Ya’ll ain’t ever seen the Lykes of us

While I pay no mortgage, no utility bills, and don’t spend more than a few weeks time there, I feel part owner of 3150 North Otter Creek Road. David and Fontella Lyke may live at this address but I know myself and at least twenty other family members feel like it’s their home too. This house was destined to be more than just walls and a roof. From it’s beginning, it was waiting for the Lykes to take over. My Papaw recently told me the story of how they came to own this place. In 1990, he was traveling for work and he took out a half sheet of paper and wrote the following requirements: red brick, four bedrooms, central air, patch of land. He recalled how later he showed the list to my grandma and said that was the standard. He had no idea that at the time he was building his list, someone else was building his house on the other side of town. A couple years later, in 1992, they saw in ad in the paper for a home for sale by owner and the ad read “secluded.” It was, in fact, so secluded they passed the house entirely the first time they went to see it. After turning around, they slowly drove down the half -mile driveway until it curved and Papaw knew he was in trouble. In the clearing, there sat a red brick house with four bedrooms and central air located on 15 acres. He said it was divine intervention.

The house has been a place of rest and joy not only to our family but also to local ministries, friends, and other out of town guests. Walking throughout the house, any guest will find trinkets and treasures from missionary trips, more books than one could read in a lifetime, and, most prominently, pictures. There’s a wall in my grandparent’s home filled with portraits. Panning across the mismatched frames against the muted pea green wall, no face stands out amongst the crowd. Smiling faces of senior pictures and family cards blend together in this unofficial family tree. Guests can trace the developments of each branch as toddlers in Christmas pajamas change into college graduates displaying degrees. Every moment of joy frozen in time displayed at the center of our heart’s home. It’s those frames of nostalgia we revisit each holiday and weekend visit. The entire house is littered with images of the past. Each side table, armoire, and bookshelf contains hidden treasures of bath time, birthday giggles, and group naptime. Standing amongst the nineties pastel palette are dark brown sepia tones with burnt vignettes closing in on the portrait. These ancient relics recorded during the early days of photography mark our starting line.

My papaw spends most of his time learning about where he came from. His favorite thing to do is to show off old pictures of great-great-greats and tell stories about our messy hillbilly foundation. The importance of family history can be seen throughout their home. But it’s not evidence of people who can’t let go of the past. Honestly, between both of my grandparents, there are many stories I’m sure they would be happy to forget. Before most holiday meals, Papaw says, “If it weren’t for her (pointing to my grandma), and God in my life, none of this would be here. I could have been a drunk, very easily could have been my path, but look what we have now.” Then we join hands around the table, sometimes there are 12 of us and on lucky occasions there are over 30, and sing the Doxology.

Praise God from whom all blessings flow

Praise Him all creatures here below

Praise Him above, ye heavenly host;

Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost

Amen

As the final harmonies hold out the last syllable of “Amen”, it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed by the connected spirit in the room. The faces of who we were, younger versions of ourselves, watch as we capture new moments of joy. Walking through my grandparent’s home, you see a story unfold from a young couple starting a family in Michigan into a network that spans the country. Except those pictures are only moments out of the larger narrative. There may be joy, laughter, friendship and love inside the frame, but it’s what’s outside the frame that tells our true story.

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Trusting God

I’m a planner. When I drag myself out of bed every morning and crawl into the shower, my brain wakes itself up by making lists of things that need to get done or plans I need to make. This list starts with the very small and mundane (go to the store, grade research papers etc.) and by the time I’m out of the shower I’m alert because I’ve worked my blood pressure up to a boil planning out my future. Left too long in my own head, I end up ten years down the road planning out every detail of my life. There are many versions of my future life. Sometimes I go on to get my masters and then (if I’m feeling good about myself) my doctorate, winding up as a professor in a university somewhere across the pond. Other days I continue as a high school teacher but add acclaimed author to my resume. If I’m feeling burnt out by school, I marry a very nice rich man and we travel the world together. Welcome to my brain everyone, where everything is made up and the points don’t matter.

