Hopefully Hopeful Words

Note: What follows is more stream of consciousness than I prefer. So if that’s not your thing, feel free to tap the little “x” in the corner. But if you’ve been struggling to hope lately and could use more of a conversation rather than a quick soundbite, this one’s for you.

2020 has been a crazy year. Wildfires. A worldwide pandemic. Murder hornets. What else could 2020 throw at us? Apparently, so much more.

In the wake of the deaths of Ahmaud Arbury, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd, the world woke up to racial injustice, rage erupted, and people started taking sides. As a person of color, I found myself simultaneously navigating multiple points of view. I began awakening to areas where I need to repent while also reliving experiences of being on the receiving end of racism. And processing all of this became more complicated as I read racist comments on social media of people I once called my friends.

A couple weeks ago, I was feeling so much anger and emotional pain that my body began shutting down and I couldn’t stop crying. Even when I wasn’t consuming the news or social media, my mind continued to race. Even while I slept, my dreams (or rather, nightmares) reflected the things that consumed my mind when I was awake. It was exhausting.

There’s so much work that needs to be done. The work of repentance. The work of listening and learning. The work of fighting for the oppressed. The work of being light in the darkness.

Here’s the thing: When I spend every waking moment trying to change the world, I’m wearing myself down to the point of uselessness. I’m not a machine. None of us are.

During this season, I’ve seen a lot of people demanding we work non-stop to fight racism and injustice. I agree that if you’re wanting to disengage because you want to “go back to normal” and not have to deal with racial issues or hard things anymore, then it might be time to do some self-examination and investigate what lies underneath those thoughts. But there’s a huge difference between a desire to disengage and acknowledging our need for rest. Disengaging from necessary things isn’t healthy, but rest is. 

We must work at the pace of the Kingdom. And that pace is marked by rhythms of work AND rest.

Before the Covid-19 pandemic hit hard in the US, my life was non-stop. No margin. No rest. I knew my pace was unsustainable. But I was on a treadmill and there was no way off. Then when the pandemic shut things down, the treadmill stopped and I could breathe again. 

So in recent weeks I’ve revisited old entries in my journal. Back when the pandemic first entered my life. When the stillness was new and exciting and God’s voice felt loud. I didn’t know the chaos that was yet to be unleashed in the world, but God did. He was teaching me a new way to live. Training me, preparing me for what was to come. And today while the world demands unceasing labor, God is beckoning me—He’s beckoning us—to something different.

 

Monday, Friday 13, 2020, day 1 of social distancing

I wanted margin, and now I have it.

DEEP and SLOW.

 

Sunday, March 15, 2020, day 3 of social distancing

Large gatherings cancelled. Now we’re being told groups of 50 must not meet. Yet the Church is rising. Using what we have to continue sharing the gospel and disciple people. To continue to care for those who need help. To continue cultivating community despite our lack of proximity. We can’t do things the way we did before. We must be creative and Spirit-led. And people are showing grace. Production is less important. And we’re finally focusing on what matters most.

God, do a work in and through Your Church. In the ways we have strayed, bring us back. Thank You for disturbing us out of our complacency. May we be the light and salt You called us to be. Amen.

 

Tuesday, March 17, 2020, day 5 of social distancing

It is time for hustle and consumerism to bow down. What has been normal is being upended. So much of what we have called “normal” for so long is unhealthy, unsustainable, and incompatible with the values of the Kingdom. It’s unfortunate that it has taken a pandemic to wake us up. But I pray this shifts us and makes us better when we’re on the other side of this. May we not go back to normal. May we forge a new path. May we start truly living.

False gods are being exposed: sports, entertainment, the economy, consumerism, comfort, convenience, hustle, instant gratification…

 

Friday, March 20, 2020, day 8 of social distancing

“When the earth and all its inhabitants shake,

I am the one who steadies its pillars.    Selah” 

(Psalm 75:3, CSB)

 

Saturday, March 21, 2020, day 9 of social distancing

What is God saying to me today?

Be with Me. That is enough for today. Resist the temptation to demand more of yourself than what I have asked of you. Today, just be with Me.

