Last Sunday

This past Sunday, I filled in for the pastor of my home church, which is always such a joy – it doesn’t get much more fun than leading the church you’ve grown up in. Normally, I, being the sappy person I am, take time to write after each ministry experience I have, whether on the blog or on social media, simply because I love keeping the memories of the ministry that I have the privilege of being a part of, given every experience is special, different, and teaches me lessons that I want to carry with me as I continue on this journey. However, I didn’t make a post about this past Sunday, I wasn’t going to write about it at all, and I would have been perfectly fine with simply forgetting Sunday happened, if that tells you anything about how much I need to work on not being hard on myself for things I can’t control. While it may have taken me a little longer than usual to see the good in this past Sunday, I see it clearly now and finally wanted to write, because writing is therapeutic, and also because I think it’s important to share the wonderful ministry experiences, as well as the tougher and more challenging ones. After all, that is ministry – a beautiful mess, amen?

Sunday was one of the more challenging leadership experience’s I’ve had, not because of anything bad, rather, because it required a lot of quick thinking and leadership skills that I had never really put into practice before. It was just one of those Sunday’s where some things didn’t go quite right, and we had to improvise (which, I’ve found is rather frequently the case in ministry). If I’ve learned anything in so far in my ministry journey, it’s that you can only plan so much, which really goes for any field, I’d say.

So – last Sunday.

We had our 9:00 am blended service, and all was well. I did, however, have to essentially cancel Communion, although it was in the bulletin and already on the alter. I, someone who is not yet an ordained elder, am not allowed to preside over Holy Communion, so, while nobody wants to be the person to cancel Communion and change up the order of worship, I also didn’t want to be the certified candidate who got in trouble for doing something they weren’t supposed to. So, after granting myself a minute to figure out what to do in place of the Communion that was supposed to happen, I pulled my thoughts together, improvised, and led the best way I saw fit. I couldn’t preside, and I obviously couldn’t skip over it without saying something, so, I made the executive decision to nix Communion, and instead, provide a time of quiet reflection and prayer, which I would then close out in a longer, post-communion prayer.

It was fine. Before the moment of silent prayer and reflection, I told the congregation why we could not have Communion that day, and during the quiet time, people still took advantage of the alters and prayed, which I was so happy to see. It didn’t throw anyone off and there were no folks with torches and pitch forks coming after me after the service ended for canceling the Sacrament, so, all was well. In fact, after the service, people were quick to make it known to me that they understood why I did what I did.

So then, the second service rolled around at 11:00 am. Normally, I wear the mic that my pastor always uses, which goes around the ear, but on Sunday, the sound guy and I decided to use a different mic (shout out to Carl – he rocks). The decision to use another mic was mainly because that particular ear mic always gets stuck in my long hair, but also because I absolutely hate that mic (# preacher probs?). The mic that we chose to use clipped right onto my shirt and the battery box fit right in my pocket – simple, right? We tested it before the service, changed the batteries, and it was fine (for the time being).

During the sermon at the second service, the mic started giving me major problems. I thought my hair was irritating it, as per usual, so I flung my hair back, but alas, even when my hair was nowhere near the mic, or the chord, it acted up. The mic started making this weird humming noise, and normally, I would continue my sermon as though nothing was wrong, but y’all – I could not focus on the words coming out of my mouth which I knew meant that the congregation could not focus on what I was saying either. I quickly came to the realization that there was no way I could continue preaching with it, but, continuing to preach as though everything was fine was all I knew to do.

Our sound guy, Carl, was waving at me from up in the sound booth (which overlooks the sanctuary, towards the choir loft) and he was pointing to go grab the handheld mic. Well, I didn’t know where the handheld mic was. Normally, it sits right next to the pulpit on its little shelf, but it wasn’t there. He continued pointing, so, after getting to a point in my sermon where a pause would be a little less awkward and abrupt, I winged it, walking over towards the lectern, where I thankfully spotted the handheld mic.

(If you’ve ever found yourself preaching a sermon while watching someone try to tell you something using only hand motions as a humming microphone is buzzing in your ear, it is not particularly the easiest thing in the world.)

But, I retrieved the handheld mic, made my way back to the pulpit, where I would finally be able to finish delivering my sermon with a mic that was much clearer and worked much, much better.

(or, so I thought)

Would you believe that not even 1 minute after beginning to use the handheld mic, it, too began not working, fading in and out every other word that I spoke?

I could see people in the congregation shaking their heads (which is really never something you want to see, ha). I saw the sound guys up in the booth scratching their heads and wracking their brains trying to figure it out. At that point, I (mentally) threw my hands up and kept preachin’ on, because at that point, there really was nothing else I could think to do. Thankfully, the sound on the handheld mic eventually started consistently working (still not perfect, but could have been worse). The service ended and I swear I have never taken such a big sigh of relief.

I am grateful for the encouragement folks had to offer me following the service, given the difficulty that we had had with the mics. Being told by others that they were proud of how I handled it really lifted my sunken spirits, even though it didn’t change how bummed I was, to say the least, about all of that. It is by God’s grace that I held my own and remained calm and collected, because I wanted nothing more than to climb into a corner and cry a few tears of frustration. But I am glad to have chosen to lead, rather than having given up or crumbled under the pressure to “fix it quickly.” And I know a large reason as to why I was able to press through that was due to the wonderful leadership of my pastors through the years who have modeled well for me how to handle these types of situations gracefully and calmly. (thank you, pastors!!!)

I am such a perfectionist, so although I could have controlled none of what happened on Sunday, I was hard on myself afterwards, because ministry is my heart, and so, I put my entire heart into leading these church services. But let me tell ya – ministry is a really great field to have your perfectionism challenged, and maybe even one day, these things will be able to happen without being a worry wart about it.

