B: Believe People

“100% of the time, I am going to default to their [any minority’s] reaction because I know it’s true . . . I am no longer going to say my perspective is the right one because it’s the majority perspective.”

–Jen Hatmaker, Surviving Sarah with Sarah Bragg


A few years ago, I was working at a fitness facility. I worked in the Aquatics Department, mostly teaching and organizing swim lessons, and one afternoon, one of the swim instructors called me to let me know she would be late because her car had broken down on her way into work.

Once she arrived, I asked if she had been able to get her car started, but she said no, she had just begun to walk to work.

“You walked that entire way in this weather?” I gasped, glancing out the window at the huge snowflakes flying wildly through the air.

“Oh no,” she laughed. “A cop was driving by and offered me a ride.” She paused as she dropped her bag into the chair next to her. “He was black, so I knew it was safe.”

I froze. Untamable thoughts raced through my mind: She was afraid of a policeman, the very person who was supposed to keep us safe. She was threatened until she discovered he was more like her than like me. She had to think about whether she would be safer inside a police car or walking along the side of the road alone.

I stared at my friend, unable to find words, until she turned and walked toward her waiting class, already splashing and giggling in the pool.

This was just after the Black Lives Matter movement had started, just after I had moved off the family farm in Small Town, Ohio and into the “big city”, just after I had only begun to understand that my charmed experience in America is not everyone’s. My eyes were only beginning to see my beloved country for all it’s good, bad, and ugly parts–and this experience cracked my heart wide open.

This was the story that changed everything for me, but it was not the first story I had heard. It was just the first time I believed–truly, unequivocally believed–the person telling the story. That sounds bad, doesn’t it? That I hadn’t believed other people telling me racism and discrimination exists in the country we claim is The Land of the Free. But we all do it. Or, at least, we have all done it at some point.

Think about it:

How often do we hear others share their hard, heartbreaking experiences and think: Surely not. Not here.

How often do we hear sexual assault survivors bravely tell their stories only to accuse: “Well, were you drunk? Maybe you said yes and you just don’t remember.”

How often do we hear people of color talk about their experiences with racism and think: Really? Are you sure that really happened?

How often do we hear those in the LGBTQ community tell stories filled with homophobia and transphobia and biphobia and say, “Well, I don’t know if they really meant that.”

We are all gaslighting each other so badly that I’m surprised there is even still a Church at all. When no one believes one another, how do we live and work together? How can we possibly learn, speak, or love when no one’s experiences are valid except for our own?

We can’t and we don’t.

Instead, we gaslight and second-guess and disbelieve people who are literally just telling the truth about their own lives. We surround ourselves with people just like us. We create echo-chambers in attempt to avoid conflict. We stop listening and learning, and grow comfortable instead. We become wildly exclusive.

The way to stop that? Believe the experiences of others–even when (or perhaps especially when) the stories we hear don’t make any sense to us. I’m convinced it is the only way.

But let’s not kid ourselves: this is hard work, the act of believing other people’s experiences without conditions or questions. Are you having a hard time listening without an agenda? Here’s a few tips:

  • Stop comparing your experiences with theirs. You’ve heard that comparison is the thief of joy–it is also the thief of compassion.
  • Accept that you will never be the expert on experiences which are not yours. Listen to learn, not to refute.
  • Practice intentional silence. Listen more, speak less.

 

What do you need us to hear about your story?

This is a safe, welcoming space.

Let me know in the comments below or on social media with #MakingRoomOnThePew.

A: Ask Questions

In college, I was a social work major and one of the most impactful classes of my college career was the one where we learned how to appropriately and effectively interview clients during a therapy session. The first day of class, I walked into the classroom and reluctantly found a seat. To be honest, I was dreading this course. My anxiety was sky-rocketing at the sheer thought of interviewing a classmate (or being interviewed, for that matter) in front of the entire class.

Besides, how hard could this be? I wondered as I listened to the professor review the class syllabus. It’s just asking questions!