 

Sunday, March 22, 2020, day 10 of social distancing

All this social distancing has gifted me with time—more time than I’m used to. A pace that is strange. Unhurried. Frantic moments have been replaced by moments of pause. And in these moments, I want to do something, something meaningful and significant. And when I ask God, “What should I do now?” He answers with words I don’t want to hear by my soul desperately needs:

Sit with Me.

This is meaningful work. And what could possibly be more significant that communing with the Creator and Sustainer of the cosmos? I GET to sit with Him! Why would I want to rush away from this?

 


Looking back at these journal entries, I’m struck by how the words feel weightier now:

How going deep and slow and sitting with God is subversive to the frantic ways of the world.

How our complacency is being disturbed.

How false gods are being exposed. (I’d add nationalism and the appearance of order to the list.)

There’s also something about these entries that make me a bit sad. We’re living in a season that’s shining a light on things that have been laying under the surface for generations. There’s so much potential for things to change and be made right. I see some beautiful, wonderful things happening, but I hoped for more. And I find myself lamenting what could have been. We missed it, I think to myself.

But then again, maybe not.

There’s so much hope in that word: maybe.

Maybe a lot of people are missing it but there’s a remnant that’s repenting and rising.

Maybe what I see with my human eyes is nothing compared to what’s happening in the unseen—something big, beautiful, and miraculous.

Maybe below the surface there are seeds of things that are good beyond our imagination that are being planted, taking root, and growing.

Maybe.

Time will tell.

Holy Ground

I have surpassed the 50-day mark of social distancing at home. Even though I’ve gone out for neighborhood walks, picking up food and groceries, one doctor’s visit, and a birthday parade for a friend, I have cabin fever. The initial excitement I had at the thought of being hidden away in introvert bliss has dissipated into drudgery.

There are things I’m incredibly grateful for and continue to enjoy: hearing birds sing as they come to our feeder, wearing loungewear every day, cooking between Zoom piano lessons, not having to drive to work or church and, as a result, being able to spend a little more time with God in the morning without feeling hurried.

But this season has been emotionally and mentally grueling. Like many, it has been a struggle to stay informed about what’s happening in the world without feeling anxiety/dread/frustration. I had a couple weeks of worry when I saw lupus patients struggling to get their prescriptions for a certain medication—a medication I take to stay alive—refilled because it was being used to treat Covid-19. I’ve cried with students both from work and church who are grieving losses, worrying about unknowns, and dealing with difficult circumstances because of or in addition to the pandemic. And as I’ve cried with others, I’ve had my own set of things to cry about. High on that list was not being able to hug my seniors one last time. And then you throw in Zoom fatigue on top of all of that. (Imagine teaching piano lessons on Zoom! Oof!)

At first, I was overwhelmed as I felt all the feels. But a few days ago, I found that my mind and heart were numb. It wasn’t just a feeling of being stuck in a routine. It was a heavy numbness. Like something inside of me was dead. No joy. No fire. No intention. Just going through the motions like a machine.

I read my Bible. Nothing. I prayed, God, I can’t do this. I sat there. Awkward silence.

The night before, as I was teaching our college small group, I talked about getting comfortable in the awkward silence with God. “The awkward silence, that’s when you know things are about to get good!”

Come on, Esther! I just talked about this last night. I told the college students about being comfortable in the awkward silence. So here I go. I’ll just sit here…

And that’s when it happened. That’s when God whispered, “This is holy ground.”

What if I chose to live as though this place where my feet are is holy ground? Because it is. This place where my feet are, this is holy ground.

Because this is the place where God beckons me to sit with Him, where I get to commune with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

This is the place where He says to me, “Peace, be still,” and my body and soul find rest.

This is the place where God is doing something and He invites me to be a part of it.

This is the place where He gives me clarity and vision for Kingdom dreams.

This is the place where I get to prophesy over and speak life to my husband and the people I meet with on Zoom.

This is the place where He gives me words to write for people who need comfort and hope.

This is the place where He takes my hands and miraculously lets them move at the impulse of His love to make music when words aren’t enough.

