Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Closing Thoughts To The Metroplex

Dear Dallas,
Our time together came to an end almost two months ago. It’s crazy to think that it’s already been that long. More than that, it’s crazy to think of how much time I still need to process through what the last three years mean to me. I think we both know that I’m telling the truth when I say we had a… tumultuous season together. Yet you’ve contributed so much to who I am and have made me grow. Sometimes, it was painful. It was certainly always necessary. When I think back over the last three years I see just how much of a love/hate relationship we had:
-There was the time you gave me a church family that carried me when I could not move on my own
-There was the time all of my theology classes had names I had to Google just to know what I would be studying
-There was the time I realized I could out-drink most everyone in seminary, but then realized that was nothing to brag about since it was, after all, seminary
-There was the time I realized that most dating options in Dallas meant frat-tastic cowboys or homeschooled pastors’ kids. Then there were the times I tried to make it work anyways
-There was the time my best friend for over a decade moved to town and reminded me of who I am
-There were all of the times I shouted every four-letter word I knew when a light drizzle of rain would start and the highway would practically shut down. Seriously, Dallas, it’s just rain
-There was the time you gave me drinking buddies to laugh with. Then there was the time I got put on disciplinary probation for going out with those drinking buddies
-There were the times when I was made to feel like my spiritual gifts were “less than” because I didn’t want to be a pastor
-There were so many Taco Joint dates with friends. Then the time I was asked on a date by a Taco Joint employee, said no, and had to forfeit free queso privileges
-There were all the times I was told I needed to be a good steward of the body the Lord had given me, followed up by slut shaming for wearing yoga pants on my way to work out
Honestly, Dallas, I’m not sure how I feel about you at this point. You have really good food and Texas sunsets do have their own charm, yet I feel like the weight is finally off my shoulders of people telling me how I’m supposed to behave to be worthy or lovely or enough, all in the name of Jesus. I feel like I’m entering a season of life that allows me to be who I was created to be. Although the last three years have felt so stifling that I'm not even fully sure who that is. This new season will be one filled with family, laughter, mountains, and good drinks. A season which embraces my quirks instead of trying to suffocate them. A season that does not make me feel like something is wrong with me simply for being myself.
For the last three years I feel like I’ve been walking around afraid to offend my fellow seminarians. But here’s the thing—I think we’re offended by the wrong things. Sometimes it seems like the culture I’ve been immersed in gets offended over swearing more than they do poverty. They’re offended by tattoos more than the blatant mistreatment of the orphans and the widows and the ragamuffins. They support social justice causes on a grand scale, but fail to love their neighbor because it doesn’t fit their own expectations and needs.
Please don’t read me saying that the last three years have been all bad. I am beyond grateful for some of the experiences I had there. But now, I’m ready for the next. I’m ready to be encouraged instead of suppressed and to embrace all of the oddities life has to offer. I’m ready to do things that make me come alive. Because when you do things from your soul, other people really dig that shit.
So Dallas, I know we’ll see each other again, probably soon.
Until that day comes, know that I’ll think about you often. Most of the time, even fondly.
P.S. Thanks for the view of the skyline every night. That was really cool of you.
P.P.S. I really miss your tacos, a lot.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Affirmations and Moonwalking

I’m really bad at receiving compliments. I never know what to do with them. 

Do you return them: “You like my shoes? Thanks! I like your... um... hair?”
Do you agree: “I know, right? I am really smart and successful and everyone wants to be me! I’m glad you noticed too!”
Do you try to humbly discount it: "Oh it's nothing. Anyone can do the really cool things I do."
Do you awkwardly moonwalk away: “...”

My go-to response when someone tells me I look nice is “Oh thanks, I showered today!”
I’m not saying it’s a great response, but I like to believe it’s better than moonwalking.

I think we struggle with affirmation in Christian culture for multiple reasons. The first is because we’re afraid to take it at face value and it is as if we believe that there must be some ulterior motive. The second reason is that we get so caught up on the first reason, that we just stop trying to encourage others altogether. 

