Keep Your Eyes on Your Own Work

My elementary school teachers often hummed about the classroom during a test, reminding us to keep our eyes on our own work. This reminder was for the purpose of re-directing any misguided temptation to cheat by looking to another’s work and stealing their answers. Aside from the obvious moral issues of cheating and stealing – what would happen if our teacher gave each of us a different exam? Stealing answers from our neighbor became an instant fool’s journey.

If this scenario is obvious, why do we try to cheat in our own lives? We are constantly looking over and comparing our lives and stories to those around us to verify that we are “on the right track” or meeting proper milestones at the appropriate time.

If you’re anything like me you’ve been lucky to have one or maybe a number of people who have had a significant impact on your life. As a high school student I wrestled with the idea of going into ministry as a woman, and so I shadowed women in ministry all around my city over the course of two weeks my junior year – these were women who held a variety of positions and all had a very unique, individual journey. For a few, they ended up exactly where they always thought that they would be, but for the majority this was not the case, they had other pursuits and plans. I desperately wanted to be just like each of them in my future — teaching, leading, and disciplining others. I held tightly to their stories as though I possessed the secret to success, the golden tickets.

One of these mentors challenged me to be sure to live my own story, to learn from other yes, but don’t try to copy or re-create someone else’s story. “You’ll fail every time,” she said. “We’ve all been uniquely gifted and created, God has a story for you and you only.”

These words of wisdom have stuck with me a decade later. In an effort to desperately make sense of the ambiguity of the future and to be prepared (I like to be in control and prepared…anyone else?), at times I’ve found myself trying to copycat others stories as I journey through my own. Our stories do not work that way; however, and instead of fighting it, I am thankful to be celebrating contentedness in this place where God has me right now for today. Not trying to rush ahead to the next milestone or looking over at my neighbor’s career path and comparing it to my own.

Don’t get me wrong, we should be evaluating our life and purpose, asking the Lord what he would have next and being obedient, but that’s it – we are accountable to God alone. Obey and do the next thing. A decade later, I am indeed teaching, leading, and disciplining, but certainly not how I pictured it years ago as a little 17 year old.

We have got to stop using our friends’ timeline for engagement, marriage, promotion, babies, graduate school, careers, moving cities, and buying a home as a measuring stick for your own story.

We have each been given our own unique story – stop comparing and keep your eyes on your own work…the tests are different.

Back to School

It’s that time of year again – the time of year where school supplies is still fresh: folders crisp and crayolas are still pointy. Students vow to keep up with their studies while balancing friendships and set new goals for this brand new school year. Moms claim that this will be the year that homework gets in on time and all after school snacks will be healthy, tasty, and organic. Educators have high hopes to meet learning objectives, complete endless to-do lists on time, while engaging in meaningful interactions with their students.

Come October (or maybe earlier), crayons are now stubby, students are pulling all-nighters, super-mom is exhausted, and educators are praying they make it until fall break. We look at our neighbors, peers, colleagues, and friends who seem to still be going strong and feel defeated.

And so it goes, each fall.

Preparation for the back to school rush has been going strong since July for this university professional, and I am already tired. I’ve done this back-to-school pattern numerous times as a student and a number of times as a professional and it’s always the same. Our society and culture doesn’t set us up well in scheduling rest and valuing a slower pace. I am not advocating for laziness, but I am learning it is time to take a step back.

It seems that the past few weeks I have engaged in numerous conversations about exhaustion, busy schedules, non-stop pace, the importance of good sleep, and the value of Sabbath. We continue to run ourselves ragged cramming more and more things…and possibly all good things into our days. In my downtime, I often am multi-tasking in an effort to be productive and relax at the same time…(that usually doesn’t happen) and by the time I sit down or rest my head on my pillow…my body may have stopped, but my mind is still sprinting. Constant activity rules our lives.

We live in a culture of fear.

Fear of not being good enough. Fear of failing. Fear of letting people down (friends, family, supervisors…maybe even strangers). Fear of not doing enough. Fear of not measuring up. Fear of not being the perfect [mom, student, child, friend]. Fear of missing out …admit it, we all have a little FOMO now and again.

I believe these fears motivate our behavior. We shut down and actively avoid confronting our fears or we make ourselves crazy, scurrying around in a constant state of doing in an effort to prevent our fears from coming true. Neither option is beneficial.