This is the place where He teaches me to play and laugh and delight like the sunshine and birds I see through my windows.

This is where my feet are. And this is holy ground.

14 Days of Deep and Slow

white ceramic mug on white textile
Photo by Dina Nasyrova on Pexels.com

Our lives have been interrupted, but this is a time when we can focus on the things that matter most, a time for growth and beauty. So for each day in the next 2 weeks, I’m giving you something you can read or listen to—a blog post, podcast, recording, book—that can help you slow down and go deep in some way.

 

Day 1 | Blog: A Rule of Life

Something I’ve been cultivating is a rule of life, a rhythm of spiritual disciplines. These next couple of weeks are a great time to lean into it even more! If the idea of a rule of life is new to you, here’s something I wrote a couple months ago to give you some ideas to help you start your own.

 

Day 2 | Podcast: Bridgetown Church Series on Scripture (You can also find this on Spotify.)

This series on the Bible is all the yeses and wows. I’m seriously going to listen to it again and again.

 

Day 3 | Book: The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, by John Mark Comer

This book is life changing. And with everything that’s happening, it feels as though this is our moment to fully embrace and live out this message.

 

Day 4 | Music: Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites, performed by Yo-Yo Ma

You can never listen to Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites too many times in your lifetime. You just can’t.

 

Day 5 | Blog: God’s Presence in Our Suffering

This is the story of my lupus diagnosis and how God reshaped my faith. (If you’d rather listen to it, you can do that here.)

 

Day 6 | Podcast: Ask NT Wright Anything

N.T. Wright. What more do I need to say? Except that at the end of some episodes, he sings a song and plays the guitar. I mean, how cool is that?

 

Day 7 | Music: Universalis, by Hammock

Hammock is my favorite thing to listen to when I want to read, write, pray, and create.

 

Day 8 | Church: Central Assembly’s YouTube Channel

For such a time as this, technology and the internet are a blessing. If you don’t have a church home (or if your church doesn’t have the capabilities to do online streaming of services), you can check out my church’s YouTube channel. (Bonus: my pastor’s a rocket scientist! I’m not kidding!)

 

Day 9 | Blog: Why I Threw Out My Five-Year Plan

If you’re worried about how current events may affect your five-year plan, this one’s for you!

 

Day 10 | Podcast: Go + Tell Gals

This podcast is for women running on mission. These episodes aren’t your typical “You got this!” messages. They are a beautiful, weekly dose of depth + practicality + encouragement.

 

Day 11 | Book: The Lord of the Rings Trilogy

I had to put at least one novel on the list! I’m reading through this for the first time and I’m regretting that fact I never read it before!

 

Day 12 | Music: Sleeping At Last Enneagram

A bit of self discovery set to beautiful music? Yes, please!

 

Day 13 | Podcast: The Office Ladies

Laughter and joy are important. Just as I wanted add at least one novel to the list, I also wanted to add something fun.

 

Day 14 | Music: What a Wonderful World, performed by Anderson & Roe

If you need a moment to take your eyes off the darkness and see some light, here you go!

 

For College Students in Christian Community

My husband and I lead the college and young adults ministry at our church. We love the students we get to hang out with. The majority of them are students at a Christian university where they have required chapels and dorm devotions, a required number of Bible classes regardless of the degree they’re pursuing, and a plethora of Christian teachers, leaders, and mentors speaking into their lives. It blows our minds that they STILL wake up early on Sunday mornings and come to church an hour and a half before service to be at a small group they’re not required to come to! (No judgement if you’re a college student who comes to our church but doesn’t wake up early to come to small group. Seriously, if sleep is what you need, then we want you to sleep! No guilt! However, no coffee or donuts either. Just sayin’. Well, okay, you can still get coffee in the church lobby. But the donuts—you gotta come to small group for those.) This post is for all the students who find themselves in a strong Christian community—whether it’s in a Christian university, a Christian organization on campus, or even a local church you call home (or home away from home). 

There are some things I hope you learn from us and carry with you long into your future. This is one of them:

Following Godly instruction is not the same as spiritual transformation.

