guidance, and patience to finally put these words onto paper (or screen, ha). So this is a victory for me. It’s therapy and it’s overdue.

The end of 2017 was a big game changer for me. I was coming to the end of a 2.5 year long relationship, recognizing that we were simply on different paths and “driving different speeds.” It was crushing to me to realize this, because if you know me, I put myself all in as much as I can, and if I hate one thing, it’s the idea of ever hurting someone. So, it was a really really hard season for me. Concurrently though, I met a new friend through a very chance encounter. [Spark Notes version: I went to a wedding as a plus-one with my 89 year old grandmother and met this new friend at a bar after the wedding and ended up talking to him all night long. Fast forward to January 2018, this friend became my boyfriend.]

What attracted me most to Grant (aforementioned friend turned boyfriend) was his openness about his relationship with Jesus. Yeah, he was a total rough-around-the-edges redneck hunk driving a giant old Ford pickup, but he had a softness in his heart that was undeniable – and it was captivating.

Through the course of our relationship, primarily in the very beginning, we made it very clear to each other that we both were intent on pursuing a Christ-centered relationship. Which meant that it was aimed at a covenant marriage – we wanted to court, not just “date.” Now before you jump to conclusions and paint us as either jumping in to anything or to think we were Duggar-like (no hate), I’ll clarify. Christ-centered relationship meant that faith and our relationships with Jesus needed to come first – we needed to base ourselves in prayer and if it became clear that Jesus was telling either one of us that we were not right for each other, it was going to end. And that would be okay.

So, we were off. What I can say is that I’m glad to report that our prayer pushed us towards each other instead of away, and our respective strengths and shortcomings seemed to fit together like puzzle pieces. Where he was strong, I was weak, and when he needed a lift, I was there.

Grant continues to be a leader for me, someone who has witnessed to me and during the time of my discernment and let’s call it the final steps of my years-long “faith identitiy crisis,” held my hand both literally and figuratively, patiently praying for me and walking with me. (Fun note: this friend turned boyfriend is now my fiancé.)

We started looking for a Church, and by the time we had begun dating, I had been very interested (through friends at the client I was at) to investigate a few area community churches (aka nondenominational Bible churches). One stood out and it seemed very clear in my prayer life that God was calling me to give it a shot. Hilariously, Clear Creek Community Church was exactly what I thought I wouldn’t want – but it was where I kept feeling I needed to go. I thought I wouldn’t want it because it’s HUGE – the saying that everything is bigger in Texas definitely applies to churches; plus, it was untraditional to what I was used to in terms of the physical sanctuary space, as well as it being a stage versus altar, etc.

But, “if you want a laugh, tell God your plans.” So, Grant and I decided to check it out, all the while having a few back-up plans of where to go in the following weeks in our quest for a church home. Spoiler: we never left. Clear Creek Community Church is our church home and it has fed us both – in very different and beautiful ways.

There was one particular morning that was the “aha” moment for me that I had been searching and praying about for literal years. On Sunday, October 21st, 2018, we heard a message from *our favorite* Yancey Arrington, one of the campus pastors at CCCC. He delivered a sermon called “Salvation” which I’ve linked here so anyone can listen/watch.

It was as if Yancey’s words took every single experience, prayer, nudging, encouragement, and witness from every single person (mentioned here like Grant and Sarah and others, as well as many who are not mentioned), led to this very moment. I, as Carrie Underwood sings, “can’t cry pretty” and I cried big fat tears of relief, joy, happiness, and I thought back to that gym floor with FCA friends, realizing now exactly what they were feeling. I FINALLY “got it.” Grant cried, realizing that it finally happened for me. As he said later that week, “it’s like he said what I’ve been saying to you but you finally heard it” – praise God!

Okay, so what did Yancey talk about? His whole message was about how grace alone saves us because of God. The sermon was preceded by a video message of three different testimonial stories about their own transformation experience. It’s funny because Yancey even spoke about how many people have had their “aha moment” and what I didn’t realize when he said it in the fourth minute, was that I was about to have mine.

