Staying put

Flickr image by Andy961

Today’s twentsomethings are a generation of people who are “shuffling zip codes for career choices, relationships, college degrees, and ministry opportunities,” or so says one article published by “Relevant” magazine this week.  Seemingly, the author, Stephanie Smith, suggests that this isn’t a healthy way to live and that it would do our generation well to embrace “living locally.”  She says:

“It takes time to get established in any local community, and the grass may often seem greener in neighborhoods not our own. But when we commit to living locally, good things begin to take root—personal contentment, new friendships, church families, cultural renewal and an organic, homegrown kind of grace.”

After months of my own kind of wrestling with the decision to stay in the same town I grew up in or leave for “greener” opportunities with jobs out of state, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

For me, growing up a military kid instilled in me a kind of “tumbleweed” approach to life:  Stay until the wind of the next life change blows me elsewhere.  It’s why I even started looking at jobs in other states in the first place – because I graduated and the wind of new life change was blowing strong.  But, the harder the wind blew, the less I wanted to leave.  For the first time in my life, in my late 20s, I decided that I wasn’t going to let the wind decide my future anymore.  For the first time in my adult life, I prayerfully made a choice.  And my choice was to stay, and I stayed because:

  • Quite frankly, making money isn’t a good enough reason to go.
  • At some point in the last month, watching Disney movies on Wednesdays with my two best girlfriends became something I look forward to. We can just sit and be together.  We can laugh or cry or be silent, and there’s no judgment. There is edification and support and love. And this deep bond of Christian sisterhood comes because we’re in the daily grind with each other, making dinners and cleaning dirty dishes and walking each other’s dogs and taking care of each other in the messy places – and right now that means spending a weekday watching Mulan save China, and Aladdin become a prince, and Pocahontas paint with the colors of the wind…whatever that means.
  • I can pop over to my best friend’s house to sit with her month-old baby boy so that she can take a shower.  Because doing that is helpful to her.  And because just sitting with my nephew, adopted aunt that I am, slows me down.  And as someone who lives her life in perpetual forward motion, that slowing is necessary and connecting me to Jesus.  It’s like a kind of Sabbath that happens on a moment’s notice.
  • People here know my family and know that there are some days that I just need to get out of my house, and without judgment they offer me their quiet loft space so I can write and read, and then they feed me dinner and watch the Bachelor with me and remind me that “family” extends beyond the bond of genetics.  These people are teaching me that “family” is really about taking good care of each other and asking one another for help.  And that’s a lesson I need to keep learning.
  • The baristas at Starbucks now know that if I get a vanilla latte that I’m going to sit at the table a lot longer than if I get any kind of iced drink, and they always want to know what I’m writing.  And talking to them about what I’m writing opens the conversation to be about the things of God in a way that’s genuine and invites relationship.  And it takes time and consistency to build those kind of dynamics with my neighbors, and I need more time.
  • I can drive an hour north or an hour south and end up on the doorsteps of women whose weddings I stood in, and whose friendship and counsel helps me stay focused on what’s right and godly, and whose kids love when I show up, and whose husbands advocate for my relationships with their wives.
  • “My girls” – the middle schoolers and high schoolers I teach on Sunday mornings and who I take out for coffee and who call me to meet them Chinese food and movies – would be damaged if I left right now. Because somewhere over the last four years our schedules and lives have become entangled, and as much as I care about their grades and college decisions, they care about my job search and my book; and as much as I am protective of them while they’re dating, they’re protective of me; and as much as I pray for them, they pray for me.  And if I left them right now, I’d be damaged too.
  • I think that staying is somehow more sanctifying for me than if I were to leave.   And I think that’s maybe the most important reason of all.

As I was weighing this decision, before I ultimately decided to stay, my mind kept going back to the story of the man who Jesus healed from demon possession by sending the demons into a herd of pigs.  After he had been healed, the man wanted to follow Jesus to wherever He was going next. But, in Luke 8:39 Jesus says to the man, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.”   The ideas of going home and of staying home are important to Jesus.  His message of salvation and grace and love needs to be heard at home.

I’m someone who moved nine times by the age of 12 and who left the only town she knew as “home” to go to a college a day’s drive away and who – by the grace of God – moved back  “home” to get her graduate degree, so I’m pretty accustom to leaving towns and the people in them.  I’m not so good at staying put.  But, I’m making choices and combating what’s become an unhealthy pattern in my life and I’m staying for the lessons that staying is teaching me, for the deep relationships that I’m forming, and for the ways that I’m drawing closer to Jesus and learning to operate a little more like Him in the world.  I’m staying because some people are told, like the man in Luke 8, to go home.

Disagreement vs. Disunity: Thoughts from a youth leader

no-drama

I’m a youth leader at my home church now.  I moved to the church when I was in 6th grade, went to every youth event until I left for college, and now I’m back in my hometown leading and teaching Sunday school to the same youth group I was a part of all those years ago. And I love it.

Being a youth leader is one of the most favorite pieces of my life. And I never saw it coming. When I was in youth group,  my heart’s desire was to move away for college and never look back. I wanted my own life, away from the walls of church and home and family that felt like they were closing in.  I wanted out of the drama, chaos, and frustration and I wanted to find adult relationships.  As an adult, though, I’m finding that many of my most favorite relationships are the ones I’ve formed with the youth that I teach, and lead, and mentor.  Some of my most favorite relationships now are brimming with drama, chaos, and frustration. And I love it.

