Dear Gathering Georgetown

Dear Gathering Georgetown,

All weekend freshmen have been moving in on the Hilltop. They’ve arrived with all of the exuberance, dreams, and ambitions that they’ve been storing throughout their high school years. Their parents’ cars and their luggage has probably clogged the roadways and the hallways alike. They’re likely really excited and quite loud. They, with almost certainty, have no idea where the Esplanade or Bulldog Alley are located. I’m sure you’ve seen them and perhaps been annoyed by them. Please befriend them! Please come alongside them and love them. Please remember your freshman year struggles and your desire for community. They need upperclassmen to befriend them, show them the ropes, patiently answer their questions, and mentor them.

This morning the Protestant community came together for their annual Protestant Worship Service, and I heard via @jonathandrice that it was packed!

You have no idea what that news did to my heart. It reminded me that there are freshmen on campus now who I won’t get to sit down with over coffee this year. It reminded me that I’m missing my first Welcome Week on a college campus in five years. And it reminded me that The Gathering Georgetown kick off service is happening in just THREE days on the Leavey Esplanade and I won’t be there. I have to admit that I’m a little heartbroken over all of these facts, but I am thrilled that YOU are there and that your impact there will lead to more followers of Christ on Georgetown’s campus! Continue reading

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On moving, friendship, and the things that matter most

Ever since we left DC, I have had almost zero desire to write. I’ve barely journaled, much less blogged (which is problematic since I am an expected contributor for whitneyandjosh.com). And I didn’t cry until Thursday night, but once it started, I sobbed for a good fifteen minutes or longer.

Several thoughts hit me all at once this weekend, when I least expected them.

First, I miss hugging people. I miss being hugged. I realized that there are very few people here that I could legitimately throw myself across a room in a dramatic fashion to embrace. If you know me well, you know that every friend is greeted with a huge hug, whether it’s been a year or an hour since I’ve seen them last. There’s something quite priceless in a hug that I don’t think I have recognized, or truly valued in quite some time.

The second thought that immediately followed did so in the form of a question: “Why do I not hug people here?” The third thought was, “I really, really miss my friends.” And then I began to think about what makes people special to me and why I value friendships as much as I do.

I have been frustrated with myself lately. I’ve been frustrated that I have yet to find close, best friends. And I’ve struggled to figure out why that is the case. It finally dawned on me. A friendship is made of a million little moments, shared experiences, successes, and failures. I’m sure that I knew this before, but in the span of the past five to seven years, I’ve built strong, solid friendships. The kind of friendships that do not just happen and definitely do not happen in three short weeks.

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Only Jesus Opens Blinded Eyes

I’ve been reading Charles C. Ryrie’s Basic Theology over the last year with my fellow McLean Bible Church Residents (second year Future Leaders). We meet monthly to discuss different theological topics and gain a solid understanding of where MBC stands doctrinally. I really appreciate that I have the opportunity to learn and grow in my understanding of Scripture – and it’s part of my job!

As this year has progressed, I’ve found myself always eager to dive into the next section of Ryrie’s book. I don’t always agree with him, but I’ve enjoyed skimming the surface of a lot of doctrinal topics this year and it’s built great anticipation in my heart for the coming three years I’ll spend in seminary.

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Change

Heraclitus of Ephesus, a Greek philospher said this: Πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει, meaning, “Everything flows, nothing stands still.”

He was quoted by Plato in Cratylus, and by Diogenes Laërtius in Lives of the Philosophers Book IX, section 8
Various translations of this saying are below, but all make the same point – that the only thing constant in life is that life is always changing.

Variant translations:
Everything flows and nothing stays.
Everything flows and nothing abides.
Everything gives way and nothing stays fixed.
Everything flows; nothing remains.
All is flux, nothing is stationary.
All is flux, nothing stays still.
All flows, nothing stays.
Nothing endures but change.
From Lives of the Philosophers by Diogenes Laertius
Variant translations:
There is nothing permanent except change.
Nothing is permanent except change.
The only constant is change.
Change is the only constant.
Change alone is unchanging.

Change alone is unchanging. That’s terrifying. As followers of Christ, we are constantly being called to change to conform more to the likeness of Christ. Sanctification is not an easy process.

