Deployment: When One became Two…

Almost a year ago, my father walked me down the aisle and gave me to the man of my dreams.  Before our family and God, I pledged to honor, respect, grow with, laugh with and love my husband.  We vowed to leave our single lives behind and became “one” in marriage.  And then after three short and blissful months of marriage, my husband deployed to the middle east.  I had spent my life dreaming and preparing for marriage and to be a wife.  To be honest, for myself it was not difficult to adjust to “married life”, but it actually came very naturally.  Coming home from a long day to my best friend, cooking dinner together and crawling into bed to watch a show together is probably my ideal night.  I was so excited to finally have found my partner in life and to start building our future together and working on our marriage.  Yet God had other plans for me in our first year; instead of the focus being working on and building our marriage together, I think God has used these past few months apart to work on each of us one-on-one.  It has been a long, difficult, emotional journey but I have also seen so much good come from it already.  My husband has his own side of the story, but I will share some of the things God has taught ME in the past few months.

First, I have had to face some of my greatest fears this year.  There are not many things in this life I am truly afraid of.  I am a rather hard person to scare, I kill my own spiders, jump off of 50 foot cliffs into water, and will ride anything at a theme park.  Basically, I don’t really have any IRRATIONAL fears, and over all I thought I was already pretty good at trusting God.  But my deepest fears I could identify were that of having a long distance relationship (due to past experiences) and my husband dying.  Lucky me, I got to face those fears head on right away!  I almost didn’t start dating my now husband in the beginning because of the fact that he was in the Marines and I did NOT want the military wife life.  I had seen other friends and family members go through deployments and military life, and also seen marriages fall apart because of it.  You rarely hear of GOOD things coming from a deployment to be honest! So if it were totally up to me, I would have had NOTHING to do with military life.  But God had a greater plan, and after weeks of wrestling with the decision to not only date him, but to enter into a relationship knowing full well that I would have to endure not only a deployment but also the possibility of losing the man I loved, I finally came to a place where I realized no matter what his job was, death is always a possibility and something I can never control.  I had to wrestle with that fact and finally come to a point of surrendering it to God and trusting in what ever his plan was, scary as the unknown may be.  However, little did I know that I would have to reface those fears over and over and over and over again.  I will be driving in the car and, all of the sudden out of nowhere,  become so completely overwhelmed with the fear of losing my husband that I start to uncontrollably sob and yell and wrestle with God.  Yet again and again, God brings me back to a place of surrender and TRUST that no matter what the future holds, He has a “good and perfect plan” for my life, and a greater purpose.

And this is the second thing that God has been showing me in my time alone.  I have a greater purpose than simply being a “wife”, though I find so much contentment in it.  God has been calling me to so much more than “contentment” lately.  He has been calling me to action.  To get off my couch and get involved: involved with youth, involved with peers, and involved with even the homeless people in my own community.  To be honest, a large part of me wants to hide in my room, loose myself in TV shows and drown in ice cream until my husband gets back and I can go back to living a full life (and many women say this is basically what they do while their husbands are gone), like a deployment basically means you just put your regular life on pause.  Luckily, God also made  me a very relational and active person, and after about ONE DAY of that I get stir crazy and need to get out of the house and be with people.  But I quickly started to realize the great opportunity I had with all my sudden free time, and threw myself into ministry and investing in people, and honestly it has been so rewarding and blessed me far more than I have blessed anyone else.  God started to reveal part of my “purpose” right now of starting and leading a young adults group at our church, something that had been on my heart for over three years.  I began to develop deeper relationships with people I had known for years, but only at what felt to be a surface level.   While trying to stay active and exercise, I began taking long walks by the beach instead of going to the gym, and I started to meet people in my community and build relationships.  I started seeing the “homeless” as real people, and God broke my heart for them and pressed on my heart to do what ever I could, even if it was simply to remember their names and listen.  I had one nanny job end and what I thought would be the perfect position for me suddenly not work out, and instead of having to search for something new God led me to an amazing family from my church that needed help and that I already admired and wanted to learn from., and so my “job” became so much more than that.  I started to identify mentors and sought to spend more time with them and their families.  And most of all I grew closer and deeper with God than I have ever been, finding a renewed joy and passion for his word and in my prayer life.  Amidst all the struggles and storms, I realized God was actually using this time to grow something beautiful, like the many rains in spring help sprout a garden (well maybe not in California…).  He was growing ME as an INDIVIDUAL.  For so long I had been in relationship after relationship, and when I wasn’t in one, I was searching for one.  God brought me to this strange place where I was content and had finally found THE ONE and became “one”, yet suddenly was on my own and no longer able to focus on a relationship.  And with my focus suddenly no longer mainly on a romantic relationship, I was forced to grow as an individual so many new ways and focus solely on God and the work He had for me.  I was suddenly “single” while married, with the reality that I had to build a completely new life ALONE, and preferably one that was somehow still fulfilling.  It was difficult and very scary at first, but with God’s help I did just that, and I certainly have a new found confidence and independence.

To be honest, I think the separation was actually a really good thing for our marriage also.  We learned how to communicate in a whole new way.  We were forced to start a habit of verbally communicating love and appreciation every day.  We learned to set boundaries on the harder talks like finances and instead be intentional about remembering to laugh and pray together more.  But probably most importantly we learned that I DO NOT FULFILL HIM, AND HE DOES NOT FULFILL ME.  Most of the time we could barely even comfort each other, much less make the other person feel fulfilled!  It is beyond heart breaking to watch your spouse break down crying from behind a screen, and not be able to comfort them with a hug or touch.  There began to be so many “needs” that I realized I couldn’t meet, and vise-verse, but in those moments God taught us over and over again to turn to him.  When we were at our most broken, the ONLY one able to put us back together was God, and the only comfort we could offer each other was prayer.  It was a difficult lesson, but my prayer is that it has created a strong foundation for our marriage going forward.

Soon my husband will be home, and I will once again adjust back to life as “us” and “we”, no longer just me.  I am obviously excited and counting down the days, but as I reflect I am thankful for the journey that God has taken me on this year.  I would’t want to relive it for sure, or even wish it on anyone else, yet for many this long separation is simply a part of life.  If YOU are facing an upcoming deployment of your spouse, just know that while yes it is extremely tough, it is not the end of the world, and you DON’T have to spend the whole time in your PJ’s eating ice cream and crying.  Set goals, stay active, and find a community of people to not only help you, but that you can help also.  And take advantage of this time to grow as an individual and to find your purpose, because even when you are alone, you can still live a crazy, active, fun, awesome fulfilling life, especially if you have God at the center!

And even if deployment is not something on your horizon, it is still important to take time to work on your individual relationship with God, and to realize that no other PERSON will ever fulfill you and be able to meet all your needs.  The sooner you can learn to turn to God FIRST, the happier you and your relationships will be.

 

Thank you to all my friends an family who have supported me, comforted me, mentored me and gotten me through these long and tough months.  I honestly don’t know what I would have done without you and I beyond grateful for the people that took time to invest in me, struggle with me and bring happiness and laughter into my life. Thank you for journeying with me fam. ❤

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Christianity and Identity 

In case you haven’t read enough posts/blogs/articles/memes about Identity in the past few weeks, here is one more for you! Hopefully it is a little different though than most of the other things you have read. I myself have read one thing after another in the past few weeks about gender identity (in light of the Great Bathroom War of 2016), as well as watched arguments, clips and so on from both sides. The topic seems to take up about 88.9% of my facebook news feed at the moment, and of course I ran the numbers so that statistic is totally completely real.  Initially I felt no need to add to the clamor and was fine simply sitting back and absorbing all the info I could.  I also try to be extremely careful and picky about what I say and post on social media, since I have friends from all walks of life, and I try extremely hard to walk the fine line of holding to my beliefes and values while trying my hardest to show love, sensitivity, acceptance and not be offensive (as much as possible).  The problem with this situation is that I fear the truth IS offensive to some people, and in such situations one has to make the difficult choice of speaking out so that others might hear and know the truth, or staying silent for so long that the truth becomes irrelevant and your voice drowned out. 

 So in light of this, I want to say that first and foremost I believe in truth. Not just “my personal truth”, but an absolute truth. 1+1=2. The earth revolves around the sun. There is good and evil in this world. Crocs are ugly.  H2O is the chemical make up of what we have designated as water.  Just as we have designated the word “male” to describe a person made up of DNA containing XY chromosomes, and a “woman” as one whos DNA contains XX chromosomes.  This is determined at conception, and no matter what a person does their entire life, they will not change their DNA or chromosone makeup.  No matter how a  person changes or controls their hormones, makeup, clothes, or genitalia, none of these thing actually change your DNA or your scientific designation as a man or woman.  If this offends you, I apologize, but there is nothing I or anyone else can do about it.

However, the truth is, I don’t think a single person actually has a problem with their DNA.  Truthfully, (actually rather obviously…) I think that the problem lies in how a person identifies themselves in light of the roles of each gender and in the eyes of society.  We have predetermined roles for men and women, (which for some is a freeing thing, and for others, shackles).  Men are for the most part expected to fit into a mold of being strong, tough, hunter, protector, warrior, provider, more analytical and so on.  Women are for the most part expected to fit into a mold of being homemaker, wife, mother, caretaker, cook, cleaner, more emotionally driven and so on.  (Now personally I believe that God created many of us to ENJOY these molds, like myself, though not all!)  However, fitting into these roles them selves does not DEFINE whether or not you are a man or a woman, and thank goodness! Our world needs people who break the mold just as much as it needs people who make it!  