I was young and more than a little naïve, and apparently equated professionally interviewing a client to asking my best friend about her weekend plans.

Do you know why asking questions is not as easy as it seems? Because it is not just about asking questions. It’s about asking the right question to get to the information you need. It’s about your tone and body language and choosing the best words. It’s not about the questions; it’s about how to best get to know the client.

Little did I know, as a twenty-year-old pouting about speaking in front of the class for a final exam that this class would teach me valuable skills I would use for the rest of my life. This class taught me how to ask questions–and how to not ask questions.

Let’s face it: there is a bad way to ask questions. Insensitive language and ignorant questions can hijack a productive conversation and send it careening into the flames of defensive anger. You know, questions like these:

  • Is your marriage legal everywhere? Like even in other states?
  • Couldn’t they have another tagline? Something more inclusive, like “All Lives Matter”?
  • What religion allows women to be ordained as clergy?

Ouch. These are some cringe-worthy examples.

But the whole point in asking questions is to learn, you may be thinking. If I’m asking about something I know nothing about, how do I know if my question is offensive?

This is a fair point, and I am going to give you the same advice my professor gave me: “Ask kind questions with curiosity.”

Kind questions don’t feel like ammunition. Kind questions are asked from a place of curiosity, not positioned to take down an opponent. Questions asked with curiosity communications a desire to learn instead of a need to be heard. Kind questions asked with curiosity begin conversations rather than ending them.

I believe kind, productive conversations are the basis of creating an inclusive Church, so it makes sense to prioritize the skill of asking good questions.

The next time you find yourself wanting to ask questions of someone different than you, consider these points:

  • Am I asking to better understand, or to “win” this conversation?
  • Could I find the answer to this question by doing my own research on this topic?
  • Is there a kinder way to ask this?

What kind, curious questions do you have?

Let me know in the comments below!

Take me to the next letter! B: Believe People

The ABC’s of Building an Inclusive Church

I never considered church scary until I was no longer welcomed in with arms opened wide. I never thought church could be uncomfortable until I walked through the door after being asked to step down from my leadership roles when they found out I was dating a woman. I never imagined church could be anything other than a safe haven full of ridiculously fun games at youth group and fantastic (though perhaps theologically concerning) music.

My church was my home.

Some of my friends tried to tell me. They tried to explain the shame and fear and heartache they experienced in the same sacred building where I discovered restoration. But I couldn’t hear it. I didn’t want to hear that my experience was not everyone’s experience; that my favorite place in the world was someone else’s least favorite. I didn’t want to know that the place where I found God was capable of causing my friends to all but lose their faith–whatever type of faith they had.

Looking back now, I can see how much I hurt others by not listening to them, by insisting church could be good for them too if only they would keep trying. I never realized how painful and detrimental that can be for a person–until that person being broken apart and shaved down in order to fit into a pretty little box was me. Maybe it’s been you too.

Let me be clear: I don’t say this out of anger. I don’t hate the Church. I love the Church–despite our rocky past. I say these things because I still love the Church deeply and I know we can do better. I am not condemning; I am challenging. Challenging us all–the Body of Christ–to be more loving, more radically welcoming; to be more like Jesus.

This is not about who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s not about watering down the Gospel or “cherry-picking” the parts of the Bible we like. This is about how to best represent the God-Man we claim to be following. It’s about how to become the true Body of Christ, the one God was envisioning at the beginning of time, the one not at all homogenous but which reflects the glorious Kingdom of God.

It is beyond time to start #MakingRoomOnThePew. Join me, won’t you?

Take me to the first letter! A: Ask Questions

Why God Grounded Me

I am thrilled and honored to be sharing over at The Bud Co. blog today!


We learn it from a young age: hard work is to be rewarded. It starts innocently enough, teaching us good work ethic and setting us up for success later in life, but somewhere along the way it morphs into a dangerous message.

We start to hear it everywhere:
We are only worthy when we are productive.
We are only loved when we are the best.
It becomes a cycle of striving, of always keeping up, of never resting. We can’t stop and we definitely can’t fail. We even have a Bible verse to back it up: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23). I mean, who wouldn’t want to give God their all?

