10 Quotes that Changed My Life in 2013

Words are powerful. Sometimes, people say things that sear themselves into your memory, for good or ill. You’ll never forget where you were when they were spoken, or how they made you feel, and you’re a changed person because the depth that they conveyed introduced you to a reality you hadn’t seen before. 2013 was a year of significant growth for me, and I am indebted to those who have shaped me along the way. So without further ado, here are the 10 quotes (and one picture) that changed my life.

“Things will never go back to normal. You’re changed because of the people you’ve met and the things you’ve experienced. There’s a new normal that incorporates all of that and how it’s shaped the way you look at life.”

Specifically, this quote was about the difficulty of moving on with life after a life-changing mission trip. As obvious as it may sound, this was so freeing as I realized I didn’t have to ‘move on’ – that is, I didn’t have to choose between two realities. I could embrace the new and let it make the rest of my life even more amazing. And so far, it has.

“You may not have heard this a lot growing up, but you’re gifted to preach. Don’t ever let anyone tell you otherwise.”

If I could point to one life-changing moment in 2013, this is probably it. I can still point to the specific table in Starbucks where I was sitting when these words made my heart skip a beat. Until March of this year, I had never really given much thought to public speaking.  Ironic, then, that it has somehow become one of my most apparent ministry gifts. My knees were shaking as I walked to the podium that Sunday in March – bad combination with six-inch heels – and saw 600 faces looking back at me. And then I found my voice. Sometimes it takes other people to discern a calling for you, and without one man’s faith in my ability, I never would have thought of myself as (what?!) a preacher. To those who have supported, encouraged, and affirmed me along the way – you’ve changed my life.

“We need more people like you in the churches of Christ.”

Me? Church of Christ? I spent the first 3 years of college becoming convinced that those two didn’t fit together. But a fellow misfit — an abstract, artsy youth minister in a tradition of intellectuals who nevertheless believed in belonging — thought differently, offered me a job, and supported me through the growing pains of discovering a unity that transcends uniformity.

“It’s so obvious that God had a purpose in bringing you here.”

We all have those times when we wonder if we’ve actually made a difference – especially when we feel more like we’ve made a mess of things. But God brings beauty from the broken. I was sitting on a wooden bench with my aunt watching an incredible sunset over the water when she spoke these words. Yet, even more affirming than the words themselves may have been the tears that gave voice to my own depth of emotion.

“Find a husband to share life with, because even an independent girl like you will get lonely trying to go it alone. Don’t be in a rush — slow down and enjoy life. When you have a decision to make, ask yourself 2 things: Is it best for you, and will it hurt other people? God’s picked me up and dusted off my britches after too many selfish mistakes. And go out and look at the stars on clear nights, and see which ones are looking back at you.”

This is advice from an 88-year-old WWII veteran who joined the Navy at 15, fought as second loader at Iwo Jima, and came back and started a successful business without a high school education. I figured it would be wise to pay attention.

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A picture is worth a thousand words, right? This picture will always stay with me. Pope Francis looks at a crowd and sees individuals whose pain is very real. Learn to truly see people, and truly love them.

“Take pain and doubt with you as your companions. Say to them, ‘You can come with me if you want, but we’re moving forward.'”

Reid Hillin, Woodmont Hills college minister. He claims to have paraphrased this from another source, but either way, it’s a powerful concept. Let pain shape you and change you, but never control you. Life doesn’t have to be put on hold while you try to figure things out – live wholeheartedly, if imperfectly.

“I see people. They look like trees walking around.”

Mark 8:24. This is a text that I preached on for my Communicating the Gospel class, and this unlikely quote from my good friend Second Touch Blind Guy has changed the way I look at those around me. Do I see others imperfectly, distorted through the lens of my prejudices and cultural biases? Or do I love and appreciate their uniqueness and individuality?

“You know what disgusts me the most about Christianity? Grace.”

This was a little unexpected – and a lot thought-provoking. People have all sorts of pet evangelism methods – as if one size fits all! “Just tell people they’re going to hell without the grace of God!” Well, it changes things up a little when grace itself is the barrier to belief. Maybe evangelism – which simply means sharing good news, and is not at all synonymous with ‘conversion’ – is more about listening and understanding than it is about shoving a pre-packaged philosophy down someone’s throat and expecting them to think the same way you do.

“It would be difficult being with you, but it would be worth it.”

You asked me when I started to change my mind about you. And although I told you I couldn’t pinpoint a specific moment, this might be the closest one. As I recall, you also said that you read my blog posts hoping for a shout-out. Here it is, and I hope you’re reading, because this is about as close as I get to PDA. Thank you for loving me for who I am.