I am still super good at beating myself up over imperfections, even when I have no control over them, but I am working on it (as are all of us). I may be 21 and I may have been preaching for a while now but I am still human. No matter how old I am or how many times I lead church, I’ll always be human and I’ll always want to do my best. And on Sunday, I did do my best, it was just clouded by the mishaps. But I see it now!

While you and I cannot control everything that happens, we can control how we respond. Sunday, while I wasn’t able to choose to laugh it off or forget about it right away (hence why it took me till’ Thursday to write about it), I am able to laugh at it now, it just took me a couple days to let that lesson sink in – that you don’t have to be perfect even at the things you’re passionate about doing. And also, you choose whether you let something continue to bother you or not. You choose whether you’re going to keep on keepin’ on or whether you give up. Remember that!

Lastly, I just have to say that I am so thankful to be learning these lessons young, and gaining these different experiences, whether they are good, challenging, or somewhere in between. Ministry will always surprise me and throw new challenges my way, but I am so very confident in God’s ability to help me handle it all (something I neglect to remember often). Somehow, however, I have found somewhere in me enough crazy ti count all of this as joy, because ministry is just that – a joy, and it is something God has called me to. It’s beautiful, it’s difficult, but it is nothing less than a joy. To be in ministry everywhere we go, all for Jesus himself – to know him, to preach about him, to tell others about him, to share what he’s done in our lives, to have his call upon our hearts, to fill us with passion and his spirit to pursue those passions and calls, to go be disciples and to make disciples – what a life!

Today (& every day) I am grateful that nothing – no technology complications or any unplanned circumstances – can get in the way of the Holy Spirits power, which comes upon us and enables us to be witnesses of Jesus Christ.

We love ya, Jesus, & thank you for enabling us to press on — it’s all for You.

 

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thick skin & ministry

This post is one that I have been wanting to write for a while now, but it is a post about a topic that I am very much still growing in and learning about each day, so, I urge you – instead of reading this and thinking, “Oh, you don’t know the half of it” try reading it with the knowledge that I acknowledge I have far more to learn and experience, and many more thick layers of skin to develop in life and more specifically in ministry. I am well aware that I am, “only 20” 😉

When you are a leader of any kind, you may find yourself in this mindset – you desire so badly to seem strong, all of the time. Especially if you’re young, you may strive for this because people so often look down upon people who are younger. If you’re in a leadership position, or taking on something that requires a lot of you, you may find yourself wanting to seem as though you are tough, all the time, as though you basically don’t have feelings, nothing bothers you, and if it does, it’s “no big deal,” because, “you can handle it.” I can recall numerous times where I have found myself with this mindset in the church setting, sweeping things under the rug instead of allowing myself to feel them and have them make me better. The hard thing about being that type of person though, is that, those things you tell yourself, don’t always work. You’re not as perfect as you want people to think you are. You do let things get to you. You can’t handle it all on your own. You do have feelings, and guess what? Your feelings are valid. The hard part is actually believing that and accepting that. It’s hard to understand that while, yes, thick skin is needed in pretty much every aspect of life, you can’t be strong all of the time. Thick skin is something that develops over time. It’s a process. You aren’t born with the thickest skin that you will ever have, and, the thing about thick skin is that it only develops by going through tough experiences – you get tough by feeling what it is like to endure trials. I think that one of the hardest lessons I have learned thus far since hearing God’s call to ministry and pursuing that call, is learning how to have thick skin, what that means, and what it looks like.

My freshman year of college, I developed a layer of thick skin that I never knew I needed. That layer of thick skin was so that I could handle people’s condemnation of my pursuit to full-time ministry due to my gender. And I can do that now – I can let such comments and rejection roll off me like rain – it’s a piece of cake, because of that whole year spent developing such thick skin. It has helped me more than I could ever tell you, and I am grateful. But as I have continued along in my journey towards ministry, diving into different areas of the Church, and interacting with different people, experiencing it all, I have seen all kinds of sides to ministry – the good, the bad, the ugly, and then some. Seeing all those sides has continuously made me realize my desperate need (for God) and for a whole new layer of thick skin that I lacked; a layer that I am still developing, day by day, experience by experience, hardship by hardship. As I said, it’s a process.

I, like many others, wish that I could look at a mentor, pastor, parent, or anyone older and wiser than me, and have them tell me that it gets easier. I wish that I could have someone who has lived longer than me, look me in the eyes and tell me how, somewhere along the line, it gets easier to have thick skin. But that’s not going to happen. It’s just not. No pastor will ever be able to tell me that and actually mean it, and I know that, because I’ve had pastors admit that to me. But, I did have one pastor say that, “you have to be so deeply rooted in your call that it sustains you through the hurt.” You learn how to handle it all better, but that doesn’t at all mean that it gets easier. You just get stronger, and your skin, thicker.

Now, before I jump into the post, I will admit before you that I am not by any means ‘qualified’ to write a blog post full of “how to’s” when it comes to ministry and having thick skin. Everyone in ministry knows that you need thick skin, but that doesn’t mean it’s something we all have an equal amount of. With my admittance of my not being ‘qualified,’ I do believe that God has used my experiences in ministry thus far to equip me to share these words with you all. I am still very much an amateur, I do not have all of the answers, and I still let things get to me way more than I should – I’m still growing, as lifelong learners do. With that being said, I’m thinking of all of the ministry experiences and encounters with people, both negative and positive, that I’ve had thus far (which I’m grateful for!) and maybe you and I share in some of those experiences or encounters. If so, I want to share some of what has helped me and what continues to help me. These are not nearly all of the ways in which I cope and learn to have thick skin, but nonetheless, these are things that God has helped place on my heart, because, the Lord knows full well that I could not do any of this without him. If I tried, I undoubtedly would have given up on my pursuit towards ministry a long time ago.