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Initial Thoughts on Marriage

I know that I haven’t been married all that long and that I probably don’t have the right to starting writing about marriage until after I’ve been married for more than a month. So take everything I say with a grain of salt and if you prefer, you can wait for my 20 year anniversary in 2031 to begin believing me. All of that aside, I think it’s important to capture some initial thoughts in these first few weeks.

Marriage is, in just one word, incredible. It’s not at all about butterflies and rainbows, or even the “oneness” experience that many people described it to us as, nor is it the extremely difficult transition that the other half of couples described. So far it’s quite ordinary and normal in the sense that we already know each other so well that there have been only nominal disagreements and surprises. That’s not to say that eventually disagreements and surprises won’t come, but there’s definitely the sense that because we have been such good friends for such a long time, we already know one another’s pet peeves, likes, dislikes, and preferences.

That’s not to say that loving him is without difficulty. He tends to not hear me when he’s reading Twitter or watching Sports Center and he also annoyingly tends to leave dishes in the sink instead of putting them straight into the dishwasher. But I step on the shower mat soaking wet instead of dripping off in the shower, so I guess I probably annoy him too.

I think what we discovered during our honeymoon was that the oneness described by all of our counselors and friends isn’t something that wedding vows or living together automatically create; instead, those things merely lay the foundation and create the atmosphere in which oneness can grow. We’ve decided that oneness is likely the result of 20 years of marriage, several kids, and years of struggles, ministry, commingled finances, and lots of prayer.

All of that said, it’s great! We love it. It’s really awesome to wake up next to your best friend every morning and go to sleep with them at night. But it also takes work. I’m learning that to be successful in marriage one must be extremely intentional. Without intentionality, a couple could go through life and merely live together.

Before I was married, I never realized how easy it would be to just cohabitate  or to serve my husband merely just to get things done, without ensuring that the love and glory of Christ is the catalyst of such service.

It would be so easy to do a poor job of reflecting the relationship between Christ and the Church, merely because I lack love. I’ve realized how important it is that the love and glory of Christ be my motivation in every area of life, and especially in my marriage.

Love is such an interesting word. I’m realizing that I’ve only ever scratched the surface. It’s a word that, like the word “oneness,” is likely going to take me a lifestyle shift and an entire lifetime to figure out in its entirety. And if I’m going to live my life by Scripture, this season of life requires me to turn again to Scripture to ask “what is love?” I know in my head and in my heart that it is defined as God and the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, but practically, how am I going to live that out? How do I lay down my life for Josh?

I’m reminded of 1 Corinthians 13’s description of love – “love is patient and kind; love does not enjoy 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 truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (vs. 4-7).” And also, like forgiving someone 70 x 7, “love never ends” (vs. 8), which means that I need a limitless reservoir of love for Josh.

But not just love for Josh or because of Josh. Not because he’s amazing or I love him, but because of God – because all I do and all we are is meant to project the love of Christ’s love for the Church to the world. All I do is worthless without love. I could be the best wife, but if I’m not operating out of an overflow of love for Christ, it is all worthless. I’ve been extended limitless grace and I can only extend it in return. Furthermore, every single thing I do, whether its organizing the pantry, making dinner, or unloading the dishwasher – if I do it with any hesitation or without love, I negate it and I do not do it as unto the Lord.

It seems silly to me that this is so revolutionary to my heart today, but it was an amazing revelation and it makes Josh even easier to love well and live with. God is so good and so faithful to sanctify me in this time and use marriage to do so.

the meaning of life

I discovered the meaning of life on February 12, 1999.

I’ve resolved to remember and reflect on the Gospel constantly and some of the best ways I’ve found to do that is to remember who and what I was before I clearly understood the Gospel and to remember what it was like for the Gospel to come alive in my heart. I was only thirteen years old the day that the Gospel came alive to me and changed the entire direction of my life for over a decade.

I’ll never forget the weekend of February 12. I went to an Acquire the Fire youth conference in Houston, Texas, and I returned home that first night a totally different girl. It was then that I first understood that Christ’s purpose in coming to earth, living a sinless life, dying on the cross, and then being raised from the dead was not just to save me from hell, but to reconcile me to Himself.

The Gospel took on an entirely new light. Church wasn’t just something to do. God wasn’t just someone to worship. The Church was something I was part of… and God was someone to worship and to love.

