Blogging Isn’t What it Used to Be…And that’s Okay.

Several times a week, I log into the dashboard of my blog and think I have something to write.

  • I could write about true freedom, and how that means willingly accepting my identity as a slave to Christ, which doesn’t bring oppression, but true joy.
  • I could write about how I think the voice of the peacemakers is being shut down because the voice of the cynics is so loud…and the peacemakers know there’s really no point in fighting a virtual battle of words.
  • I could write about all the new stuff I’m learning about anxiety disorders, OCD, trauma and grief or about the theology of subordinate & ultimate purposes in moral ethics.

But I don’t.

It’s not that I can’t; as if I have some writer’s block and I keep pressing delete and thinking my writing isn’t good enough.

It’s not because I’m scared of what people will think about what I write.

It’s not even that I don’t want to.

Or that I don’t have time.

None of those things are true.

Photo Credit: Thomas Lieser

Lately, I’m full of words and inspiration, most of which are being poured into the channels of a launching “Lean on Me” which comes out this October. Or into my other-new book that will come out next year. It flows into my husband as he goes through some exciting ministry changes, and into some friends over coffee or a glass of wine. I give these words to the trees and the sky when I go on walks with my dog, or sometimes they only rattle around in my head until they break into little digestible pieces I can stomach. These words fuel me as I straighten up our kitchen or hang up the laundry (who am I kidding? Tim so graciously does the laundry. I hate doing laundry.) 

A few years ago I would have wondered if you missed me.

Maybe I still do a tiny bit, but most days this blog is so far from any of my normative thinking. Only when I see the bookmark to my dashboard to log in, I log in. And that’s really just to delete any spam comments.

want to talk to you. I remember how, almost ten years ago, a small group of fifty or a hundred people would come here and listen about me putting up Christmas lights or running from tornadoes or wrestling through tithing as an automatic deduction from my church-staff paycheck. Then that number grew into the tens of thousands and the conversation changed and I began to love those numbers much more than I should have. And then, life changes pounced and left me wounded and I took everything off of the Internet for a couple of years and that huge audience I was so enamored with dwindled back down to a handful of people.

But that’s okay.

It’s taken a year or so of being truly back “online” for me to accept the new Web 2.0. Or is it 3.0 now? It’s not even about the Internet, is it? Whatever it is – whatever this is – I’m okay with it.

I’m not saying goodbye to blogging, and I’m certainly not bidding adieu to writing. I’m embracing how different it is now, both externally in how social networking has changed in the last decade and internally, how I’ve changed in the last decade.

I’m giving myself permission to keep things close, as Mary did, pondering them in her heart. 

My heart used to be online, but now it’s found in quiet moments with trusted friends, in solitude, and in quietness and trust.

That is where I find rest.

That is where I find Him.

 

Redefining Friendship

When Facebook first opened its “Sign Up” doors to those of us far removed from a .edu email address, I remember landing in a competition with a coworker on who could “friend” more people than another. We would shout through the office wall that separated us, “I’m up to 881!” or “Your mom doesn’t count as a friend!” This went on until eventually, each of us hit the 5000 friend limit.

Then I deleted Facebook for a few years and for me, was all the better for it.

So many articles and blog posts and now even scientific studies are exploring what it means to be a “friend” in a world where clicking a “Like” button or a star or a heart indicates we are both alive and at least somewhat paying attention. Someones several-day-long absence on Instagram now warrants a text message – “R U Okay? Haven’t seen you online this week.” 

We enjoy eating together without actually sitting together. I more guilty of this than anyone: a brief scroll through my social media feeds are full of in-season salads and juices and let’s not forget my beloved coffee. I “like” just as many similar photos – especially the ones of donuts and ice cream – the ones I can’t eat because of my body’s intolerance to gluten and dairy.

The last few years have been very transitional and therefore, transformational, for me. I’ve become more careful with the words I choose when I am talking about people I know. In a city like Nashville, where everyone knows of everyone and likely has met someone a time or two for coffee, it’s easy to see how social media has influenced our Western vernacular.

“Oh, I LOVE Billy Bob. He’s a great friend!”