This has been an ever-relevant topic for me as a seminarian. I love to affirm people where they’re at. I love to leave notes outside doors, let people know they’re being prayed for, and tell them how I see God working in their lives. The thing is though, I think 82% of the time it’s either interpreted the wrong way or my fear that it will be keeps me from doing it in the first place. There has been more than one occasion where I’ve sent someone (read: a dude) a text saying I’m praying for them, and then I’ve sent another text forty minutes later saying, “Hey, I hope you know that I’m not trying to hit on you or anything. Just trying to be an encouraging friend.” (And on one occasion I sent a third text in which I apologized for the awkwardness of the second. It's a bad cycle to get yourself stuck in y'all.)

Confession: I’m just as guilty. When I’ve had others tell me they’re praying for me or that they hope I have a good day, I automatically assume that there is something deeper going on. So normally I don’t respond. Or I moonwalk away. 

Should it really be this hard to affirm the people in your life? I’ll readily admit that for as hard as it is to receive and internalize encouraging words, they can make my day better so easily. Earnest, uplifting words usually make me cry. And I'm not the type of person that's all into crying and talking about her feelings. YET, we all want to be known, understood, and loved where we are. I think we’re so afraid of sending the wrong message that we end up feeling isolated and discouraged.

I would like to live in community with people in such a way that we can perpetually be affirming, encouraging, and supporting each other without having to over think things. Life is so often tough and messy-- it would be nice to have people around that put Ephesians 4:29 into action. It would be nice to have people that truly try to say only what is good, helpful and needed for building up community so that it may give grace to those who hear it. 

Let’s go forward with that intention. 
Today, try to speak only what is kind, even if it's uncomfortable.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Worth the Weight, Worth the Wait

A lot of times in seminary I feel like the odd ball.
I feel like the shoe that's just a half size too small that you think you can make work but one hour in you're already regretting your choice (any guys feel me on that one too, or just the ladies?)
I feel like the clumsy, bad influence.
I feel like I'm perpetually trying to understand the people around me and then failing when I don't naturally want to talk about things like dispensationalism.
I feel like the kid in class that's jumping up and down, with their hand in the air waiting to be chosen but never is (which coincidentally I always was in gym class, but that's for different reasons.)
Simply put, I feel like I'm perpetually walking on egg shells and banana peels combined and it's been three years of doing it poorly.

Being in seminary, I feel like I have people perpetually telling me things like "When you know who you are in Christ, other people's words and actions don't affect you the way they used to because you're secure in who you are. You know your worth." I'm going to call BS on that one. I still feel just as out of place and out of sorts as I did in various situations growing up. Except now I would like my mother to remedy it with sangria instead of chocolate milk.

Now, I made a deal with myself for the year 2014 that goes like this: Be kind to yourself, be kind to others. I even wrote it out as my annual paper art resolution (that's how you know it's serious.)
I know I can't change other people's words and actions but I can change my own. I stumbled across this quote form Chinwe Ohanele that says, "What is my worth, if I cannot be attractive? What is my worth if I cannot attract attention? What is my worth if I am not dainty? What is my worth, if I am not skilled in the kitchen? What is my worth if I am not soft-spoken? The language of feminism was meant to answer those questions by reminding women, and men who live outside the self-prescribed boxes of gender, that your worth is inherent, it arrived when you were born, it stays with you long after you die."

So that it what I am carrying into this year, into this last stretch of an uncomfortable season.
I am being kind to myself and remembering my inherent worth.
I am remembering that I try to be caring and compassionate.
I am remembering that I want to love people well, where they are at.
I am remembering that we all feel a little out of sorts and sometimes just need someone to cry with.
I am remembering that my roommate says I give food away like our apartment is a soup kitchen.
I am remembering that at my core, I seek to be altruistic because of Jesus.

Feeling my worth in those truths makes it far, far easier to be kind to myself. My hope is that in some way, you are able to feel your inherent worth as well. It is not dependent upon any person or thing. You have it because you are here. You are alive. And so tomorrow, we press on.

Friday, October 18, 2013

This Week's Prayer...


