Category Archives: Faith

He was the author of the faith that could make the mountains move

While playing with this site’s settings on Thanksgiving, I came across several unpublished posts. I’m not sure what held me back from hitting “publish” two years ago, but this entry still rings true. It’s also remarkable how much has changed since I wrote it, on Nov. 28, 2008.

After several days filled with family and friends, tonight is this girl’s night in. And it’s time, at last, that I can listen to Christmas music guilt-free.

I waited until I returned home from today’s errands, then began with the newest of my three favorite Christmas albums. Red Mountain Church‘s Silent Night carried me through cooking dinner, and Snow Angels by Over the Rhine accompanied me as I ate, then straightened up my apartment.

Finally, I turned on Andrew Peterson’s Behold the Lamb of God, dragged my Christmas decorations out of the attic and launched into the annual task of evaluating each item. The star ornament I bought last year hangs in my bedroom year-round. The Pottery Barn poinsettias and mistletoe always go out first, followed this year by my tree topper. (Though treeless, I found it a home perched among the books on my to read shelf–located in my kitchen, so it’s positioned for maximum viewability.) I continued lifting boxes of ornaments out of the Rubbermaid tub.

And then I uncovered four packages of Christmas letterhead stationery.

It’s funny how the smallest items send you back in time. I bought this stationery, decorated with Luke 2:11 and John 1:16, in an after-Christmas sale in (I’m guessing) 2001. By the time Christmas returned, I expected to be on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ. This paper would serve as the background for my December prayer letter to my ministry supporters.

Life so rarely turns out how we expect! I interviewed with Crusade that December, was accepted to staff, received a staff account number and the information I needed to raise support for the 2002 summer training. And then, a month before graduation, I decided not to go on staff.

It’s a decision I’ve never regretted. I was to be campus staff, aka a professional extrovert. It wasn’t a good fit, and I am so glad life has turned out as it has.

But it is so different than I imagined when I bought that stationery.

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Filed under Autobiography, Faith

I do believe…

I believe in God the father almighty, maker of heaven and earth…

I believe in the pleasure of my own company.

I believe in lying in the grass at least once a week.

I believe in eating your fruits and vegetables.

I believe in the sanctity of marriage.

I believe in the loyalty of a good friend.

I believe in the comfort of a home-cooked meal.

I believe in the value of art and beauty.

I believe in the mystery of music.

I believe in being, and becoming, who you are.

I believe in being a little bit redneck.

I believe in the power of prayer.

I believe in making a soundtrack for every mood.

I believe in making people feel welcome.

I believe in spending Friday nights alone.

I believe in hope.

I believe in having friends who are men.

I (unfortunately) believe in When Harry Met Sally.

I believe in planning for tattoos I’ll never get.

I believe in reading local news.

I believe in revolution.

I believe in expensive coffee.

I believe in family.

I believe in love.

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Filed under Autobiography, Faith, Listing

Everything that’s new has bravely surfaced teaching us to breathe

“This is not the life I planned or the life I recommend to others. But it is the life that has turned out to be mine, and the central revelation in it for me—that the call to serve God is first and last the call to be fully human—seems important enough to witness to on paper.” Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the past. Later this month will mark five years since I moved back to Alabama—five years that have flown by and yet have contained so much. Various projects have sent me flipping through old journals, reflecting on those days.

Then a friend’s blog directed me to Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor. I checked it out because I liked a lot of what the friend was writing about the book. I kept reading it because, even though Taylor and I are very different people, a lot of her story resonated with mine. She’s an Episcopal priest who left ministry. I was the Campus Crusade for Christ poster child on my campus, and I often worried whether my faith was intertwined with my college ministry. I almost became a full-time campus minister, but the month before I finished college I chose grad school instead.

It’s a choice I’ve never regretted.

As I read the book, and as I’ve flipped through those old journals, I kept returning to one specific entry. Reading it, again and again, tears my heart open a little as it reminds me of the girl I was, the woman I became, the woman I am becoming.

September 10, 2006

I struggle all the time with the idea of being a Christian in real life. And honestly, it was hard to write that sentence and not say “I still struggle”—because somehow I have this idea that I should have it all figured out, since I’ve been out of undergrad (and therefore out of the campus ministry bubble) for four and a half years. That’s a naïve notion.

But then, when I was 19 I naively believed I had life figured out. And my life is nothing like I then expected. Were things as I had pictured, I would be a campus minister—but at this age, I would also have been married for several years and would by now be mostly a stay-at-home mom, caring for at least one child.