We also have another set of rules predetermined by society, rules which are ever changing and differ from culture to culture.  These are the things society determines are “acceptable”, such as women wear dresses, men do not. Women can wear makeup, nail polish, long hair, jewelry, ect. Men can not.  However these things do not define a man or a woman.  Men in the ancient world used to wear clothing VERY similar to dresses (tunics, robes, ect…). They wore makeup, styled their hair in the fashion of the day, wore jewelry and even nail polish.  Only recently did our culture for some reason decide these things were not appropriate for men.  So now we as a culture identify those things as “feminine”, and lable a person  the same if they partake in such actions. 

I don’t know about you, but when it is broken down like this, the whole thing actually looks a little ridiculous!  Why does one have to identify as “male” or “female” simply because you go against the predetermined expectations assigned to your gender, based on ones DNA? Does an apple need to start calling itself an orange because its shape does not fit the usual expected shape of an apple but is closer identified with the shape of an orange?  Of course not! Even if you surgically cut up an apple to make it the exact shape of an orange, it still is not an orange. And why should it try to be!? It is beautiful and delicious and unique just the way it is without having to fit the stereotypical mold! 

What I am saying is, you don’t truly need to “identify” as anything but your self!!! You can not change your chemical make up and the fact that you a “male” or “female” as the diferentiations have been scientifically termed, but you can change and challenge the stereotypical mold by simply being yourself.  Wanting to wear a dress does not make you a female, just as wanting a super awesome lumberjack beard does not make me male.  Be yourself, and if that is different from the mold that is fine, but do it because you think it is a reflection of who you are. Not because it is who others told you to be. Not because it is cool. And especially not because you are trying to “make a point”.  That quickly turns into a slippery slope where one does things to spite others, making both parties angry, bitter and enemies. 

Now, in case you didn’t know already, I am a Christian. I believe in a God who specially and wonderfully  created each person with a plan and purpose for their life.  If you are also a christian reading this, you may be going, “um, did she just tell guys that it is ok to wear dresses and nail polish!?”  Ummm… Ya. Kinda. And guess what I have to say to you! Get over it. No seriously… We just went through that it is society that made up these rules, arguably influenced the heaviest by Christians! God did not put in the 10 commandmets that men shalt not wear dresses.*  Actually, God probably doesn’t give a crap if a male wears a dress. Or makeup. Or even what their genitalia looks like! (Though I do believe he designed each person the way they are on purpose, no mistakes!)  “God looks at the heart”, the very soul and core of a person, and as Christians we are called to love each person and to care first and foremost about their soul. Which also goes hand in hand with caring for their needs and feelings above your own (so pee before you go to target Gol-Darnet and then shut up about it! Or if you really care about fairness and equal rights, then start fighting for secure genderless bathrooms/more family bathrooms/ect. so that everyone can feel safe and comfortable!).  Caring for a persons soul has absolutely nothing to do with how they look on the outside, or even with how they “sexually identify”.  Caring for their soul also has nothing to do with changing either of those things.  Caring for a soul is simply loving others as Christ first loved us.  Wholly, unconditionally, just as we are. Broken people, sinners, in need of a savior and a healer.  We were also once lost, not know what “Truth” was.  Not knowing our true identity or purpose.  But when Jesus took our punishment and sins on himself, he gave us the opportunity to take his identity as a perfect, beloved child of God.  The only Identity that brings true healing, contenment, purpose, and joy; a claim I will stand by as true even if it is offensive to some. 

Fellow Christians, our job is not to judge, oppress, or dictate how others should and should not be.  Our job is to love and be a light of HOPE and encouragement in a world of soul crushing darkness.  We may offer guidance towards an easier,healthier, Godly path, but conviction is mainly the role of the Holy Spirit for those that are in a relationship with the Lord.  But, demanding that a world on non-believers must accept and live by our convictions and values is futile and destructive.  Stop yelling for change, and start quitly changing through love. Love as Christ first loved you.

And to my friends who may be questioning (or already settled upon) their Identity in any way (gay, straight, black, white, transgender, liberal, conservative, Croc wearer.), I want you to know I love you and accept you just the way your are.  I appreciate your differences and what makes you unique, and I will strive to put your needs before mine and to respect you in all things. If respecting you means calling you by a different name or referring to you as a specific gender, then so be it. The only thing I care about is your soul (the essence of who you are beyond any physical body), and my not so secret agenda is that you would come to know the same love and relationship that I have with Jesus, the giver of the only identity I ever need. #SorryNotSorry 😝❤️

*There is one obscure verse in Dueteronomy 22:5 that seems to talk about cross dressing, however the interpretation and specifics of this verse is HIGHLY debated. In my opinion, even if it is talking about a man putting on a dress or a woman wearing blue jeans made for men, I doubt it is the very act itself that is “abhorrent” to God. If wearing a dress at all as a man is a sin, then Tyler Perry and every crossdressing male actor ever is in some deep trouble.  So again I would argue that God looks at the persons heart, and knows if they are doing something in a way that is rebellious, spiteful, deceitful or wrong. If you wan to read more, this is in interesting link, or you can do a study yourself! 

http://www.beki.org/dvartorah/crossdressing/

My Mother

This past weekend my mom celebrated another birthday! Twenty five! ( We are actually going to be the same age! Who woulda thunk it!)  I was able to go home for the weekend to be with my family, and we had a wonderful weekend at home where we got to go kayaking and hot-tubing and eat wonderful food on our deck and at Olive Garden and play some crazy card games with cousins.  It was some wonderful family time and I could not have imagined a greater or more relaxing and fun weekend, and we even bought the dog a tiny cowboy hat! What more could one want?!

I realized though, that after all the presents were given and the day was coming to a close, I had forgotten to include a card or even write anything on Facebook!  This is unusual for me since I always love to write something special down for my friends and family to try to communicate what they mean to me, though I always fall short!  And with my own mother, I could never write down all the ways that she is amazing or everything she has done for me in my life!  BUT! I am going to try and write SOME things down so that others might get a small glimpse of the amazing woman that I am  ever so blessed to call Mom.

“Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her:” Proverbs 31:28

Where to even start! Well first I think my mother has an amazing testimony.  As a child her father suffered of a mental illness and was abusive towards her mother or not present in the home.  He ended up leaving when my mom was young, and so her own mother became a single parent.  At a very young age, my mom embraced the idea of God as her father, and clung to that promise with all her strength.  I have never seen another person with such an unwavering, trusting, childlike faith as my mom has displayed her whole life.  Not once have I ever seen her doubt God or question that He would provide, and indeed throughout her life God HAS provided over and over again.  When she was 16, living with just her and her mother and in high-school while also balancing a job, she left her mother one day to go to work, making sure she was comfortable in bed and cared for as her mom had the flu.  A few hours later when she returned, she found her own mother dead in her bed.  Her mom, my grandma, had been fragile and somewhat sickly for most of her life, yet no one expected something simple like the flu to take her life.  Once again my mom clung to God as her life was thrown in to turmoil and she went to live with her grandparents.  Yet still she pressed on, finishing high-school, then going on to finish college!  After college she did ministry in and out of the states, from teaching with Child Evangelism Fellowship, to going on a long term trip to the Philippines.  She served the Lord for nearly 10 years before moving to California and meeting my Dad.  After hardly a year of marriage I arrived, and brought the party with me of course, and after that everything was awesome. Well… almost.  My mom became a stay home mom, and I am pretty sure that I was a full time job.  Which is why I have NO idea why they decided to have ANOTHER kid, but a few years later along came Michaela to RUIN the party.  If I was a full time job, I am pretty sure Michaela was THREE! Yet somehow mom still had the energy to start a daycare for other kids, home-school us, AND take care of my father!  (My hat goes off to you mom!  I have no clue how you did it!)  Yet she did do it, and somehow with a smile always on her face and a cheery disposition.  If ever there was a woman that portrayed the Proverbs 31 woman, it was my mother.  She worked from morning to night to care for us.  We always had nice homes that were kept (reasonably) clean, despite mine and my sisters best efforts…  She cooked delicious dinners and was always looking for little ways and side businesses to bring in a little more money for her family.