Let me start by thanking you. This week you have provided good sleep, good weather, and good conversation. Thank you for unexpected phone calls with old friends that fill my soul and remind me of who I am. Thank you for shitty pop music that has made paper writing so much more enjoyable. Thank you for giving me a body that bends and breathes and stretches and dances. 

All that said, I am tired. I am trying to hold on to all of these blessings, but really I just want to take a three day nap. And yes Lord, I realize that would be a coma and not a nap, but it does not change my desire for it. I’ve been restless and lonely and longing for something that I can’t quite put my finger on. Things seem to feed my soul and drain it at the same time. Lord it’s really hard to care for your children when it often feels so one-sided and like no one is reciprocating. 

But I know you have a plan and a purpose and better than what I can conceptualize for myself. So I pray for the continued ability to rest well. I pray for comforts in this season of life that I did not initially choose for myself but I seem to be in regardless. I pray that the things that seem to be burdening my heart become lighter. And most importantly, I pray that you give me the eyes to see your people the way that you do. All I want to do is love others well. Generally that means through cookies or cups of coffee. I am okay with both. Please grant me more opportunities to take care of others as I know that their current seasons may be holding the same amount of fidgeting and discomfort as my own. 

Your mercies are new each morning and each day you find a new way to love me as the hot damn mess I am. On days when it does not feel like it, please remind me that is enough. Amen. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People

This past Friday and Saturday I was in the second weekend of a three weekend Research Methods and Statistics class. To answer the questions I know you’re thinking in your head the answers are all: Yes. 

Yes, this is cruel and unusual punishment for a counseling major.
Yes, apparently they do teach math in seminary.
And yes, I did use almost every expletive I know whilst attempting to calculate standard deviation and z-scores. Sorry again Kristen (and that's both to my mother for the language itself and the poor girl sitting next to me who had to endure it.)

Spending this much time with people provides a lot of insight through class discussions. Often more insight than I would like. To help out fellow seminarians (and really anyone in school at all) let me provide you with some ways to lose credibility and alienate yourself in class discussions.

  1. Always refer to the professor by their first name.
  2. Always tell a five minute story whenever you’re called on.
  3. Always raise your hand to “ask a question” while really just sharing your opinion and using the classroom as your own personal platform.
  4. Laugh obnoxiously loud at every. single. joke. the professor makes. I mean, they can’t all be funny-- even the professors admit that some of their jokes aren’t that good.
  5. Perpetually be on Facebook but then share your opinion as though you’ve been listening the whole time.
  6. Try to suck up to the prof by helping with technical issues even though you’re still using AOL. Real talk-- this happened in class once. I think she was trying to use dial-up in class.
  7. Ask the professor questions about their 15 minute slideshow of recent vacation pictures. Just like the jokes can't all be funny, the pictures can't all be good.
  8. Ask the prof for additional assignments. More real talk-- this also happened in class once. Homeboy straight up raised his hand and asked, “Aren’t we all here to learn as much as we can? Shouldn’t we all just have these extra assignments all the time?” Funny enough, that’s probably the closest I’ve been to punching someone in the nose in class.
  9. Make “mmms” and “ahhs” really, really loudly at every remotely profound thing anyone says all class.
  10. Wear a fedora and/or sunglasses in class. Come on y’all-- our classrooms don’t even have windows. Why the hell are you wearing sunglasses? 

Now, I enjoy great class discussions so I say this because I love you-- if you’re going to do any of the above mentioned activities you’re setting yourself for some resentment. Also some failure. Probably both. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Summers and Students and Sweat and Snacks

I know I haven’t blogged much (ahem, at all) this summer. It’s been a crazy one. Good crazy though. This summer I had the chance to travel a ridiculous amount. Among many travel endeavors I was blessed to go with students to Minnesota, Alabama, and the Dominican Republic.
Now, there is something I knew before, but became ridiculously convinced of this summer-- Students are the game changers in the world. They’ll be the ones causing revivals and leading people to Christ. I believe this for many reasons...

1. Students are hilarious. They are creative. They always have snacks. 
Seriously though, just last Sunday I was sitting in church next to a student that had a full bag of gummy bears in his pocket. On another occasion I had a student walking around the church with an ENTIRE BOX of Oreos in his cargo shorts. Imagine how much better the world would be if everyone always carried around and shared their delicious snacks like this.