This means someone has probably met Billy Bob a handful of times and now engages in a Twitter conversation about which country really should have won the World Cup.

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In the “Christian Industry” [insert a slightly disturbed yet slightly accepting shudder for using that phrase], lots of people know lots of people and lots of people call these people friends. My own definition of a “friend” is very different than what it used to be, I had to change the way I identified those who I know…but don’t really know. This change was internal at first, but has slowly become external as people ask, “Are you friends with Billy Bob?” to which I say, “I know him, and I think he’s great. But no, we are not friends.”

This is not a slight on Billy Bob.

To me, the word friend has become as sacred as the word love. 

This is not an attempt for exclusivity; rather it’s an attempt to define expectations. I have met Billy Bob and perhaps we’ve even shared a conversation about Africa or Jack Bauer. He’s a great person. I will speak well of him. But I will not call him my friend because he does not know the secrets my heart keeps or the fears my mind perpetuates. I do not tell him when my mom is sick or when I got accepted into school nor does he know my regular drink at Starbucks.

I do have friends that know these things. They are a small group: humble, beautiful, diverse and there is nothing loud or proud about them. But they love and they know and they reach and I reach back.

And I think this is okay. Choosing to use the word friend carefully is wise.

It does not mean you love less or even that you love fewer and it does not mean a new acquaintance cannot become a friend. It simply means your relationships are more intentional, more vulnerable, and more committed. It reaches far beyond clicking a button on a website and is about sharing life instead of sharing a status.

Social media aside, a friend is a thing to cherish, to lavish love on, and to lean on (or sometimes give the gift of being somebody to lean on.)

Shake the Dust :: Letting Go

Sometimes things don’t go as planned.

Things fail.

Health.

Friends.

Love.

School.

Work.

Expectations rise and fall.

Rise.

And fall. And fall.

(and rise?)

Someone says or does something (or perhaps nothing?) and it opens up scars from the past

Scars that say you’re not good enough

Or that you’re dumb

Or not worth it

Or too much…

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Anis Mojgani perform Shake the Dust

years and years and years ago.

Recently, my fingers found a scar not quite healed

and those voices

those LIES

came pouring down like gasoline on my open wound.

Stop it.

Stop it.

Stop it.

I said.

Let it be.

Let it go.

Shake the Dust

I heard it rattle in my mind.

And I hope that no matter what voices you may hear,

No matter who you are,

What you do,

What you look like,

Or how broken you are,

Shake the Dust. [watch the video below or if you don't see one, click here...]

****

 

Grace in the Mundane

When you feel longing creep in as you pull your feet through the mud of the daily, command your spirit to rejoice. If the rocks cry out, imagine the will it takes to get a defeated soul to move. Command it anyway. Rejoice anyway. You are a child of the One who has loved you in the past for eons and will love you into forever for infinity. A man died in your place, painting you pure and lovely and nothing can steal this away from you.

Why All The “Modesty Conversations” Miss The Point

Last summer, the feeds in my various social media channels blew up with articles on modesty.

How low is too low when it comes to necklines? One piece or two piece swimsuits (or, the generally-church-camp-approved tankini?) Spaghetti straps, tanks, or sleeveless? AND THE PLIGHT OF THE YOGA PANTS (oh, but it’s okay if your butt is covered!)

And then articles followed on what Paul meant when he spoke of modesty (more of a financial context), how men (and women) are responsible for their thoughts and actions (pluck out your eye, sinner! it’s not my fault you can’t look at me without seeing me as an object!) and how culture plays into what we consider “modest” even means.

The summer heat is upon us once again, as are all these conversations on modesty. In a mindless and brief skimming down my Facebook feed Sunday night, I’m fairly certain I saw more posts on modesty (and satirical ones at that) than I did the World Cup.

(What has this country come to? Come on, y’all. It’s the World Cup!)

The arguments were all the same, men and women pitted against the other team, one side crying “FREEDOM” and the other crying “RESPONSIBILITY!”

…as if these two are mutually exclusive?