She has the gift of being not only a wonderful and gracious hostess, but also of making anyone feel comfortable and special.  To this day we still all stand in confusion as we leave mom somewhere for not even ONE MINUTE and SOMEHOW she is talking to them like they are her best friend!?!  Like, I left you in the grocery line for 10 seconds to grab this coke! Why are they telling you their life story!?!?!  I have always sworn that mom should have been the counselor (not dad), because she can get anyone to open up and start talking about their life and problems in mere minutes.  Indeed, I have seen my mom comfort and be a sympathetic shoulder to many of her friends over the years, always available to talk or simply listen whenever a person was in need.  And of course she was always there for me when I needed to vent or needed advice.  Both my parents made SURE to be present in the home and involved in our lives.  They chose to not only home-school us, but to consciously raise us up in the Word of God and “the way we should go”.  They worked hard to provide for our needs, yet were careful not to spoil us and instead to teach us good work ethics.  God was good and provided a family business for us that meant my mom could not only work alongside my dad, but my sister and I could also work with them and learn from them.  Nothing like your dad also being your principle AND boss am I right!!? Woot woot!  (Yes, that was some serious sarcasm there…)  But back to mom!  This meant that our family was ALWAYS around each-other, which meant we certainly had our fair share of arguments and “disagreements” (NOT fights our parents would inform us). Now mom was always pretty slow to anger, though when she did finally get angry is was about the scariest thing in the entire world!  It was run for cover, smoke everywhere, crouch in the corner, bomb sirens going off scary, because you must have done something REALLY terrible to finally make mom blow up! Haha.  But those times were extremely rare and probably well deserved, and most of the time mom was an expert at keeping her cool and knowing when to shut her mouth.  Watching her navigate “disagreements” with my father was rather fascinating sometimes, but she knew how to diffuse most situations gracefully, and when to walk away from a subject or leave it to be discussed for another day.  She was an amazing example of a woman who was strong, yet who chose to submit to her husband even when she did not agree, and I think God truly blessed her for that.

Like every woman, mom desired to be fit and beautiful.  Our Scandinavian heritage has meant that we are bountifully blessed in the curves department, yet mom always worked hard to strive for good health and to teach our family how to be healthier.   She was and still is always looking for new ways to make food healthy and delicious!  She also makes sure that she is always classy and presentable, from wearing stylish yet age appropriate clothes, to trying out fun cuts and colors with her hair.  She also taught my sister and I how to do nice and natural looking makeup without looking like we had joined the circus.  She was a wonderful model of beauty mixed with modesty.  She had her struggles with insecurity about her appearance, yet never once wavered on her self worth because of it.  My mother taught me that my worth and confidence lie not in my looks, but in God who chose me and loves me unconditionally.  I would not be the independent and confident person I am today if I had not been blessed with such an amazing person as my mother.

To this day I will sit and watch as mom puts on her makeup and fusses with her hair, and laugh as she comments on the growing wrinkles or the gray hair poking out.  Yet I honestly mean it when I say, “Oh mom, you still look beautiful though!  You don’t even need that makeup!”  For I don’t hardly notice the wrinkles or the gray hairs.  I simply see my mother, the kindest, sweetest, most caring, giving, loving and Godly woman I know.  A woman who has blessed the life of each and every person she has ever known and who has had the honor to know her.  I have never met a single person who did not love my mom, but none could ever know or lover her like I do.

Thank you mom for being who you are and for being such a wonderful example of a woman/mother/wife to me, and for your unconditional love you have always shown me.  I hope to one day be half the person you are, or to have even half the faith in God that you do. “Many women do noble things,but you surpass them all.” Proverbs 31:29

I love you mom, and happy birthday!

My parents will probably not agree with this post…

Actually many people may not agree with this post, at least at first.  Five years ago I might not have agreed with this post!  Yet as I grow and change and experience things, my outlook on many things has come to change.  Most prominently, my views on what is sin.

Yep, that is right, I am daring to touch a topic that will most assuredly bring some backlash and possibly haters out of the works.  Reactions may vary and arguments may ensue, as they already have in my own personal life, but that is all the more what makes me feel the need to write this post.  It is OKAY if you don’t agree! But I do hope that at the end I have at least challenged the way you view things and cause you to examine you heart and motives a little deeper, always being in check with the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. So here it goes! What is sin and what is not?

Growing up I was raised in a strong christian conservative home.  My parents were active in the church, the community, and politically.  No one did any sort of drugs, there was rarely anything more than a bottle of wine in our house, and dating was not aloud till the age of 18 (which was changed to AFTER high-school when they realized my September birthday meant I was 18 and still not graduated!  Though even that was a step up from the idea of “courting” they had tried to force on us the first half of our lives!).  I was not aloud to go to school dances (though my sister somehow finagled going to prom her senior year… WITH A BOY!! Not fair…), TV and movies were highly monitored, and I didn’t even OWN a bikini till I was about 20!  Yep, my parents were pretty strict, but honestly I can’t complain too much!  They were loving, present, and set up good boundaries with great intentions, much of which I will probably do with my own children!

However, while all of this was understandable as a child, like what happens with everyone, sooner or later that child grows up and things are no longer so black and white!  As I entered the adult world, I had to start asking and determining for myself what was okay and what was not.  Was it okay to use this word but not that one?  Was it okay to drink Alcohol and if so, how much? Was it acceptable to watch this movie? Or listen to this song? Or to go on dates with a few different guys instead of “kissing dating goodbye” and “courting” with intentions to marry?

Things that I had been told not to do and had been brought to think were “wrong” and “sinful”, I started asking is it really? And if so, why?  If I watch a movie with a swear word in it, is that a sin?  But what if it is a movie about God and it is simply showing how that unsaved person would actually talk?  If I am over the age of 21 (and not under a covenant to not drink) then is it a sin to have a glass of wine?  Probably not because Jesus drank! Okay, so is it a sin to have two glasses? Three?  Is it a sin if I do get intoxicated, but I do it in my room by myself and then go to sleep and there are no negative actions that stem from that?  But wait, what if I DO get intoxicated in public because I am out for a bachelorette party and am having fun with my friends! Is that a sin, even if I was still in control of my actions?  Then I had to ask if the Bible actually said it was wrong to get drunk every now and then, or if it truly meant “Drunkenness” as in something you frequently practice, something that starts to take over your life and affect your relationship with God and with others.

So I began to formulate some questions to help myself determine what was truly a “sin” or not, and I came up with three things.  First, what are the true motives of my heart behind this action?  Does this action have any negative effects on my relationship with God?  Does this action have any negative effects on any relationships with people or to my testimony to them?

Whenever something seems unclear to me in the Bible, these three questions seem to be a good guide for determining if something is wrong for me.  I say wrong for me because, while I do not think that truth is relevant, I think that there ARE certain things that may actually be a sin for one person, but not for another, because each person has different weaknesses and convictions.  I think Paul gives a pretty clear example of this in 1 Corinthians 8 when he talks about Christians fighting over eating meat sacrificed to idols being a sin or not.  Clearly nothing actually happened to that meat when it was offered to the false Gods, it was simply meat and there was nothing inherently wrong with eating it.  Yet some people felt convicted about it and so abstained, perhaps for them selves but also we see for others who might be watching.

I think that this is what the Bible means when it says, “”Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything is edifying.”  God created everything on the earth, and when He was finished He looked down and said it is “good”.  He didn’t say, “Well most of it is good, but I threw in some evil things here and there just to trip them up!”.  Nope! All of it was good!  The plants, the flowers, the weeds, the mushrooms, the grapes that might ferment, sex, laughter, and humans.  Now yes, when the fall happened, sin entered the world and brought the potential for evil into every area of life, but that did NOT make everything in the world inherently evil.  It simply meant that humans had the potential to twist and misuse something for evil.  So this means that we can take something meant for good, but the way that we go about it or use it can make it evil because of the things flowing out of our hearts.  Or sometimes we may not necessarily believe that something is wrong, such as drinking, yet it may very well be wrong to do or constantly talk about in the presence of minors.  Same with language; while language is simply words with meanings that we ascribe to them and therefor no word in and of itself can inherently be “evil”, our motives behind that word or the context in which we use it can make it wrong in some instances, yet acceptable in others.

So then what do I really believe?  Well, I do not believe that drinking is a sin.  I don’t believe that using a drug is a sin.  I don’t believe sex is a sin. I don’t believe gambling is a sin, or wearing a bikini, or even LEGGINGS AS PANTS.  I believe that sin is what happens in my HEART, not IN my actions, but can be expressed through my actions.  Jeremiah 17:10 says, “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”  It does not say, “I the Lord examine only the deeds…”.

Some of you may be going, “Okay Marissa! I get it, so what is your point!?”  Well, as I began to question these things and determine the difference between if something was wrong because I felt God said it was wrong, or if I only thought that because my parents/church had always taught me that, I also began to realize how judgmental I had been towards others and had put my own standards onto them.  I would look at a person living differently from me and sneer at them and judge them.  I would want to put my own boundaries around them, boundaries with good intentions to keep myself and them from “sin”, yet boundaries of which crossing were not actually “sin” in and of itself.  But I found that as my thought process expanded, I became less “judging” and more “loving”.  If I am honest, I think that this is what God truly wants from us.  Romans 2:1-11 seems to take being “judgmental” of others pretty serious, and actually this one I can say pretty strongly is a sin!