Although I do eventually hope to become both a wife and a mother, I am so glad that life isn’t under my control.

Still, what I do have scares me all the time. One of the reasons I wanted to go into vocational ministry was probably because it seemed an easy way to live out my relatively young faith. That too was probably an immature belief (and one that I probably wouldn’t have owned up to. I don’t know—maybe I’m being too hard on my younger self. Maybe that wasn’t really a factor. But I feel like it must have been at least on some level—because from my 19-year-old perspective, what a Christian life should look like seems sort of prescribed by a life in ministry.).

Instead, I’m a reporter and I have no desire to write or edit a “Christian” publication. So I ask myself—since the answer isn’t as easy as I once tried to make it—who am I? How does my faith define me?

Truly, I’m not sure I know.

That’s probably part of the journey. I’m so young, and still so naïve. My opinions and actions are too heavily influenced by who I’m around at a given moment.

I’m slowly coming to terms with my immaturity. Which I hope is somehow indicative of an increasing maturity.

Still, I feel like I’m wandering. I don’t know when I last read my Bible. I don’t pray nearly as faithfully as I should. Sometimes I do things I shouldn’t simply because I shouldn’t.

I know some of that is a reaction to my past. For several years I sat in dorm study rooms and on living room floors, talking about God in a way that felt superficial and unappealing to people outside of the group. My idea of evangelism included telling a classmate I couldn’t go picket in support of legalizing marijuana because I had Bible study.

Again, maybe I’m painting too harsh a picture. I don’t know.

Even so—sometimes I long for those days, because I felt that I knew what I was supposed to be doing. I went to two Bible studies a week, read my Bible and prayed for half an hour daily and planned dorm outreaches. I don’t think I was frustrated until my senior year of college, when I finally realized I had nothing in common with my friend Callie from my rhetoric and nonverbal communication classes.

What was this faith that I thought had so much to offer if the best way I could present it was over a girls’ “pampering night?” What would make a girl like Callie want to spend a Friday night painting her toenails with strangers when I didn’t want to be there—and those strangers were my friends?

Yet I do believe in Jesus. That is the constant.

I don’t know what being a Christian is to look like, because sometimes I curse or drink too much or flirt just to feel good about myself—and I am still redeemed. My bad decisions don’t withdraw His grace. If anything, they remind me why I need it.

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Filed under Autobiography, Faith, Quotes

The dreams that you dare to dream really do come true

I was waving my shaker in time with the cheers and music, but yesterday my mind wandered from football to depth in friendships. I stood watching the most important game of the year (to me) but I was thinking of how there’s something more.

Two days ago I had one of those lunches that you leave feeling rejuvenated. A friend and I caught up on the latest in each other’s lives, which is important, and we talked about football, which is important to me. But we also talked about faith and feminism and struggles and how we don’t have everything figured out.

I left feeling that more than just my physical hunger had been met.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my relationships with other people. My very closest friends live miles away, and my friendships in town don’t yet go as deep. That means it’s easy to let things that matter go unnoticed or undiscussed, whether it’s a matter of faith or my own insecurities (or more likely, both).

But I’m feeling more optimistic than I have in a while, about relationships, football and life in general. It’s been years since I’ve stayed in one place longer than 12 months, but I think I’m there now. That eliminates a major barrier to being real, to allowing myself to feel comfortable. (I’m slow to commit, but once I do, I’m sold. That’s true for shoes and people.)

On this lazy Sunday morning, I feel good about life.

–Nov. 19, 2006, 10:40 a.m.

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Filed under Autobiography, Faith

This routine is nice and clean, from dawn to dusk

What’s important to me?
paying my bills. Jesus. Real relationships with people – people who know me and call me out on sin, and people with whom I can do the same. Learning to expend energy for someone else’s good. Family. Sitting outside on sunny, cool days. Coffee (although I can learn to like decaf). Writing. Music. Correct punctuation. Reading. Setting an example for my sisters, brother and cousin. Learning to take care of myself. Having time to sit without feeling that I’ve got to rush to my next appointment. Church. Growing in my relationship with Jesus and as a person. College football.

What do I feel is getting in the way of those things?
Working part-time. Not having a regular schedule. Distance. My own attitude. Laziness. Uncertainty about my career goals. Fear, both of change and of money. Anxiety. Not being open with people. Not having time to be open with people. Turning to other things for comfort and guidance. Not taking life slowly enough to appreciate it.