This is not a post on whether or not your bikini will make Jesus mad or cause a man to lust after you. This is not a cultural dissection of contextual modesty. I’ve been to almost every continent and have seen completely covered and completely bare, depending on the culture. I understand how it works.

This is a post on why most of the conversations I’ve read on modesty – regardless of the point someone is trying to make – are, in fact, well…missing the point.

There is something more at stake than your clothing choices. 

And that thing is community.

It is another person, another flesh-on-spirit, imago dei.

It is your family, your brother or sister given with a Holy being, intertwined with your own.

***

BUT FREEDOM!

Paul talks about freedom in Christ. A death on a cross gives us freedom to live. I hear cries of “I am not responsible if someone sins because of the way I am dressed!” And you are not. To a point. You do have freedom. And I think the greatest freedom is to choose to say no to your freedom for the sake of another person.

We hear “Don’t dress to make a man like you. Don’t dress to make a woman like you. Dress to make you like you.”

That, my friend, is not freedom.

Let’s call it for what it is: entitlement. Many of us feel entitled to do what we want, to wear what we want, and to behave how we want to behave. Loving another is not about how we feel or even embracing our freedom.

True freedom is laying down your life for another.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:3)

***

 

BUT REALLY, PEOPLE ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR OWN THOUGHTS! I COULD WEAR A MUMU AND BE A “STUMBLING BLOCK!”

Yes. People are accountable for their own actions. You could wear a mumu and someone may undress that mumu right off you. I am not minimizing the responsibility we all have for our decisions to act against what we know is true and right and lovely.

“Well, if I walked into a McDonald’s and ate 70 Big Macs, I’m responsible for that, not McDonald’s.”

You’re right. But McDonald’s was not created in the image of God.

You were. And so is your neighbor.

We say someone else should take responsibility to not sin & we have freedom to do as we please. True. But let’s take this a step further. 

Maybe we should take responsibility for another so they can have freedom instead of struggle.

The truth is we are responsible for one another. We are not to judge or criticize people for thinking or acting differently than we do where there is freedom, but we are also to encourage others to be holy, not condemn them to it.

There is not love in telling a man or woman to suck it up and deal with their lust problem so we can dress how we please.

***

There is a picture here larger than the conversation of modesty. We are believers warring against each other under the name of freedom and waving the flags of entitlement. This idea can be copied and pasted over so many areas – alcohol, food, fill-in-the-blank.

My fear is we get so wrapped up in our freedom that we can’t show love – true, sacrificial love – for each other.

And when the world reads our passionate war words, they don’t see the love of Christ we are to love each other with, which is what our ultimate charge is.

“Owe nothing to anyone—except for your obligation to love one another. If you love your neighbor, you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law” (Romans 13:8)

Surrender and Self-Sufficiency in the Church

When I was nineteen years old, my grandfather was in his final hours of life after a long fight with cancer. He called each of his grandchildren into his room one at a time. I leaned over his fragile frame in order to hear the last words he would ever speak to me. He didn’t have the strength to open his eyes and could barely whisper the six words he spoke.

“Never give up on church.”

I told him I wouldn’t. But in order to keep my promise, I’d need to start making some significant changes in my life…like, actually going to church again. I had been out for a good three years, since my father left the ministry in a bloody battle of a business meeting.

Over time and with conviction, I slowly let my walls down and tried to make good on my pledge to my grandfather. My actions stemmed more from wanting to keep my promise than actually being obedient to what God wanted, but eventually my change of behavior caused a change in my heart and I fell in love with the church in all of her magnificence and her flaws.

I surrendered, slowly and timidly, to the call of unity God has placed on all His children. Surrender doesn’t come easily, especially when we’ve been hurt in the past. When we think about giving into something we used to push away from us, we’re met with an internal resistance. It’s easy to justify our actions that keep us walking the line between self-sufficiency and surrender.

photo credit: Môsieur J. [version 9.1] via photopin cc

As I’ve spent time talking to other Christians, and some who have even—in their own words—“left the faith,” or “left the church,” I’ve noticed a pattern so common it’s become perfectly acceptable without question. Someone enters into a relationship with a community of faith, and the programs or the legalism or the perceived lack of authenticity turns them away. It’s either too structured to have “organic” community (which is not a Biblical concept, by the way) or it’s so “organic” that relationships never grow because we don’t know how to grow them.  So we bail.