When it comes to dealing with both our christian and non-christian friends, are we showing them the grace and love of God, or are we driving them away by simply looking at their actions?  And are we calling their actions “sin” because we know it stems from ungodliness flowing out of their heart, or because we were told as children that that thing was wrong (like our grandparents were told dancing and playing cards was evil!). Now yes, some things are black and white in the Bible, and other things are black and white within the Laws our government, but for all those gray areas, I try to refer myself back to those questions of my motives and the effects, and do my best to refrain from judging others if their conclusions and convictions are different from mine, ESPECIALLY if that person is a non-believer.  In fact any nonbeliever I should EXPECT for their actions to be outside of God, and my goal should be to first bring them to know God, and then to help them transform their actions as God transforms their hearts and minds. As Christians I think we need to always be careful that “speaking out against sin” does not become counter productive by making the person feel judged and hopeless instead of loved and hopeful! For “these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Chipotle and the Church

I love Chipotle. No no. I LOVE love Chipotle.  If I had the money, I could easily be one of those people who lives off of nothing but Chipotle for months (though I feel my stomach and body would not like me for it at times…).  I get a steak bowl at least once a week and it is DELICIOUS. But I (and I think most of America) love Chipotle for more than just the taste of it’s food.  I love EVERYTHING about Chipotle; I love  what it stand for, it’s BRAND, and I think that there is MUCH we can learn from Chipotle’s business model, especially within the Church!

According to Wikipedia, a brand is “a name, term, design, symbol or other feature that distinguishes one seller’s product from those of others.”, but truthfully that is the most simplest and technical of terms.  A brand is so much more! A brand can make or break a business.  A brand is a promise to consumers.  With certain brands come certain perceptions and expectations. A brand of a company can take on a sort of “persona”, appealing more to some groups of people than others.  Actually if you are bored, just start researching what a brand entails! It’s pretty fascinating to say the least!  But how you brand yourself in this day and age has a direct correlation to your success.  My top three favorite brands are Apple, IKEA, and Chipotle.  I could talk for hours on why I love each of these three, but for now I will focus on Chipotle.
The Chipotle Brand.
Where to even start! Well, first as I already stated, their food is just plain delicious! It is a tasty meal at a quality price.  It is cheaper than going to a sit down restaurant for a steak dinner, but tastes better and is more filling than the majority of fast food places.  It is beyond easy to customize ones food, yet still usually has a pretty short wait time!  The staff is always friendly, helpful, efficient, and though they are usually young (and pretty hipster at most of the ones I have been too) they are still professional and do their jobs well and with a smile on their face.  I have actually had nothing but great and funny interactions with the employees at Chipotle!
On top of that I love the modern and clean look of every chipotle.  They always have a simple yet fun feel to them, with the ornate metal accents and sometimes fun photos hanging on the wall.   The “vibe” of almost every Chipotle is young, fun and fresh, with just a touch of thoughtful.  It is the kind of place where you feel that you can laugh and be goofy with your friends over a burrito, or you can sit pondering on your own and blog… Or uhh, read a book!  And this is clearly not an accident!
Chipotle actually goes out of its way to inspire and provoke thought.  All of their bags and cups feature a groovy design, coupled with some kind of quote or story or essay with the purpose of making you stop and think and ponder.  Have you read any of these essays?  They are so good! One is about a girl who is grieving the loss of some Spanish words who’s feel and meaning get lost in the translation to English.  Another is a poem about a “two minuet” breakup which is so beautiful!  Honestly, everything that I have read on a Chipotle product has struck me and made me stop, if only for a few seconds, and ponder something deeper, something greater.  It has inspired me.
But the greatness of Chipotle does not stop there!!! It is clear that Chipotle is EXTREMELY conscious, careful, and proactive about positively building their brand (they must have the greatest focus groups in the world!).  Chipotle actually spends very little on advertising, mainly using billboards and focusing on bigger projects like their app game or filming a mini series.  In fact (and I did not realize this till I just started writing this post), Chipotle does NOT advertise on TV.  You heard me. Let that sink in for a second.  They believe that running adds on TV is actually bad for their business and appears disingenuous to consumers!  (Read more here!). However Chipotle does seem to be active on social media, and just last week I got a coupon because I did a small informative and interactive “quiz” comparing their ingredients to a fast food competitors.  In a world where it seems that every business and franchise is screaming frantically for you to buy it’s products, Chipotle seems to sit back and let it’s product speak for itself!
And this may be the greatest and most important thing about the Chipotle brand!  While it is tasty, affordable, fast, modern and appeals to generations young and old, the greatest thing about Chipotle is that it is transparent.  Chipotle has worked hard to provide a meal that is not only cheap and delicious, but is also healthy and has “integrity”.  In a world full of lies and deception, Chipotle has chosen to go against the grain and STAND for something more than simply making money.  When I walk into a Chipotle, I not only get food that is fresh, I also get food that is healthy and has no GMOs.  Not only that, but I get food that was grown in a responsible, healthy way from local vegetables to free range animals.  This is a restaurant that doesn’t simply care what the food tastes or looks like, but also cares about where it comes from and how it is grown!  In fact, when I eat Chipotle it makes not only my stomach happy, but also my mind knowing that I support an honest business that is supporting other small, honest businesses.  I am pretty much doing my part to help the environment, right!? (Just kidding… Kinda). But truthfully, the more that I learn about Chipotle, the more I WANT to support this business and everything it stand for and believes in; luckily for me, I actually enjoy their food too!
So now you know why I LOVE Chipotle! This is a franchise that KNOWS what it stands for: transparency, integrity, relevance, and a quality product.  As a millennial, I am SOLD!  This is 100% what I want as a consumer.  Finally a business that has researched and listened to what people are saying, and it is basically “cut the crap”! Stop the deception and the lies and the constant beratement of ads to try and sell me on what you are offering, and simply let your product speak for itself!
The Church
Guess what! That’s right, this 100% applies to Churches!   I recently wrote a post about why I, as a Millennial, left the Church for awhile. (You can read it here.)   Well, I think that the modern American Church needs to take a few cues from Chipotle and their “brand”.  The answer to getting Millenials (and other people) back to the church is not simply about remodeling your sanctuaries and singing modern worship songs with a full band. It is not about “advertising” the gospel and Bible in a cool, hip new way.  It is NOT rebranding Christianity as cool or hipster or trend-savey.
The answer, actually, is that the Church needs to refocus its brand and return to it’s roots, it’s foundation! Which is that we are imperfect followers of Christ, who meet together to practice vulnerable community as The Body, and to actively strive in unity to pursue growth as well as to daily be transformed more into the likeness of Christ as we develop our relationship with God and with others.  (Yes, I did just basically write a mission statement for the  Church, and if you have anything to add or can write a better one please message me or leave a comment!).  Yet I see so many churches that seem like they have lost sight of the core reasons for their existence, and instead get swept up with activities and programs and out-reaches!  Wonderful things in and of them selves, but not when it is at the expense of neglecting to “tend to the flock”!  We are focusing so many of our efforts outward, but if we instead focused our efforts INWARD towards deepening and growing our own community, maybe people would start coming to US!
Here is what I mean by that.  Chipotle knows what it stands for, and depends on word of mouth for it’s main source of advertisement because they believe that their product and what they stand for is enough to bring consumers to them and cause people to want to buy their product.  Do we, as the Church, believe that Jesus and the fellowship of believers is ENOUGH to make others want to buy into what we are selling?  Because guess what: when you try to sell us anymore than that we see right through that crap!  I have grown up my entire life seeing products such as burgers advertised on T.V., and then realizing as I bit into that burger that the real thing didn’t even RESEMBLE the add!  A lifetime of this sort of deception has made it easy to spot when something is being “dressed up” to be sold to me, and I HATE it.  It actually has the reverse affect on me and makes me want to run the other way!
So  in conclusion my message is this:
Stop selling; let the product speak for it’s self. Lose all the bells and whistles. Have integrity. Be honest. Be transparent.  Know your core principles and build your Brand to reflect those principles, and people will start coming to YOU for what you are offering. Start taking cues (and food) from Chipotle!
Now if you will excuse me, I just made myself really hungry…

Grace, The Ocean, and Baptism.


This past Sunday I had a chance to bring some of my Youth Group girls to a BBQ & Baptism (you can watch it Here!) that my church was doing. It was a wonderful time of fellowship, food, and lots of fun, but probably my favorite part of the day is where I pulled my girls aside to talk to them about what baptism IS. When everyone started to move towards the ocean for the baptism, they wanted to stay behind and keep playing volleyball, but I said no, I think you guys should experience this! So I herded them to the front so they could see everything, and we even went out into the water with a small group when they went to do the actual baptizing. As I stood there watching, I suddenly had the words going through my head from a song we had sang that morning in church. It was a verse from the song “How He loves” by The David Crowder Band, and it goes: “If grace is an ocean, we’re all sinking.” I suddenly felt the urge to share this with the girls, and hopefully help them to better reflect on and understand what they had just witnessed. It was only a five min conversation, but after I knew that the Holy Spirit had put those words on my heart and moved me to do that. Already great things have come from that small act.  
  