What is the worst thing that could happen if we said “no” to more items on our to-do list and “yes” to intentional rest of mind and body? I have been challenged to consider the feasibility of giving, helping, and doing when I am worn-out and ragged, the result doesn’t pan out well.

What good is another coffee date if I am going to be too distracted to be present or another week of customized, organic bento box school lunch and PTA commitments if I am going to be too tired or busy to savor little moments with kids, or another work project if I am going to be too overloaded to offer creativity and honest commitment?

I need to give God my first fruits and be obedient to the things to which he has called ME. When fears motivated from comparison, pride, and insecurity surface, remember that God is calling you to be in relationship with him and to pursue his will for you with your best. Not your neighbor’s best, your roommate’s best, your friend’s best, your sibling’s best, and not even all those people on facebook, instagram or twitter’s best…your best, your calling. The pursuit of anything else is futile.

When we slow down, we make space to hear from God and learn of his will and have a divine guideline to help determine what items on our to-do list fulfill our purpose. What’s even more, when we slow down and make space to hear from the Lord, he provides sustenance and strength to pursue his daily calling for us and that carries us through the inevitable chaos in life.

Flight 2448

This past month I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Europe with my family. Our European holiday was a delightful adventure filled with cobblestone streets, massive cathedrals, captivating art, and leisurely lunches al fresco. As our trip came to a close, I was ready to return home and re-engage with the productivity of work.

I settled in my seat and clicked my belt. My final flight until I would be home, jetlagged and a little disoriented, the hour and a half trip couldn’t pass quick enough. Our flight had been delayed already and passengers were anxious to get in the air…and then it came, the dreaded announcement over the speaker, “this is your captain speaking we are delayed due to in climate weather. The airport is shut down currently, no flights going out or coming in.” So we waited.

6 hours later, we were still waiting.

At first it appeared to be the best social experiment or Punk’d prank, I kept thinking to myself “all I can do is laugh.” The captain would tell the flight attendants to prepare for departure, we’d all buckle up and get settled, and 3 minutes later the captain would announce that we were preparing for arrival and not departing. This happened about 7 times.

So imagine, 6 hours later with 200 plus tired, hungry, frustrated passengers – most had abandoned their filters and all of us lost our emotional regulation to a degree. There was crying, yelling, and a hotbed of rudeness.

After I disembarked the plane, I made a b-line to try and find accommodations for my ragged, jetlagged self. I chatted cordially with two women as I waited in line at the customer service desk, we empathized with each other over the evening’s events and discussed our hope of arriving at our final destinations. One woman was pushing the other in a wheelchair and I made the assumption that the women were mother and daughter. I was corrected by the older woman in the wheelchair, “oh no, this…is my angel. I am traveling alone and the two of us happen to sit across the aisle. She’s trying to get us a hotel room and has been so helpful.” With tears in her eyes the elder woman finished, “I don’t know what I would have done without her. She’s my angel.”

In the past month the heaviness and reality of life has made itself known in the lives of many of my friends: unexpected illnesses, mental health crises, death, divorce, addiction, and the list continues. And everyone is vehemently sharing their opinions on social media about decisions being made by our government. Isis is threatening our country and the lives of my brothers and sisters. Our world feels bleak, just look at your social media.

We truly live in a fallen world – something that has been historically stated since the beginning of sin. Every generation consistently seems to think that their time in history is the worst the world has seen. This consistency yields a spirit unrest, fear, and ambiguity in each generation.

We serve a consistent and sovereign God, unchanged across generations. What I love about our faithful God is that he blesses his people with glimmers of hope, the gift of his character revealed among the bitterness of life. Like the angel on flight 2448.

Us and Them

Us and them

“men are like chocolates…wait too long and only the weird, nutty ones are left”

Hand towels with quips and quotes like these line the towel racks of the bathrooms in my parents’ home. I always leave one of the bathrooms chuckling or smirking at the cunning little sayings, they’re funny and I love them…in fact I may have helped pick out a few.

But back to the men are like chocolates thing… I was at home for a significant amount of time this past year and this saying caught me after awhile, and honestly I’m beginning to believe it’s really true. Sometimes it feels like I live in this world sandwiched between those navigating life’s milestones well and oddballs…or am I becoming the weird nutty one?

