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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A Desire to be Comfortable and the Call to Suffering

This past week has been one of the best weeks I’ve had with the Lord in a long while. You know how sometimes you are so stuck in yourself and your situation that you can’t see clearly where the Lord is taking you? All too often that is the state of my heart. I allow my heart to get caught up in all of the “what ifs” and “I can’ts.” Maybe it’s just me that’s this hardhearted, forgetful, and stubborn, but I’m so thankful that the Lord is willing to continue to speak to my heart and reinforce His message everywhere I turn. After going through a season of confusion and doubt, I can often see proof that the Lord’s been working on my heart for a long while but I haven’t had ears to hear or eyes to see what the Lord has been working to reveal.

I often identify with Jesus’ apostle Peter. This is the guy who Jesus referred to as “a rock” in Matthew 16:18, but who though he was willing to get out of a boat and walk on water to Jesus, eventually faltered as he took his eyes off of Jesus to look at the situation surrounding him. The cool part of these stories to me is that Jesus didn’t call Peter a rock and say He would use him to build His Church BEFORE He saw all of Peter’s weaknesses in Matthew 14. No, Jesus’ statement about Peter came in Matthew 16, even after he faltered on the water. Jesus knows our weaknesses. He knows my heart’s tendency to wander. He knows my tendency to take my eyes off of Him. He knows of my desire to stay safe and dry in the boat. And He still wants to use me.

I had a startling revelation on Monday. I was watching C.J. Mahaney’s T4G2012 talk “The Sustaining Power of The Gospel,” and the Lord made so many different things click into place in my heart. I realized that all of the confusion I’ve been feeling lately is a direct result of unbelief that has taken up residence in my heart. Like the Israelites of old, I’ve made myself comfortable with where I am and I’ve become unwilling to venture out, even in response to God’s call. I’ve forgotten the perfection of God’s provision. I’ve convinced myself that suffering isn’t inevitable and that security lies exactly where I am right now. I’ve let fear of the future and the failures of the past convince me that God isn’t faithful. Me, the girl whose favorite attribute of God is His faithfulness. I took my eyes off of Him and didn’t even want to venture out. I desired comfort more than I desired Christ.

Mahaney’s talk was phenomenal. If you are in ministry, you MUST listen to it. If you’re close to giving up, you MUST listen to it. If you need to remember His faithfulness, you MUST listen to it. If you need an eternal perspective, you MUST listen to it. The entire sermon was phenomenal but his second point was the one that penetrated my heart – the Apostle Paul understood that the context and condition of Christian ministry is suffering. His text was 2 Corinthians 4:1-18, and he referenced verses 7-12 as he stated that “the proclamation of the gospel, by definition, involves persecution, suffering, trials, afflictions, bewilderment, being struck down, etc.”

And this sentence is the one that changed everything: “You need to have this theology of suffering in place, before you experience these things, or you will be blindsided.”

It’s not supposed to be easy. Life isn’t easy, just as marriage isn’t easy (see Marriage is Nothing Like a Hallmark Card). We’re not called to the American dream. And God made it this way on purpose. Despite my desire to be safe, secure, and comfortable, God is calling me to suffer. And what makes it all worthwhile is that “these realities have a divine design. They are purposeful. Each of these times of hardship is an opportunity to show His power… when [others] watch you in suffering, they want to see if the Gospel makes a difference.” He is developing our character, building our witness, and bringing Himself glory.

It is the grace of God that enables us to follow His call. His Spirit can penetrate even the hardest of hearts, strengthen the weakest of knees, and illuminate the darkest of paths. This week I’ve been encouraged by Paul’s theology of suffering, his expectations of ministry, and by his eternal perspective that is captured for us in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Take heart today! Be willing to step out in faith to follow God’s calling on your life. Our current (or future) suffering, when compared with future glory, is completely worth whatever hardships may come our way. The Apostle Paul even goes so far as to say that there is no comparison with the eternal glory that will come as our reward!

Contentment

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.” – 1Timothy 6:6-7

I just searched this site for the number of times I’ve tagged a post with the word “contentment.” I found that despite the fact that contentment is something the Lord is constantly teaching me, I found only four previous posts (if interested, you can find them here). Recently, the Lord has convicted me about how frequently my heart wanders into discontentment, as well as the constant comparisons that I make of myself to others.

The area where I find myself most vulnerable to comparisons and discontentment is no longer the mall or when I’m flipping through a J.Crew catalog, though those are still avenues of temptation for me to lust for things. Rather, I’ve found that several of the greatest areas of temptation for my heart in this current season involve social media sites.

Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest, among others, provide a unique environment for online community. They, like many other social media sites, have made it possible for friends and family members to stay connected, despite living on different sides of the country or even on different continents. I often catch myself heading to my sister’s Facebook page so that I can view new photos of my ten-month-old niece. They live in Los Angeles, but thanks to Facebook and FaceTime, I’ve been able to be a part of my baby niece’s life! There are so many other positive uses for social media. We aggregate news, we are inspired to pursue causes of justice and mission, and we pursue a myriad of various interests through social media. The possibilities are truly endless. I’ve made numerous Pinterest-inspired recipes and craft projects. However, despite all of the positive opportunities that Facebook and other social media sites provide, I have recently realized that there is another inherent opportunity in the use and consumption of social media – the temptation and opportunity to covet and compare.