 

As someone who likes to know what to expect in her life, I have always had an issue with the idea of God’s plan for my life. Now, hang with me for a second. Remember the other day when I wrote about my fear of missing out on life? This plays into that. My head knows that God has a plan for my life that is bigger and better than anything I could imagine in a 10 minute shower, or even a whole day of dreaming and scheming. My head knows the Bible offers many assurances of God’s ultimate control in my life (Romans 8:28, Jeremiah 29:11, Proverbs 3: 5-6, Psalm 37:7, Psalm 27:14 to name a few). My head has been taught all of the church appropriate answers for dealing with stress about the future.

 

It’s all in the Lord’s hands.

 

But, you see. My heart has not gotten the memo. My heart starts running around in circles when friends ask about my career plans. My heart rocks back and forth in the corner trying to process the many different paths ahead. My heart does not even like to consider life past age 30 because it can only take so much stress dealing with what might happen tomorrow. Platitudes like “It’s all in the Lord’s hands” or “Just trust God and He will show you the way” don’t comfort my worn out heart, they just add a heaping side of guilt.

Great, so not only do I not know where my life is going to take me but now I’m also a bad Christian for not trusting God.

Over the years, I have had several pastors and leaders teach me that waiting on the Lord doesn’t mean sitting on my hands and passively letting life happen. In Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, How to Get a Date Worth Keeping, he illustrates this point by saying if a single person is waiting on God to deliver the perfect partner to his or her doorstep, that person better be prepared to marry the mailman. Another way to think about it is this: If I want a job, I have to go in, ask for an application, fill it out, return it, and then go in for the interview. I can’t sit at home and wish for an employer to randomly call my number and offer me a job. I can’t even walk past a “Now Hiring” sign and pray that God gives me the job. I have to go in. I have to do a lot of the work to make something happen. My mother once shared this analogy with me:

There was a man who was being told to evacuate his home because a nearby river was going to flood that area. He refused to leave and said “God will take care of me.” Policeman came by and offered to help him leave and he said no. Later, as the water level rose and the man took shelter on his roof, rescue boats offered him help and he refused. He said, “God will rescue me.” Finally, a rescue helicopter flew over and tried to save him but still he refused. Unfortunately, the man died and when he got to heaven he asked God, “Why didn’t you rescue me?” and God said, “I tried! I sent the policeman, the boat, and the helicopter!”

This humorous little story reminds me that God requires me to be active even in my waiting. This way of thinking calms my heart and spirit because I like to have control in my life, and activity or busyness creates a sense of control. However, I begin to feel like I’m balancing on a tightrope between taking initiative and action in my life and putting God in the backseat (or heck, leaving Him on the curb). If left unchecked, I will take a lot of action in my life and cling to the idea that it’s what God wants me to do, even if I have totally hijacked His plan.

In my small group, we are studying the story of Joshua and the idea of following God’s plan has come up a lot. Recently, we were reading the part where God leads the people to the Jordan River and asks the priests carrying the ark of the covenant to put their feet in the water. Just their feet and then God takes care of the rest. He parts the river, two million Israelites cross on a dry land, and the journey continues. God fulfills His promise and takes care of His people. We discussed how putting our feet in the water was like taking that first step, being active in God’s plan. But what if they waded in further, just to be sure? Would God chuckle to himself and continue on with His plan? Or would He would wait like a teacher in a noisy classroom for His people to obey?

I have all these unanswered questions about how to follow God’s will. My biggest question overall is actually a gigantic general “HOW?” And not in a metaphorical-you just do sense- but in a step by step sense. How do I know when I’m following God’s plan and not just doing what I want? How do I know what He wants me to do? How do I separate what I think is right and what He is telling me is right?

 

How do I trust God?

 

I’m not asking this because I have any reason not to. I have no reason not to trust God. I’m asking this because I have been trying to hear God, listen for Him, and trust Him for about 14 years and I don’t seem to be getting the same results as everyone. So either everyone is lying to look better or I’m missing something. As a person who likes to be good at things, and who likes to know what’s going on in her life, this is a very frustrating feeling. How do I get the things I know to be true in my head to travel down and rest easy in my heart?

 

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/18/2014

A wandering soul

wanderlust: noun 1. a strong desire to travel

fernweh: a German word that is similar to wanderlust but with more intensity. It describes a feeling akin to being homesick but instead of long for home, a person is farsick, longing to see distant places.