I’m a single, twenty-something post grad adult. I have a solid job and work hard… where do I belong? Where is my place in the church? I’m not newly married, or even engaged, so young married group doesn’t fit. I’m not in college anymore…in fact, I have my Masters and use it in my job to discipline, counsel, and mentor college students….I can confidently say, I’m in a different place…so where do I fit?

Where does any single, post-grad, twenty or thirty-something fit in the church? I am finding in more and more conversations with friends that their church feels like the loneliest part of their life. It’s exacerbated by this “us and them” mentality that is apparently woven through our Christian culture. Don’t get me wrong…single adults do it too…we allow the “us and them” ideology to continue. And I accept that there are certainly pieces of life that I won’t understand until I am married or having children of my own, but that does not make me less of an adult or human. It sounds ridiculous to type, but believe it or not, this is the message being sent to single adults: “You are not fully an adult, you are not mature, you are not welcome until you’re married.”

Single or married, it takes courage to walk in this world as a believer…and I don’t know about you, but I would rather do it in community, a community known as the Church.

Life constantly separates us into categories, but I do believe there is a time and a place for “women’s, men’s, children’s, youth, newly married, young family, hill-toppers, etc.” ministry as we can identify with those navigating similar seasons and circumstances. I respect that, but are we not the body — a whole body that was designed to be united?

No community is perfect; however, my church in Los Angeles did a fantastic job with this – community groups were based on location and open to the family. I found that it encouraged me to live daily life in community God had provided.

This may feel more like a rant than a well-thought out composition because it really is a topic that weighs heavy on my life and holds significant relevance. This relevance crosses state lines and is a pervasive topic among my peers. All humans have a deep desire for community: to be known and do life together. There is not clear delineation of ownership and responsibilities for the “us and them’s” because the entire body needs to take ownership and action.

What will you do?

26. Practicing Gratitude.

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I am about to usher in my 26th year of life. It’s a little daunting to be on this side of 25…the other side, it sounds dark and menacing, but it’s really not too bad… more days than not I am confident about who I am and who God created me to be. I understand pain in a deeper way and find immense appreciation for the sweet, joyful moments of life. I’m slowly learning to let go with each passing year and never stop embracing my quirky uniqueness. I avidly pursue living authentically in a vulnerable community and am blessed with relationships that help me better understand who God is. Twenty-six isn’t so bad.

“Gratitude. Choose joy. Be present. Abide in Him.” My little mantras for life and right now I’m focusing on practicing gratitude.

I have had 25 years full of incredible people who have provided care, support, development, and relationships. Dirty diapers, manners, Jesus, and subtraction; laughter, tears, mistakes and success; performances, car rides, the dinner table; sleepovers, vacations, late night chats; and coffee…oh, so much coffee. So many moments in life where people have deeply shaped and influenced the woman that I am today and I believe that it is time to say thank you.

I find myself scrolling through facebook, instagram, and twitter catching up on the lives of people I’ve shared a piece of life with in the past or present. My mind often wanders and I get caught up reflecting on memories and defining moments, and consider the ways that these wonderful people have taught me about life and impacted my journey forever. It’s great that I am thankful for these relationships, but what good is it if those thoughts stay in my head, my abounding gratitude never to be known. I’ve decided I want the people that have influenced me most to know just how thankful I am and why.

So I am. Today I’m mailing about 28 thank you notes and seeking to say, “thank you” more often.

Twenty-six isn’t so bad because I have so many people to thank.

Practice Gratitude.

The Lighthouse: a note to college grads

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I grew up over looking the shores of Lake Michigan. There is a remnant of an old lighthouse that used to sit out far in the middle of the lake. Each year two men would be selected to live in and run the lighthouse; they were dependent on boats to bring food, supplies, and provide transportation. During the frigid Wisconsin winters, the lighthouse attendants were surrounded by the cold, frothy whitecaps and icy, dark water. Isolated. Alone.

I was talking to a friend who recently graduated from college and I can’t help but believe that a lot of college grads share a similar experience with feeling alone, like the lighthouse.

Often for the first time in a young adults’ life the true experience of loneliness and isolation is encountered. They no longer live with their gal pals or the bros and do not have access to peers at every turn. Where did my community go and how do I find it again? I often hear people say.

This loss of community coupled with a drastic move across the country, a demanding entry-level position, feeling stagnant and stuck in the same town, or a dizzying approach to discovering and often re-discovering one’s calling can be extraordinarily discouraging. It becomes easy to hide away, order take-out, delve into Netflix making Joey, Pheobe, Monica, Chandler, Rachel and Ross your closest friends, all while scrolling through Facebook and Instagram watching your college friends live thrilling and productive lives.