So it becomes our addiction—this insatiable desire to do more and be better. Eventually, we find ourselves actually believing that our worth is directly tied to our level of productivity. Have you been there? I have in fact, even in the last 48 hours. I used to wonder what difference it made that I found my worth in my work. After all, I was highly productive and efficient. How could that be a bad thing? So I continued barrelling down the path of self-destruction because I cared more about crossing things off my To Do List than listening to the still, small Voice I knew was calling me to a new way of living. I kept shouting Yes! to too many things and stretched myself way too thin. I was irresponsible with my own time and with the time of others’.

Finally, after years of striving to earn love and acceptance, I reached a breaking point and learned the truth: rooting my worth in my level of productivity was killing my relationship with God and utterly dehydrating my soul.

And, suddenly, everything screeched to a halt. I left a job I was great at, but which fed my addiction to extreme perfectionism, and I found myself nannying, which has nothing to do with productivity and everything to do with simply being present. I took a break from college. I stepped down from a volunteer leadership role and stopped saying yes to new things.

God grounded me, for all intents and purposes, until I learned the lesson He had been trying to teach me for years and we began in the Gospel of Luke. The story of Jesus visiting the home of Mary and Martha is short, only four verses long at the end of Luke 10, but it was this story that changed my whole idea of what God wants from me.

Continue reading this post at The Bud Co blog here >>

How to Get Through Our Brokenness

Have you ever heard of kintsugi?

It is the Japanese art of repairing broken things with gold. When a piece of pottery is put back together after shattering, the cracks are highlighted, not hidden. Instead of gluing it back together as if it had never been broken, the artist uses the very brokenness to make the piece even more beautiful than it was before. In fact, people in this culture believe that brokenness is not something to be ashamed of or to hide, but rather to display proudly as a story of redemption and repair.

Wow! What a better physical representation of Jesus repairing us by redeeming our own brokenness?

I don’t know about you, but I feel pretty broken most days. In fact, sometimes the whole world feels like it’s about to fly off it’s axis, sling-shot into space and shatter to pieces. And, let’s be honest, this life is hard. People get sick and families break apart; we get disappointed and we disappoint others.

It doesn’t seem fair, but Jesus never promised this life would be easy. Never once. Actually, he warned us quite a few times that it would not be easy. But he didn’t just say, “Well, this will be hard, good luck! See you later!” He’s too good, too sweet for that. Instead, he promised us something so much greater and better than a carefree life: he promised us himself.

In Jesus is: redemption, repair, & restoration.

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” -Colossians 1:13-14

I have experienced plenty of brokenness in my life; that of others and my own. When I disobeyed a rule my parents had put in place to protect me, I got hurt. When my best friend said something hurtful in anger about me. When I was diagnosed with a disorder I will have my entire life. When a good friend from church died unnecessarily. I have so many stories of brokenness, and I would be willing to bet that you do too. After all, none of us are exempt from the hardship of life after the Garden of Eden.

Here are 3 things I have learned from God by living in and through brokenness:

Continue reading this article over at Pursue Magazine here >>

 

Resisting the Urge to Complain

It’s contagious, isn’t it? The need to complain about every single obstacle in our path, every single setback in our life; to lament every single time something doesn’t go the way we had hoped or planned.

I have discovered this truth again and again, even in my own life: Misery loves company. And if we are not careful, we will find ourselves swept up in the momentum, finding fault with everything and our hearts thankful for nothing.

I am no exception. (I suspect you aren’t either.)

I never meant to be miserable, thereby negatively affecting every other person with whom I came into contact. I never wanted to be that person everyone else tried to avoid because I didn’t have anything good to say. I never meant to become the very Thing I used to despise. But the world is loud and life moves quickly, and all of a sudden, I looked up and realized it had happened: I let the world rob me of my joy in Jesus.

It devastated me, and I knew something had to change as soon as possible. I didn’t know what; I only knew that did not want to live my one and only life without joy.