I can pinpoint the moment (more or less) that my traveling bug was activated. But let’s back up. As a family, we traveled around the Midwest quite a bit. My mom’s parents live in Michigan and so during major holidays we made the trek up north to Monroe. At some point, my aunt and cousins lived in Florida and we took a trip to see them. We went camping in area campsites, traveled to Norris Lake as often as we could, and found ourselves on a lake most weekends when the weather was nice (or what my dad qualified as nice). I remember taking a trip to Arizona to visit family friends and see the Grand Canyon. The most vivid memories of that trip include waking up to 6 inches of snow (I was very confused since we were supposed to be in the desert) and the overwhelming anxiety of my dad standing too close to the edge of the Grand Canyon (probably where I realized my fear of heights). In 5th grade, we went on a cruise for spring break and while I enjoyed the tropical beaches, I was too young to appreciate the countries I was traveling to. I was more concerned about getting my hair braided, the ultimate badge of honor for a tween traveler.  

While those trips showed me a lot about having adventures, it was actually a class project that started my fascination with traveling. At some point in elementary school I had to do a research project and I researched London, England. I read book after book on life in London and became totally preoccupied with Big Ben. I cannot explain the logic of my gradeschool mind but I just had to go and see this giant clock tower. As I grew older, I held on to this desperate desire to go to London, and it was only spurred on as I studied British Literature and fell in love with the classic language and dark landscape. In high school, I looked up airline prices and searched for tours. When I started looking for colleges, they had to have a study abroad program that included studying in London. I even tried to talk about studying abroad during high school. I just wanted to go out and see what existed across the pond. Unfortunately, none of those plans ever panned out. In high school, I had the opportunity to tour Greece and Italy with my art class and I figured- what the heck. It wasn’t England but it was new and it was across the ocean.

This trip fueled my curiosity. I travel because I’m a curious person. I think I have pretty well established that I love to learn, and, for me, traveling is the ultimate classroom. When I travel (international or national) I get to meet new people, and most are more than willing to share their story, experiences, talents, and knowledge. Nigerian author, Chimamanda Adichie, speaks on the danger of the single story in this TedTalk. She talks about how we can become narrow minded in our view of the world if we always accept what is present to us. One way to fix this issue is reading challenging texts, but another way is to actually go out in the world and see the diverse perspectives people have to offer. It’s like the old saying goes, you need to walk a mile in a person’s shoes before you can fully understand his story. Before I went to Australia, I read Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country which pretty much terrified me and made me never want to step foot in Australia. Besides the intriguing historical and political information, he clearly spelled out that everything in Australia is out to kill you. He described in detail the spider situation and as a person who gets her cat to kill spiders instead of facing them herself, I was immediately regretting my decision to go. However, I went anyway. And yes, there were some spider situations, but I also experience the beauty of the sunburned (and sometimes forgotten) country. His book prepared me but reading about Australia is not the same as actually going there. Traveling provides me an experience that reading cannot always give me.

Instead of just looking at a picture of the Cliffs of Moher, I got to feel the wind whipping across my face as I watched the waves crashed against the rocks-continuing to create this craggy formation. Instead of reading about the Sistine Chapel and viewing sections of it, I got to stand underneath it and have my breath taken away by intricacy and enormity of this monument of history. I got to walk to streets of Granada hand in hand with a great friend. I also got to have that same friend laugh at me and help me up when I tripped over one of the pomegranate statues that line the streets of Granada (seriously though- those things are shin height-I can’t be the first to have done this). I had the chance to learn (and taste) classic Australian food from a good friend and award winning cook. I also got to share some of my own American food with that friend (Pulled chicken sandwiches, baked beans, biscuits, and s’mores). On several occasions, I got up close and personal with kangaroos and koalas.

Now, if you can believe, I have yet to step foot in England. Not even in an airport for a layover to somewhere else. The one place that inspired this expensive hobby has eluded me for years. I’ve been blessed to see parts of Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain, and Australia. However, this summer, my roommate and I are visiting the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, France, Switzerland, Italy, and…England. I’m finally going to see the place where it all began.

I find it hard to articulate what travel means to me. Traveling is such an important part of self-discovery and I believe is a cornerstone of lifelong learning. The world is too big and too beautiful to let it go undiscovered. The best way I can sum it up is to steal a song from my favorite Disney princess, Belle.