Does this hit home for anyone besides me?

The lesson I learned and clinged to after college was DO SOMETHING! Do your best to be active in your use of time and place God has given you:

  • Find a church and get involved.
  • Not too happy with your job or thinking about changing directions? Network – ask people who are in your field of interest to coffee, hear their story and make a connection. Volunteer your free time in that field to build your resume. You can’t sit around and wait for the perfect job or you’ll still be sitting for years to come
  • Find a mentor
  • You want to meet people? Join a community organization that fits your interest; take a class for fun; volunteer; join a gym; choose to eat your dinner at the restaurant’s bar and get to know the person sitting next to you.
  • Find something productive to occupy your time. Most I know have a list of books they say they’d like to read when they get the time – now is your chance. Explore the place you live! Engage in a hobby or activity that you’ve wanted to learn or improve. For me it was cooking and writing, but it the options are endless. Set goals to keep yourself motivated.
  • Be intentional with the friends you want to keep, this can be a full time job by itself. Sending texts of thoughtfulness and regularly scheduling phone or skype dates is important if you expect to maintain relationships – they’ll either grow or go and this is the season that determines that
  • Don’t rush your time with the Lord. It’s okay to feel alone, tell God how you feel and ask him to remind you of His presence each day.

Make the most of where you are and expect that God will meet your needs, He has given you this season for a reason.

I am encouraged when I remember that God provides our daily bread. He gives us all that we need and we were not created to live life alone. I believe that God provides community – the key is to actively look for it and receive it with open hands. I never would have expected my most life-giving community in Los Angeles to be a young family, but it was exactly what I needed and what the Lord provided. From first glance, it looked like opposite stages of life, grad school versus team potty training, and yet life together was so incredibly impactful. Our culture and the church often categorize us according to distinct life stages, while sometimes appropriate, I think it prevents us from engaging in the everyday together. Be open to receive God’s gifts of community even if it is not what you expected.

And absolutely, I had and still do experience lonely, isolating moments mirroring that of the old lighthouse in Lake Michigan. I find myself saying, “Okay God, it’s you and me,” and that’s the beautiful thing, even at our loneliest and most isolated we are never alone. Let the Lord comfort you in your loneliness, give you strength to live this post-college life well, and provide courage to grow greatly where you are today.

Christmas Lessons

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Just about a week and a half ago, Colbie Caillat’s Christmas in the Sand album seemed ever-so relevant. In West Palm Beach it’s all about the sand tree and Sea-Suns greetings. My dear friend believes that she did in fact see Santa in his bathing suit.

I am now back in the Midwest celebrating Christmas in Wisconsin, home for the holidays. I flew into General Mitchell airport in Milwaukee and landed amongst a grey fog. The white snow covered yard that I had hoped I’d be coming home to turned out to be sunless days of peaked grass and icy mist; the kind of weather that beckons for a roaring fire in the fireplace and a hot mug to hold and warm frigid hands.

This morning I woke up to a sliver of a sunshine blaze lining the horizon. I sighed with relief knowing the sun was planning to appear today. It provided hope and relief to what had been a blistering, cold, wet week. The sun’s appearance provided the calm of a deep breathe, it felt like cool water quenching a parched body; such reprieve to this sun-spoiled Florida dweller. I reflected on the hope and relief of the sun on this peaceful, holiday season morning, but the bliss of this sun-soaked morning was such a miniscule taste of the everlasting peace that God gifted to the world many years ago. The hope, peace, and joy that the birth of Jesus brought to this world is truly incomprehensible. What liberation and call for celebration for this weary, grace-needing sinner!

Whether in the Florida sun or wintery Midwest, I choose to hold on to peaceful, hope-filled mornings like this one, because they provide tangible reminders of God’s faithfulness. Tomorrow, I will walk with into my family’s Christmas Eve service with immense gratitude remembering this morning.

‘Tis the Season

The day before Thanksgiving I went to Trader Joe’s, one might say this was a decision rooted in pure stupidity. The parking lot was full…of crazy people who were just as crazy as me for going to the grocery store that Wednesday. The store itself was packed with people scurrying around and blocking aisles. Others were running back and forth from the checkout line grabbing things they forgot on their list. “Tis the season,” the cashier stated.