I realized I was saved from an existence without Him… I was no longer a sinner in need of salvation; my new identity was that I am saved by grace (Eph. 2:8-9), adopted into His family (Eph. 1:4-6), transformed (2 Cor. 5:17), redeemed (Gal. 3:12-13, reconciled into right standing with God (2 Cor. 5:18-19) and a coheir with Christ (Rom. 8:16-17). And there was more! I was called to be a part of His mission (Mark 16:15).

That’s something that changes you forever.

What a beginning. I spent the weekend on my knees, so totally humbled by this revelation that I didn’t even desire to stand. It was an all-encompassing feeling, one that I’ll never forget but that if I’m not careful I can quickly relegate to the back of my mind. In just a single moment, the Holy Spirit illuminated my own heart and gave me a glimpse of the darkness abiding there –  and the knowledge that I was not in love with Christ, despite the fact that I was a “good kid,” in church and serving daily, obedient to my parents, and a memorizer of Scripture. I realized that even though I had served Christ and recognized my need for a Savior all of my life, I had never really known His heart or that He desired a relationship with me. I had never connected the “why” with the “what” and “how.” I knew we were saved by grace through Christ’s death, but I had never known why He wanted to save me.

That weekend transformed my life to from being Whitney-centered, to being focused on a pursuit of God and the people He loves. I desperately desired that my heart become His heart. I wanted to share His love with anyone and everyone that I met. I saved every penny to head to South Africa that summer to share the Gospel with people who had never heard. I was transformed from the inside out. I had finally figured out that life wasn’t meant to revolve around me. Life is all meant to be all about Christ – showcasing His love and the Gospel to everyone I come in contact with.

Recounting Transformation

All of life is a story. It’s a swirling, tumbling, organized mess of plots, subplots, and character development. Character development always leads to transformation. I knew this going into this first year of ministry and I even asked God for the kind of change that would break me, transform my heart, and make me unrecognizable at the end.

As you can see, I thought I knew what I was in for:

“Life is about learning to trust God, after all. And in this season, instead of learning to be patient in waiting, I’m going to learn to jump off of bridges, learn to venture out, learn to be daring and brave. I can already tell that He’s going to teach me to adapt rapidly instead of wait with hope. It’s going to be fast-paced, insane, and everything I’ve dreamed of. But I can guarantee that the transformation will never stop. And I hope there will be so many moments of transformation that I can recount to you along the way (From Character Transformation).”

I know, I know. I said that such a very long time ago. If only I had known how true those words would be.

I promised you stories and moments of transformation throughout this first year of ministry. I haven’t done very well. In fact, I’ve delivered only ONE single post since I jumped into full time ministry.

One of the reasons I haven’t posted is because I’m undergoing so much transformation that I can’t begin to explain it in a single post if I try. Sometimes there are more emotions wrapped up in a single day than I ever knew existed in such combinations prior to July 1, 2010. Another of the reasons is because I’ve allowed myself to get so busy that I don’t even begin to take the time to process my days, my weeks, and my thoughts. That’s all stopping this week. There are so many stories to share and so many thoughts and dreams to process.

I’m learning that reflection and recounting transformation is part of the process of  really being changed.

“The value of a story is what you take from it and what you will use from it in your life. Anybody can write a story, but the stories people remember most are the ones that changed them somehow. (Cuyler Callahan, http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Value-of-a-Story&id=3494657)

I want to remember this year. I want to remember and cling to the lessons I’ve learned. I don’t feel like I’ve only been changed “somehow.” I feel like I’m almost completely different than before. I’m not the same girl who came to work for The Gathering last June. I’ve grown, I’ve been stretched, I’ve cried, and I’ve learned what it really means to be a part of loving and building the Church. Most importantly, I’ve learned how crucial it is to not only to understand the Gospel, but to also love it and embrace it as the means of both my salvation and my sanctification.

Before this year I think I clung to the Lord to succeed. Then I learned to cling to survive. Now I recognize that Christ isn’t a means to an end. He’s not what I need to survive. He’s not what I need to succeed. He’s ALL I need. I cannot even express in words what that realization has taught me, but check back soon for a series of posts on what it means to be Gospel-centered.

Character Transformation… Always In Progress

It’s been more than two months since I last posted an entry.

Two. Months. That’s a long time, even for me. I meant to write, I really did. I’ve learned so much…. SO. MUCH.

