Celebrate returning to faith, hope, culture and life with community.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Five Words Every Woman Needs to Stop Saying Right Now

Super excited about January being over (seriously, how did that even happen?) because "the Little Black Dress" series may finally begin! Throughout the whole month of February, Prodigal Sis will be dialoguing about singlehood, what the Bible says about yearning, and how to not be a party pooper when it seems like everyone else is moving ahead in life. Be sure to follow me on Facebook to keep up to date!

Okay, silly disclaimer over! Now for the real readin'! ;)

Five Words Every Woman Needs to Stop Saying Right Now

Uttering these five words will make you stop short of your dreams and calling. They will cast a spell on you. They will paralyze you with doubt and with fear:

Would you judge me if?

Throughout my day-to-day, I hear this phrase a lot. In the big and the small. The general and the specific. The careless and the sacred.

Mostly from the female demographic.

Would you judge me if I had another chocolate chip cookie?

Would you judge me if I took two trips to Starbucks in one day?

Would you judge me if my house wasn't perfectly in order when you spontaneously decided to drop by?

Would you judge me if my children didn't eat a vegetable in every meal? 

What makes us so cautious about judgement from others? What is the drive that makes many of us so insecure that we are constantly fraught with the inevitable idea that someone may think wrongly of us by what we eat, how clean our homes are or how many Venti coffees we need to get through our day?

Where did we learn this? Why are we perpetually aware of how others will perceive even the slightest day-to-day actions that are, frankly, no one's business but our own?

Why do we allow ourselves to be absorbed so fully 

into this fear of meaningless judgement?

Sadly it is this way of thinking that hinders us from real relationships. From real community.

Constantly checking over our shoulders for fear of judgement on our daily tasks works against our willingness to be honest about our actual struggles.

The struggles we need real help with. The ones we seek prayer and wise counsel for. The ones that are so far beyond what we eat or how we spend our time:

Would you judge me if I told you I was struggling in my faith?

Would you judge me if I was battling remaining pure in my romantic relationship?

Would you judge me if  I was unhappy in my job?

I'm afraid that we've been too distracted by a fear of a culture that would judge us for the mundane. For the routine. For things like choosing a slice of pizza over a salad for a meal. Or loving Taylor Swift music.

To my friends who ask if I would judge them if...I say, "Nope! Go for it, girl."

Because I want them to know that coffee dates and conversations are safe with me. That I would never judge them if they only ate the icing from their cupcakes or if they still slept with a teddy bear when they were twenty-five.

Judgment, when it comes from those outside of the Ultimate Judge, is a big waste of time.

Those five words should be eliminated from our conversations. And from our thoughts.

Because on the other side of judgement is freedom. And I'm going to begin to live out my life, my calling and my friendships this way...Don't judge.

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Monday, January 27, 2014

The Fight for Community in a Segregated Congregation

This is a working theory, but there was a time when we were all on an equal playing field.

When our communities lived in our back pockets. We rose and slept in the same dorms, houses and apartment complexes.

We went through life's ups and downs together. Like when we entered the folds of middle school. Or when we each ran the risk of ripping the mailbox off its hinges in anticipation of our college acceptance letters.

That was stage one. An incubation stage. A psychological place where we rested. Finding commiseration and peace by groaning through the growing pains together.

Then college happened. Stage two and the roads forked infinitely. Our paths diverged like the branches of trees. Squiggly, twisting, growth outward. Reaching out from where we were first planted all together. Rooted in the same precise spot in the ground.

It's then, stage three, that we fall ahead/behind. We move north/south/east/west. We experience joy/heartbreak. We choose careers/families. We work nights/days. We gain/lose faith.

Maybe it's just this stage of our lives, but it doesn't seem like we're treating each other very well outside of our silos. Outside of the places in life that we aren't automatically inclined to understand without extra thought or effort.

Like it or not, in church, in real life, we are segregated into our stages. 

And I think we're nearly failing each other. Like the body is torn. The limbs of each stage trying to function on their own.

There are certainly exceptional people in many lives and churches breaking through these stages. I am grateful for them. They're making a huge impact. The married couple that invites a single into their home. The single who cooks dinner for the couple with a new baby.

The pastor (like mine) who connects to them all.

These are the types I people that I hope to be. These are the people fighting for community.

But I confess that lately (as in, always) I've been a part of the problem.

It's a little hard not to feel left behind as we look forward to our desired place in life. It's difficult to battle the feeling of irrelevance when facing a community full of a waterfall of stages. Each with challenges and benefits in their own right.