I want adventure in the great wide somewhere

I want it more than I can tell

And for once it might be grand

To have someone understand

I want so much more than they’ve got planned

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/28/2014

Fear of missing out

The social media world is full of abbreviations and acronyms. Most of them I don’t understand. I will scroll through my students’ Twitter feeds and sentences look something likes this, “TBH, IDC wat my parents said. SMH” or “HMU tonight.” It’s seriously a foreign language that should be taught to people like me who have to wade through teen lingo on a daily basis. I totes need a refresher in cool slang.

However, there is one acronym that I do understand. I hate it, but I understand it. FOMO:

fear of missing out.

This is most commonly applied to situations, like not being invited to a party where everyone else seems to be. It also reminds me of a How I Met Your Mother episode where there’s always that one person who, when they leave a room, misses the most exciting part of the evening. Mindy Kaling’s book Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? reflects this pervading trend of social paranoia. Social media increases this anxiety causing users to check their phones and modes of social media constantly- never wanting to miss a post, tweet, or piece of information that might keep them in the loop. I watch my students do this all day. I have to remind them that nothing exciting has happened in the last ten minutes they checked their phone. It’s a testament to how important we think we are. We seek to be omniscient and desire to have the luxury of deciding what we wish to be involved with, as opposed to accepting that the world spins on without our input.

My case of FOMO started in high school. I was a theater geek who did well in school, had a curfew, and my parents were the kind that needed to know where I was going and if other parents were going to be there (Something I’m very grateful for now). During my sophomore year of high school, my friend group started to change. I had been friends with the same girls since elementary school but now that we were getting older it was clear we weren’t on the same “social track.” Lunch became a time of sharing stories of good times over the weekend and when their eyes landed on me I felt ridiculous. They seemed oblivious to my desire to want to remain in on their plans.I thought, “If you were all together hanging out, what did you think I did all weekend?” It still stung sitting at the lunch table on Monday listening to these girls who I had grown up with talk about their weekend together and knowing I was the only one not invited.Fortunately, I started to make new friends who held similar interests and began to feel more included. However, I still felt the pain of that loss.

Once I got to college, I became more confident and was able to find a group of friends that respected my hermit like behavior, but also pushed me to have new experiences. However, there is a picture of what the college experience is supposed to look like and I began to fear I was missing that. I wasn’t looking to party my years away but I thought I would be doing more than studying and working. I was a part of one student club, but it was small. I didn’t join a sorority. I wasn’t active in a campus ministry. Actually, I began to realize I experience high levels of anxiety in large groups of people (some of you who know me might doubt this, but just because I’m loud doesn’t mean I’m social). I once went to the gym, didn’t understand how to sign up for a cardio machine, panicked in front of a large line of people (convinced they knew I was confused) and ran out. I’m very lucky that my education cohort was so close knit or I might have fallen forever into a textbook and never resurfaced. I feared I was missing what were supposed to be the greatest years of my life.

I graduated, found a job (thankfully), and began my “grown-up” life. So here I am in my twenties with a whole other host of expectations to lives up to. Things like New Girl, Girls, Friends, and the early seasons of Sex and the City create this idea that a young woman in her twenties is flitting from adventure to adventure. Every day is full of some crazy and spontaneous chain of events that teaches you a life lesson and might even land you a date. So according to those expecations: Of course I’m having all my other vagabond friends over for vegan-soy-slam poetry- Friendsgiving. Why yes, I do live in a loft over-looking the skyline of a major metropolis (and pay a reasonable rent). I frequently get in my car just to see where it takes me and wind up in a quaint little country town with the friendliest of people. I daily encounter some cutie in the grocery store who wants my number and then sets up an adorable picnic lunch date.

NOT.

 

I live a very routine life in the suburbs of a small midwestern city. I go to my job, come home, attempt to get more work done, ignore the housework, maybe read, and then go to sleep and do it all over again the next day. I get this constant nagging sense that I’m missing my life. Social media does not help this feeling. Every day there are more posts and pictures of people who are living this seemingly exciting, spontaneous, magical life and I think “How do I make that happen for me?”

This fear is only compounded when I begin to look at what God expects me to do. I have a healthy respect (*cough* fear *cough*) of authority figures and want to please those around me with high expectations. So, I constantly struggle with trying to figure out how I can please God, how I can achieve the honor of being called “good and faithful servant.” I know and understand that I should not be tethered to this world. I should not let what it deems important dictate what I deem important. I am to be in the world, not of it. I believe this and I do try to avoid putting too much stock in earthly materials and honors. It’s an enormous amount of pressure, because this is more than missing fun or spontaneous opportunities. It’s the weight and worth of my soul. It is the question of whether or not I’m fulfilling my God-given purpose in life.