Consistent prayer. First and foremost, prayer is key. You and I know both that. When life has you down on your knees because you cannot bear to stand any longer, pray. When you’re sky high on life and all is well, also pray. When you’re struggling and finding that comments, obstacles, or people are getting to your head, and most of all to your heart, pray. I don’t think I have ever fallen before God with my arms stretched out for him to come and pick me up, more than when I am feeling as though I am in desperate need of him and of that thick skin we’re supposed to have. Thick skin is something that I have prayed for and longed for, and while I have it, I’m still developing it. It doesn’t come overnight. And know that God’s answer to your prayer for thick skin very well could be another battle or obstacle. May we learn to be okay with that, and keep ours minds open to that possibility. And do not stop praying.

Don’t take things personally. I cannot say enough how much easier said than done this is. As human beings, our desire and our human nature is to let things get to us. We overthink comments that are said to us, especially the unnecessary and sometimes rude ones. Thick skin is needed if we’re going to refuse to take things personally. ‘Let unnecessary or hurtful comments role off of you like rain’ is some of the best advice that I have ever been given. Similar to likely everyone reading this today, I have had things said both to my face and behind my back in various settings, including Church, that I have let get to my heart – I think it’s important to remind yourself that you’re not crazy for overthinking that one thing that that one person said to you; that comment which left you feeling offended, discouraged, and hurt. You’re not overreacting. But it’s also important to remember that what people say to you or about you can often be a reflection of themselves and how they feel or think about them, not necessarily you. Remember that. And remember this:

Pray for those who hurt you. This is probably one of the hardest things you will find in this post. I have found myself before God in prayer, literally in tears, because I knew that I should be praying for the people whom I was hurt by, but I just could not bring myself to do it. But friends, God wants to hear about it. He wants to hear about your hurt and he wants to hear that you have the Christ-like love to rise above your hurt and pray for that person who is likely hurting, themselves.

Have a tender heart. I know that we have all heard this quote before: “Have thick skin and a tender heart.” We are all undoubtedly capable of having a tender heart. So train your heart and train your mind to be tender when it comes to tough situations, especially situations that involve a person or persons. And I know that it’s hard. I know that is never what we want to hear. It’s much easier to resent people or situations that make us feel low and discouraged. But again, it’s what Jesus exemplified for us in the Bible. In the Church, doing ministry with so many other people, we have to follow his example, and his example shows us compassion, empathy, and tenderness. He has called us to have those very attributes when it comes to interacting with our fellow brothers and sisters. Jesus did it, and as a follower of him, we can do it, too.

Get used to it. You may have read those four words and thought, “This is awful advice, Ashley.” I debated putting those words into this post, but I wanted to, because it’s something that I’ve told myself, and something a lot of other people have blatantly told me, too, including my own mom, over and over and over again. If I’m ever struggling with a comment that someone said to me, or a tough situation, especially in ministry, being told to, “get used to it” actually helps. You’re always going to have that. Always. That’s a harsh reality. Learn to let comments go in one ear and go out the other. You’re always going to encounter difficult people. That is not limited to the Church. You’re going to encounter difficult people in every job field, in every area of life, everywhere you go. But you’re also going to encounter really beautiful people. If we’re being honest, everyone has beauty in them. So even when you encounter someone you would consider to be ‘difficult,’ show them love. Try to search for their internal beauty. We all have it.

Step back. There is no harm in taking a step back. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need time to process whatever it is that’s testing your thickness of skin (AKA whatever you’re struggling with), stepping back can be good. You don’t want to get burned out. Go have church on a mountain if you’re like me and love to hike and be in creation. Go visit a different church that you’ve never been to before and worship there. Have quiet devotion time by yourself instead of going to Bible study at your church if time alone is what you need. Take Sabbath. Sabbath is important (and I can and will write a whole other blog post on the importance of that). When you step back from a ministry setting, or whatever setting it may be, that’s presenting you with challenge, a hurt heart, or exhaustion, you’re giving yourself time and space for renewal and rest. So, when you’re done and ready to step back in, you’ll be re-energized and ready to take on whatever gets thrown your way.

Pray prayers of thanks & praise to God for tough experiences. These tough experiences that you have gone through, are going through, and will go through – they grow you. They strengthen you. They prepare you for the next tough experience. I know it’s very difficult to sit there before God and say, “Thank you” for trials when what you really want is to look up at him and ask, “Why, God?” But I guarantee you, you will eventually know why, and that ‘why’ will be revealed to you the next time you encounter a tough situation, when you’re able to handle it 10x better than you were able to the last time. I know that it stinks to realize, but yet another harsh reality is that you cannot always dodge crappy experiences. You can learn from them. You can allow them to make you better. When you open yourself to that kind of vulnerability and rise above the hurt in order to have it contribute to your development of thick skin, you’ll thank yourself, and you’ll thank God for the growth it caused.

Seek the wisdom & counsel of those who ‘get it.’ Think about the people whom you trust. Think about your mentors. I encourage you to let go of any fear that you may have of being vulnerable, and seek wise counsel, as the Bible instructs, when you’re in need of some guidance. It’s okay to admit that you do not know everything! Nobody does. But there are people who love and care for you, and who are willing to offer you guidance about how to get by – these are people who understand and have walked or are walking where you are walking now. Personally, if I had a dollar for every time that I have called my pastor or another mentor of mine and straight up said, “I need help” or “I need wisdom” I would be rich, because I am still growing, and when you know you have people who are ‘there,’ you learn to use your resources and seek their help, knowing that they have been where you are and can help you. This has saved me in so many situations; being able to get off my high horse and admit that I need help dealing with a difficult situation or difficult encounter with someone. If nothing else, it helps to know that you’re not the only one who has dealt with what you are dealing with. There are other people around you who have developed thick skin from fighting and getting through exactly what you’re going through. So do not hesitate to reach out, knowing that there is zero shame in doing so.