It's just so much easier to connect with the people in your own stage. To be attracted to the men and women with our same hopes and fears. Nursing the same wounds and exposing the same scars.

But, if you listen well to your friends in every area of life, you will discover the challenges each holds:

The marrieds with children. Figuring out who they are as parents. Learning that even the smallest dose of selflessness is hard to take. Like during the 2 a.m. feedings, and trying to patiently explain parenthood to people who just have. no. idea.

The marrieds. Finding out who they are as a couple. Balancing life, jobs and friends with spending . Learning patience and how to move ahead without leaving the other behind.

The engageds. Fighting to schedule time to be with each other outside of planning and stressing and to-do lists that keep growing. Like the guest list. Oftentimes running into social and societal conflicts. Fearful of hurting feelings, and dreaming of the future. The pressure of the wedding day in and of itself. Battling whether or not to keep the name you were born into, or cleaving yourself from your family's legacy and joining a new one.

The couples. Discovering that relationships don't solve problems. Discerning what negative traits in a significant other are deal-breakers and what are just signs of an imperfect heart struggling through trials in an imperfect world. Wondering if this time their relationship will be different. And begging God to tell them if this is the one for fear of losing precious time.

The singles. Making it on their own. Zeroing in on the left hands of every person they pass, male or female. Being exhausted by the carousel of wonderment about the future. Paying bills and loans with starting salaries. And wondering what it is about them, specifically, that has handicapped them in the life-running race. Maybe fighting through parenthood themselves. Maybe wrestling through the residue of divorce.

I'll be the first to say it because I struggle with it myself: we need to learn how to love each other in our different stages. We need to learn how to pay attention to the hurts and difficulties of others.

I don't know how to fix the problem, other than to fight for my girlfriends. To pray for a united church body. To text and leave phone messages. To ask for patience when I fail to love and understand others. And shell out grace like a carnival ticket.

Because that's the one thing that ties us all together in these stages of life: grace. And it's just so much more of a beautiful picture when we all learn about it together. No matter where we're from, or what stage of life we have landed in.

photo credit: Thomas Leuthard via photopin cc

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Friday, January 24, 2014

The Dreams that Get You into Trouble and Why We Must Pray

It was two summers ago.

I had whirled into bed after a long restaurant shift.

People who serve in restaurants often dream about working. It's almost a rite of passage into the industry itself. They dream that the corridor from the kitchen to where the guests are seated is miles long. They dream of awful customers who physically harm them.

Or, like me, they dream that a guest asks for the one thing that the restaurant doesn't have–and you spend what feels like hours looking for it–and the longer it takes the more angry your guest is.

I had often had dreams nightmares like this before. The tables are crawling with floods of people and I just can't help them all.

I can't help them all.

However, what I dreamed that night in particular was different. Yes, I was in the restaurant but something was rotten in the state of Colorado. There were whispers of another violent crime  just like Columbine.

In the dream, I was sad but I continued my work as usual. Helping my servers organize their food for their tables at the expo counter.

An Atheist coworker I can see so vividly in my mind looked me square in the eye as we were working and said, regarding the tragedy in the dream, "Whenever things like this happen it makes me pray."

Then he stopped what he was doing and confronted me.

"You pray too, right?" he asked. "You're a Christian so you must pray."

I was convicted by his words. Convicted by his assurance that I must pray when situations like these arise. Because I don't. I never do. Not really.

So I began praying in my dream. Right there in the restaurant, interceding while I worked.

Lord, be with those families. 

Protect the victims. 

Please, Lord. Keep them safe. Keep them hidden in your protection.

The next morning the world awoke to the details of the Aurora shooting.

And I can't tell you what kind of dream that really was, but you bet your bottom that I prayed and prayed and prayed for those people. Those victims. Those losses.

The Atheist server in my dream taught me that.

Sometimes dreams are cheeky. People tell you that you were in their dreams and you sort of wish that they hadn't. They describe you doing things so far out of character, it's almost frustrating. Or they tell you something happened to you where you were harmed physically, and you take extra precautions the next day.

Or you do something to betray them and they say I know it was just a dream, but I was so mad at you!

The Biblical character Joseph had dreams, too. Some of them, he should have probably kept to himself.

Because what older brother isn't going to get annoyed when the favorite brother gabs about how favored he is? How his brother's stars bowed down to him.

That would have tested my nerves. I'd be like:

Brother, please? You're telling me I'm going to bow down to you? Yeah. There will be a famine in Egypt before that happens...Wait...what?

This may be insensitive. But no wonder he was sold into slavery.

