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.

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