So friends, those are just some suggestions from a mini preacher who has learned a lot and still has a ton left to learn. I want to note that I am indeed incredibly grateful for the beautiful and messy parts of ministry that I have witnessed thus far, as I acknowledge developing thick skin down will help me later (though that growth will never stop!) And even after witnessing the ugly sides of ministry that have sometimes left me hurting and discouraged, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else, because the beautiful parts and the passion far outweigh those negatives. (So, bring it on, world). And while this post itself was geared towards those in the ministry, you can apply these points to really any job setting, career aspiration, or life situation. No matter what you do in life, you’re going to be encountering people. No matter what you do, you’re going to encounter tough situations.

Know that you – yes you – have thick skin, and you are continuously developing thicker skin. Believe that, okay? I know how ridiculously hard it is to believe that and I know how easy it is to think to yourself, “Wow, why in the world can’t I handle this?” But it is in those moments you must pray and talk to God about it. I know that I put prayer in that list three times, and that was intended in order to show the significance of prayer when it comes to ‘having thick skin.’ 

To my brother or sister reading this today, remember: you’ve got this. There is nothing you cannot handle with The Almighty by your side.

A Prayer For The New Year

Dear Lord,

Thank you for the past year which you have so eloquently guided us through. Thank you for showing us the way even when we have ourselves convinced that there isn’t one. Thank you for answering our prayers in ways we never would have expected, for loving us when we just simply do not deserve it, and thank you for leading us through every trial and triumph that the year threw our way. We thank you for your presence in our lives at every moment, as a God whom we can confide in, trust in, rely on, and constantly come to in times of need, as well as in times when we think we do not need you.

God, we ask that, as we embark on this journey that is 2017, that you would guide our steps so that we are walking closely, hand in hand with you always. Though we may stray, and while we realize that the way you would like us to go is not always the way we would like to go, help us to have unwavering faith and trust in You in all circumstances. Lord, sometimes, the path you would like us to go down is not clear, and we confess that when your way is clear, we don’t always follow it. We confess that though we acknowledge your ways as being perfect, we fail to follow them often, so Lord, we ask that you would give us the wisdom to know your way is above all other ways. We ask that you would guide our thoughts so that they are always coming back to You, and guide our words so that they speak nothing but the love you so graciously show to us, your children, daily.

Lord, help us this year, as you have in years past. Help us to be bold when we speak of You and all of your glory. Help us to be brave and fearless when stepping out in faith, trusting that you will carry us. Help us to remain strong even when we feel nothing but pure weakness. Be our comfort and stronghold, Lord. We ask that you would help us to go and make disciples as your Son Jesus has taught us, remembering that he did so by showing love to all.

Gracious God, we love you. We love you so much and yet acknowledge that because we, an imperfect people, sometimes forget to show that love,  don’t deserve the great love of a God who never forgets us. Thank you for your grace, your humility, your patience, and the peace you bring to us in times of chaos.

Lord, grant us wisdom. Grant us wisdom to make decisions that are pleasing in only Your sight. Grant us wisdom to make necessary changes that will benefit not only us but the world around us.

May this year be found pleasing in your sight. May this be a year we strive to please you above man, and listen to your voice about mans voice. May 2017 be a year we dedicate to serving, honoring, and praising you – day in and day out. Though we will fail often, may we strive to have everything we do and everything we say this year and every year glorify you and be pleasing in your sight, our Father, Rock, and Redeemer.

It is in your Son Jesus’ previous name,

Amen.

2016.

As I sit here on the last day of the year 2016, I find myself unable to find just one word to sum up the year as a whole. When I think about 2016, a lot of thoughts, emotions, and feelings come with it. Some of the greatest memories I have in life thus far were made in 2016, as were some of the worst. I learned so much this year – so many lessons I never thought I would need, but nonetheless, lessons I will continuously find myself remembering as life goes on. It would feel weird not to share them with you all, as people who have read my blog through this year as well as in years past. Maybe we’ve even learned some of the same lessons this year.

If I had to pick one lesson, it would be to leave your comfort zone. Jump right out of wherever is comfortable and take a giant leap into the unknown. Step out in faith.

In May of 2016, I took the largest leap of faith I have taken in life thus far, by deciding to transfer college’s after my freshman year at a school I thought I’d be at for all four years. I decided to transfer with not a clue where I would go next; I wasn’t even 100% sure that switching schools was the answer when I made the decision. I was facing a great deal of ‘unknowns’ and I was terrified, to say the least. But that’s faith. That’s where my faith came into play, and that decision to transfer taught me what it feels and looks like to step out in faith and trust God fully.

Faith is a lot of things, but something that faith is not always is comfortable. What would faith be if we were constantly only doing things that were comfortable? How would we learn what trust in God looks and feels like? How would we actively show God how much we love and trust his hand in our lives if we didn’t step out in faith and give him a chance to be faithful? Because friends, he is always faithful.

In this upcoming year, I urge you, and myself, to do things that make you uncomfortable every once in a while. Jump outside of your comfort zone and see what happens. Do things that you would never envision yourself doing. That is a lesson I have learned over and over again through out 2016. Many of the plans we have for ourselves involve our own comfort, but more times than not, it doesn’t always work out that way. If a year ago, someone told me that I would be here, where I am, doing what I am, I would have looked at them and laughed, likely followed by some fear because of how crazy it would have sounded. I never envisioned myself transferring college’s. That wasn’t ‘the plan.’ I never envisioned myself ending up at community college for a semester. I never envisioned myself, at age 19, going into interviews and charge conferences to progress in my journey towards ordination. I never thought I would be preaching at local churches that weren’t my own, meeting as many incredible people of God as I have, or building relationships with different pastors and church leaders who would help me discern my own call to be a pastor. I don’t think a person can plan for something like that, simply because it was not my hand that was in this call to ministry, but God’s. He definitely did the unexpected, and much of that occurred after I stepped out of where I was comfortable; God took my giant leap of faith that was transferring from a school I was comfortable but not happy at, and he used it to push me to go even more out of my comfort zone, in order to accomplish things I never thought I could or would. There’s no telling what God has in store for you outside of where you are comfortable. Often times, having faith means doing just that – exiting where you are comfortable and being willing to feel discomfort, trusting that God will guide and take care of you.