There’s a story in 2 Chronicles about a king named Joash.

2 Chronicles 24:2 says, “Throughout the time of the priest Jehoiada, Joash did what was right in the Lord’s sight.”

When this story is told in 2 Kings, it says, “Throughout the time the priest Jehoiada instructed him, Joash did what was right in the Lord’s sight.” (2 Kings 12:2)

Under Joash’s leadership (and Jehoida’s instruction), the people of Judah abundantly donated silver to pay for the temple of the Lord to be repaired.

“The workmen did their work, and through them the repairs progressed. They restored God’s temple to its specifications and reinforced it. When they finished, they presented the rest of the silver to the king and Jehoiada, who made articles for the Lord’s temple with it — articles for ministry and for making burnt offerings, and articles of gold and silver. They regularly offered burnt offerings in the Lord’s temple throughout Jehoiada’s life.” (2 Chronicles 24:13-14)

The people of Judah worshiped the Lord while Jehoiada the priest was alive and influencing the king. But after Jehoiada died, the story took a turn:

“However, after Jehoiada died, the rulers of Judah came and paid homage to the king. Then the king listened to them, and they abandoned the temple of the Lord, the God of their ancestors, and served the Asherah poles and the idols. So there was wrath against Judah and Jerusalem for this guilt of theirs.” (2 Chronicles 24:17-18)

Something that strikes me when I read the books of Kings and Chronicles is how incredibly gracious God is. Even when people have turned their backs on Him, He still beckons them and provides a path of repentance and restoration. In this chapter in 2 Chronicles, as soon as we see the people turn from God, we see God’s graciousness in the very next verse: Nevertheless, he sent them prophets to bring them back to the Lord…” God isn’t quick to pour out His judgement; He’s quick to forgive and shower people with His grace…“but the people would not listen.” (2 Chronicles 24: 19)

In His graciousness, God reached out to them, but they wouldn’t listen. Ooph. And what happens next is heartbreaking:

“The Spirit of God enveloped Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood above the people and said to them, ‘This is what God says, “Why are you transgressing the Lord’s commands so that you do not prosper? Because you have abandoned the Lord, he has abandoned you.”‘ But they conspired against him and stoned him at the king’s command in the courtyard of the Lord’s temple. King Joash didn’t remember the kindness that Zechariah’s father Jehoiada had extended to him, but killed his son…” (2 Chronicles 24:20-22)

Joash didn’t just turn away from the Lord and lead the people in idolatry. He forgot about the man who invested so much into his life, the man who was responsible for all his success. And he murdered his son. Wow.

Things didn’t turn out so well for Joash in the end. (You can read about his assassination and sub-par burial in 2 Chronicles 24:25-27.) His life was a tragedy. He had so many good things going for him before his mentor died. When he had someone in his life who gave him godly instruction, he did great things. But that’s not enough. Not for Joash. Not for us.

Seek knowledge, but don’t stop there.

Strive to follow godly instruction, but don’t stop there either.

It’s easy to follow God when you’re immersed in a spiritual community where you’re regularly receiving godly teaching.

But what’s going to happen after you graduate and you’re no longer part of this community in the same way? What’s going to happen to your relationship with God when you don’t have regular chapels, small groups, or Bible studies anymore? What’s going to happen to your faith when you no longer have people checking on you, pouring into your life, and encouraging you to engage in spiritual things on a daily or weekly basis?

The challenge right now is to make sure you’re going beyond just following godly instruction. Knowledge and godly instruction without spiritual transformation is unsustainable.

If there isn’t spiritual transformation that’s happening in your life in this season while you’re immersed in godly community, then your chances of continuing to follow God when you’re no longer part of that community aren’t very high. One day you will leave this community—the people and activities that come with it. You may find yourself in another strong, Christian community. But you may also find yourself in a place where you are standing for God alone, called to be a light in a dark place. The kind of relationship with God you foster while you’re in this community will go with you. And if you foster a relationship with God that is dependent on other people and a set of activities, don’t be so sure your faith will stay intact when those people and activities are gone.