He speaks about how most people he has met have heard of salvation “taught” or sought after, in one of three ways. First is the idea that Jesus is the Mr. Fix-It and we have the power – we just be good people and come to Jesus as the genie in the bottle when we need help. The second is salvation by social justice, the idea being that “Jesus is the ultimate social justice warrior…but now you’re not saved by Jesus, you’re saved by your activism because it gets conflated with political or cultural bias.” Lastly, salvation by religious rule-keeping. Yancey shared that of all of the transformation stories he has witnessed at CCCC, this is the dominant experience. The idea is that here is the Bible, if we follow the rules and do what a specific church leader or denomination says, we are saved. Therefore, we are saved by religiosity and by our own doing. What Yancey shared is that all three of these “are branches from the same tree, finding nourishment in the same soil: you’re saved by what you do. Salvation is achieved by your activity.” And, he said, “that is simply not the Gospel message of Jesus. He read to us (and we read out loud with him) 1 Corinthians 15 – “Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.”

Yancey is a dynamic speaker, who, at that time in the sermon, asked us “where are you and in this? That’s right! Nowhere.” He said that essentially, the only part we play in our salvation is our sin that we commit; we screw up – that’s how we’re involved. So, it’s not about what you are doing for God, it’s about what God has already done for you (in Jesus).

Needless to say, my world was being rocked as I listened to his words. Everything faded around me. I wasn’t aware of the sights, sounds, smells, temperature, anything in the room. I felt closer to God listening to these words than I ever have in my entire life. I kept hearing God say to me, “just be with me.”

The example that Yancey provided was from a famous Protestant minister and writer, Martyn Lloyd Jones. I encourage you to click on the link here for the sermon because I’m going to reference what he says from 19:01-23:50. He explained the analogy of a king who was confronting an enemy outside of the castle. One version of the story is the king going out and sending military advisors back to tell the people how to defend themselves against the enemy. This would naturally result in frantic attempts to try to live, to defeat the enemy to save themselves. But, the second version of the story paints a very different picture. The king goes out of the safety of the castle, defeats the enemy soundly, and the threat is now eliminated. Who does he send back now? Lloyd Jones’ suggests that in this case, the king would send back heralds – “good news-ers” to go to the inner castle and proclaim “the king has won! No worries – you’re free!”

Martyn Lloyd Jones went on to say that “this is the difference between real Gospel Christianity, and something that masquerades itself as such but isn’t.” Yancey explained further, “real Christianity is where someone knows that the king has won for them, because someone has told them that the king has accomplished that victory for them and they didn’t lift one finger to deserve it. But for those who think religion is about having advisors around telling you what to do – look at what your faith would look like, always wondering if you’re in or out.” He prompted us to think about do we feel anxiety or relief about God – because it matters how we live out our response to our own salvation. Am I grateful for the fact that the king has won? You don’t need advisors, you need heralds. The real Gospel is the story of a God who accomplishes a victory over an enemy who none of us can defeat. The bottom line that Yancey said over and over again is that “the story of the Gospel is about the God who did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves.”

Then, what do you do with that news? You live out in gratefulness for the gift of the saving. Right? The king has won, we did nothing to deserve it, and so it changes the way we see everything in our lives. Yancey said, “So, we are not doing things FOR God’s acceptance; we are doing things FROM God’s acceptance.” At 25:50, Yancey explains that you already have God’s acceptance so now it frees you up to live for Jesus. I’m growing in Jesus because I already have his favor, not because I’m trying to earn it.

Before I essentially type up his whole sermon notes, I encourage you to watch through the end of video. He explains the metaphor of an oxygen bar for those who are suffering from altitude sickness, and how one “hit” of oxygen literally changes everything – makes them feel as though the weight is lifted and they can breathe again. He compared this to hearing the Gospel message proclaimed in the way he explained it in the sermon that day. He said that if you’ve lived your life listening to advisors and not heralds, it’s all up to you and that is some thin air to breathe. It’s exhausting, it’s disorienting, it will make you spiritually nauseous. This is when I was crying big, relieved tears because I felt like he was talking JUST to me. I knew that what I had been experiencing in those years from college until that day was thin air. I was disoriented. I was spiritually nauseous. Plus, I was making it worse because I was trying to earn something I already had (salvation) and adding my own shame because I was realizing that the truest calls of God in my heart were to walk away from the church that I had been raised in – grateful for what it provided me – but knowing that the chapter of my life was closed. It was the most exhilarating and relieving (but life-altering) morning. I was in a blur.