So if we are keeping a tab, I am trying to balance three different life experiences.

  1. The experience the world puts on me.
  2. The experience God puts on me.
  3. The experience I’m actually having.

 

I’m sure some of you have already caught on to the problem this anxiety causes me.

By focusing so much on the fear of missing out, I begin to miss out on what’s happening in my life. By paying so much attention to what others are doing, by putting so much weight on their accomplishments, I stop paying attention to what is going on right in front of my face. I miss out on the ways I’m already living and pursuing God. I focus on how the teacher next door is engaging her students and I miss the revelation happening with a student in my own room. I see friends on exciting weekend trips hiking through beautiful woods, and as I lust for the freedom and beauty they are experiencing, I forget that I hate camping and bugs. While I’m scrolling through Instagram, I miss experiencing the beauty that doesn’t need to be captured and filtered and hashtagged.
I have been blessed with many adventures in my life. Heck, my job is a daily adventure. Perfect example, I had to explain to some visitors yesterday why our senior boys were wearing dresses and skirts. This fear will only be conquered by daily choices to focus on what I have set before me. If any of this sounded familiar, let’s make the conscious effort to stop comparing our adventures to others. Let’s not let the fear of missing out shadow the moment we are experiencing right now.

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 5/15/2014

What’s in a name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I’m reaching that stage in life when the frequent topic of conversation is about baby names. Particularly around my sister and her husband. It’s quite entertaining to hear the back and forth, debating the pitfalls of a name due to the possibility of an unfortunate nickname, and listing the merits of family history (the name “Oscar” has been at the center of both camps). It’s an important discussion to have for young married couples on the verge of starting a family. Your name defines so much of who you are. It’s the beginning of your life..and you don’t even get a say in it.

As you get older, more names are put on you and each shape your identity in a different way. We resist being labeled as much as possible. We are taught the warnings of name calling and stereotyping others but it happens all the same. If you’re the oldest child then you’re a leader. If you’re the youngest then you’re the baby. If you’re the middle then you’re self-sufficient. At school, you’re tracked into groups based on your ability. Scholarship, remedial, advanced placement, resource. You’re athletic, dramatic, geeky, popular, promiscuous, or alone. With each label we accept, we change.

Unfortunately, we start to believe these labels that are put on us. We change our behavior to fit whatever mold is being placed around us.

While at Miami, my cohort called me Hermione. This was based off my tendency to raise my hand to answer every question and generally be a book worm. However, my love of Harry Potter spurred the behavior. I felt it was expected that I start a class discussion. I had to have something to say in order to uphold my title of Hermione. I couldn’t let her down.

My family often reminds me that I can be sensitive when it comes to arguments or confrontation. It has been said so frequently that when I’m in arguments, I talk myself out of my feelings. I convince myself that I’m being overly sensitive and I don’t hold the other party accountable for their actions. Now, sometimes, I really am being overly sensitive and I need to be aware of this. However, other times my feelings are rightly hurt and I should be allowed to express that. But I don’t.

At my job, I’m the quirky new English teacher that sort of looks like a student. When students get their papers back, I’m the impossible to please college professor. When they need someone to talk to, I’m a counselor. When they need homework help, I’m an editor. On top of that, after school demands even more of me as I’m also a coach and a director. My work day requires me to be a chameleon withstanding the ebb and flow of the dynamic classroom.

When I’m feeling insecure, I believe the label, put on me by several destructive relationships, that says I’m not enough just the way I am. This sense of inadequacy can be overwhelming when I’m around someone I like and I begin to overcompensate. I laugh too hard, make inappropriate jokes, and try to present myself to be exactly what this other person might want. I act out in desperation and it’s ugly.

I add my own weight of labels with my desires and aspirations, including but not limited to: writer, professor, adventurer, and traveler. Anyone else starting to feel overwhelmed? Besides these labels created by myself and those I interact with, my surrounding culture adds a hefty list of names as well. As a young woman I should be: sexy, smart, independent, in need of a relationship, financially successful, athletic, fashionable, easy to approach, fun, and an excellent future wife and mother. Now lets take into consideration that I’m a Christian. Those labels include: chaste, pure, faithful, respectful, quiet, kind, courteous, submissive, graceful, helpful.