But there are other sorts of dreams, too. The ones that haunt your subconscious until you remember them the next day.

I tell ya'll this because I had another dream like that last night. I was sitting at a table with a group of people I know, respect and downright love in my community.

One man's sweet marriage was full of infidelity. He was going to the Dominican Republic just to get away. Another friend's life was full of resentment toward her husband. She loves him, of course, but he was abusing her dreams by control. And her pursuits were climbing a lot slower as a result.

Their stories seemed so real and raw that I could only bring myself to listen.

I don't think I'll share this dream with the parties in question. But, the voice in the dream that I had two years ago still rings clearly as I ponder whether or not these things that ran through my mind last night were from the Lord or just a part of another sleepy and over-stimulated REM cycle.

You're a Christian. So, You. Must. Pray. 

Sisters, that's what I'll be doing for my precious community this weekend. Because I was reminded through the night, whether or not it is actually true in the lives of my friends, or just garbled in my subconscious, that there is a lot of hurt here.

And we must pray each other through it.

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Monday, January 13, 2014

Like a Bike Thief in the Night

It's a little bit embarrassing to admit that I'm not even organized enough to know when exactly it happened.

But...during the hustle of the holiday season, through the traveling to weddings, and early mornings in coffee shops, through the baking, and parties, and writing, and getting swelled fully into the tide of the season:

My bike was stolen. Right off my front porch.

Today I miss it.

There was just something comforting–and honestly faith-like–about doing the pedaling and knowing that the piece of elaborate metal and chains you were resting on was designed to carry you forward.

Even when you tumbled off the seat, or even when the front wheel of the bike popped off while you were rolling downhill in your neighborhood (true story), you could just get back on the bike. Even after falling or making a wrong turn, it could still propel you forward. It could still get you places.

I had counted on the bike always being there. I had hoped that when I fell off (as we all do from time to time) that I could just simply pick it back up. And that, aside from a few raw scrapes on my knees and the palms of my hands, I could move on. Pick up and pedal again.

Business as usual.

Honestly, with the recent rain and the Sponge Bob duct tape I was using to keep one of the air nozzles on the wheel from leaking, making sure it was locked and stowed away properly wasn't exactly on the top of my to-do list.
I know that being robbed of this is a problem on par with the tongue-in-cheek first world problems. It is a thing. It can be replaced. I know this. Believe me.

But, I didn't realize how important it was to me, how attached I was to it until it was gone. Until I blinked and realized that I had been extremely careless. And that something that I treasured was just whisked away from my grasp. No warning. Just an empty porch and the feeling that this is a lesson I should have learned when I was naively-five. Instead of 25.

There's a message in here somewhere about guarding our hearts, I think.

You see, I've had my bike stolen before. In the metaphorical sense.

Through a series of lonely nights, hanging out with the wrong crowd, grad school busyness, post-undergarduate-partum...Through neglecting church, being overworked, underpaid and under-socialized and being just too tired to listen or care about faith, I failed to guard my heart.

I was robbed of something that belonged to me. And it was something that was so easy to keep in check. There was a thief who robbed me of joy in the past season.

It stripped me of my creativity. It carried away my hope. And even a little piece of my faith that has taken me years to regain.

I should have been more careful. I should have kept a closer watch. I should have been more keen of my bike and heart before I left to the elements on my front doorstep.

But even in the midst of being robbed, even in the midst of being careless with my heart and reckless with what I allowed to unravel within it, I still somehow wound up in the folds of where I am convinced I am supposed to be.

I think that's what they call a miracle. No matter what you believe.

I guess the moral of the story is to keep your hearts in check. And to be more wise than I, and take precautions when it comes to protecting yourself from the enemy. And other thieves.

Related, a hug will be granted to anyone who returns a silver bike to her rightful home. There is a red bell on it that says "I heart my bike." She answers to the name "Sally."

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Monday, January 6, 2014

What is Christian Art?

I made a white-knuckeld promise to myself. I vowed a long time ago that I would never be a Christian writer. I would always be a writer who happened to be a Christian.

I was afraid that if I were a Christian writer that I wouldn't be able to write about real characters. With real struggles. Lust. Alcoholism. Gluttony. Greed.

I was afraid that I would be judged like my characters would be.

("Well, she must not be that great of a person if she writes this drudgery with characters who don't have the 'joy of the Lord' as their strength. Shame on her. Ban her from Lifeway and Heaven & Earth. Put her on the liberal shelf with her cursing prose where she belongs.")

I was fearful that I would become someone who settled around the same themes of redemption, grace, sin and forgiveness.