At the end of the sermon, Yancey’s words in his closing prayer continued to speak raw, loving truth into my heart. “Father God, I do not know who all is in the room and where they are spiritually, but you do, and Lord, I would love for your spirit to bring enlightenment to some eyes and conviction to others in their hearts, wherever they are spiritually in their journey. To move one step forward, if not 1000. There are some people who have been breathing the thin air and depending on being right in Your eyes, and I would pray that they would leave those false idols and fall upon their knees at the one true God who has accomplished for them, for us, what we cannot do for ourselves – to know, to know, to know, that You have won and that we would not just receive the good news but live out its truth, today and forevermore. Amen.”

Ever since that day, my entire view on Jesus and the Gospel has shifted. It was like the years of putting a round peg in a square hole and frustratingly trying to understand why it didn’t fit, even when the round peg was so round and the square hole was so square – it was right in front of me but just hadn’t been revealed to me in a way where my eyes could see the square vs. round – or, in this case, the salvation unearned vs. the attempt to earn it.

Since that day, I have been living in a true state of grace, understanding fully that nothing I ever do will earn for me what Jesus did for me. No good deed, no pious act, no adherence to a religion, no daily practice, nothing. But, at the same time, I have been more dedicated to good deeds, pious acts, adherence to the Word of God, and daily practices than ever before with the greatest joy because I am doing it in response to the grace I have received through my being saved. It has been, quite literally, the hit of oxygen that I was needing for so long. And, I know that I went up to the oxygen bar at the exact moment God was calling me there.

 

 

 

 

 

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Seven Years Later

Today marks seven years from the launching of the readmoore. Whew. Seven years since Dr. Carol Zuegner told us we needed to start a blog. Nine thousand, five hundred and forty three views later, I never knew how much having a public outlet for my words would mean to me. One hundred and fifty six posts (and 13 unpublished saved drafts later), I am so grateful, so humbled to be able to go back and read where my head was at – in the tender years of early college, in the years of figuring out where I was headed (not that it’s a finished thought), and reading the words I never had the courage to post. One hundred and eighteen comments later, I can read the feedback of those I know and love – and those I don’t know but my words impacted… It’s crazy. It’s been transformative.

I marked this date a few months back and promised myself I’d write some semblance of a retrospective – where was I then, where am I now? I thought I would have some epic observations, some insightful conclusions. I took time today and in recent weeks to read posts that I’d written in 2011, never thinking I’d go back and read them. I never thought I would be keeping this up years from now. But, alas, here I am.

And, here I am lacking epic observations or insightful conclusions. I guess I’m just here! And while it wasn’t what I imagined being an epic post, I’m glad to be where I am. In the years since I started this blog, I’ve journeyed through college, tackled the most emotionally challenging experience of my life to date, made amazing friends, dated, adventured, journeyed, moved, graduated. I’ve lived in Omaha, Maine, Chicago, and now Houston. I’ve earned my degrees, completed an AmeriCorps year, got a “big girl job,” raised over $15 million dollars with clients, figured out a whole hell of a lot about myself, lost weight (and then gained weight), stayed out way too late, snuck onto private ships, ran a half marathon, competed on bodybuilding stages and powerlifting platforms, tried to learn to curl my hair, wanted to get a dog (didn’t), lost my family dog, buried loved ones, realized the power of a well-written memo, traveled around the country, witnessed marriages of dear friends and family, went to Disneyland, and geez, I don’t know, lots of beautiful things. I’ve seen blessings come to life. That’s how I’ll sum it up.

I read back from a post from my first week of writing readmoore. I quoted from a book that I have STILL not read – from Erwin McManus’ ‘Chasing Daylight’ – (which is now on my 2018 list!) that said: “There are things that God does for you, and there are things God waits for you to do. The journey begins when you choose. Stop wasting daylight. Choose a life of meaningful adventure. When you do, you will live in the epicenter of God’s activity.”

Maybe that’s the best way to say it. In these past seven years, I’ve tried, failed, and recommitted (over and over again) to choose to do things that God is waiting for me to do. I’ve tried to not waste daylight. I’ve chosen and continue to choose a life of meaningful adventure. And boy, does the epicenter of God’s activity feel amazing. Thanks for following my journey.