The big question: What can I do about it?
(This might take a little longer to answer. But to start … ) Pray. Prioritize. Work full-time. Stop carelessly spending money. Develop my own schedule, at least as far as sleep is concerned. Spend less time on the Internet. Take at least one night a week for myself. Reread “Changes That Heal.” Pray about my career goals. Invest in my friendships.

“Where am I today? I wish that I knew
‘Cause looking around, there’s no sign of you
I don’t remember one jump or one leap
Just quiet steps away from your lead”
-Sean Watkins, “Reasons Why”

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Filed under Autobiography, Faith

Still I judge success by how I’m dressing

I’m really content right now. And it just occurred to me how significant that is.

See, lately I have felt even more topsy-turvy than usual. I started a new job a month ago, and I still don’t feel settled into it. (Of course, the whole building is a bit unstable right now – we’re moving into a new building in less than a month’s time!) I’m going through another bout of wishing all my friends lived closer, and in the process I’m forgetting to appreciate the friends who are local. Oh, and I miss my parents. A lot.

But I’m also learning, and in the process, maybe even growing a bit (I hope). Maybe that’s what 25 will be for me – a year of growing, and maybe learning how to deal with things like an adult.

I’m realizing a lot of ugly things about myself lately, chief among them being how self-centered I am. (Newsflash: The world does not revolve around me.) I’m also terribly undisciplined. I have this whole silver platter mentality. Life has always come relatively easily, and I think that’s just the way it should be.

Let’s be real. That’s just not how it is.

But you know, I feel really good about these realizations. I feel like I’m at one of those points where you see your own sinfulness, your own shortcomings … and you see how God is so much bigger.

I’m OK with that. 😉

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Filed under Autobiography, Faith, Reasons why

You always want what you can’t have

I spend too much time looking at the past, and I really forget how good I have it.

Today was perfect. I slept in till 11:30, then sat and drank black coffee with an old friend for maybe an hour. (There’s nothing like a friend around whom you can look your absolute worst and yet not feel ugly.) I spent another hour on the phone with my best friend, sitting on the back deck while my cat played in the yard. I didn’t brush my teeth until 2:30 and it was GLORIOUS.

It reminded me of probably my favorite Easter to date — in 2002, when my roommate Paula and I went to church together in the morning, then cooked for a handful of our friends who hadn’t gone home for Easter. That was one of the most laid-back days when I was able to appreciate grace and good friends.

At some point in the past several years, I’ve developed an appreciation for diversity that I had never realized I lacked. Like that day in 2002, last night and today were filled with people … mostly people who aren’t like me in a lot of ways. And it’s … I don’t know, fulfilling somehow.

Heather and I were talking earlier about faith, and ways that we’ve both changed since college. I told her that faith (and thereby life) is much messier than I ever thought, but also so much more beautiful.

It’s just been one of those days where your emotions hover just below the surface, threatening to break through. I was on the verge of tears several times during church tonight … and I kept thinking about how poker, beer and friends (many that I barely know) somehow don’t seem like Easter … but how, at the same time, friendships somehow have a redemptive quality.

“No need to ask where other roads might have led, since they led elsewhere; for nowhere but this here and now is my true destination.” –Ruth Bidgood

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I’m holding on underneath this shroud

Death isn’t supposed to be scary when you’re a Christian – at least, I feel like it shouldn’t be. We have the promise of eternal life, that when life passes away, we’ll be with Jesus.

And that sounds good, and I do believe that. And yet, when someone I know dies, I find myself wondering: Are they really in a better place? Is there really life after death? Or is the end, the end?

Last summer I wrote two stories about Cassidy, a little girl who was battling a brain tumor. When I interviewed her mother for the first story, it was only days after Cassidy’s grandfather had died in a car accident on his way to visit the hospital. Talking to Suzie about her father’s death was the first time I interviewed someone after the death of a loved one. When I called the next month to schedule a follow-up interview, I heard Suzie’s husband, Sean, shouting in the background: “Be sure that CJ is the one who comes! I want to meet CJ!”

That was one of the best compliments of my career.

Cassidy and her family captured my heart. They entrusted me with sharing their story, which was at once heart-wrenching and hopeful. I got to see the community rally around the family and I saw how the family clung to their hope in Christ through their daughter’s illness.

Cassidy died Friday night. She was 6 years old.

I gasped (literally gasped) when I opened to her picture in the Birmingham News obituaries this morning. I’d kept up with Cassidy’s health in the seven months since she left the hospital using a Web site her family had set up. But I hadn’t looked in on her in several months, and had no idea that she had checked back in.