There is nothing wrong with these themes. They've just been done before.

So, in my stories I didn't plan for baptisms. Or Bible studies. Or lines from beloved hymns.

I decided by becoming a writer who was a Christian, that I wouldn't be fearful about writing about ugly souls or circumstances.

I wouldn't have to write about nice women. Or honorable, Godly men. Or people who had a powerful conversion story.

Even (most of) my graduate work at a Christian university warned against this type of art. Saying that the secular world would be better served by being incognito in the industry. By surprising the world by your faith. By sneaking Christ's love in through the cellar door. By being powerfully kind on film sets and in writer's rooms.

Instead of clubbing them in the face with the spine of an NIV. Or King James. Basically any heavy version of scripture.

You see, it sort of seems that we, as Christian media consumers, sort of settle for the hokey. We are extended grace as believers. Thereby we as consumers extend grace to those in the marketplace.

Just like in our real lives we ask for grace in what we produce.

We are tempted to be lazy in our craft and critique because it's Christian. It's okay. We're forgiven. And so are the chapters of the books we glazed over and the missed strokes of our brushes.

Because when it comes to secular media can we all really honestly say that our stuff stacks up? I mean, sure there are a few great hits here and there. But, it seems as though there are two camps to fall into:

We, as Christian artists, may either a. produce stories with vague inklings of Christ and launch it into the secular world with the hope that it would speak for itself into the lives of those who are not Christians or b. produce art that speaks to people who already know Christ.

So, which is it?

Because I'm finding that there is nothing hokey about this faith. It is very real. It is very alive. It is dirty like the earth and fresh like dew on the grass.

And I can't dismiss it from my repertoire. I can't break up with God when it comes to writing.

I've tried.

I want it to turn over tables. I want it to be a breath of fresh air for the cynics. I want to be misunderstood. All in the name of telling the truth. Even if it means breaking the rules.

My main character is struggling with her purpose. She is struggling with addiction. Depression. Loneliness. And feeling like she doesn't quite belong.

She doesn't say words like fiddle-sticks and dag-gummit when she drops the contents of her purse or stubs her toe. Because neither do I.

She is tempted to chase after fame, beauty and cleverness. Because so am I.

She is gossiping, selfish and judgmental. Because those traits are frequent players in my life (yes, even on my very best hair days).

My stories are not absent from mistakes and trials because life doesn't work that way. But, even still. This story doesn't make sense without grace or redemption.

So, how do we as Christian artists--straddling the line of producing truth and sharing the love of Christ--encapsulate both of these worlds well?

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photo credit: Haags Uitburo via photopin cc

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Going Against Uncertainty

Insecurity is a four-letter word.

We as women, as sisters, do all that we can to avoid it. We work out. We straighten/curl/dye our hair. We even press strands of it into aluminum foil, for crying out loud.

We post pictures of our dinner successes. We broadcast our trendiest outfits. We immortalize gifts or flowers from our man-friends.

We show how wild and exotic the single life is. With stories nights in loud bars, our hands tied to martinis and men who won't hurt us, but won't commit to us either.

We try desperately to keep up with the Kardashians. Comparing our wealth and joy to the virtual buzzing of an unreal reality.

We do this all in the name of stacking up points against insecurity. Or, as we say on the Prodigal Sister, uncertainty. We're all battling it in one way or another. And it's an easy war to get sucked into.

Am I as pretty as she is?

Does my talent stack up against the industry's?

Will this relationship fail like all the rest have?

Does my life have a purpose larger than keeping my head and finances above water from month to month?

So much of this I need to hear myself. Just the other night as I was pulling into my little Virginia Beach apartment, my phone flickered awake with a text from my aunt.

She told me she was praying for clarity for me. To which I promptly burst into tears.

Funny how she could discern my uncertain smoke signals from miles and time zones away. How she could see the pressure valve waning in my soul. How she knew that constant questions were clouding my sense of worth. And that another person's joy was another insecurity hammering into me like a railroad tie.

As I reflect on the past year, all I know is that I have spent more time questioning than praying.

I've worried more than I've trusted.

I've shouted more complaints than praises.

I've been the prodigal daughter---begging for an early inheritance from my father. Squandering away blessings and birthrights.

This blog, this ministry, is dedicated to eliminating insecurity. To end the swarm of questions we ask ourselves. To being patient while we wait for life to unfold. And to have the courage to live the way God asks us to.

To pick up our mats and walk because we have a face, a name and a calling. And we need to spend our days and thought lives as though we believe it.

 photo credit: Jakob E via photopin cc

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