I’ve heard the first part of this quote more times than I can count, but never amended by the second half. It can be difficult for feminists such as myself to find a man who accepts the fact that we will never be domesticated creatures, yet still has his own clearly defined sense of self. These words prove that you are both. They reflect honesty and careful evaluation of the cost as well as a deep appreciation for the return. Although they might not be considered super romantic by some standards, they were to me.

“I love you.”

To anyone who has said this to me over the past year, it never gets old. These words are always life-giving and sustaining, and I could never have made it this far without the genuine love and support of so many people. May this new year be filled with abundant blessings, and may you find beauty in pain as well as joy, in failures as well as successes. Continue to love well, and change the world around you. I love you all.

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Published in: on January 1, 2014 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Forever Changed

I was sitting in a coffee shop in Nashville, hearing the pleasant chatter of others and the clink of dishes in the background, smelling the rich aroma of coffee and cookies.  The last 10 minutes of one-on-one conversation had given me a far deeper respect for the man across from me than I could have imagined, and as the clock ticked away the minutes, I felt a desperate need to gain as much wisdom from him as I could before our time ran out. I leaned forward with my elbows on the table, looking at him with tears starting to glisten in my eyes as I asked quietly, “What happens when things go back to normal?”

He smiled at me with the understanding of age and experience. “Things will never go back to normal,” he answered simply. “I’m changed because I’ve met you.  You’re changed because of what you experienced and the people you met in Scotland.  There’s a new normal that incorporates all of those experiences and how they’ve shaped the way you look at life.”

In that moment, he had perfectly put into words everything that had been tearing me apart over the past couple of weeks.  I hadn’t been able to put the puzzle pieces together into a new, reshaped version of myself because the trip was so short and my thoughts so scattered.  This wasn’t like camp, where I was there long enough to see myself change and track my progress through journaling.  Instead, all I’ve been able to do is cry and feel lost.  But suddenly I could breathe again, realizing that things don’t have to go back to normal.  They can’t go back to normal.  I couldn’t forget even if I wanted to, so I may as well accept the fact that I’m changed and embrace the new normal.  I won’t see these people again for a very long time, but I don’t have to let it hurt, because their footprints will always be on my heart.  They’ve changed me; and most importantly, God has changed me.

There’s a line from the Casting Crowns song The Well that I always return to after an experience like this: “Now that you’re full of love beyond measure, your joy’s gonna flow like a stream in the desert.  Soon all the world will see living water is found in Me, because you’ve come to the Well.”

Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that this conversation took place at The Well.  And maybe…maybe there’s no such thing as “normal” after all.  Life isn’t static.  Life is a journey full of ups and downs and experiences that change the course of our lives.  Maybe we just have to let go of control and change with it, letting every moment define us in a unique way.

Scotland collage

Published in: on April 2, 2013 at 7:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Paradigm Shift

Throughout the years, culture changes result in paradigm shifts.  It always takes a generation or two to assimilate to the change, but once it happens, future generations look back and wonder how their ancestors could have been so short-sighted, how they could have given into cultural expectations that clearly go against God’s standard.

The truth is, we all wear glasses that filter out the colors of racism and oppression and prejudice and even murder — we know they exist, but we don’t see them as a part of what we do.  It’s surprisingly easy to rationalize whatever it is that our culture deems okay — and in some cases, even to support it by Scripture.  Our glasses are great at proof-texting while filtering out the larger context.  Sadly, our humanity makes us literally incapable of removing ourselves from the culture enough to see the true horror of what we do.  Perhaps the saddest part about this is that very few Christians are actually a set-apart people of the Word.  They are products of their culture who interpret their religion based on their preconceptions.

Think about slavery.  Living in our current culture, several generations removed from the oppression of slavery, we’re horrified at the thought of it.  But in the pre-Civil War era, it was perfectly acceptable to own another person; it made perfect sense to them.  It was necessary for the economy, and probably even better for the welfare of the slaves themselves.  Scripture even condoned slavery.  They had no concept of what it would be like not to own slaves: how would they get dressed in the mornings? how would they harvest cotton? how could they live without this crutch they so heavily depended on?  So because they knew no different, life continued as normal until slavery was abolished, the societal structure was reset, and the cultural paradigm shifted.  And the world did not end.  People learned to live without their crutch.

Even after abolition, though, the Jim Crow laws were nearly as bad.  Today, as we live and work alongside our African-American friends, we ask how in the world they could have been arrested for drinking out of the wrong water fountain.  Our minds literally cannot grasp such a thing; but back then, they couldn’t grasp how it could be any other way.