It’s a lot just for one girl to juggle.

It’s so much that sometimes I forget the only name that matters.

Child of God. Beloved. Cherished by He who created the universe.
The world will call you a lot of things. It will try to change who you are to fit its own needs and expectations. But remember your true name and let that shape your actions. Believe you are carefully looked after and loved by the God who sacrificed His son so that you could be with Him. You might walk just a little taller.

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 4/10/2014

Blessed are the single?

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

This is how that verse reads in the New International Version. However, I think that sometimes people read it like this.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future *and for you ladies that definitely means a husband so wait patiently for my plans to unfold*”

Several of my close friends and family members have made the big leap into marriage in the past several years (quite a few got hitched only last year!). With the invasive social media, it’s very easy to congratulate a happy couple and of course stalk all the photos from that joyous day. However, I have noticed a trend in the congratulation messages a couple receives. Or more specifically, the congratulation messages a bride receives. Immediately before, the day of, and immediately after I see people writing things on a bride’s wall that congratulate her on her patience and assure her that the best part of her life has just started. They repeatedly use the term “the Lord’s plan” in their congratulations.

“You patiently waited on the Lord and he provided.”

“Congratulations, the Lord has truly blessed you.”

“We are so happy to see the amazing things God is going to do in your marriage.”

I am not debating the truth of these statements. I believe that God blesses us in many ways and that he does use marriage to enrich our lives and, if we are following Him, to better the lives of those around us. My issue with statement like those above is that I only read them on the bride’s wall. Oh sure, people congratulate the groom. But those comments are mostly jokes about how lucky he is and how he is never going to be “right” again in his life (a topic all on its own).

There seems to be a trend within the Christian community that associates marriage with the start of a woman’s life. Her life is only blessed because she waited and finally found a husband. God can finally use her because she is married. She’s doing the Lord’s work and fulfilling his plans by becoming a “Mrs”. What happened to all of her accomplishments while she was single?

What about the degree she got while also holding a full time job? What about those loans she paid off on her own? What about the job she secured for herself and became successful in? What about the small group she led? What about the volunteer projects she dedicated her time to?

Those accomplishments are seen as things that women complete while they are “waiting” on the Lord to supply them a husband. Those jobs, tasks, and accomplishments are just used to keep us occupied so we don’t spiral into desperate loneliness, right? Instead, we should see them for what they truly are. Accomplishments that the Lord has also blessed. Pieces of His plan that we are already actively taking part in, man or no man. What bothers me so much about those statements is that it seems to invalidate all other parts of God’s plan that took place before the marriage. I remember reading a comment that said, “Enjoy your first birthday as a Mrs!” As if somehow this birthday was better than the rest. As if all other birthdays before this one were inadequate. Like this girl has been waiting for the day that she could celebrate HER birthday as a Mrs. I’m sorry, but it’s HER birthday. It really has nothing to do with whether or not she’s married, unless she shares a birthday with her husband and then it might require her sharing her cake.

I realize I’m going to lose some people in this argument because sometimes I wave my feminist flag too high. But. A girl does not become a woman when she is married. A young woman is not validated by a ring on her finger. Her successes and accomplishments should not be measured by whether or not she has changed her last name. A woman can be patiently waiting on the Lord’s plan and not be waiting on a husband. A woman can be following His desire, will, and plan for her life and accomplish great things through Him, without being engaged or married, and those successes still matter. She is still working towards the Kingdom of God.

Matthew 19: 11-12- The Message

But Jesus said, “Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought. Others never get asked—or accepted. And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons. But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it.”

Marriage is not guaranteed to us, and we don’t need it to be.  Many single women and single men are living in the many blessings of God, and are blessing others in return. God knows the plan he has for each woman and each man, and it is a plan to give each one hope and a future.  Who knows if that plan includes marriage? Let’s sit in awe of and celebrate what God is doing in the lives of those single men and those single women, now. God isn’t waiting to use them, so let’s not wait to celebrate His work.