Go deep—where the Spirit of God can transform your heart, soul, and mind. In these years while you’re under the covering of a strong Christian community, learn what it means to be with God. And after you graduate, when you branch out from this community that has spiritually nourished you for the past four (or however many) years, continue. Yes, continue to seek knowledge and continue to follow godly instruction. But more than that, continue to go deep with God. Seek Him. Cling to Him. When things are hard, wrestle with Him. And allow Him to daily transform you from the inside out.

This is my prayer for you:

May you continually experience the transformation of God and become like trees planted by streams of water. And may streams of living water flow from deep within you and into the world around you. Amen.

A Rule of Life

coffee cup notebook pen
Photo by Free Photos.cc on Pexels.com

For some time, I’ve been feeling a need for a shift. 2020 has an increase of activity in store for my husband and me and I’ve been stressing about how to make everything fit. I know God’s capacity will make up the difference for the capacity I lack, but I can sabotage myself by living in a default of unhealthy rhythms. So this year I’m cultivating a rule of life—daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms of spiritual disciplines.

Because I’m entering a new normal of increased activity, a lot of these rhythms are practices of being with God over doing for God.

This isn’t something I’m entering legalistically. None of this is set in stone and I’ll periodically adjust it as my life rhythms change and as my soul and spirit needs. But for this season, here’s my rule of life:

Daily

Morning hour of solitude and quiet:

  • A time to quiet my heart, soul, and mind so God’s voice can become clearer and louder.
  • No to anything that pulls my focus away from God.
  • Yes to getting ready for work, tuning my heart to God’s through prayer, Scripture, writing, driving to work, music, and planning for the day.
  • Inspired by Jess Connolly, I ask God this question: God, what have You ordered for me today?

Wash off the day:

  • When I get home and don’t plan on going out for the rest of the day, put on some relaxing music or a fun podcast, wash my face or take a long shower, and put on pajamas. This is a moment to transition from a mindset of activity to rest.

Evening 15 minutes of quiet:

  • No to devices.
  • Yes to free thinking, journaling, and prayer.

Weekly

Sabbath: (Thursday evening to Friday evening)

  • No to striving.
  • Yes to rest, play, and worship.

Weekly Quit:

  • At the end of each week, I write in my journal something I’m going to quit. It’s a practice of repentance, turning away from something that pulls me away from God, who I’m called to be, and who I’m called to love, so I can choose something better.
  • “This week I’m quitting ___________ so I can ___________.” (Some real examples of my weekly quit: “This week I’m quitting relying on my own abilities so I can rely on God’s power and rest in His capacity.” “This week I’m quitting checking email and social media before 10 a.m. so I can cultivate a rhythm of morning quiet.”)

iPhone / social media break:

  • I’m ashamed of my addiction to my phone and social media. At the same time, these things are important tools for my work and ministry. So I need this weekly break to keep my phone and social media in their place.

Monthly

One fun thing: This is one of my goals for the year because taking time to have fun is hard for me.

  • No to anything that involves striving or productivity.
  • Yes to…well…something fun.
  • This is worship!

Yearly

Family vacation

  • “change of pace + change of PLACE = change of PERSPECTIVE” ~Mark Batterson

Monastery retreat

So how about you? What are some of the rhythms you’re cultivating this year? I’d love to hear them!

My Goals (and Un-Goals) for 2020

The approaching of a new year means new beginnings and new goals. I have the amazing ability of getting stuck in a rut and judging myself harshly for it, so January 1 is like my grace and hope filled reset button.

I didn’t complete every single goal I set out to accomplish in 2019. But I did complete a good number of them. And for the ones I didn’t complete, I’m definitely much farther along from a year ago. I’d rather set a goal and have progress than not set a goal and not move forward! To help me make progress this past year, I tried out Powersheets from Cultivate What Matters. It’s a tool that helps you articulate and track your goals. I loved it so much I’m using them again this year.

My Goals for 2020

1. Cultivate a prophetic ear + a rule of life.

This is what everything else in my life will flow from.