Think about women’s rights.  The oppression of women stemmed from the southern ideal of “true womanhood” — a woman was the prized possession who needed to stay at home and stay out of public affairs.  As this mentality took over southern culture, it too was given religious affirmation: Paul said women should remain silent, so this made sense.  Never mind the examples of women teaching and prophesying and leading in Scripture.  The cultural glasses expertly edit that out.  Here’s just one example of this mindset, from R.C. Bell, from the publication The Way in 1903: “Woman is not permitted to exercise dominion over man in any calling of life.  When a woman gets her diploma to practice medicine, every Bible students knows that she is violating God’s holy law…God forbids her to work in any public capacity…She is not fitted to do anything publicly.”  However, in the late 19th and early 20th century there was more of a move toward gender equality and women’s suffrage.  With this paradigm shift, people began to realize that the world actually wouldn’t end if women taught school and pursued education and a career.  They were right.  It didn’t.  Now we can’t even fathom the sort of mindset that would forbid women to vote just because they are women.

Think about Jesus’ death at the hands of the Jews.  Their cultural expectation was of a political Messiah who would restore the kingdom to Israel.  Jesus was obviously not that, so He was a blasphemer.  We wonder how they could have been so stupid, but let’s face it: if we were in their shoes, growing up with the same preconceptions,

we too would have shouted, “Crucify!”

Even think about the Holocaust.  It was presented as being a good idea — rid the world of minorities, and the handicapped, and those who were a burden to society, to let the master race emerge.  We wonder how in the world people could have been okay with the mass slaughter of millions of innocent people in the name of a superior social structure.

Kinda makes you wonder how in the world people can be okay with the mass slaughter of millions of innocent people in the name of a woman’s right to choose.

You see, we can’t help getting swept into the stream of culture.  These mindsets become so deeply ingrained as a part of who we are, that we can’t imagine life any other way.  In every generation there are a few who dare to dream of things being different, and these are the ones who change the world.  But for the most part, we’re a sad lot of mindless cattle following the herd.  Generations from now, what will our descendants say about us in disbelief and disgust?

How could they have been so wasteful with their resources?”

How could they have tried to ‘fix’ gay people?”

How could they have thought it was okay to abort a baby?”

For one moment, try to take off the glasses and ask these questions.

It’s so hard for us to imagine what life would be like without our cultural mindsets, but the truth is, Jesus called us to look beyond the comfortable.  To think outside the box.  To travel the narrow and difficult road.  This is precisely why so few are able to enter the Kingdom: it’s freaking difficult to find.  I think it’s much harder than we’ve assumed all these years.  Living Kingdom life requires that we take a good hard look at “the way we’ve always done it.”  We have to ask the difficult questions and upset the status quo if we are to be truly not of this world.  Living this way is offensive to the world, because we stand against the tide of culture.  This is why early Christians were martyred: they were seen as a threat to the social system and the established order.  Have you ever wondered why we fit in so well these days?  Because we love our culture.  We immerse ourselves in it.  The media, the consumerism, the politics.  As Pastor Steve Berger once said, “If we’re not being persecuted, it’s because we don’t look enough like Christ to a Christ-hating world.”

There are so many sincere Christians who have been led astray by the incremental deception of Satan as he infiltrates our churches with cultural values.  We’ve accepted Christ, but our lives look no different.  And we’re the ones losing, we’re the ones missing out on what the world could be.  Instead of bringing the Kingdom to earth, we’re promoting our own kingdom.  We’re living in our story instead of His.  When Jesus comes again, will He look at our castles in the sand and say “Well done, good and faithful servant?”  Or will He have to clear His temple of its cultural bias?

Jesus compared the Kingdom to hidden treasure for a reason.  If we can’t listen for the still small voice in a world that clamors for its agenda, if we can’t see past the filthy lens of our culture-colored glasses to defend the marginalized and the oppressed and stand for Kingdom values, then we’re no better than any of the generations before us.  We’re no better than the ones who crucified Christ.

God, grant us forgiveness for our blindness and syncretism.

Old Year, New Year

Much like culture assigns names to generations, at the end of each year I reflect back on what it has meant to me and attempt to categorize it.  2010 was the year of beginnings: my first real job, starting college, finding a new church.  2011 was the year of change: I dyed my hair, went on a crazy piercing spree, changed my major, and tried to figure out what life was all about.  And although there were plenty of both beginnings and changes in 2012, I would have to classify it as the year of growth, simply because I made the most of the changes and began to really understand who I am and where I fit into God’s story.

Being the introspective person that I am, for me the end of the year is a chance to look back and revisit the milestones that brought me to where I am, as I seek to better understand myself, why I think the way I do, and how I can continue to change in the course of another year.  So I’ll share some of those musings with you.