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 4/3/2014

Strength and Dignity

I have this problem when it comes to reading scripture. Well, I have several problems when it comes to reading scripture but I will just focus on one for now. After reading a passage or verse on my own, I often get this feeling of “Now what?” I’ll sit in bed, with my journal out, devotional in my lap, waiting to be struck with some kind of divine inspiration, and I will read a verse and think, “What’s that got to do with me?” Growing up attending Sunday School, VBS, church camp, and plenty of youth conferences I understand the importance of studying the scripture and “arming myself with God’s word.” It’s supposed to guide me through trying times, comfort me in sadness, and divulge the greatness of God’s love for me. In terms of a book review, that is setting some pretty high expectations.

And I love to read. I consume stories with a ravenous hunger for passion, adventure, and intrigue. I was one of those people who would stay up all night finishing the latest Harry Potter book as soon as it came out. I’m currently in the middle of reading three books, one of which I have read before but wanted to go back and read again. This is outside of the reading I do in preparation for my job. As an English teacher, I can appreciate the beauty of passages from Psalms and understand the poetic structure of Proverbs. I have a passion for language and understand the impact it can have.

I say all that so you can understand that I’m not just a product of a generation so immersed in technology that I can’t sit still for 5 minutes and focus on a text in front of me. I can and I enjoy doing so. I also really enjoy learning and love when a pastor or author takes a verse and breaks down the meaning of individual phrases. This is why Beckie and I work so well together. I benefit so much from her diligent study and research of the scripture. But more often than not, reading on my own is unfulfilling.

Now, I said this was going to be about Proverbs 31 so let me bring this full circle. Last summer, I participated in a bible study about Ruth developed by Kelly Minter. In this study, Minter theorizes that Proverbs 31 could actually be about Ruth. Currently, I’m in the middle of reading Beth Moore’s So Long Insecurity for the second time. In this book, Moore breaks down one specific part of Proverbs 31. I believe it’s only because I have read this chapter twice and participated in the study on Ruth that this verse finally struck a chord with me.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity.” Proverbs 31:25

This has become my new mantra. When I start to feel anxious, I repeat the terms “strength and dignity” over and over again. When I think about tweeting a passive aggressive message meant to jab at a follower, I repeat “strength and dignity”. When I find myself in a frustrating conversation, on the verge of a biting remark, I repeat “strength and dignity”. When I begin to feel my anxiety overwhelming me, I repeat “strength and dignity”.  Now this doesn’t always mean I make the right choice, but it helps remind me of an important part of my identity in Christ.

I am covered in strength and dignity. I have power to make the best choices because God has empowered me to do so. I don’t have to be nervous when I meet new people. I don’t have to give in to my sinful spiteful nature.Think about Ruth, if this section of Proverbs is truly about her, let’s consider what that means for defining strength and dignity. Ruth vehemently disobeys and disregards her mother-in-laws’ plead for Ruth to leave and return to her home village. She actively chooses to take on a life of hardship and pain. In accepting this, she doesn’t curl up in a ball of self-pity, wasting away thinking about all the opportunities she’s missed. She goes out and scavenges leftover grain, accepting the state-sanctioned welfare of the day. She then, on the advice of her mother-in-law (I mean, this she listens to) brazenly exposes herself in the most vulnerable way to a man that she can only hope will accept her and help her.

I don’t know about you, but if I find myself hiding at the foot of a man’s bed, waiting for him to stagger home after a party, hoping he will accept to be my husband…I’m not feeling very strong or dignified. Her position was the LEAST dignified a person could take, lowering herself to the behavior of a prostitute. And yet, through all of those impossible decisions we can go back and see the strength behind her actions. The strength she has in God. Her belief that He would be faithful, that He would provide, gave her the strength and dignity to behave in such a scandalous way. I want that. I want to constantly remind myself that God has created me to exude strength and dignity. In times when I start to believe the lie that I am not enough, that I don’t have what it takes to be successful, that I won’t be accepted with all my faults and weaknesses, that not even God could love me in my lowest moment, I cleave to strength and dignity.

It is difficult for me to personally connect with scripture. For anyone having this same problem, I encourage you to seek multiple mediums of this verse. I’m not speaking solely of reading multiple translations (although that could also be helpful), but find sermons online that preach on the verse, look for blogs where others share their views, ask a trusted counselor or friend to give you their connection, or even conduct a whole study on the verse. It took a span of three years for me to connect to one verse. But I’m really glad I stuck it out. Like so many things in this life, understanding God’s word is not easy, but it is worth it.

*Previously posted on Debunking Debacles on 4/20/2014