This temptation is not new. God commanded the Israelites in Exodus 20:17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” We all have a proclivity to want what we do not have and Facebook and Pinterest tend to make us much more aware of what is not ours. They bring the whole world to our fingertips! While looking through my News Feed, I’ve found myself comparing my body, my vacations, my family, my home, my job, my marriage, and my friendships to those of my closest 1,028 friends on Facebook. And it doesn’t stop there! You can literally compare every detail of your life to the details of others’ lives that they post for all to see!

I experienced the incredible danger of these comparisons this past fall as I settled into marriage. I had several friends on Facebook, whom had also recently been married, and I found myself in a constant state of comparing myself and my marriage to these women and their new husbands. I wondered if my marriage wasn’t as good as their marriages if I wasn’t also receiving flowers or love notes with the same frequency as the other new wives. Or if I wasn’t cooking for my husband as much as they were. Facebook opened a door into others’ routine lives and relationships that made me feel as though my life and my relationship were somehow inferior. I found myself coveting. I wanted my husband to be more like theirs. Likewise, while Pinterest is super fun (and addicting), even I have “Fitness” and “Fashion” boards. Is it full of exercises that I think would be helpful and outfit ideas that I love? Yes. But it’s also full of images that fill my heart and mind with what culture says I should look like. And sadly, all too often I fall prey to their perspective. And so do many other women. In fact, even the news media has been reporting on Pinterest’s “anorexia problem.”

I’m sure that I compare myself and what I have been given to other people and their possessions even more often without realizing it, but thankfully, the Lord revealed this sin in my heart last fall, before I allowed it to poison my new marriage. I have to constantly remember and reflect on why I entered into marriage in the first place – because God had led me to this specific man and no other! Likewise, I have had to consistently meditate on 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

I want to encourage you to take a look at your heart today. Look at where you may have allowed discontentment, jealousy, and covetousness to creep in as you have observed your friends’ lives or dreamed of new clothing, a perfect body, and what your future house could look like. Meditate on Romans 12:2: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Please let God Himself define perfection for you. And don’t be lured into thinking that God hasn’t given you exactly what you need. Thank God for where He has placed you specifically – and remember that He is sovereign and that He has determined not just when you would live, but also “the boundaries of your dwelling place!” (Acts 17:26).

And lastly, please place a guard on your heart and do not allow yourself to be lulled back into discontentment. As 1 Timothy 6:6-7 says, “godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out.”

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.

Living the Cross Centered Life

C.J. Mahaney’s book Living the Cross Centered Life is incredible. Basically, he articulates in clear and profound ways all that the Lord has been walking me through in my relationship with Him throughout the past year or so.

I love the questions he asks… Questions like, “What’s really the main thing in your life? Only one thing can truly be first in priority; so what’s at the top of your list, second to none? […] What are you most passionate about? What do you love to talk about? What do you think about most when your mind is free? […] What is it that defines you? Is it your career? A relationship? Maybe it’s your family, or your ministry. It could be some cause or movement, or some political affiliation…” (13)

The Apostle Paul tells us that the Gospel is the only essential thing for our lives – “Now I would remind you brothers, of the gospel I preached to you… For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received; that Christ died for our sins.” (1 Cor. 15:1,3)

What an introduction. And that’s only the first page. Trust me – you need a copy of this book. The foreword warned that it is “nothing less than a manifesto for turning your world upside down” (9) and boy, is it correct.

We all want to say that it’s our relationship with Christ that defines us. Most of the time I firmly believe that the Gospel is the thing I love the most… the thing I lean on and cling to; the thing I strive to remember and reflect on constantly. I talk about it daily and it is always my goal to live out the Gospel to those that I interact with and lead. But does it hold the foremost place in my heart and in life? Do I love HIM most?

I’m also currently reading Gospel Coach by Scott Thomas and Tom Wood and today I read one of the most convicting things that I have ever read:

“The tricky thing about idolatry is that it is usually the pursuit of something that is otherwise good…Idolatry is enslavement to something we love… it’s a good thing that is elevated to a god thing […] a sin becomes an idol when we hold it in greater value than we value Jesus for our ultimate joy and satisfaction” (68)

This has led me to ask the following questions:

Where in my life do I pursue Christ as a means to an end? Where is merely who He is not enough for my ultimate joy and satisfaction?

Is there an area of my heart that I’m enslaved to something I love? If so, what is it?

Asking these questions is absolutely critical if I’m to live a Christ-centered life. I don’t have all the answers to them yet, but I know that I desire for the Gospel to be the thing that I’m most passionate about. I want it to color the way I look at each circumstance I walk through and every relationship I’m a part of. I want the Holy Spirit to constantly be transforming me into the image of the Son – all to bring Him glory and spread His name.

Mahaney says that “in the Scriptures we discover a profound urgency for focusing all we are and everything we do around the gospel of the cross. For not only does this good news come first chronologically in our Christian experience, but it stays foremost in critical importance for creating and sustaining our joy and our fruitfulness” (15).

I’m learning that once you fall in love with the Gospel the next step is to make your life match (be worthy of) the weight of the Gospel and Scripture. And I think that the first step in doing so is actually establishing Christ as first. Making Him my ultimate joy and expecting that He’ll make a beautiful thing of me.

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.”