A year ago from right now, I had finally recovered from the crazy tailspin of an awful semester and was ready for 2012 to save me.  I predicted that 2012 would be a year of growth and the best year of my life yet.  I was right.

In January, I went to Passion youth conference in Atlanta.  I’ve kind of been a Christian my whole life.  When I was four, I could rattle off the books of the Old Testament better than an adult, and I was baptized when I was nine.  I don’t really remember a time when I didn’t want to love God, but there were definitely times when I doubted, when I compromised and followed my own plans, when I wasn’t close to Him at all.  But January of 2012 marks the turning point when I decided that nothing else mattered, and I wanted God’s adventure for my life no matter what that meant.  Perhaps, in a way, it was only then that I truly became a Christ-follower.  And since then, I haven’t even glanced back.IMG_0093

So I started back to school the next semester determined to seek God.  I read Radical.  I read Crazy Love.  I read Ephesians over and over and over again.  And as I plunged headfirst into a full load of English classes, I realized that I had to change my major; God was calling me to youth ministry.  After a serious inner struggle, I dropped one of my English classes, which brought me down to 15 hours.  And now I had even more free time to chase after God’s heart.  I went to church on Sundays, small group on Tuesdays, youth group on Wednesdays, and Sanctuary on Thursdays, holding onto all of it desperately and not wanting to lose the passion I had found.  In March I officially became a member of Grace Chapel and joined the choir.

Seemingly, God wasn’t content with my decision to change my major.  There was something else ridiculous that He was calling me to: Deer Run Christian Camp.  When my friend Caleb first suggested that I apply, I smiled and said I’d consider it while thinking to myself, “No way am I working at a summer camp, ever.”  I went to camp once, when I was in 3rd grade, and I hated it. They made me play sports and I sucked at it and everyone laughed at me.  Besides, I’m not an outdoorsy girl.  There was absolutely no reason why I should work at Deer Run — except that I knew I had to.061912jm_preteen2-163

I learned how to be outdoorsy.  I got used to not wearing makeup.  I got a Chaco tan.  I did the high ropes course and the leap of faith and trust falls and the climbing tower.  I played paintball and taught Bible lessons every day.  I got used to living with the bare minimum and getting creative when those few possessions were falling apart.  I learned to depend on God, moment by moment, in a way I’d never had to before: for physical strength, for energy, for wisdom, for patience, for the right words.  I told a kid about God for the first time.  I saw one of my girls baptized in the lake.  I laughed and cried and worshiped and lived with everything I had.

And then I started back to school in the fall with new eyes, new ears, and an insatiable eagerness for life, determined to be more intentional about relationships and less worried about grades.  I had six Bible classes, ranging from Educating Adolescents in the Church to New Testament Exegesis to church history and Greek, and it was glorious.  During the summer I had grown and been stretched physically, emotionally, and experientially; now it was time to stretch myself mentally as I dug into the academic side of theology.

Another incredible growth experience this fall was my decision to talk to a counselor at Lipscomb.  At first I was a little embarrassed to admit it, but to be honest, all of us have things we need to deal with and work through.  So I did a lot of that, learning things about myself, seeing areas where I could continue to grow, and learning to love myself.  And, following her example, I learned how to listen to other people better and how to ask the right questions to help them reach their own conclusions.

And then there were a bunch of little milestones this year as well: I got glasses which I usually only wear when they match my outfit, I turned 20, and I went to a Rascal Flatts concert, which I’ve wanted to do since I was 14.  I met some fantastic new people, including my beautiful and sweet roommate Morgan with whom I can share anything, and made some great new memories with the old friends.  So there’s not really a lot that was lacking in 2012, and there are no definitive New Year’s resolutions I can make for 2013 but merely to continue living in the present, seeking God in every aspect of my life and following His will even when it seems crazy, loving others and noticing everyone I come across, and living faithfully in the bigger story of which I am a part.

This time next year, I’m sure I’ll be sitting somewhere reflecting on the last 365 days; thinking about a job which I have not yet gotten, classes which I have not yet taken, people which I have not yet met.  The thought is exciting because, when everything falls into place around my relationship with God, it’s sure to be an adventure.  So here’s to 2013, where new lessons are waiting to be learned and new experiences are waiting to be had.  And here’s to you, God; next New Year’s Eve, may I be able to look back and say that I lived it for You.

A picture from Passion, which changed everything this year.

A picture from Passion, which changed everything this year.

Me with my brother and one of my best friends on their graduation day

Me with my brother and one of my best friends on their graduation day

The best group of co-workers a girl could ask for.