I have a friend who’s an atheist but who stays in tune to what’s happening in different faiths. As he looked at the western Christian culture, it was easy for him to see the things that divide us. He bluntly asked me, “How can everyone in your faith be so divided yet claim to follow the same God?”

Good question.

I truly believe this break in our unity is a strategic plan of the enemy.

Many Christians today have fallen into a culture that tells us we have the right to believe whatever we want to believe and are entitled to be right in our beliefs. And because of the surplus of platforms from which we can speak, never before our generation has a group of people been able to voice their beliefs so loud and clear.

Some see this as progress. I see it as subtle (and at times, not so subtle) expressions of selfishness. Where in our proclamations and defenses of our personal beliefs do we find humility? Where do we find surrender?

We don’t.

In order to have healthy relationships with God and others, we must surrender. To God, we surrender our desire to live our lives for ourselves. Only by dying to ourselves—our human nature—can we truly live in the identity of who God created us to be. In order to embrace the person we are meant to be, we must let go of the person, the ego, we created.

With others, we surrender our need to be right. We surrender our need to be heard. We trust in the paradox of finding peace in serving instead of demanding to be served and complaining about it when we aren’t.

Surrender goes against our very nature to be independent. Surrender indicates we willingly choose to rely on others. We must rewire our thinking to recognize that needing another person (and being the person someone else needs) is not a weakness; it only strengthens us.

***

(Most of this post was excerpted from my new book “Lean on Me: Finding Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent Community.” It comes out this fall, but you can get a few free sample chapters here or preorder the book here.)

 

 

Loving Someone with Depression or Anxiety

Sometimes I have others write for my site. I’ve known Lon for a little while on Twitter and through blogging. He sent me this wonderful post on mental health that I couldn’t not post. Thank you, Lon. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.

——

You’re probably familiar with this passage of the Bible written by the Apostle Paul:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Cor 13:4-7, ESV)

We love these verses, don’t we? Beautiful written, wonderfully inspiring. You may even have had them recited at your wedding.

But what if loving this way involves supporting a spouse or a child with emotional health issues? What does 1 Corinthian 13 look like in that kind of real, often dark, life?

I live with three such women—one wife and two daughters—and I want to share what I’ve learned about loving and supporting them as Paul instructs. I hope you’ll find inspiration and new courage to love a similar someone in your life.

  1.  ACKNOWLEDGE IT
    Love believes all things… 

    What your spouse or child is feeling?—It’s real. It’s not “just in their head,” not in the dismissive way we usually use that phrase. The single most loving thing you can do for someone struggling with a mental health issue is to let them feel the validating sense of relief that comes from being believed. 

    Let your loved ones know it’s safe to confide their weird, icky, creepy, dark, scary thoughts with trustful, trustworthy, compassionate you.

  2. DON’T GUILT
    Love is not arrogant or rude… 

    Most mental health issues aren’t caused by sinful decisions a person has made. Being bipolar, or depressed, aren’t sins people commit. Rather, they are specific manifestations of the universal human fall into sin and misery. They are signs of the same broken, sinful nature abiding within you. Anne has written more about this in Your Anxiety is Not a Sin.Let your loved ones know you still respect and admire them. They need to know your good opinion of them hasn’t changed.

  3. LISTEN PATIENTLY
    Love is patient, not irritable…You may hear the same, or similar, story over and over and over…Don’t roll your eyes. Don’t let exasperation slip out, even if you feel it once in a while. Instead, listen actively, patiently. Ask gentle questions, not to fix “it,” but to hear “it.”

    Give your loved ones the sounding board they need to process how they feel.

  4. KEEP LIVING
    Love hopes all things… 

    “It” is real, but it doesn’t haveto be the 24/7 center of family life.Keep your daily routines and annual traditions to maintain a sense of order and rhythm to life. The idea isn’t to pretend nothing is wrong, but to remind you and your family that life is still worth living.Help your loved ones see the meaningful enjoyment of small accomplishments, and family games, Sunday sermons, and trips to the beach. Make fun together. Make memories together. Laugh together.