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Sheryl and Stevie

I can’t get enough of this performance of one of my favorite songs, Strong Enough, by Sheryl Crow. This particular video is of a duet with Stevie Nicks.

[There is little to say about this but to put it out there. Skip to 1:13 if you want to get right to the song.]

I read a quote the other day that said “you’ll be too much woman for every man until you meet your soulmate.” And I feel like Sheryl is essentially saying the same thing, but for a few minutes. “Just try and love me if you can – are you strong enough to be my man?”

Perhaps the one that resonates with me most is:

“When I’ve shown you
That I just don’t care
When I’m throwing punches in the air
When I’m broken down and I can’t stand
Would you be man enough to be my man?”

I am not a raging feminist (though I have no hate for those who are) but I will say that you, my dear, should not dim your beautiful self to make a man comfortable. Because there will be a man who wants every ounce of that crazy, energetic, passionate woman. Take heart, because he will come along….probably when you least expect it.

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give yourself a little grace

I’ve never been a huge fan of the whole NYE craziness and then the swath of resolutions. I think it oftentimes causes folks to feel so negatively about their past year – “I didn’t do x, y, or z.” Or “I didn’t fulfill this goal or that resolution.” Or even worse, “I am so glad (insert year here) is over.” While I understand that some things in life are just plain sad or hard, I hate that it colors the year (or the person) as a failure.

I say all of this because I’ve fallen victim to this line of thought, too. I have looked back and thought “I wanted to read a book a month. I think I might have gotten six done. Or, my goal to travel went another year unfulfilled. But, I’ll offer a different perspective for those who are interested.

Each step that we take is divinely designed. While the culmination of the year may not match up to the list of things we set out to do on a rather arbitrary schedule/date (January 1 really means nothing when we look at the entirety of a life), I think it’s best that we look for lessons. I challenge myself to think about the ways in which the previous year were great, hard, sad, encouraging, exciting, fun, and challenging. That way, I can identify patterns, people, experiences, and habits that are either worth investing time into, or, more importantly, not.

But the biggest step in this reflection is to give yourself a little grace. We’re not perfect. We’re never going to be. What we did at the time we did it was the best that we could do with what we had. So, maybe you didn’t read all twelve books, or go to yoga once a week, or travel the world. But, you got a promotion and you formed a few really transformational new friendships. If you were in Europe or at home reading, you may never have met those people or cranked it out in the office as much as you did.

I guess the gist of this is to just encourage each of us to set goals, yes, but also take heart and leave room for some grace. For you. You, my love, deserve it.

And when someone says to you, a little ways down your life journey, “You changed.” I pray you are able to respond, “Mhmm, I’m different now. I love myself more.”

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Stuck in the gutter?

Oscar Wilde once said “We’re all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” I don’t know the origin of the quote or the context in which he said it, but it’s striking to me. I see it as kind of an Eeyore mentality in that we’re all in the gutter, but a Winnie-the-Pooh mentality to look up at the stars.

Perhaps it strikes me strongly right now because I feel like as a country, as a society, we’re seemingly deep in the gutter — and not enough people are looking up at the stars. Because when you look up at the stars, you want to reach for something. When you want to reach for something, you dream about it. You imagine your life differently. You start to see a path forward and ponder how… You identify the action steps necessary. And, you begin to work your way out.

So, I began to wonder: what is keeping us “in the gutter?” I came up with a few societal ills that I think begin to cover our collective gutter-dwelling status. Disclaimer: I identify these and by no means say that I am innocent of them; quite opposite, actually. I think that we all can fall victim to these, and other problems that hold us down.

  1. Entitlement – We seem to live in a world where we believe we deserve the best things. We’re quick to be frustrated, we want everything perfect and immediately, and we are quick to judge others for a litany of different things.
  2. Violence – The world is plagued by people and groups who resort to violence to express their emotions, recklessly hurting others and extinguishing people with whom they disagree. This underlines a misconception on the value of each person’s life, as well as proves the entitlement issue (i.e.: a violent perpetrator believes their life to be more important than that of their victims).
  3. Apathy – We see a whole lot of bad going on, and don’t often do too much (if anything at all) to stop it. We need to be excellent – and by that, I mean we need to excel in our effort to do good, recognize good, praise good, reaffirm good, and ensure good continues. Aristotle said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” So, we’ve got to continue to practice it.