That is the greatest, most important lesson that I believe I learned in the year 2016. I pray that those words encourage you if you are in a similar situation, or find yourself in a similar situation in 2017 – if you find yourself facing something that may require you to feel discomfort, I urge you to step out in faith, knowing full well that God will carry you. If you care to continue reading, below here I have a few more lessons 2016 taught me that I thought I would share with you. Thank you so much for reading my blog this past year, and I truly hope that my writing has helped or encouraged you in whatever way you may have needed it to. I am so excited to continue writing in 2017 and am glad to have you reading along with me. I’m grateful for you all, and may God bless you in this upcoming year!

Some more lessons 2016 taught me:

 

Never hold back when it comes to the things that you are passionate about. Whatever it is that sets your soul on fire – do that, chase after it. Pursue your passion every single day and don’t hold back. Live out whatever your call may be, and use it to make this world a better place. Use the gifts and talents which you have been given, and don’t worry one bit about what other people may say. There will always be naysayers. There will be people who won’t believe in you, and there will be people who will believe you cannot do what you are striving to do. Not everyone is going to understand why you do the things you do. There will be times when even your closest friends and family members won’t get it, and they may not always know how to support you. That doesn’t mean they don’t love you or that they don’t want what’s best for you, they just may not always understand, and that is okay. There will be obstacles. There will be days where it will difficult to find the energy to pursue the passions you have. Don’t give up on the things you are passionate about. Whatever your gifts, use them to make yourself happy, make others happy, and make this world an overall better place. Your passion is not weird or odd, it is yours and it was given to you for more reasons than one. If you have a dream, work hard so that you may live that dream. If you have goals, work hard to achieve those goals. Don’t ever give up.

Listen to Gods voice above mans. There will always be people in your life who will try to bring you down to their level. You may not choose to associate yourself with people like that, but you will find yourself amid their presence and they will try to bring you down. As hard as it may be, do not stoop to their level. If anything, strive to bring them up to your level by loving on them and listening to them. Remind yourself that there is more often than not a story behind why people try to bring others down, and often times, they want to be heard. Be that person who helps them feel heard. You’re not here to please man.

It is hard yet oh so possible to love people whom you disagree with. This is something I find hard to forget after spending a year in an environment where way more than half of the people I encountered on a daily basis, disagreed with me. There are so many topics and controversial issues in our world today, you are likely to encounter people every single day whom you disagree with. You don’t always have to react to those people either. You can choose whether or not you make known to them that you disagree. This past year, I frequently found myself sitting with a person or persons and something would be said that I absolutely 100% did not agree with. Sometimes its very difficult to remain silent, but it’s also not always that difficult. There is such thing as healthy debate, but arguing and throwing out profanity doesn’t help prove anyone’s point. We’re called to love our neighbors, so love your neighbors.

Self care cannot be an option; it must be a necessity. You are no good to anyone when you are not well. We’re called to bear fruit. If we’re not healthy, the fruit we bear will not be healthy. Set aside time for yourself. I pour myself into the people I encounter each day, and I love people, but I am an introvert and therefore need time alone to rest and be filled back up – whether it be writing, running, walking, reading, going out with friends, watching Netflix – make sure you’re taking time to take care of yourself. Self care is not selfish. Always, always remind yourself of that.

Listen more, speak less. Have you ever sat with someone without thinking of what you would say back to them, and instead, just sat and listened to the words coming out of their mouth and absorbing them? I love communicating with people so this is something I struggle with sometimes, but you will be amazed how much you can learn about a person by truly listening to them; the way they speak, what they speak about, how much they speak.

Seek wise counsel. It is okay to admit you do not know how to handle a situation. You’re not alone in this life, even if at times, you feel as though you are. You don’t have to have a plan. You just have to trust the One who does. I would need many, many more hands if I tried counting the number of times I laid awake at night trying to figure my whole life out. We can try to make our own plans all we want. Of course the wisest counsel we can seek is God, but there are bound to be people in your life who may also serve as wise counsel when you are confused, conflicted, or distraught about a particular situation. Reach out to the people in your life whom you trust – in my experience, I have found that depending on the issue, I reach out to someone older and wiser than myself. It could be a family member, a family friend, a pastor, a teacher, a professor.

Make your relationship with God your first priority. Not just a priority. I’m human and therefore I neglect my time with God more than I would like to admit. My devotion and prayer time gets cut short far more often than it should due to life’s chaos, and there’s no legitimate excuse for that. I find myself lost if I don’t connect with God at some point throughout the day. Make Him a priory. You’ll be lost without it. I wouldn’t say this is a lesson I just learned in 2016, but it’s definitely something I need to be reminded of.

 

Our faith & God’s faithfulness  

I realize it has been a few days since my last post, and I apologize for that! My goal was and still is to do a post every day of Advent, but, sometimes, life happens, and I have to skip a few days. I’m back, though!

This post is going to be be about stepping out in faith, and waiting on God, to see His great faithfulness.

Advent is about waiting; waiting eagerly with the hope and assurance that Jesus is coming. I pray that this post serves as a reminder that, when we step out in faith, God will be faithful. While, sometimes, we have to wait to see how He is, in fact, faithful, we have the hope that he is always going to be so.

With Jesus’ birth came peace, comfort, and joy. We may not be brought peace, comfort, and joy immediately after stepping out in faith, as the world was brought peace after Jesus was born, but we wait on Jesus, with the hope that he will be faithful and bring us the peace, joy, and comfort we long for.