2. Students do things other people would never do.
On more than one occasion I’ve been around when a high school guy has decided to poop in a body of water that was not a toilet. One time it was in a lake with others around and to this day that kid still gets called Poop Boy (...I may or may not be the one who calls him that.) The other student pooped in the ocean and took to calling it shark sugar. I’m pretty sure he still doesn’t realize sharks weren't impressed or grateful for that generous treat.

Outside of poop, I’ve seen students do things like stick tampons in their nose to stop nose bleeds. I think we can all thank Amanda Bynes’ character in She’s the Man for that trick.* 

3. Students are resilient.
Once upon a time I was at a summer camp and a student brought fireworks. That same student decided it would be in his best interest to shoot those fireworks out of his butt. It was all great in theory, but in practice... he got a little nervous. Here is the moral of the story-- if you’re going to shoot fireworks out of your ass, don’t clench your cheeks because you will get burn marks. Now, if that wasn’t enough, he did this on the first day or two of camp which meant that he still had to go the rest of the week sitting on the ground, often in the sand, and sharing a room with 15 other guys. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know if I could make it.**

On our trip to the Dominican Republic this summer we were fortunate enough to do some construction for a school in the town we were staying in. On the last day after building walls, weeding, and constructing a swing set we had a fiesta for the local ninos. Mind you, this was after a full day of manual labor. At one point my co-intern looked at a student and said, “Dude, I really have no idea how y’all have the energy to be running around this field with kids on your back right now.” He looked back and said, “We don’t.” But that didn’t stop them. Even when students are completely exhausted they push harder and longer than it seems possible. Then, the next morning they get up and do it all over again. 

I firmly believe that when students catch vision of who God is and what he does in our frail human hearts, their passion to share that news becomes unstoppable. I have been blessed over and over again through living life with students. They are brave, they are sassy, and they think things like "Twerk for Jesus" are a good idea.

*I do feel like I need to say I may have been the one to strongly encourage this event. But the point is that I know very few to no adults who would go along with that idea.
**Or maybe this story has nothing to do with being resilient, but sometimes you just need a story about a student shooting fireworks out of his butt.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Seeing God In The Nostrils

I’ve observed two types of people in seminary-- those who start to grow slightly callous to the ebb and flow of chapel life and prayer requests, and then those who become increasingly amazed with God in the little things... like the fact that we were created with nostrils. 

If I’m being completely honest, I probably fall in line with the first group of people more often than I would like to admit to a lot of my classmates. When reading assignments are full books of the Bible and written assignments are journaling the reading assignments, it gets hard to spend what little free time there is delving into Scripture even more. I realize this is shaping me up to sound horrible, and I’m okay with that, because I struggle with this.

Earlier this semester I had to write a twenty-five page paper as an argument for the book of Hebrews. It was an incredible assignment that completely changed the way I look at Hebrews, but not the way I look at Jesus. And I know, I know-- this is okay. But in a world where everyone is always saying things like “Dang, I am getting so much out of writing these papers each week because they are really showing me so much about our Savior!” it is easy to feel spiritually less-than when sometimes for me it’s just another assignment to mark off the checklist. 

In my life, that isn’t how I see God working and moving and being amazing. For me it’s more things like seeing life change in my high school friends who are finally understanding their infinite worth. It’s those days out in nature when you realize just how intricately God designed the world. It’s seeing selfless people on hard days. These things change the way I look at Jesus and make me thankful for Him all the more. These things are my moments of being amazed by nostrils.

For as thankful as I am for all of the assignments that are showing me the depth of Scripture, I am even more thankful for all of the moments that are showing me more about Jesus.

For those who have been discouraged along the way, especially with only one week left in the semester-- know you’re doing okay. One of the best things I’ve heard since being in seminary was a professor telling the class that when they attended here, it was the most spiritually dry time of their life. So much weight off my shoulders with that one simple sentence. I can only imagine what a different dynamic there would be if more candid conversations were had about this. It is always nice to know you aren’t the only one. Professors aren’t the only ones. I’m not the only one.