The best group of co-workers ever.

Badgers on my 20th birthday!

Badgers on my 20th birthday!

Church buddies at Grace Chapel

friends and fro yo

Changing the World

Today my friend Jesse Smith posted something very thought-provoking on his facebook that I wanted to share here: “I think there are many Christians who don’t actually believe that Jesus was physically raised from the dead. If people really believed that, wouldn’t it have a dramatic effect on their actions? If you believed that same power empowered you, wouldn’t you realize you could literally change the world?”

Changing the world. I’ve always said I wanted to do it, but have I ever really believed that an invisible college student could make a lasting difference? Because if I believe that I am capable of changing the world, why am I not doing it? I think we forget that the power of God can and does override the limitations of our humanity. Somewhere along the way we have begun to doubt His ability to accomplish the impossible through us. We all memorized “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” in, like, first grade, but has it become meaningless recitation? Or is there truth and power in those words that becomes lost in our lack of complete trust in God?

I think it’s time for all of us to get down on our knees and beg God for a faith that moves mountains. Or better yet, get up off your knees and stand on your feet prepared for action. Because when you pray in faith, you need to be ready for something to happen. Something like…changing the world.

Published in: on April 21, 2011 at 5:34 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Praying to Change

Written February 6, 2011.

Most of the time, I am afraid to ask God to change me, because I’m not sure if I want to deal with all the ramifications of that. As Mr. Limpet says, “Be careful what you wish for, for wishes can come true.” There are some days, however, when I’m so fed up with the person I’ve become that I really just don’t care. Those are the days that I can legitimately pray, “God, I don’t care what it takes, just do what you need to do to change my heart!”

Unfortunately, as long as I clutch my selfish heart and refuse to let it be molded into the shape of Christ, that prayer is cancelled out by my actions. I struggle between the desires of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; part of me so desperately wants to get rid of everything that stands in the way of knowing Christ, but part of me just doesn’t really care all that much. When I say the words, “Lord, change me,” sometimes I’m not entirely sure if I mean it.

Yet at the same time, I hope that God will take my words at face value without considering if I’m ready to face the consequences of my prayer. If He would just take it all out of my hands so that there was no turning back, I know the result would be exactly what I want. Did anybody ever push you off a diving board when you were a kid? It happened to me once. I was terrified to jump and stood there debating forever. After multiple times of my friend yelling “1, 2, 3, go!” and nothing happening, she decided to help me out with a little shove. I was scared to death, but when I hit the water I realized, “Oh, that wasn’t too bad.” And then I climbed back up on the diving board and jumped again by myself.

I wonder if enough prayers would force me out of my comfort zone whether I feel ready or not. I’m tired of a mediocre life, so I’m asking all of my Christian friends to pray that God will give me a push. And you may have to be there to help me through the consequences — but I’m ready.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 3:06 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Confessions #7: This is It

Written January 22, 2011.

“This is it, Frodo. If I take another step, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.” Poor Samwise Gamgee had never in his life left the Shire, preferring the comforts of the familiar to the world of the unknown. Yet he did take that next step; throughout the rest of the series, he grew in confidence and courage, ultimately saving Middle Earth from the reign of Sauron. Just think what would have happened had he backed out and run back to the Shire. Sam was a creature of habit, yet he overcame his fear of change and took the next step.

God has called me to a radical life of service to the world. Yet am I radical enough to accept it? Maybe I’ll hesitantly put my toe over the line, but when it comes down to it, I am too afraid to plant my foot firmly outside the realm of my comfort zone. This is it; it is time to choose. I have heard the call, but have I the faith to answer? This is it; a decision has to be made. I see the path before me, yet still I hang back at the line. If I take another step now, it’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.

And I know that, were I to leave, I could never return. After all, no one who puts his hand to the plow and then looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God. It’s all or nothing. Were I to step outside of my self-centeredness to see the need around me, God would destroy the state of mind that I consider home. I would never see things quite the same way; I would never be able to settle comfortably back into a routine of contentment. It sounds ridiculous to admit that fear; after all, isn’t that what I want, to be rid of my pride and selfishness? Well . . . is it?

There is such a paradoxical conflict within me as I dance on the border between two worlds: what I don’t want, I long for; and what I need, I’d rather not have. I would like to explore, but only if I have the option of returning home at the end of the day. I want a safety net; I want a back-up plan. Yet God promises none of this: He simply beckons and says, “Follow me.”

This is it, timid creature of habit. The world is waiting; take the next step.

Published in: on April 9, 2011 at 3:02 pm  Leave a Comment  
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