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

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 >>

 

Holy Saturday: The Waiting Period

This morning, the church sanctuary was filled with a chorus of Halleluiah!’s as the choir rehearsed for tomorrow’s Easter worship. Joy was nearly tangible, as violins soared through scales alongside bold trumpet blares. Children’s squeals of delight rang through the air, floating in from outside where they were hunting brightly colored Easter eggs stuffed with sweet treats.

This is it, I thought. This is what church is: Jesus manifested in joy and life and love.

But then I looked out across the pews and remembered–not yet. It’s still only the day after Good Friday. Heavy black cloth still hangs over the windows, blocking out the array of rainbow-colored sunlight that should be scattered across the crimson carpet. Jesus is still laying lifeless in the tomb. The world is still dark and quiet, grieving a separation from God.

We are still in the In-Between, in the Not Yet. We are still in the Waiting Period.

I found myself asking it then, as I sang Handel’s Halleluiah: What does it mean to live on Holy Saturday? There are no sermons given today, no pastor is standing up to explain to us what we do here in the waiting. Instead, we go on Easter egg hunts and have dinner with those we love. We don’t know what to do with this extra day, so we just start the Resurrection joy early.

And it feels good, but it separates us from those first-century followers of Jesus who did not have the understanding of this day that we do. We rehearse with trumpets and take pictures of our kids with the Easter Bunny, but they were in agonizing pain.

Having just seen the worst thing they could think of happen right before their eyes, some of them even participating in it–the betraying kiss, the three denials–I imagine joy was far from their emotional vocabulary. I can see them, huddled around a small table in one of the Twelve’s home, tears blurring their vision. I can hear them, asking it softly: “What do we do now?”

The worst has happened and they don’t know what is coming. It feels like the whole world is holding it’s breath, feeling the weight of Jesus’ death all around.

And we, too, know this feeling all too well. The breathlessness when a loved one draws their last, the white-hot anger of a community when the police shoots an unarmed black man in the back 10 times, the confusion when a woman is told to shut up and sit down (in nicer words, of course) because 2,000 years ago Paul said she was unfit for leadership.

Oh, yes, we know it. The fear of the LGBTQ+ community of being beaten to death in the name of Jesus if they walk into the wrong church, the fury in the remembering of indigenous people’s land stolen by the Colonizers, the injustice of an innocent person executed at the hands of the State.

We each have our own story of how this darkness has crept into our lives, don’t we?

Just like the disciples, we can’t see past our suffering yet. It’s only on Sunday that Friday makes sense, and it will only be someday that today makes sense.

Maybe we forget this dark, grief-filled day so easily because it feels just like every other day. Perhaps we have gotten so used to the pain that our tolerance has risen. Maybe we don’t need one day each year designated to sit in this nearly unbearable pain because we feel it every single day, whether we want to or not: fear, death, the worst of humanity on display.

If we are honest, most of our lives are Holy Saturdays. Most of it is lived here in the in-between, waiting with baited breath to see if Good will win out over Evil. This day is for Jesus, and for all of us. This day honors our suffering, whatever that may look like, gently reminding us that we are bound together through pain just as much as joy.

When I look at it that way, I don’t want to rush through today quite as badly. I’m okay to sit in the quiet darkness–just waiting upon Jesus. Each of us stands in our own form of the gap of darkness that bridges old life to new. We stand, exhausted but hopeful, waiting with outstretched arms raised to the heavens–crying out for our Savior.

And today, that is enough.

How to Know the Truth About Our Spiritual Health: The Fruits of the Spirit

“Are you growing in your faith?” my pastor asked the congregation. “Are you actually moving forward in your walk with Christ?”

He paused, giving the crowd a chance to reflect on their own lives, and I frowned.

What does that even mean? I wondered. My mind spun and I found it impossible to refocus on what was being said from the pulpit. I know my pastor finished his sermon that Sunday morning, but truthfully I do not remember any of it. I was still stuck on his question. How was I supposed to know if I was growing in my faith? How could I measure that?

I found myself pondering these questions for months afterward, asking the same question one hundred different ways, but I was still unsatisfied with what I had found. I wanted a way to really measure my growth in my walk with Jesus and had found none.

Finally, during a Bible study on the Gospel of Matthew, I found my answer.

Continue reading this article at Pursue Magazine here >>

How I Discovered the Secret to a Fully Inclusive Church

I read the tiny words on my phone screen and my breath caught in my throat—they were the words I had been waiting for. For years, I had hoped and prayed and wished for this, and now suddenly it was all happening at once: my family wanted to meet the woman I love.

In the LGBTQ community, we joke that “queer culture” is really just people whose families know nothing about them or their lives. As heartbreaking as it is to say, it is so true. Because when we cannot be honest about who we are, the people who love us cannot understand all we are.

But here she was—my grandmother—throwing the door wide open and inviting us in. So we booked plane tickets and packed our bags and showed up in my middle-of-nowhere, Ohio hometown. I was nervous and terrified it would be awkward, but it turned out to be anything but. There were hugs and kisses and excitement and good food and good conversation and seemingly never-ending visits from friends and family.

And it was during that visit that I discovered the secret to the full inclusivity in the Church that so many of us have been searching for…

Love.

(Yep, it’s really that simple!)

Love over legalism. The End.

Choosing love over the legalistic Law Jesus came to free us from completely negates the need for full inclusivity—because it is inherently fully inclusive of all people. All we need to do is simply choose love over anything else:

Love over racism.

Love over sexism.

Love over homophobia and biphobia and transphobia.

Love over everything else—every. single. time.

For this is the way of Jesus.

So this is how I’m choosing to live 2018: all my love, fully extended to every single person every single day.

Join me, won’t you?