I began taking intentional steps out of misery toward joy, and it totally turned around my attitude (and my life!) .

Here are five practical steps I took in search of a more joy-filled life:

Continue reading this article over at Pursue Magazine here >>

Practice Self Care & Call It Good

I’m not great at practicing self care.

I think that’s why I keep writing about it: to encourage and inspire us all to prioritize what our minds, bodies, and souls need to be healthy. I write about mental health and self care for you and myself. Mostly myself.

If I’m being honest, I don’t practice self care as much or as well as I should because I don’t believe I’m worth it. Not really, not where it counts. I believe that I’m the one who can handle it all. I can endure anything. I’m the one to absorb everyone else’s struggle and conflict and pain because I care deeply about others. But sometimes I find myself so concerned with the well-being of others that I forget about myself. And sometimes I’m so focused on myself that I completely neglect my relationships. Neither is healthy and both are so much more likely to happen when I’m not practicing self care regularly.

I know it’s vital to my well-being, but it’s the first thing to go during a busy week. I can survive anything, I repeat to myself during long work days and frantic grocery store trips and while I’m pretending that the yogurt I tossed into my bag on the way out the door is a sensible lunch. Friends, we weren’t created to simply survive this life. We were created to thrive.

I’ve been learning this lesson over and over again this past year: self care is good and healthy and necessary. I so desperately want you to know this. I want to tell you these things so that you don’t have to learn it the hard way like I did. I want you to be free of the lies so that you can fall headlong into the way of Jesus. Really, that’s what this is all about.

These are the things I’m longing for you to understand:

  1. Self care is not selfish.
  2. Self-denial only leads to death.
  3. Self care is from God.
  4. Self care is a spiritual practice.

So I’m sharing these things over on Our Bible App this week. If you haven’t heard of them, Our Bible is bringing church to your phone and Jesus to your side by way of short, thought-provoking daily devotionals. With categories of devotionals called “Who Was Jesus Tho?” to “I’ve Got My Doubts” to “Mental Health & Spirituality” (my personal favorite!), Our Bible App has something for everyone–and no one’s ever out. We’re all in. After all, it’s just that: our Bible. 

It’s real and raw and meaningful, and the writers featured over there have been breathing life into these tired bones lately. Follow them on Instagram @ourbibleapp and Twitter @ourbibleapp, and download the app on the App Store.

Pull up a chair and join me this week as we talk about self care and what it means for us as Christians. Come on, we’re practicing self care and calling it good.

For There Is No Other Way Forward

7:30 Saturday morning and here I am, with a steaming mug of strong coffee and the Book of John.

I’ll be the first to admit it: it’s still hard to sit here, quiet with the stories spelled out on the thin pages of this ancient book.

It’s hard because I used to believe different things than I do now; scary things, unhealthy things. I used to believe that God was a fiery, angry Eye-In-The-Sky, that I needed to perform for God’s affection and acceptance, that doing more for God made God love me more.

I used to believe that who I am is inherently wrong and evil and an abomination in the eyes of God. I used to believe that I was beyond repair; that I had lost my salvation at 16 years old by being honest.

I believed a whole host of things about the Bible. It was a rule book and if I didn’t do everything it asked of me in the way it prescribed, God would turn me away at the end of time, saying, “I never knew you.” And if I did any of the things it warned me not to, I would surely be damned to the pit of hell, separated from God and all of life for eternity. The Bible always had the final say and there was grace, but only for certain sins. Mine was beyond grace, they said. Becoming something other than myself was the only means of salvation.

I’m not sure what kind of God they were speaking of because my God brings more wholeness, more authenticity; not less.

Looking back now, I’m not surprised I developed an anxiety disorder. It’s no wonder that I have panic attacks with symptoms which mimic heart attacks or that I end up on an emergency trip to the doctor’s office, convinced my airway is closing when it’s really noting more than an inflamed throat from an allergy-induced post-nasal drip. It’s no surprise that I’m terrified of dying for fear of what kind of eternity will be waiting for me on the other side.