However, I felt the desire still to expound on those thoughts and so decided to blog on it today to share with you dear friends! So, what is baptism? Is it an act that saves you? Obviously not. It is a symbol, a beautiful picture that God has called us to literally act out as a witness to others. As I stood there looking out at the ocean, I was struck by the idea that THIS is what Gods grace is like (I had just written my last Post, and so my heart was already overwhelmed by Gods grace!). I think any one who stands and looks at the ocean is intimidated by its vastness. We stand on the shore, hardly more than a grain of sand compared to the depth and length and greatness of the ocean. Decades of studies and we still can not comprehend everything that the ocean holds. We can simply gaze in awe and marvel at it’s size, beauty and mysteries. Yet this is only a tiny example of what God’s grace is like! Words have not even been invented to describe the complexity of God’s unending grace! It is so much, that we are sinking in it! If we are lucky we drown in it!  
“Wait a minute Marissa! Drown in it?! What kind of a twisted picture is that!? Drowning is bad!” Actually, dear reader, it is an amazing picture and if you will just calm down and bear with me I will explain! Sheesh! Learn some patience!  

Many years ago I read a series of books called “The Circle Series” written by Ted Dekker (You really should check it out!). Dekker takes the story of humanity, the fall, and redemption, but puts it into a universe where things are MUCH more literal, or as Dekker puts it, “What once was unseen is now seen.” In his world, the people who follow Jacob (the equivalent of Jesus) must literally walk into a lake of blood, and DROWN to be cleansed from their literal disease (sin). It is a powerful picture that has always stuck with me, and I realized that was exactly what Baptism is. When we enter into the ocean that is Gods grace, we should be so overwhelmed and over-powered by it that we drown in it, and in doing so we DIE to our former selves. Our old, sinful being is washed away by the blood of Jesus, and we emerge from the water as a new person; a person covered in forgiveness and grace. Just as the salt and sand sticks to your skin after you leave the ocean, so Gods grace sticks with us. And does anyone else have this problem that once you leave the beach, the beach FOLLOWS you!? I leave behind and find sand in my bags, my car, my friends cars, my shower, my house, even MY BED. It saturates my entire life!!! In the same way, I see that grace which I have received saturating my whole life, and even spreading then to others. I don’t even realize sometimes when I have touched another person with the grace and love given to me by God. I am truly reborn,and now I am called to “be full of mercy and grace”, as Paul so often wrote about God in his letters. No wonder this was one of his favorite sayings! The more I think about this picture of grace, the more I see how very prominent of an idea it was in Paul’s mind. It was always an underlying theme in his writings, and a subject that he could just not seem to exhaust, nor can I!

So my friends, I hope that this was a good explanation or reminder of the meaning of the beautiful picture of Baptism, and of the incomprehensible depth of God’s grace and love! May you reflect on it as you go about your day (and hopefully learn some patience too!), and may you look for ways to show others love and grace just as God has showed you! 

 Romans 8:38-39 “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Have I mentioned how much I love the beach and ocean? ❤️

Why I am such a “pushover”: An open letter to my unsaved friend. 

Yesterday, on of my closest friends wrote me trying to explain why he has been kinda a flakey, cold jerk to me for awhile. But instead of writing an apology, it seemed to turn into almost more of a “why the heck do you just lie down and take crap from me Marissa?” He said I needed to stand up to him and wants me to just tell him off instead of letting him away with things and saying, “It’s ok, I still love you. I forgive you.”  He knows that he can be selfish and mean towards me, but thinks he treats me the way he does because there are no repercussions from me.   He also said that He feels he hasn’t earned my kindness personally, and that no matter what he does good or bad, I am still nice and loving towards him, which must mean I just don’t understand him or take the things he does on a personal level of who he is. The following is my response to him, and any one who might wonder why I act the way I do:
My Dear Friend,

I think that truthfully it is you who can not understand my actions, and for good reasons. I understand you pretty well and why you do what you do. But my actions… Well, they come from something much deeper than the fact that I am just a nice person or I am to dumb to understand you, or just totally blind and I still think you are amazing. On the contrary; I SEE you. I see a boy who has been deprived of love his whole life. Who has not experienced even the most basic love of a nurturing and caring mother. A boy who was mistreated and used again and again by people, and after being used was thrown away like trash when people were done with him. I see a guy who still fought to rise above those circumstances and chose to still make his life better and do something worthwhile with his life. You welcomed the adversity and chose to still fight to make good out of it and to learn as a person from it. I see a guy who has seen pain, death and suffering, and yet has chosen not to succumb to those things. I see a being that strives for excellence, that is filled with passion, and may be the hardest worker I have every seen. And yet even with an amazing career, a great home, friends who care, and being a good looking guy, instead of seeing someone who has it all together, I see someone who is lost. Someone who still wants MORE. BETTER. Someone not willing to “settle”, yet not knowing what will truly fulfill him. You are searching and lost, yet longing to find what will complete you. What will finally solve that puzzle and make your picture whole: i.e. The next job, the perfect woman, etc…

 I also see a guy who doesn’t know how to be a friend. You have been treated so crappy throughout your whole life that you don’t know how to truly love, or what a true friend even means. Loyalty and forgiveness have a limit. Someone should only love you if you deserve and earn it, because all your life that is what everyone has told you or showed you. So you understandably act in ways that are selfish, that put up walls to not let people in because then they could hurt you. And you push away those that might actually truly care. You know that deep down you are NOT a good person. You make mistakes, and you don’t even really deserve forgiveness and love. You see your depravity, and think how could anyone actually love me unconditionally? I don’t deserve that. 

I see you Very clearly friend. And guess what? I don’t care about all that. I KNOW who you are, the good and the bad, and I still choose to love you. But not because of anything you have done, but because God first loved me. I believe that a loving, intelligent being created me, not because he needed me, but because he wanted me. I believe he loves me, not because of anything I have done, but because of who HE is. HE is the very essence of anything and everything that is good, true, right, joyful, and loving. I believe He IS good. But I believe that I am not… Man was created to be good, but when given the choice between innocence and the knowledge of evil, man chose to know what evil was. Man CHOSE to know things outside of God. To know what evil meant, including pain, sin, and death. And because God loved his creation, he gave them the option of choice and free will. However the consequences of their choice was that man was no longer inherently “good”. Yes, we had the potential for good in us. But we also had the potential for bad… In fact it was probably what we were more likely to choose from now on, what would come most easily to our nature. So God, being everything that is right and just and good, had to separate himself from humans that were now fallible and sinful. The punishment for their sins was spiritual death. They no longer walked side by side with God, or talked with him and shared everything. They no longer had a personal relationship with their creator, because he could not be present when their sin was there. Yet God did not forsake his beloved creation. He did not say,” You no longer deserve my love. I am done with you”. Instead His heart broke and He said I still want you. I MUST have justice, but I will make a way to save you from your self and your sin. I will find a way to redeem you!  

So for awhile he set up a temporary system, a system where they had to act out the pain they had caused God by a physical sacrifice. They had to take a perfect lamb, small, nothing wrong with it at all, and in a gruesome act, they had to, with their own hands, slaughter the lamb. Only the clean and spotless blood of the lamb could “cover” their sins in the eyes of God. It had to be a painful and difficult “sacrifice”. It was not simple. It was not easy. And it made them see how serious the horrid things they had done were to God.  Then a priest had to intervene on their behalf with God, because man was still seperated from the Holy and perfect spirit of God.  But it was only a temporary system, for killing an animal does not truly save a person. It was simply a sign, a reminder and hint to what was to come. God had a plan that was to be revealed in his own time.
And so it was that God sent his son Jesus, born from a virgin and not from the seed of a man. He was born spiritually alive and already filled with the spirit of God. He was a spotless lamb, with no sin in his nature to separate him from his father and creator. He was sent as a witness to the world, but even greater, he was sent as the Ultimate sacrifice. Those lambs that the people had been killing for years were only a picture of the one lamb that would sacrifice his life and cover the sins of all people in the eyes of God. So Jesus willingly laid down his life; he let men beat him, torture him to the brink of death. He suffered as great as any man has ever suffered. And on top of that he also took on the guilt and shame of any and every sin that man has ever committed. He felt the greatest depth of what it is to be rejected, bullied, hated and scorned. He felt what it means to be so covered by sin, that God can not be near you and literally forsakes you. He felt every bad and evil emotion possible: hatred, pain, rejection and depression. He willingly took on all that, endured the beatings, and carried his own cross to the place where he would be nailed to it and hung up to die the most agonizing and prolonged death the Romans could think up. And as Jesus hung there on that cross, thirsty, bleeding, dying, all while being mocked, he said: “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And then in perfect obedience he gave his life up, and that debt of sin that for so long had kept us separated from our Just God was finally paid. 

 In that moment we were FREE. Free from sin and separation from God. Free from the “law” and the need to perform sacrifices. Free from having to go through a “high priest” to have communion with our creator because of our sinfulness. The curtain in the temple was torn, and now that relationship that Adam and Eve had once had with God could be restored. We now had the opportunity to be “reborn”, this time as people who were spiritually alive. See, the curse that came with the fall was that man would now “die”. Man would no longer be automatically born into communion with God, but was born into sin and death. But now if a man chose to be “reborn”, he was born into grace and life. All that one has to do is believe and accept this: that  I as a person am evil and in no way can save myself from the sin and evils within me. But I do believe that God has made a way to save me, and that even though I in NO way deserve to be saved, God, being the essence of Grace and love, chose to overlook my unworthiness and saved me, not because of anything I have done, but because of what He has done. Now I can have a real relationship with God, and he has showed me how to through his inspired word of the Bible.    
SO, In light of all that and that being the basis of who I am and everything I believe, why then do I love you and treat you the way I do? Because God has called me to. I believe that God created all people, and that he died for all people. I believe that every person is special and unique and priceless. I believe that God loves you unconditionally dear friend, and that I am called to do the same.   