In my post entitled “Character Transformation,” I talked about how I’d been handed my dream job and all about the leaps of faith and trust that the Lord was leading me to make as I chose to leave my career on Capitol Hill to pursue full-time ministry. I said that when a story climaxes in our lives, “something is won or lost and sometimes a battle still rages, but the growth, maturity, and transformation gained make every moment of the journey worthwhile.”

I had no idea how much more true that statement could become.

I thought I had changed through the process of dreaming and aspiring to ministry. And then I jumped into ministry and realized that relative to where my heart needed to be, I hadn’t changed much at all.

Again – here’s Donald Miller’s thoughts on change:

“If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another.”

I’ve realized that Miller is really, truly, and absolutely correct. Each phase, each part of the road, so to speak, involves some changing, some growing, and some adjusting. But sometimes there are major changes, seismic shifts, if you will, that God desires to create in the very depths of who we are, and those kinds of changes are the ones that turn us inside out, let us see who we really are, and then gracefully push and mold us into the people that God created us to be.

Now that I’m in ministry, I see in a new way how very much I need the Gospel.

I’ve seen in one short month just how much of a jerk and a coward (to use Miller’s language) that I am. It’s true. I’m praying the words of John 3:30 “He must increase, but I must decrease,” more than I ever have in my life!

Everyone who has ever told me that ministry is hard told the truth. There are competing visions, clashing cultures, and multiple ways of getting a job done. Being in ministry has made me feel more inadequate than any job in government ever could have. I see all of my flaws under a microscope now – I’m  impatient, prideful, easily frustrated, and stubborn. I have to cling to the Gospel, trusting that the Lord knows what He’s doing, why He’s chosen to use me to do it, and how He’s going to break me to the point that I’m usable.

I had no idea the growth, maturity, and transformation that the last month would bring, but I was right… these things, while difficult while the battle rages, are what makes every moment of the journey worthwhile.

The point of this post, this story, this life… is transformation. The Gospel message transforms people’s lives. And I’m learning that that change – that sanctification – is both difficult and beautiful. Thankfully, God is faithful, and when He’s done with this season in my life, I know I will have evolved “from one kind of person to another.”

Character Transformation

You know how in every good book there’s a scene that sets the course for the rest of the story and the character is strengthened? It’s a climax in the story. It’s the moment we remember forever and the instant we associate with certain characters or specific seasons or journeys. Something is won or lost and sometimes a battle still rages, but the growth, maturity, and transformation gained make every moment of the journey worthwhile.

I was sitting in rush hour traffic on May 14th, and it occurred to me that that another one of those moments, a scene in my own life that I’d been anxiously awaiting for so long, was happening. Right then. I was headed in to the Capitol, but on my way in to work that morning I had a phone call to make. A phone call that would change almost everything about my life as I’ve known it for the last three years. A phone call to accept a job in full-time ministry.

I was deluged by a thousand memories and at least a thousand prayers requesting this very position. Every single thing I stood to lose fought for consideration as well. I remembered every prayer and every tear and every promise I’ve made to God for the last three years as I’ve asked Him to open the door for me to go into ministry. The choice was so obvious that there wasn’t even a choice to make at all. It was everything I’d hoped for, everything I’d dreamed of, and everything I’d asked God for. I made the call and as I did, I remembered this quote from Donald Miller’s A Million Miles in a Thousand Years:

If the point of life is the same as the point of a story, the point of life is character transformation. If I got any comfort as I set out on my first story, it was that in nearly every story, the protagonist is transformed. He’s a jerk at the beginning and nice at the end, or a coward at the beginning and brave at the end. If the character doesn’t change, the story hasn’t happened yet. And if story is derived from real life, if story is just condensed version of life then life itself may be designed to change us so that we evolve from one kind of person to another. “

I hung up the phone and with tears streaming down my cheeks I realized that I’d gotten even more than I’d asked for. I got the dream job, but even more importantly than that… I changed along the way. The journey was just as important as the destination. The dream didn’t change even though I waited for years for God’s promise to take place. Instead, He changed me. He used those hopes and dreams to transform my character, illuminate my weaknesses and unbelief, and shape me to the point that He could use me in the way He felt was best.

The two quotes below are also by Donald Miller and are from his book Through Painted Deserts.

It is always the simple things that change our lives. And these things never happen when you are looking for them to happen. Life will reveal answers at the pace life wishes to do so. You feel like running, but life is on a stroll. This is how God does things.”