As a youth, I would often rant to my mom after a particularly drama-filled event, “How did we get here? I don’t understand!” As a leader I now find myself saying to my youth, in much calmer tones, “Well, how did we get here?” when drama, chaos, and frustration rear their ugly heads in our group dynamics.  Recently, our little groups has faced the drama-to-end-all-dramas  that every youth group in every denomination faces: a break-up. It’s messy and unpleasant and has made things awkward.  It had left the girls and guys feeling like they need to pick sides, like they can only really be friends with one person of the disunified couple. But, as a leader and an adult who’s been in a similar situation that my kids are facing in the very same room that they’re facing it in, I know that the disunity that’s plaguing the split-up couple doesn’t have to disunite the entire group.

My response as a youth was always to pick sides, to choose a friend, to stand by that one person at the expense of relationship with the other.  I didn’t think I had a choice.  But, I’m not a kid anymore.  I’m a grown-up. I’m a leader. And my role is to teach them how to navigate conflict and disagreement well, because disagreement doesn’t precipitate disunity, and to teach them that they have a choice. My role is to talk to them about how they’re handling their conflict, and question them on whether it fits with the teaching of the Scripture.  Admittedly, such conversation is nuanced and complicated, but at least it gets them thinking about it.  Perhaps more than that, though, my role is also to model for them in the relationships that I have with other adults how to handle disagreements well, so disunity doesn’t happen.

See, these kids listen to the same pastor I listen to on Sunday mornings. They hear him speak against tattoos, and they see the tattoo I have on my wrist almost every Sunday when I roll up my sleeves to get into the Word with them as their Sunday school teacher.  They know that our pastor would probably like to sand-blast the ichthus from my flesh, and they know that I love my tattoo and that it’s meaningful to me and that I wouldn’t change having gotten it.  They know really clearly that this is a point of disagreement between my pastor and I. They know that we both have personal, vested reasons for the opinions that we have, and they know that we both get kind of passionate when we talk about things that are personal.  But, they also know that he shakes my hand every Sunday morning and asks me how I’m doing.  They know that I have a good relationships with his children, and that I’ll visit with him and his family in their home. They know that we disagree, but aren’t disunited.  We are in community together, loving Jesus and trying to share that love with the world.  And I love it.

More than that, I think God loves it too.

“Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.”  -Hebrews 12:14

*This post was written as part of Rachel Held Evans‘ RALLY TO RESTORE UNITY. Check out her blog to see other like posts.

17 things I wish I’d known at 17

(C) 2010/Justin Brokie - via Wylio

I’m very close to yet another graduation.  May 14 will mark my third.  It’s easy to assume that because I’ve spent so much of my adult life as a professional student that I’ve learned a lot.  If that’s what you think, well…you’re right.  I do know a lot.  At least, I know a lot more than  I did 10 years ago when I was counting down the days until my high school graduation. Now, I’m counting down the day’s until I graduate from my Master’s program.  All the counting (77 days!) and the random Facebook messages announcing the coming together of my high school reunion have left me ruminating on what it is exactly that I have learned  over the last 10 years.  So, specifically to any of my youth who may stumble upon this blog, I offer a compilation of those things: the 17 things I wish I’d known at 17.

1.  I wish I’d known that I really would use math later. (I should have paid attention in Statistics class.)

2.  I wish I’d known that the high school friends that you still know 10 years after high school may not be the people that you expected to know.  The friendships that become the most meaningful are the ones that surprise you.

3. I wish I’d known that the seasonality of those other friendships didn’t devalue them.  It actually made them wonderful and good.

4.  I wish I’d known that  I’d value my college experience more for the friendships formed and the lessons I’d learn living with people than for what I actually learned in the classroom. (But, I’m glad I did known to take my college education more seriously than I did high school.  I actually learned something in that Stats class.)

5. I wish I’d known that “the good Christian boys” can still break your heart.

6. I wish I’d known that the dissolution of of friendships over the seasons of life can feel like the same kind of heart break.

7. I wish I’d known that it’s really easy to make really stupid decisions about how to deal with the heart break, even if you pride yourself as someone with their head on straight.

8. I wish I’d known that the heart break, though painful, wasn’t actually the end of the world.

9. I wish I’d known being honest with my friends and leaning on them even just a little bit would help ease the deepest of hurts and enliven the deepest of joys.

10. I wish I’d known that it was actually okay to talk to my parents about…everything.

11. I wish I’d known that I didn’t have to look like I have it together all the time.

12.  I wish I’d known that it’s possible to find a job that’s more than just a job IF you’re ear is consistently turned to hear from God about it.

13. I wish I’d known that having your ear turned to God sometimes means following in a way that looks foolish and feels risky…and it’s okay.

14.  I wish I’d known that other people’s approval didn’t actually provide fulfillment or lead to feelings of success.

15.  I wish I’d known that having questions about my faith didn’t make me a bad Christian.  I wish I’d known that having the courage to ask those questions, with a heart truly seeking to known God through them, could draw me closer to Him and strengthen my belief.

16. I wish I’d known not to waste so much time trying to be “right” all the time.   I wish I’d known that it could get in the way of building relationships with people and therefore serve to actually get in the way of my witness.

17.  I wish I’d known that at 27 I’d be writing a list of things I wish I’d known at 17 much more of aware of what I don’t actually know.  And I wish I’d known that would usher in a feeling of…freedom.

How about you? What do you wish that you’d known at 17?