As a believer and follower of Christ, God has called me to act in a way that is not the way the rest of the world acts. He has challenged me to do things that go against what most people instinctively do. When you hurt me, I choose to forgive you instead of striking back at you. God has called me to forgive you not just once, but over and over and over… With out any end really. In fact he calls me to not only forgive, but to go even father beyond that and to do everything in my power to show you love. To sacrifice my wants and desires, to turn the other cheek. I do this not because it feels good. Of course sometimes I get mad and want to lash out at you, and I apologize for any times that I have! But that is not what God wants me to do! When I wrong God, he doesn’t say, ” Hey, your being a brat and I never want anything to do with you!” No instead He tells me that I am forgiven and loved, and his grace is UNENDING. NOTHING I can do will ever exhaust the grace of God. It is greater than the ocean, more expansive than the stars in the universe, deeper than you will ever understand. If God has such great grace towards me, then should I not have such great grace towards others!? At least as much as I am able to as a simple human being? And in the same way should I not do my best to love everyone unconditionally and forgive just as I have been forgiven? See, how could I accept the grace and love of God, but then turn around and refuse to give it to others?! I can’t do that. I can not live my life in such a hypocritical way. 
So I love you, because God first loved me. And I do my best to love you in a selfless, non-judgmental, giving way. I try to love you as God has loved me, though I know I will never come close. And I expect you to do crappy stuff! I expect you to act selfishly because you are still controlled by your human nature and do not know the love of God like I do. I want so BADLY for you too…. I see your confusion and lostness and I want so badly to point you toward the truth and the healing and the completeness that comes when one knows God. I want you to be happy and secure in His love. To know true Joy. To be able to overcome your first nature of selfishness, and to be able to also be a person that is kind and loving and forgiving. But I do not expect those things from you. How could I expect you to act like a “good” person? Outside of God there is no goodness. I truly believe that. Any good thing that is done comes from God, and any evil done is outside of God. You, my friend, are outside of God. I hope that one day that will change, but for now I am called to love you exactly where you are, and to show you just a glimpse of what Gods love is; just a tiny sliver of an example of what his grace and forgiveness is like. I may stumble sometimes, but I will keep trying.  
So no, I am not going to change and start being a jerk to you. I am not going to stand up to you and tell you off, because I don’t believe that is the best way to do things, and I think that you are far more convicted by my reactions of love. The bible says to love your enemies, to do good to those who hate you, and Proverbs 25:22 say that by doing this you will “heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” I think you are feeling this right now. I think that the Holy Spirit of God is convicting you as you look at your self and you see your self acting in ways you don’t even want to act. And you see me acting in ways you do not understand because it goes 100% against human nature. I am called to be a “light”, something that sticks out, that doesn’t belong in the darkness of our world. And you know me, I am not the kind of person that goes around always preaching or judging. No, instead I live my life in a way that I use my love towards others as a witness of who God is and what he has done in my life, and who he is making me into. You think I am a great person, but that is not because of me. That is because of God and because of people who have poured into me and helped me grow and mature in the Lord. It is because the Bible is my guide when it comes to how I act and live my life and how I treat others. I am not inherently a good person! I am naturally just as selfish and unloving and stubborn as anyone. But with God, I am a new person, and am constantly being remade to be a better and more Godly person.  

I am sorry my dear friend if this came off as preaching or made you in any way angry. I just could not explain myself without explaining the basis for my entire worldview and life. Christianity is not just my religion. It’s not something I “practice” on Sunday’s for a few hours. No, instead being a Christian influences and makes up everything that I am. It is the core of my being, and holds my whole world together. Outside of it nothing makes sense and I would be a very lost person void of meaning.  
I think that is all that I have to say. No, I will not change the way I act towards you. I love you. I forgive you. I will not forsake you. I will do everything in my power to show you what Semper Fidelis (always faithful) actually means my dear friend, simply because that is what God has done for me.  

In Christ’s love,

Marissa

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:4-7

Listen to this song!

I am a Millennial, and here is why I left the church.

I grew up in a wonderful Christian home. I had two loving, present, smart, Godly, and fallible parents. I was homeschooled my whole life and raised going to our small town church every Sunday, and also every other day there was EVER a church event or gathering and which usually consisted of myself, my sister, my parents and about fifty elderly people. (Yay hymn sings and church camping trips!) I was the most active person in my youth group and went on every youth trip there ever was, even if I was the only person that went! I helped with children’s church, nursery, the worship team, VBS, and much more. After high school, I went to a Christian College and decided I loved working with youth so much that I should major in it! College was fun, hard, frustrating, challenging, and amazing. I found that some of my favorite classes were those where we got to discuss theology, philosophy and the Church. As I look back at college, some of my fondest and most missed memories are those where I sat around with friends and simply discussed deep topics, wrestling with what was right and true and looking for answers to turn idealism into reality. These discussions often left me filled with a mix of frustration and hope, because even though there is no way to truly fix our broken world, I knew that there were like minded people who also wrestled with and longed to make the world, and the church in particular, better and more efficient.  
After college however, I took a step back from church for a bit. After moving 5 times in 3 years, two six month long internships with Church youth groups, and a relationship with a guy who was “Christian” but lacking of any sort of spiritual fervor, I was left feeling a little alienated and “burned out” as Christians so often like to say. I tried a few churches here and there, but for about a year and half I felt almost no desire to go to church. There were many factors and excuses for this, from wanting to sleep in to not wanting to go alone, but deep down the truth was I just didn’t want to! 
Now let me just state that my faith in God has never once wavered. I cannot and will never get to a place where I believe that there is no God and no Jesus. I know that outside of God, life makes no sense; we as people have no value, no purpose, and nothing outside of our own existence. My parents made sure that I had a solid foundation and biblical worldview, and that influences everything I believe and say and do. Those core values I have never wavered on. However, as I left college and entered into an atmosphere where I was not surrounded by like-minded people, some of the things that I had held as “truths” began to be challenged. Things that I had been raised to believe were biblically based and were black and white slowly began to be challenged and morphed into gray. I was forced to truly examine the “why” of my beliefs, and to ask myself if what I believed to be a truth was truly what the bible said and meant, or if I believed something because all my life I had been TOLD that was something the bible taught. From issues ranging from modesty, to dating boundaries, to alcohol and much more, I had to ask why I believed what I did and if it was actually biblical or if it was simply a pharisaic/legalistic rule that started as a guideline for holiness, but was turned into an unquestioned law with disobedience of it resulting as a “sin”. Did I believe that drinking was a sin? The bible speaks of drunkenness as a sin, but even then to what extent? If I drink one too many glasses of wine and suddenly go from “buzzed” to drunk is that a sin? And if I drink that wine alone, in my room, and simply fall asleep in a drunken state, is that a sin? Or is it only if I drink around people and do something stupid or pass out naked like Noah? Or is it if I become a “drunkard” and neglect responsibilities and let alcohol take over my life and become an addiction? Many Christians have no idea where that “line” is, and so instead choose to simply run from something that might even lead them close to temptation instead of walk that tightrope and possibly “falling”or “tripping” with the tiniest misstep. It is easier to simply say, “don’t do it or even star down that path” and to teach that to the following generations, and then to sit back and judge those who do. Do what is right, and the church will interpret and dictate what “right” means for you. If you do not go along with their interpretation, you are looked down upon, gossiped about, and judged. I can say that this is what many Christians in the church do because I have done this and been a part of this myself! 