“No, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath… We get one story, you and I, and one story alone. God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn’t it?”

I’ve learned that Miller is right. There’s no way to wrap my mind around God’s timing. Life is about learning to trust God, after all. And in this season, instead of learning to be patient in waiting, I’m going to learn to jump off of bridges, learn to venture out, learn to be daring and brave. I can already tell that He’s going to teach me to adapt rapidly instead of wait with hope. It’s going to be fast-paced, insane, and everything I’ve dreamed of. But I can guarantee that the transformation will never stop. And I hope there will be so many moments of transformation that I can recount to you along the way.

This one’s for the girls

This entry is about my girls. It’s for my girls. I call them “my girls” because I think they’re mine, but God always reminds me that really they’re His. This entry is about Stephanie, Ceci, Margot, Janelle, Talli, Janelle T., Karen, Megan, and Becca, and it’s about all the other girls that I’ve ever had the privilege and blessing to have in my small group.

Just like the girls are HIS girls, this vision I have for college ministry and for the Gathering, and for my life… it’s HIS vision. He’s the one who fulfills His own purposes and I am shocked and awed, amazed and astounded that He uses me and that I get to be a part of what He’s doing in my generation. Leading and loving in this ministry is never a burden or a sacrifice. It’s a joy. I feel incredibly blessed just to be used by God and to watch the Holy Spirit work in the lives of the people around me.

Tonight we celebrated community. We took the time to talk about and embrace what God’s done in our lives this last semester and year. We talked about our growth and the fruit we see in each others lives. We talked about how to run from sin and stay pure when we’re away from community while home for the summer. We talked about what the Church should really look like and what Christian community means to our lives. We took time out of our busy lives and away from the demands of finals to meet for three and  a half hours. I know… crazy, right? I didn’t plan on spending that much time there, but God definitely had different plans for us tonight. If I could put our meeting into words, if I were to use just a single word, all I can say is that it was beautiful.

Tonight we did what we call “affirmations.” Basically, we went around the room and talked about (and to) each girl – told what they have meant to us and to our community, how they have grown, and the character attributes that we see in them that make them the women God has called them to be. We laugh and we cry and we have to really be careful about giving each person time to talk because I think we all could have gone on and on for hours longer about each girl, if we had the time. Our group doubled in size this semester but never lost the vulnerability and transparency that we developed at the beginning of the year and I’m so very grateful.

So this is for the girls:

Girls, what a year! We walked through all sorts of difficult trials together. We walked through breakups, talked through theological differences, sent friends abroad, weathered economic hardship, prayed and interceded for salvations, and delved straight into talking about tough topics like brokenness and healing, marriage and relationships, sex and sin. Thank you for that. I can’t even begin to tell you what you have meant to me. You have grown SO much. And I’ve enjoyed walking with you each step of the way.

Christ, and what He  does in our lives, makes us beautiful and makes our time together extraordinary. It’s not every day that you put seven girls in a tiny room and watch as they affirm one another in Christ. It’s almost as though tonight we could watch the growth take place in front of our eyes as we strengthened and sharpened one another. The last meeting of the group is always a little bittersweet for me because I’m sad that you’re heading home or abroad for the summer, but oh so sweet, because I get to hear you talk about all of the revelation that’s come to your hearts, all that you’ve learned, all of the places where you have grown spiritually and emotionally, and how your need for community and mentorship was met by our group. And in that moment, I get to watch all of my dreams come true. For my life and for yours.

Thank you for coming. Thank you for being faithful. Thank you for truly loving one another and abstaining from all drama. And thank you for all of the many ways you have loved and supported me this year. Finish finals well, and remember this – community is at the heart of the Church and it’s vital to our relationships with Christ. Take this community we’ve built and recreate it where you are this summer. Embrace and search the Word. Make knowing Christ your pursuit and make Him your heart’s first affection. And run from sin – flee from whatever is evil and remember that compromise is made an inch at a time until you’re a mile from the truth.

This community isn’t dissolving. It’s merely moving. It remains and is here for you always. Like I said tonight, I pray you will all still be friends as you walk through the next seasons of life – graduation and entering the workforce, relationships and marriage, and mortgages and children… lean on and continue to learn from each other. Hold each other accountable. This community is an investment from which you will reap massive dividends.

I love you,

Whitney