Looking back now, thinking through all those things I was told growing up queer in conservative, Midwestern Evangelicalism–it’s no wonder.

I don’t believe those things anymore, but they still have a hold on me. The fear is still there and very real, even crippling at times. I feel very progressive and evolved, deconstructing and discarding that old religion to grasp onto a new, grace-filled faith–but that old fear just won’t loosen it’s grip on my mind and heart.

So now this is a daily spiritual practice: spending time with Jesus. It’s bringing me into a whole new level of faith, a whole new relationship with God, asking God to help me call out the old, fear-based beliefs and replace them with new, Jesus-centered ones. I’m slowly learning that I don’t need to be afraid because love is all around and grace abounds for us all. Even me. Even you.

If you had asked me ten years ago why I do “Quiet Time”, why I read my Bible and pray, why I make Jesus a priority, I would have told you I did it because it’s what God asks of us. It’s what the Church demands of us. It’s just something we are supposed to do, I would have said.

Today, I do these things because there is no other way forward. There is no new day without Jesus, without listening to who he says I am. Because if I’m not listening to the God-breathed truths about who I am, I’m listening to the world’s lies. And that only leads to Death and the old way of life. It only leads away from the freedom we are promised in Jesus.

So here I am, reading my favorite stories about God-with-skin-pulled-on, reminding myself what he says about me and listening for those whispers of truth: You are loved. You are worthy. You are enough.

Yeah, I decided a long time ago I wasn’t believing those lies I was told in church anymore. Sure, the church may be the house of God, but it’s still made up of imperfect people. So instead, I’ll be over here, putting all my trust in the Word of God, the One in whom there is Life, the Light of the World.

After all, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ, and I see no other way forward.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. –John 1:17

 

5 Ways God’s Creation Can Connect Us Back to Him

God's creation connects us

“Nature is but a name for an effect, whose cause is God.” -William Cowper

I grew up on my family’s farm in rural Ohio, spending more time outdoors than indoors most days. I knew the land so well I could find my way around the hundreds of acres my family farmed even in the dark of midnight. My childhood was spent building forts out of saplings, swimming in the pond, and digging my toes into the warm, silky soil during Planting Season. I watched sunrises and sunsets and talked about how so very good God must be to create a world as beautiful as this.

It was as if the earth of Psalm 96 was coming alive right before my eyes:

. . . let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD . . . [Psalm 96:12-13b, NIV]

I somehow instinctively knew it: God’s creation makes us happier.

Continue reading this article at Pursue Magazine here >>

 

When I’d rather be in bed instead of church

I woke up that cold and rainy Sunday morning and I knew it right away: the last thing in the world I wanted to do was go to church.

We had moved to a new town the day before and I just wanted to stay in bed. We were supposed to have an extra-long choir practice in preparation for Christmas and all I could think about was taking a long bath.

I closed my eyes and thought of what I could do instead: Sleep in. Watch television. Eat breakfast in bed. Stay in my pajamas all day long. I even thought about faking sick to be able to do just that.

Instead,  I got up and put on a dress. I did my makeup and squeezed my feet into heels and showed up on time for choir rehearsal. I did everything I was supposed to because I thought I had to.

Halfway through the service, I realized that, surprisingly, I was so thankful I did not skip church that morning. Going to church is similar to going to the gym: there are many mornings I do not want to go to church, but once I’m there, I never regret it.

Once I’m there, surrounded by the Body of Christ, I forget why I was so hesitant to show up in the first place. When the music begins playing, I smile and I’m thankful to be in the pew, and by the time the Eucharist is passed, I’m praising God that I get to be in communion with God and the whole wide, diverse family of Christ.

I am slowly (but surely!) learning it: it is okay to be uncertain and uncomfortable and even a little bit skeptical of the Church. It is an institution created by people and it is inherently flawed. But God is redeeming all things–even the ones we cherish, even the ones we swear are not broken. God has a better plan, a better way, and the Spirit is breaking through, whether we are ready or not.