I grew up rather “innocent” since I was homeschooled and most of my interactions were with my church friends. I KNEW (or so I thought) what was wrong and what was right, and I judged my friends faith by their actions. I would sit back on my high horse and think, “I know for a fact that guy drinks alcohol, how can he raise his hands in worship and claim to be a Christian?” “That girl has had sex with her boyfriend, how can she stand on the stage and “lead” us in worship?” Yet these things were only whispered about, never once were they talked about openly or confronted with these people. And I knew that in truth, I was not 100% real either! I had secrets, I had sins that weighed on my conscious, and yet every time I was at church or around those people I would put on that same mask and walk into youth group and be that outgoing, innocent, spiritual girl that everyone expected of me. Through the years this only got worse, as I learned even better to hide my secret life and who I truly was. The key to not being judged was simply not getting caught. Throughout all of college I recall wrestling constantly with this idea of the “perfect Christian woman” that I wanted so badly to be, and with the fallible sinner that I knew I was. It was exhausting to be constantly wearing that mask of feigned righteousness, but it was better than the terrifying idea of removing the mask and showing others my true depravity. I knew what my fellow Christians would say and how they would judge me, and the people pleaser inside of my never ever likes to disappoint anyone or have someone think bad of me, yet I knew this would undoubtedly happen if I showed even a small part of my true self to those I went to school with, worked with at the church, or even my family.  
So between this exhausting charade, and having no place where I felt comfortable to discuss my questioning on the “why or why not”, I began to withdraw. Church was a chore to go to, and seemed simply like another thing I had been told all my life to do, even though I benefitted from it almost not at all. In fact it seemed to have nearly the opposite effect of what was desired, driving me to be “fake” and draining me instead of filling my soul. I longed for community, but not a church community where I was judged for disagreeing and questioning and “sinning”.  
I left my Christian college and after a few months moved to a “secular college town” where I was surrounded by a culture whose norm was partying, swearing, drinking, sex, and drugs. Nothing was taboo and no one judged you. No one pretended to be someone they were not. People were themselves and the need for a mask and secret life quickly dissolved. I was free from the eyes of those who had watched me grow up and who “knew” me and expected me to act a certain way. I was surrounded by non-Christians who asked “why” and didn’t have all the answers, but were free to question and challenge everything. Truthfully, for the first time in my life I felt free to be completely me and to explore who that truly was. With every mistake I made, I began to realize the judgmental hypocrite I had been in the past towards others, which also heightened my thankfulness for grace. In his book “Blue like Jazz”, Donald Miller tells a similar story about how in college, some of the greatest community he ever experienced was with people who were non-Christian, yet were the most accepting and loving people he had ever met. I suddenly began to understand what he meant, and realized that I wanted only friends who accepted me for ME, for the good the bad and the ugly. I wanted friends who loved me even though I showed them all of the darkest parts of me. Friends who accepted me and let me be myself and be honest, without judgment, even if they did not totally agree with me. For about a year and a half I did not go to church more than a handful of times, yet in that year and a half, I became a far more loving, humble, accepting, genuine person. I found and worked on developing those real friendships. I slowly started to reconcile myself and take that mask away. Then, after a devastating, heart breaking breakup with my boyfriend of a year and a half, I decided to once again move. I packed up and drove to California, and was actually excited to return to the church I had previously interned at 2 years before. I had experienced a really cool community at that church, and loved the worship and the pastor. The preaching was probably my favorite part of the church, because the pastor did not follow the normal expository, 3-point sermon outline. He preached in a way that captivated the audience and always revealed a new truth or perspective that one had not seen before. I was so excited to be back at this church, though a lot had changed, and wanted so badly to continue that honest community with people my age, only this time with Christ at the center of it. 
I could recognize by now that, while living in that college town, surrounded by people who I could truly be myself around, had helped my develop into a more genuine and less judgmental person, it did not help me grow spiritually or challenge me to go deeper in my relationship with God. I was developing as a person, but my spiritual growth was put on the sidelines. (Note: I am not saying this is necessarily good or bad or recommending that anyone else should do this, I am simply saying this was part of my journey and what I was going through.)  
So with a fresh perspective and a new start, I entered back into the church. Only to be thrust back into frustration, confusion and lostness when 3 months later the head pastor suddenly left, followed by the children’s/ young adult pastor. Things seemed to crumble apart within the church. There was no young adults ministry running when I had moved back, but I had been talking to the pastor about starting it again and there was a good group of young adults going to the church. However, this bombshell sent the church into semi-chaos, with half of the congregation leaving, which seemed to include about 80% of the people my age, and some ministries falling through the cracks. I again found myself questioning if this was truly where I wanted to be and why I even went to church, and again for about 3 months I slept-in instead of going. 
 However, I did stay active in the youth group because of the amazing connection I had made with some of the girls, and so I still felt like I was involved in a Christian community that helped and challenged me. The pain and anger of the loss of the pastors subsided, and after trying a few other churches, I realized that I still loved my original church and felt like God wanted me there. So I started going back, mostly for the few friends I had left and the girls in my youth small group. It is not an ideal church or even a great one, but in my youth group girls I have seen and found an acceptance and genuine love and I am able to be pretty honest and myself around them. They are so real sometimes that I envy them. They have nothing figured out and question everything openly and are still learning things. They can be crazy goofy and silly and funny, but also have far less of a filter than most adults and will break down crying in the middle of small group. They don’t hide when they are upset at church or put on a fake smile and pretend to always be happy. They are so young and innocent and confused, but they are blatant and obvious about it, and it is a breath of fresh air. Sometimes I can help them through their problems or questions, and other times I can simply hold them and cry along and say, “I have been there. I know what you are going through. And even I don’t have it all figured out, but God is real and can help.” They are open about their struggles, and yet they still accept each other and support one another. It is an incredible and beautiful thing to watch and be a part of, though with them I get to be in the mentor/ friend role and I am still searching for people my own age to share a similar community with. I have not found that yet, but I now know the type of genuine community that I am looking for, and if I can not find one already established, then I will continue working to create that with my own close friends.  

So why did I leave church? 

Because it is often fake; I grew tired of the charade of always being a good, redeemed, righteous Christian and never being allowed (or at least comfortable) to be a broken, confused, questioning sinner who still needed love and grace and acceptance without judgment. 
Because it was boring; I spent my life learning and studying the bible, so when I sat through a sermon at church, it was rarely something I had not heard before or did not know. My thought process was hardly ever challenged, nor was I provoked to question why I believed what I did and to get to the heart of a topic. Instead I usually walked away from a sermon with 3-point notes on “what we can learn from the woman at the well”, shallow points that rarely ever inspired the thought process or deep theological conversations like the ones I used to have in college. In fact, even at a young age still in high school, I went home frustrated and vented with my dad at the boring, depthless, almost waste of my time sermon I just had to sit through (Yes, that is exactly where I got it from. The Apple didn’t fall far from the tree in my case, though he did try sometimes to be a lot more positive about it than I). If I only knew what I had learned from sermons and Sunday school, I think I almost certainly would have abandoned my faith long ago and went on a search for something more “enlightened”.  
(Hang on with me in this next part as I rabbit trail a bit… I promise it is relevant and will make sense… I hope!”
Thank goodness for parents who made me study the bible, talked about it in great lengths, and forced us to sit through things like “The truth project”, even though I HATED it at the time and had the worst attitude about it! I thought “The Truth Project” was the most boring and terrible thing I had to watch EVER, and if I am honest, I basically slept through half of it. (If you have never seen it, I would HIGHLY recommend that you also sit your whole family down and torture your own kids with an hour each Sunday of watching this video series. It may be the best “terrible” thing you ever do to your family.) It is a mini series of lectures on apologetics, “an in-depth Christian worldview experience”. (If you are curious you can learn more Here. ) I managed to get my hands on it recently, over 10 years after I originally was forced to watch it. After I got home from church today, I decided to pop it into the dvd player while I did dishes and cleaned. However it was not long before I was completely captivated by it. This time I could actually appreciate and enjoy it! I sat here with my mind spinning, realizing how much the things that were being taught had formed my entire worldview and thought process. Things that I had not even realized I had learned or remembered yet were at the core of my belief system. Things that are so fundamental and that every person who calls themselves a Christian should know and believe, and yet things that are not talked about in most churches!  
Yet these very pillars of our faith, the things that influence everything we do and say and believe, are rarely talked about in an average sermon! And as I sat here listening and being thrust back into the same excitement as my days as a student, I realized the biggest reason why I lost my interest and desire to go to church:  

BECAUSE IT IS SHALLOW

Excluding my former pastor that left, nearly every sermon I have ever heard in my life was somewhere along the lines of “how to live life as a better Christian” including how to be thankful, loving, merciful, forgiving, etc. Here are the truths from this passage that you need to take and apply to your life to grow and be a better Christian. Almost never have I heard a pastor wrestle with ideas such as what does it truly mean to be a Christian? Or a human created in Gods image? What did the Biblical first century Church look like? What is evil? Who IS God? The truth is I don’t need to know how to be a better Christian. I need to know WHO God is. Because otherwise I just fall into legalism and focus on what I should and shouldn’t do, instead of focusing on who God is and how I can become more like him.
My journey has been rough and not ideal. It has led me away from God and the church, and then back again. I have loved Church and I have left church, and returned again. But I have never left my faith, and that is because my parents made sure to instill in me a firm foundation built on core, fundamental truths. The truth that there is a God who created us and loves everyone, who sent his son Jesus to redeem us from our sin that separates us from Him, and who offers reconciliation and a relationship, with the promise of then spending eternity no longer separated from His glory. I love and believe the gospel and the Bible, but I no longer blindly accept man’s interpretation of the Bible. I question every belief and practice, and test it with what God says and who He is. Romans 12:2 (NIV) says, “Do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” My mind and opinions are always being renewed, and I am always questioning the “patterns” that are already established in our world, especially in the present day “Christian” world, and I am testing those patterns to see if they align with God’s’ will. Is it God’s will for the church to preach messages that are boring and shallow? Is it his will for the congregation to meet once a week and put on a fake smile and fake persona and to all act like we have everything together and are perfect Christians? Is it His will for us to scorn, excommunicate, and judgingly gossip about a pastor who has sinned and had an affair? Or one who does not agree completely with our own personal theology?  
I readily admit that I don’t have all the answers, but I sure do have questions and I hope they spark some conversations that might lead to change. Don Miller recently wrote on his blog about how he actually doesn’t attend church very much because it doesn’t help him connect with God. (You can read it here.). The truth was, when I read this I could relate 100 percent! I don’t really get connected to God through the sermon or the worship at my church, though I do connect in many other ways like reading, writing, listening to music on my own or pod casts, ect… Yet I go to church for the community. Miller is lucky because he has strong community with Christians outside of the contemporary church service, but I have yet to find that. Many people criticized him, but I think that he was challenging this idea of what church really IS. I know this is almost a subject for a whole different blog post, but is church about the community and meeting of the body? Or is it about a traditional service that has simply become the pattern of our world, even though it seems to lack in depth and anything actually life changing?
I left church because for a long time it had nothing to offer me that I couldn’t get elsewhere. Truthfully, not much has changed, but now I have reasons beyond myself to go, for my youth group girls and the community with other friends and believers. I am learning how to become a genuine and honest person, and always working towards that goal of no longer being two people or wearing a mask. I am growing and developing as a person, and I am being transformed daily into someone who is more like God. I still falter, but I admit to my mistakes and I study them so as not to repeat them. I am constantly learning and moving toward that goal of becoming “me” in all that I am meant to be and as someone who reflects God to others. I don’t have everything figured out, but I have finally come to one conclusion about church: I don’t want to “go to” church anymore; I want to DO church. Now I just have to figure out what that truly looks like and how to get others on board with me…

*Disclaimer: This is only based off of my personal experiences, and does not apply to every church, pastor, congregation, and sermon. Just most of them…

The Tulip – A tale of love, loss and hope.