(If you’re wondering what a rule of life is, it’s simply a plan for spiritual disciplines within daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly rhythms. If you want to know more about a rule of life, you can learn more about it in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero and Sacred Rhythms, by Ruth Haley Barton.)

2. Love my people and the people in my circle of influence well.

This means meals, coffee dates, hospitality, and life in the mundane.

3. Save, spend, and give money meaningfully.

Track my spending and create a budget!

Buy no more than 10 clothing/shoe/jewelry items…the whole year.

4. Send my book proposal to a literary agent (or 20).

This means I have to finish writing my book proposal!

5. One fun thing every month.

What is fun? Nothing that involves striving or productivity, and not something I do every/most weeks.

This is a goal I’m bringing back from last year because it was so life giving and I want to keep growing in this area. (And the fact that I have to make fun a goal in order to do it lets me know I still have a lot of growing to do!)

7. Project Dream Room: make our home library beautiful.

This is another goal I’m bringing back from last year. I made some baby steps, but our home library still looks like a disaster.

8. Love my body.

Take care of it. Nourish it. Make it strong. Be grateful for it.

*****

Un-Goals

It’s a great practice to have positive goals where we want to accomplish things or make changes in our lives, but we can’t do that if we’re just adding more and more things to our to-do lists. There comes a point where we can’t add anymore. We have to say “no” to things so we can say “yes” to the things that matter most.

So here are a couple of my Un-Goals for 2020:

1. Read less books and read slower. (My Goodreads goal: 5 books) Don’t read out of obligation or self-imposed pressure. Don’t let books clutter my mind.

2. No buying any bags or pouches. I’m obsessed with bags and bags I can put in bags! I have enough. So unless someone breaks in our house and steals every bag and pouch I own, I’m not buying another one for at least a year.

*****

When I get to the end of 2020, I don’t want to be full of guilt and regret. I want to know I lived the abundant life God ordered for me.

So let’s do this! Let’s enter this new year (and decade!) with expectation, intention, and a whole lot of grace!

My Hair Story

When lupus entered my life, I lost half my hair. At first the hair loss was due to discoid rashes on my scalp that caused my hair to fall out in clumps, leaving behind bald spots. After starting treatment, even more hair felt out. Because of scarring on my scalp, the doctors weren’t sure if all my hair would grow back. So I asked all my friends to pray for me. It seemed like a silly thing to pray for, but God didn’t think my request was too silly to grant.
Tiny hairs began peeking through the bald patches on my head that were once scarred. (Read that sentence again! Hair grew back where there were scars! That’s not supposed to happen! It was a miracle!) The budding hair throughout my scalp made me brave. And inspired by Anne Hathaway in Les Mis, I went to the salon and asked them to to chop it all off so I could start over.

For the past seven years, I’ve been growing my hair out again. Each new inch has been a sign of grace, a reminder of how God has walked with me through every part of this journey. At the start of this year, I decided I wanted to pay it forward. One of my goals for 2019 is to donate healthy hair. And this weekend, I took the plunge. It was all the feels! I don’t know that I could say I’ve had a worshipful experience during a haircut before, but that’s what this was. Joyful, thankful worship.

The Organization I’m Donating My Hair To:

“Children With Hair Loss is a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization that provides human hair replacements at no cost to children and young adults facing medically-related hair loss.  When a child’s hair is lost due to Cancer treatments, Alopecia, Trichotillomania, Burns, etc., the painful effects are far deeper than just cosmetic.” (from Children With Hair Loss website)

Read More »

Advent

pexels-photo-1487009

Advent is a time of expectation and hope, but the beauty of this season gets overshadowed by busyness, rush, and consumerism. Art has a way of quieting the noise and helping us be attentive to the profound things of life.

May this piece of poetry open for you a small space when the noise of your life gets a little softer and the whisper of God gets a little louder.

 

Listen

 

I groan

—a prayer too deep for words—

as I fight to hope and believe

I will hear Your voice again.

 

The Lord hears

—the Word becomes flesh—

four hundred years of silence

broken by a Baby’s first cry.