So, while the previous list isn’t exhaustive, I think it groups some necessary realities into easy to digest topics. And, it helps me to think about how to transfer those into positives.

  • Instead of acting entitled, remember that I am NO better than any other person. I am called to be a peaceful, loving child of God – a sister to all. That means I do good and be good, loving those around me for all of their qualities and their flaws, and believe that they will do the same in return.
  • Instead of acting violent or endorsing violence, I preach and teach a culture of understanding and conflict resolution that takes place using words and conversation rather than acts of aggression. While I am blessed to not face extreme violence, I recognize that violent acts are a slippery slope, and so I keep my eyes open to actions that are violent in nature.
  • Instead of feeling numb about the tragic ways of the world and doing nothing, I seek to be a voice that shares positivity and a different way. I don’t submit that the world is unchangeable; rather, I believe that the drops I add to the ocean do indeed create a ripple (at least I pray that they do). I continually think “Is what I am doing today going to get me closer to where I want to be tomorrow?”

At the heart of it, I think that we as a society and a world are in a very busy, loud, place where there are lots of voices speaking and not enough ears listening. “Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more so that we may fear less.” I think we, collectively, have a lot to understand about each other. I truly believe that if we seek to understand and move forward so tomorrow is better, then we, despite coming from different places, are all “in the gutter together” but “looking at the stars.”

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numb to the news

It’s frustrating to me that yet another senseless act of violence has happened. It’s heartbreaking to me to hear the names of the victims. It’s confounding to me that it continues to happen. And its disturbing to me that I’ve reached a point where I come to expect it.

I am almost ashamed to admit that it doesn’t hit my heart as hard as I want it to. I don’t say that to sound robotic. But in attempt of being riskily honest, I will say that now, when I turn on the news and see yet another act of violence or terror, it doesn’t stop me in my tracks like it used to.

Instead, it follows a typical set of reactions: we are shocked, we begin to learn the names, we begin to hear a profile of the killer, 24 hour news cycles ask ‘why’ and camp out on the victims’ families front yards, you start to see #Prayfor(InsertCityHere) on social media, you hear talking heads on the news analyzing the crime and the mind of the killer, and you’re told to focus on the victims and not on the killers name. We’re told it’s not a time for politics, we’re told by the right the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun; we’re told by the left that guns are the problem. For those who don’t pick a side and many in between, we’re told that mental health is the issue. Either way, no matter what way you lean, there’s an issue.

I don’t say the previous litany of reactions to undermine the severity of the tragedies. In fact, it’s for the opposite reason. I say it because I’m so fed up with having this be such a routine. To hear Anderson Cooper have to come on and speak with mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, etc. To see grown men cry over the loss of their children, to hear politicians ask for prayers and support for their cities and states, and I just don’t know how I want to act.

To feel so small in a world that seems so full of hate is overwhelming. It feels like a burden that I can’t bear. I don’t know what is needed, I really don’t. I think that’s what is so hard. I can’t imagine the feeling of the families who lose a loved one and have the eyes of the nation on them, just to have another tragedy four days later and the news crews are gone. They pack up and move on to the next ravaged town. It’s hard to understand.

According to the FBI, a “mass killing” is defined as “murdering four or more persons during an event with no cooling-off period between the murders.” And USA Today reports that 208 people have died this year as a result of mass killings. This makes it the deadliest year for mass killings in over a decade. And the trend just seems to be being beat each year. Because the runner up was 2016, with 188 people killed in such attacks.

One of the craziest part of these statistics that I found in my research is how common mass killings are. I thought that what we saw on the news was bad. But according to USA Today, mass killings take place once every two weeks on average. And “though large public killings, like those in Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas, Orlando, San Bernardino, and Newtown earn headlines and national attention, the data reveal that these account for only about one in five mass killings.”

And, according to Mother Jones’ Google database on mass killings from 1982-2017, only 15 of the 96 were committed using weapons obtained illegally.