Then it dawned on me. Everyone is in the store running circles around each other all for the purpose of practicing and celebrating gratitude with family and friends the following day.

This thought occurs to me every year…and a lot of other people too. It certainly isn’t new under the sun. Putting it into practice; however, is a whole different scenario.

What is even more humorous and amusing, I had just had conversations with friends and family about how content and at peace I was, celebrating God’s faithfulness and His provision of hope-filled moments; choosing a joyful heart and contentment over disgruntled bitterness and stress of things to come.

I hate to admit that I didn’t learn my lesson from that Trader Joe’s outing.

During the Thanksgiving break I started updating my planner…and in shear panic, beads of sweat gathered around my forehead, as I looked at all that the next months had in store for me. December- holiday hustle and bustle; January – new semester with practically every week jammed to the max, February – no less crammed for responsibilities and activity. I experienced something similar to “syllabus shock” the first week of classes in college. That stomach-knotting, overwhelming view of all that has to get done. Why do we do this to ourselves? I find that so often, I allow stressors, frustrations, and the busyness of life to erode my joy and contentment. I can’t help but believe that I am not alone.

Contentment is a precious gift, arguably one of the most rare gifts experienced by humanity. If this is so, I don’t want to lose it.

I want to be the joyful, content me wherever I am. Wherever God has placed me today, I want to be the best me and actually enjoy it! Enjoy the moment and enjoy the people…not arrive haggard and not-so present. As we move deeper into this holiday season, inching our way toward Christmas, the calendar is no less full, but I am taking the words of Jim Elliot to heart, “wherever you are be all there.” I encourage you to do the same, be present and enjoy where you are….even those long lines at Trader Joe’s.

Back to Basics

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Back to basics

On Saturday I went to the bar — the Genius Bar.

For those of you who are Apple lovers and Mac people you know that this experience often results in a range of not-so-great news or just plain terrible news. My laptop will be spending it’s week in the hands of the geniuses.

So, here I sit, at the coffee shop. No computer. Pencil in hand writing on a legal pad. Back to basics. Pencil. Paper. No distractions from notifications, messages, or emails.

Lately I’ve been re-discovering basics — simple truths, really. Mostly about obedience and trust, and how simple God’s truth is; how I allow my human mind and desires to make it a messy, complicated, tangled web.

Obedience is my worship to the Lord, out of immense gratitude for His unrelenting and incomprehensible grace.

Grace. Truth. Obedience. Worship.

My mom always says “obey and do the next thing” — it’s one of those sayings like like “eat the elephant one bite at a time,” but I find comfort in it. Obey and do the next thing.

So simple, back to basics. Obedience, this is all God asks us to do. I want my body to be a living sacrifice; I want my actions and behaviors to be a spiritual act of worship.

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” I used to sing this in Sunday school with all the might a kindergartener can muster. I’m not sure why as I get older I seem to make it more complicated. Truth and life, meaning and purpose, they feel like a philosophers’ unquenchable quest, never to be understood — and therefore the drive behind my actions should be the same: an inward battle between thoughts and feelings, theory and fact, shoulds and wants, all drowning in theological rhetoric. In reality, it’s simple. So simple even a child can understand.

Mac-less, with pencil and paper, I’m getting back to the basics. Things I know, but tend to complicate with worry, control, and pride.

Trust and obey.

Back to basics.

Fresh Starts and New School Supplies

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Fresh Starts and New School Supplies

The end of summer is travesty to some, but frankly, I like the fall – maybe it’s being stuck within the scholastic time-table, but it seems to me that some of the best changes and freshest starts happen during autumn. As a kid, I got new school supplies: a spanking new box of Crayolas, a bright, unworn Lisa Frank folder, and still to this day I appreciate new, freshly-sharpened no. 2 pencils (thank you, Nora Ephron, for You’ve Got Mail).

In perfect timing with the change of season, this blog is now fresh and new. In the same way fall up north brings changes in sights and sounds, I am launching twentysomething with the hope of a fresh pallet to depict stories, share lesson learned (and those I am still learning), and celebrate living in community…which for those of you who know me, often happens around the table.

Once again, I’m embracing a change in season for my blog, hoping you will too and anticipating the change in season here in West Palm Beach.

I’m finding many people in Florida are desperately wishing it were weather-appropriate to pull out boots and scarves, but I’m going to pretend and drink pumpkin spice lattes anyway…