A little over a week ago, I was interviewed by a group of clergy, retired pastors, and lay people for my admissions interview into the candidacy process. If admitted, it would mean that I could continue the process to becoming a certified candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. Though prepared, I was very nervous for this interview, which I am going to go ahead and assume is the norm for every person walking into any interview.

After I spoke to this group of eleven to twelve people about my call to ministry, the table was open for questions.

One of the last questions I received was this:

“Was leaving your previous school a big leap of faith?”

“What an easy question” I thought to myself. Out of my 19 years of life, this was one of the biggest leaps of faith I had ever taken. It was a decision and an experience that was anything but comfortable. However, God has continued to be faithful, and while I didn’t have peace right after taking this leap of faith, I do now, after waiting for God to come through, as I knew He would.

The same person who asked me if leaving my previous school was a leap of faith, was the same person who closed the interview in prayer. My eyes filled with tears of joy and praise to God as this person prayed a prayer of thanks, assurance, and hope. It’s not that I doubted myself and thought I wouldn’t be admitted, it was that I simply could not grasp the great faithfulness of God in that moment. I was admitted into the process, and it’s hard to wrap into one word or even a few words what I felt in that moment, but believe me when I say they were all positive feelings; feelings of joy, peace, assurance.

I walked out of the room and walked right into our church’s youth directors office, and with the biggest smile, told her that I was admitted. With tears in my eyes, I said, “this continues to make last year worth it.”

Every time I see Gods hand at work in my call to ministry, it heals a little part of me that was broken by my experience last year, and for that, I praise Him.

I stepped out in faith by transferring schools; transferring schools for the sole reason of Gods call and for my faith, which were both challenged greatly. I stepped out in faith and I waited on God, with the hope that he would be faithful; and he was, and he continues to be.

You may have to wait for that faithfulness. You may have to wait for a while. All of the answers I was desperately searching for did not come together right after I made the decision to transfer out of the first university I attended. I had to wait for those answers to come and I had trust God which was hard, but oh, so worth it. Friends, you may have to wait for the peace, joy, and comfort that comes with God’s faithfulness. In Advent, we’re waiting for Jesus to come. We are waiting for his birth in that stable, after Mary and Joseph are turned away from the inn. We are waiting, but we have hope. Rest in that hope when you use your faith to take a leap out of your comfort zone.

I have recently been finding myself attracted to doing things that are way out of my comfort zone, which require great leaps of faith, and it is cool to look back at a younger version of myself, who hated change, and loved all things comfortable; not so much anymore (not all of the time at least).

Out of all three of the schools I applied to, JMU seemed the most out of my comfort zone, yet JMU is where I’m going to be this spring, and I could not feel more comfortable or at peace with that decision. Of course ,that in no way means that I do not have fears, because, believe me, I’m terrified. But thanks be to God for He brought me a great deal of peace once I made the decision final. Making big decisions is scary. Leaving my previous school was scary and deciding where to spend the next 2 1/2 years of my life was scary, but God was faithful after I took that first leap of faith and he’s been faithful every time since. He always has been and he always will be.

He has never once failed to show me his utmost faithfulness after watching me take a leap of faith he knew scared me to death.

Friends, this Advent season, I urge you to step out in faith. I don’t know what that may look like for you – maybe it’s leaving a job you’re unhappy at. Maybe it’s breaking things off with your significant other because you’re unhappy or don’t see things going any further. Maybe it’s a move you’ve been avoiding.

God doesn’t call us to be comfortable. I’ve written so much about that simple truth in the past and I continue to do so because I know that while it is so very scary to abandon your comfort zone and leap into the unknown, that is what faith is all about.

I challenge you, and myself, to step out in faith, and wait for faithfulness with the hope that it will come; you will see Him and His great, great faithfulness.

Jesus is coming!

His birthday is approaching us in just 23 days, so brothers and sisters, step out in faith with the knowledge and assurance that Christ – your Savior, King, Redeemer, and Hope – is coming. He loves you. He cares for you. He is with you. He will be faithful, and if you struggle to believe that, as we all do at times, remember that when the angel of the Lord appeared to Mary to inform her that she would bare a child named Jesus, The Lord fulfilled that promise, right? He fulfilled the promise that our Hope who is Jesus would come, borne of the Virgin Mary, and bring with him tidings of comfort, peace, and joy. He brings the same to us when we step out in faith – he brings us comfort knowing He is Lord of All. He brings us peace knowing He has a plan that is far greater than any place we would have had for ourselves if we were to stay within our comfort zones. He brings us joy when he carries out his plans for us, and clearly shows us his faithfulness; that he will never abandon us, or lead us astray. Remember those truths this Advent season, as you step out in faith.

God bless you!

 

“He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he is born…” ~Luke 1:14-15 

 

a testimony of God’s faithfulness

I realize that this is the first post I have written in a few weeks, but now my mind is overflowing with thoughts and I feel as though I could sit down and write a novel. (But I won’t, for your times sake). I simply wanted to take the time right now to share a little bit about God and his faithfulness when we are obedient to Him.

One of the hardest things to do as a Christian, is obey God. That sounds bad, because it should be easy, right? But because we are imperfect people, it is often difficult for us to be obedient to God, especially when being obedient to God means dropping everything, abandoning our own plans, and surrendering to Him; obeying God’s will can be very difficult when he is calling us to do those very things.

I have found, however, that when we are obedient, God remains faithful.

Now, God is always faithful, and we have a choice whether or not we obey him, but when we do choose to have his will be done in our lives without trying to interfere, he is so quick to remind us of the grace and faithfulness he exhibits to us daily. I was reminded of this a few months ago, and I continue to be reminded of this every single day since choosing to abandon my will, to go after God’s will.

Last night, I got accepted into the very first school I applied to as a transfer student. I was made aware of this acceptance by an email I received as I was leaving church yesterday evening. (I may or may not have screamed and / or cried the entire drive home)

God is so, so good.