  5. PRAY TOGETHER
    Love bears all things…
    Pray with them. For them. Out loud.Few things will fire more warmth and trust in a relationship than the simple act of asking God to help your loved one. A childlike plea will do. Often, the very act of praying for a loved one in need becomes the answer in the moment of need.
  6. GET USED TO IT
    Love endures all things… 

    Life as you knew itmay be interrupted for a while. You may have to become a caregiver and life coach for a season.You may be needed at 3 am to sooth a panic attack. You may have to make time just to help your loved one walk outside, to experience the sun and grass and flowers. You may need to do the laundry, at the last minute, just because. You may need to attend counseling or a support group. Maybe because he wants you to, maybe because she won’t go without you.You may have to become more than you imagined you could.

But, love will endure all this and more.

OVERWHELMED?

Where will you find the inner resources to love this way?

I’ve found that I have to rely on God for that.

I have to bring my weakness to Him to ask for His strength. I have to confess my inadequacy to ask for His sufficiency. I am the average husband and father who makes mistakes, speaks too harshly, listens half-heartedly, who sometimes, just doesn’t get it.

But God is great for us in His Son, Jesus Christ. God will pour out the Spirit of Christ to fill you with His love, patience, kindness, endurance, and all that you need to love the struggling person in your life well.

And even if this season of life lasts longer than you can imagine, set your hope on Christ’s promise of eternal peace and rest beyond the present suffering. Trust Him for this.

He is great, even when life isn’t.

****

Lon_square headshot_3Lon Hetrick writes a blog with his wife, Dawn, to inspire regular people to hope in God when life is crazy. They live, learn, work and worship in Atlanta. Find out what they’re learning about emotional health and the Christian life at Average Us.

Why I Don’t Feel Disadvantaged as a Woman in Ministry

Earlier this year, I spoke at a church on a Sunday morning. This isn’t out of the ordinary for my schedule; I often have pastor-friends who need someone to fill in, often last minute, and teach during a Sunday morning service.

After the service, I was speaking to another pastor at that church when a gentleman approached us. He wasn’t at the service but was a pastor at a different church in town. After learning I was the guest speaker, it was clear he was not happy that a woman was teaching to the entire church.

This doesn’t bother me. I understand where he’s coming from and had to think through my own philosophy of women in leadership at churches. Growing up in a very fundamental Baptist environment, women were only allowed to be in certain roles and usually that meant never teaching to both men and women.

Here’s what I see: I do believe that men are called to lead and have authority over a church. If one of these men thinks the message I am sharing will help grow the people trusted to him, he can choose to have me teach that message. While I may be the one speaking to a congregation, I’m doing it under the decision of that church’s leader. And I do believe God calls and appoints specific men to specific local congregations.

Many times I’m asked if – and sometimes it’s assumed that –  I am more of an egalitarian than I am because I am ordained and I do frequently teach/preach/whatever. I’m not. I dislike labels, but if you had to call me something, I’m a closet complementarian.

And many times I’m told, “I’m so sorry that the church looks down on women” or “I wish more churches let women lead” … something to imply that as a woman, I’m at a disadvantage in ministry. That I won’t sell as many books as a man could (someone once commented in a review that I was the wrong gender to write about ministry leadership). That I’ll never speak in certain churches because I’m not a man.

While some people would fully agree with those statements (and maybe, in essence, factually they are true), I don’t feel disadvantaged as a woman in ministry for one simple fact:

I believe in the sovereignty of God.

He has made me woman and he has called me. The two can’t contradict.

If I am prayerfully seeking Him, cautiously listening to His spirit through Scripture and through, well, that mysterious way the spirit works, and the voices of those in my own life who I’ve submitted to, (Submission is not a terrible thing. I wish it didn’t get such a bad rap.) I can confidentially walk into the opportunities that God has placed in my path that do not go against those things.

Sovereignty, structure, scripture and submission…they aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, they’re all needed as we grow and live out our gifts and callings, male and female, unique and unified.