The Gun Violence Archive keeps track of public record and aggregates the information for public review. In 2017 alone, there have been 52,489 gun violence incidents, resulting in 13,183 deaths and 27,002 injuries. Of those killed or injured, 3,380 of them were children under age 17.

Living in Chicago, I became numb to the number of shootings happening each day. Particularly, the weekends where the article would be about a specific incident, and then the end of the article with quickly mention the 3-5 other gun incidents that happened during the same news cycle. Like, there wasn’t even enough room for them to include them separately so they group all the violence into one.

This morning, the headline in Chicago read “Chicago close to recording 600th homicide for only second time since 2003.” A neighbor of a homicide victim on Chicago’s South Side was asked why not move to a safer place. “I’m scared to move somewhere else because it’s so bad everywhere,” she said. “At least I know people here now.” What a situation to be in.

When I write, I want it to have an action step, a lesson, something to go on. In this situation, I don’t. And that is so tough. But, I think silence on a subject is worse than what I’m doing. At least thinking about it, learning about it, writing about it, well, it validates that it’s happening.

What now?

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stay awake, be ready.

Walking into church this morning, I didn’t expect to see purple. While I know that Advent comes around every year in what seems like minutes after Thanksgiving dishes are cleaned up, I still was surprised today. Today’s Mass was a prime example of how I get caught up checking off the items on my to-do list, but overlook the bigger picture! And to think that the whole message is “Stay awake, be ready, for you know not the hour when the Lord is coming.” Well, I wasn’t awake. But, I can assure you that after the great Mass experience I had this morning, I am awake and more prepared than ever to try and make this Advent my best yet. As I have referenced before, I’m a tad OCD when it comes to accomplishing things: I’m an organizer, a planner, a list-maker, a rule follower. So, the same will be true for me in this Advent mission. I have come up with a few items that I’d like to pay more attention to incorporating in my life this Advent, as well as a reflection on how my mindset can be focused during this season of preparation, anticipation, and excitement.

1) I’d like to get back into the routine of attending weekday Masses. For someone who works in churches every day, I haven’t been to a weekday Mass in quite some time. And I haven’t been going with any regularity since college. In an effort to be practical about the time binds of work and competition prep, I will strive to make it to a weekday Mass at least once per week during this Advent season.
2) As a professional in the nonprofit sector, one might think that I have many volunteering obligations. However, I spend so much time in the act of fundraising and working with my client, that I don’t sacrifice my personal time to service to others. This is something I’d like to change for this Advent season. I don’t have expectations on what it will look like specifically, but in a city with such great need, I want to make sure to incorporate at least two acts of volunteer service over this Advent season.
3) When we think of “getting ready for Christmas,” the first thing that often comes to mind is the shopping for gifts and the stress that perhaps accompanies the task. I am grateful that my immediate family has decided to forego gifts this year in order to take a family trip over the Christmas holiday instead. This makes me able to more fully focus on the reason for the season, seeing that I won’t be caught up in checking people off my Santa shopping list. Through this deferral of gifts, I think I will have greater opportunity to spend time and money on things that bring value to the season. At this moment, the first thing that comes to mind is my newfound love for cooking. I hope to work on this skill while giving back to others. I think that baking some goodies and trying some new recipes will be a great way to give back to the folks who make my life brighter each day (but who may not expect a gift from me!)

Lastly, the mindset of the season. This, for me, is paramount. As I prepare to wrap up a long term assignment in Chicago and begin to transition to a new client and assignment (perhaps moving states away), I think that the only realistic way I accomplish that with low stress is to give it up to God. I think that the metaphor of walking on the beach with the Lord is applicable here. Right now, I’m walking beside him, but now that at any moment, I’m going to be picked up and carried through to the next safe space to land. What can I do to make this preparation one that is fruitful and effective? And, besides the move and upcoming transition, a few overall questions to consider: Am I being who Christ wants me to be? Am I acting in a way that is loving, patient, and kind? Am I acting in service of self, or others? Am I the girlfriend that my partner deserves? Am I in control of my emotions and aware of my words? Am I being a supportive member of my family? Am I present while in conversations? These are some thematic questions I hope to keep in mind during this time of preparation for Christmas.

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