He is good, not because I was accepted into this school; God would be good whether I got accepted or not. I say that he is good because he remains faithful to us in every season of our lives; the most difficult seasons, the seasons of change and uncertainty, as well as the seasons of great joy and contentment.

When I made my decision to transfer from Liberty, it was for one sole reason, and that reason was because, praise God, He has called me to ministry. He has called me to a ministry that my previous school believes is reserved for men, and you know what? I accept that. I accept that there are some people in this world who hold true to this belief. However, I also accept my freedom to disagree, and you, too, can accept your freedom to disagree with me as well.

This past year, I also accepted the fact that I would not be able to thrive or live out my God given potential at a school that was continuously discouraging me from my call. And so, I left, and God remained faithful.

I took a leap of faith leaving Liberty, which was larger than any other leap I had ever taken in my 19 years of life. It got to the point (barely two weeks before the end of the semester) where I simply had to throw my hands up in the air and say, “alright God, take it away.”  When I say I had no idea where I would go, I mean I had no idea where I would go, or when. When I made the decision not to come back for a second year, I wasn’t 100% sure I was making the ‘right’ decision. I talked to so many people – pastors, friends, adults who were more intelligent and experienced than myself – and I still was so conflicted and unsure of my decision. Even after talking to God day after day. He had never called me out of my comfort zone the way he called me out of my comfort zone to transfer. I was about to abandon everything that had been comfortable and familiar to me, and go start school somewhere else, completely uncomfortable and unfamiliar to me. After being out of the house for just one year, I was about to move back home and attend community college while I figured out where God would have me next. A lot was about to change.

I chose to transfer from this university that I had every intention of being at for all four years of college, and the thing about that is, I could have chosen to stay, because I had a lot of reasons why I would have stayed. I had made friends who became like family to me. I found a church home that supported me, loved me, and gave me ample opportunity to do ministry. I loved the beautiful campus I lived on. I loved the town the school was located in. There were so many things I loved at Liberty.

But, when it came down to it, I loved my God and I loved His call upon my life just a little bit more than everything else.

Ever since I first heard this call to ministry, I have done my best (and failed many times) but by God’s grace, I have done my best to obey what he wants me to do with this call which he has so graciously and heavily placed in my life and in my heart. I followed God’s direction to transfer from a school where I was being taught my calling was wrong, and I did so because I was confident spending three more years in an environment that unhealthy would easily help me turn away from my call, and possibly even turn away from God. I remember telling myself I didn’t want to believe in a God who would restrict half of his children from leading His Church.

I’m grateful, because I don’t believe in a God who does that.

I believe in a God who leads and sometimes shoves us right out of our comfort zones so that we will learn how to rely on him, and him only. I believe in a God who has grace upon grace upon grace. I believe in a God who allows us to sometimes go through challenges so that we learn lessons we never even knew we needed.

I am being completely genuine when I say that I am deeply grateful for the testimony that has come out of my year at Liberty. I’m grateful for the men and women who have opened up to me about both their struggles in ministry, and their call(s) to ministry. With that being said, I am also grateful for the people who doubted me, discouraged me, and told me my calling was not biblical. You made me stronger and more confident than ever, because you gave me no choice but to find confidence in Christ and not in your opinions. You taught me what it’s like to obey God and not man (or men).

I do still have bitterness towards the school, I do still need to heal, and I have professors and students I need to forgive for hurting me. That’s just me being honest. But God is working with me and through me on both of those things. That I am so very confident of.

God took an experience that left me broken, led me to a decision that made me scared, remained faithful through the process of change, and is now unraveling his perfect plans right before my eyes, all because I chose to obey him. I acknowledge my imperfections and my desire to have control over my life, but I also acknowledge his faithfulness and his love for me is without limits, which is why we can obey his will knowing he won’t lead us astray.

I want to encourage each of you to keep listening intently to God. If you feel him tugging you in one direction, even if it’s a direction you never intended to go – don’t let fear prevent you from obeying the direction God is leading you in. I know 100% that that is so much easier said than done, which is why above everything else, I urge you to pray. Pray continually. Pray that God’s path for you will be made clear in his perfect time. Pray for His will to be done – pray the Lord’s Prayer as many times as you need to. Please let me know how I can be praying for you.

You all, if we are obedient – if we are obedient to God’s direction and his will for our lives, he will be faithful. He will show himself to you in the midst of your doubting and your confusion and your fear. He will provide for you. He will continue to be your rock and your strength when you feel lost and weak and broken. Rest in knowing that.

If you’re reading this and we know each other personally, I wanted to make sure I included a ‘thank you’ in here, just for you. Thank you for being there for me and with me along this journey. Being accepted into this first school as a transfer student means 10x more to me after this past year, and each of you know that. I have received the sweetest of messages from you all since I found out this incredibly exciting news, and I appreciate each and every single one of you. I couldn’t make it without God, and I couldn’t make it without your relentless support and prayers. God bless each of you. 

 

“slow down”

Yesterday, I attended a worship service at a church I had never been to before. I always enjoy being the “visitor” at unfamiliar churches, because I believe recalling how it feels to be a guest, is a good way for us to welcome guests better into our own churches. I have to say, I was and am so glad I decided to wake up early to catch the 8:30am service, because I left church that day with a bulletin full of notes that I had taken, which were words that God really needed me to hear.

The preacher talked about how we’re so often waiting for “the next big thing,” we fail to appreciate the big (or little) things that God has just done in our lives. We don’t appreciate what’s happening in the moment, because we’re so focused on what will happen or what could happen in the future.

Oh, how this is a lesson God has been teaching me every single day these past few months.

As many of you know, I just transferred from a university that I attended for just one year. I am currently taking classes at my community college, while I discern where I will complete the rest of my undergraduate education.