   It was a newly planted tulip. That first love. Its stalk grew fast and almost effortless like, cutting through the dirt that would keep it down, spurred on by the cheerful light of the sun. It grew and developed every day, not only enduring but thriving through the showers and storms. Every day could only make it better and more beautiful. When it finally blossomed it was a breathtaking and beautiful thing to behold. A mystery that such a small shoot at the begining could blossom into something so spectacular. Its aroma was sweet and inviting for all. Its color so vivid that no pen could fully convey its complex hues through words. It was the sort of beauty that every heart longs for, and when it is found the heart rejoices and desires to grasp onto it for an eternity.
But then the wind begins to change and blow. The bright summer suns cheer seems to fade into lethargy. The days grow shorter as the darkness of the night begins to overtake. Before the Tulip has hardly even realized these changes, its petals are gone and lie about it like bones, lifeless and useless. They serve now only as a painful reminder of the beauty that once was. The tulip begins to fade. It devoted its life to those petals, only to have the wind carelessly rip them away and leave the tulip baren and ugly, simply a green stalk now with nothing left to offer. The tulip surrenders to the cold, by now welcoming the frost that spreads. The ice that beings to form around it seems to bring only death, and by now, the once handsome tulip, is reduced to simply a bulb in the dirt. It embraces the pain that the ice brings, longing now for death. At least it can say it had it had a beautiful existence. It had lived its life and given everything to make its short time beautiful and meaningful. With this the tulip forever bids the sun goodbye and surrenders to the winter. Time is lost as the chilly winter continues day after day. Even the land seems to forget that joyus time of summer only a few months past. All seems lost to ice and death, with no hope of rejuvination.

 But there is always hope. The tulip feels a sudden prick of this hope when unexpectedly the sun seems to awaken from its slumber. It kisses the ground ever so softly with its rays. It begins to smile upon the snow, as if it is melting it with love. The snow that once was a symbol of desolation and death, begins to change into life giving water and trickles into the earth to wake the sleeping plants. Suddenly the little tulip feels something strange run through it, and it drinks of the water thirstily as it begins to reach for the sun. The golden rays seem to banish the melancholy of winter. Dreams of the dog days of summer and or beauty again begin to conspire. As it breaks to the surface and once again greets its friend the sun, the little tulip realizes that the winter it has just faced was never the end, but was only a season. The tulip realized how, though the winter had been hard and painful, it had been necessary for renewal, and the little tulip knew that it was now stronger and better due to what it had endured. With that the little tulip turned its face to the sun, and let the the joyful thoughts of the the new season to come envelop it. Though it would face many more winters, the tulip now knew that no matter how much snow fell, it would not be overcome. For there is always the HOPE of renewal.  

Never fear, IT is here!

Today is my friends last day at the company we both work at.  I actually got this part-time job because of him!  He is moving on and up to a company that is better suited for him and his goals, and I could not be more happy or relieved for him.   For months, even before I started working with him, I have listened to him complain almost endlessly about his job.  He is in IT so that means that most days are hectic and some days are just plain HELL for him.  Truthfully, I wouldn’t want his job in a million years, but luckily he really does enjoy working on computers and back up systems and other boring stuff.  However, what he does not enjoy is the constant requests of impatient and ungrateful people.  We depend on our technology for almost everything today (ESPECIALLY in the business world), from calendars on our cellphones to word documents on our computers, which unfortunately means that when these things stop working we tend to freak out… just a little.  So we call IT. “Help! Come quick! I have a million things to do today and I need my computer back up and running NOW, or sooner.”  I think we can all admit that we have given into our dark side whenever our technology is not working as expected.  Most of my childhood memories of my father were basically a rotation of him banging his desk, yelling “DANG NABBIT!”, or just screaming “AGGGHHHHHH” as he worked from home on his computer.  Luckily, his Mac now days is a lot more user friendly, so his phone gets the brunt of that.  But almost everyone can relate to that lost, panicked and angry feeling that rushes over you when your computer freezes and you lose that whole document you had been working on but forgot to save (which is still not an acceptable excuse for professors sadly).  Anyone that talks to you while this is happening is basically walking into a war zone just asking to be a target!  Luckily though, there are some brave soldiers that volunteer to run into these battle grounds and rescue us!  Never fear, IT is here!  Unfortunately, IT seems to rarely be treated as the hero in this situation.  People seem to forget who the enemy is and fire their anger at the very person who is trying to help them!  Our anger at the situation of fallible technology quickly turns to impatience towards the person who is not fixing it fast enough.  And heaven forbid there is a line of people before me with needs, because you me and my job is clearly the most important things here so I should be at the top of your list!

It is this attitude that my friend has faced day in and day out.  We have had extensive conversations about the way the people at this company have treated him, and the things he hated most was this entitled attitude of “me first”, and the ungratefulness of the people he helped.  I watched my friend pour his heart and soul into his job, working longer than 8 hour days, hardly eating, taking his work home with him and even driving the hour commute into work to do projects on the weekend!  He slaved away trying to update the systems and make them more dependable and fail safe; yet not once did I hear him complain about this.  It was simply about the people and how they did not appreciate his work, or even slightly comprehend how much he had done for them.  It is behind the scenes kind of work, and he was the puppeteer that kept the whole show running, yet received no credit.  This constant berate of impatience and ungratefulness wore him to the bone.  When I started my part time receptionist job, he had already worked at the company for months.  I was shocked that the person I saw at work was a completely different person.  The fun, mild mannered, “The office” quoting guy that I knew was replaced by a hunched over, zombie like looking person that wandered past my desk constantly looking dejected, tired and overwhelmed.  I tried in vain to lift his spirits, but it was nearly impossible and I soon learned to not even talk to him when he was in this state.  Previous to working with him, I thought perhaps he was just a rather negative worker or maybe made things seem really bad because he just had a bad attitude.  After I started working with him, I still didnt fully understand because the same people he had complained about for months were so nice and friendly towards me!  It wasn’t till I stopped to truly think about his situation and to listen to what he was really saying that I realized the problem.

So, I guess the point of this entry pretty much turned into be nice to your IT person!  When technology (or anything) makes you upset, take a second to calm down and make sure that your anger is not directed at the person trying to help you.  Yes, it may be their job to fix something, but it is NOT their job to deal with your anger or bad attitude, and while your needs may be urgent, you are NOT the most important person in the world, or maybe even your office.  Truthfully, most of your tasks can probably wait 10-15 minutes and you need to take a quick walk in the sunshine anyways because it will make you even more productive studies show.  What you can not afford to do is burn out the person who is trying to help you by aiming your impatience and anger at them.  They are people too, with just as many frustrations and things on their plate as you.  So take the time to stop and actually recognize how they are helping you.  EXPRESS your gratitude to them, not simply with a flippant “thanks”, but with a heartfelt “Thank you so much for your time and effort and for getting to me so fast! You are a life saver!”.  Make them feel like the hero that they are, and maybe every now and then try to go beyond just saying thank you and show your appreciation.  Like I wrote in my last entry, find a way that you can truly brighten their day, instead of pulling them into the darkness that you may be in.  It will not only make you feel better than being angry would have, but could also save that other person from getting burned out and after awhile giving up and leaving for another job.  Choose to make the environment that you work in a positive one, and people will not only stay, but will thrive.

So to my IT friend who is leaving today, I wish you all the best and I hope that your new job is wonderful and encouraging.  I hope you are surrounded by people that are patient and grateful, and that truly appreciate your hard work and make you feel like a hero, because you are!  Thank you for being brave enough to handle people at their worst, and for still doing your best. Thank you for all the times you have rescued me from the evils of technology, and for the insane amount of work that you put into this place.   We may not see it, but this company and place will be better every day from here on because of the work that you did.  We are blessed in ways you can not imagine simply because you “did your job”.  Good luck and you will be greatly missed!

To any other readers, who do you need to stop and thank today?