If you know me, you know I am a planner – I am very much a futurist. (I even took a test that told me this) So, to be completely honest, I have been struggling with the uncertainty of not knowing where I will be a semester or a year from now. I am a futurist, and I don’t know what my near future holds. That doesn’t sit well with me, and thus, is something I have been wrestling with.

I often find myself looking to the future, planning for the future, and getting excited for what the future will hold – this is not a bad thing, however, it becomes a bad thing when you’re so focused on the future, that you forget to engage in the present, and where you currently are in life – as the pastor the other day said, you don’t appreciate what’s happening now. 

I believe it makes it very difficult to embrace the present when you are in a place of uncertainly with your future – we see God’s promises all through out scripture, that he will be with us, that he has plans for us, and that he knows the future, but not many (if any) of those verses tell us that it will be easy to trust those promises. It should be easy, but because we are an imperfect people, who desire control and want to be secure and knowledgeable when it comes to our future plans, it is challenging. Part of being Christian is overcoming those challenges and placing our trust, and our future, in God’s hands.

I, myself, have had difficulty doing this. I’ve had difficultly slowing down and appreciating what is happening in my life.

If I had it my way, I’d be out of undergrad and in seminary already. I’d be on my way to becoming a pastor. But it occurred to me, while I was reflecting on this difficulty, that I am on my way to becoming a pastor, and just because I am not there yet, does not mean I won’t get there. As so many people often remind me, time is on my side, I heard this call from God at a young age, and, “college is the best four years of your life!” To add to that, I am confident that when I am in seminary, or when I am a pastor, I will look back and wish I would have embraced my time in college to the fullest, which is why I want to work hard on this whole, “slowing down” thing, now.

You see, for some reason, when I entered community college, I felt as though I was getting behind, and not where, “a normal sophomore in college should be.” When I brought this up to God, he fired right back, and reminded me that we are all on different journey’s, and no two people’s journey’s are the same. (I also had myself and many other people remind me that it is not very normal to be a sophomore in college who just transferred from a college because they taught my calling was wrong). Because I felt as though I was getting behind in school, simply because I wasn’t away in college living in a dorm, I had even more of a desire to begin planning, and rushing my future. This unhealthy aspect of being a futurist almost landed me in an interview I wouldn’t have been ready for, an abundant amount of unnecessary stress, and rushing also could have very well placed me at yet another school that I wouldn’t of been happy at.

Slowing down and appreciating where God has you is hard. It’s hard, especially when you feel as though the place God has you, isn’t where you’re supposed to be.

Now, let me assure you, wherever God has you in life right now, is where he wants you to be. He knows your future, he knows your desires, he knows your worries, he knows your concerns, but casting your cares and anxiety on him (1 Peter 5:7) and slowing down to engage in the moment he has you in, will result in so much peace.

I’m not going to sit here, lie to you, and say I haven’t struggled with being somewhere I never expected God would have me. I’ve questioned God’s reasoning for having me at the school I am. I’ve prayed so many times for God to, ‘just show me Your plan already!! What school am I going to end up at..’ But time and time again, I have found myself waiting for him to reveal those perfect little details to me, in his timing, and not mine.

Waiting is not always easy, either. Waiting is hard when you have patience as small as a mustard seed instead of faith. Waiting is hard when you have constantly been praying for God to give you an answer, or give you direction on a decision you’re trying to make. Waiting seldom makes you feel at peace with life (or with God). However, waiting becomes worth it when God does decide to reveals his plans and his will to you. God is working so hard as you are waiting on Him. He hears you – he hears your prayers, he sees your tears and he wipes them right away. He knows your heart. He knows you want answers. He knows you want direction. But you also need to know that God’s will, will be done, no matter how hard you try to rush it.

Waiting on God to show me his will is what led me to make a decision that got me out of an environment which was harmful to both my call, my health, my happiness, and my future. Waiting on God has become something I can do in peace, with the assurance that he has not forgotten about me. He knows where I am. He knows when I’m happy and when I am not. He knows when I’m hurting and confused and overwhelmed. He knows I have trouble slowing down and he knows I am indeed a futurist. Because of this, my task will continue to be slowing down, engaging in where He has me, and being present in a moment God, too, is present in with me as well. My goal, and maybe yours too, is to simply take each day one at a time, because planning is good, but not to the point where it triggers stress and anxiety. My goal is to not worry about rushing my time before being admitted into candidacy, not rushing the transfer process, not rushing my time in college, and not rushing seminary or anything from there on out. I know those are some high goals I have set for myself, and more than likely, I will fail every so often. I’m not perfect. However, God helps us to achieve those goals if we truly, truly depend on him, which is what I intend to do. Again, I will say, I am not perfect, and will not lean on God for comfort or strength as much as I should when I find myself trying to speed up my plans and future, but God cares that we try, time and time again.

So if you, too, find yourself as someone who struggles to slow down and be in the moment God has you in, I urge you to be in constant communion with him. Share your heart with him. Share your concerns, your worries, your cares, your joys, your frustrations. Work hard on that intimate relationship with God, and remember HE is present with you always. It is easier for you to be present in the moment, if you remember God is going to be present with you in every moment – today, tomorrow, and every day from then until the end of the age, so just keep running the race (but not too fast)

I’m going to leave you with a prayer someone sent me recently, which I have constantly found myself referring to in times where the last thing I want to do is slow down. This prayer below goes along well with the message of this post, and my prayer for you is that God may help you, too, slow down, and enjoy the moment he has you in.

The Lord is my pace setter…I shall not rush

He makes me stop for quiet intervals

He provides me with images of stillness which restore my serenity

He leads me in the way of efficiency through calmness of mind and his guidance is peace

Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day, I will not fret, for his presence is here

His timelessness, his all importance will keep me in balance

He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity by anointing my mind with his oils of tranquility

My cup of joyous energy overflows

Truly harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours for I shall walk in the Pace of my Lord and dwell in his house for ever.

Amen.