Among the many, many people thanked in Cassidy’s obituary, her family included The Tuscaloosa News. It amazes me that in what surely must be the toughest time of their lives, Suzie and Sean would think of what I wrote as a blessing. They, and their precious daughter, were the ones who blessed me.

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Filed under Autobiography, Faith, Journalism

I’m just a weary pilgrim trying to find what feels like home

My friend Luke wanted something to do at work this afternoon (he’s got a case of the Fridays, I suppose, instead of the Mondays … and I much prefer the Fridays myself!), so I asked him to be a guest blogger here. So here you go — Luke’s thoughts on multiculturalism, unedited and unfettered. 🙂 (PS – You can find Luke’s blog at www.xanga.com/zyncl19)

What does it mean to be multi-cultural, and do we really want that in the church?

My dad’s the pastor of a small non-denominational church in Wisconsin. Last weekend we were having a discussion about the state of the church as a whole, and came to the topic of diversity.

By my observation, the church in America is one of the last bastions of segregation. Whites go to traditional churches and blacks go to gospel churches. Hispanics and Asians go to churches where they speak their native languages. When is the last time you looked around your church and saw anyone much different from yourself?

(This isn’t necessarily about racial segregation. A church can be very racially diverse, but culturally not diverse at all. This is a discussion of cultural and not racial diversity even though the two usually go hand in hand.)

Many of the more liberal churches are making a big deal about this. “Why can’t we all worship together?” they ask, or “how can we be more culturally sensitive?” The idea is that since only one type of person is coming to a church, they must somehow be discriminating against all other types.

I think the reason is simpler than that. We all like to worship in our own way, our own style, our own culture. There are enough churches out there that any person can find one that fits pretty well. Automatically there’s no diversity in the church – the different people have found a place where they fit in.

Is this such a bad thing? If I went to a church where they had people dancing with brightly colored streamers during worship, I wouldn’t go back. But there are some people who like to worship in that way, and they stay. I choose to go to a church where I can worship the way I like to worship.

In order to make a church diverse you would have to include many styles of worship: the style of each culture that the church is trying to attract. I don’t think that multiple cultures can or want to worship in the same way – that’s why we have different types of churches in the first place. If a church somehow managed to put aspects from different cultures into their worship in a way that nobody disliked, I don’t think anybody would like it either – it would be too bland.

I think the system we have works just fine as it is. Everyone is happy in their own church, worshipping the same God in their own correct but different way. Each church may not be diverse, but the Church is. Is there anything wrong with that?

If you’re not happy with what I’ve written, and think me hateful, narrow-minded or just plain uneducated, ask yourself this: if diversity is more important to you than having your preferred style of worship, why aren’t you in a church where you’re the different one?

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Keep me responsible, be it a light or heavy load

I have been thinking about some big words lately … words like redemption, and freedom, and community, and sanctification. And love, and sin. I could define them for you, and I think I’d probably do an OK job. (Words are my business, after all.) But when it comes down to reality, to life, I’m not always sure what they really mean.

I’ve only been a Christian for six years (just passed my anniversary this week — yes, I am the kind of person who keeps track of such things). But in my limited experience, it seems that the older I get, the more sinful I realize myself to be.

I don’t know whether that means I am more sinful than I was in college or if I’m just more realistic and honest. I tend to think it’s the latter, but it could be both, I don’t know. But it seems to be happening all around me — with my friends, with people I don’t really keep in touch with, with my co-workers.

Sometimes I’ll see someone else’s sin and recoil. I wonder how they could do that, and what’s gone wrong that led them to this point. I wonder how their walk with God is.

And then I look at my own life and realize how completely hypocritical I am.

I guess I always thought I was doing pretty well because so many of my pet sins are socially acceptable. I’m a workaholic in the making — many people would probably see that as an admirable thing. 😉 I’m a bit vain and totally self-centered. (I wish I weren’t self-centered.) But I don’t drink too much, I don’t steal, I don’t murder, I don’t sleep around, and somehow I think this makes me better.

One thing I love about my church (both here and in Birmingham) is that I’m repeatedly reminded of how fallen I am. I always have to laugh that the moment of silent confession is so short, because I have so, so much to confess.

But I am also reminded of Jesus’ grace.

We sang “Come Thou Fount” in church this morning, and it’s one of those that always gets me a little emotional. This verse is my favorite, and only increasingly so with each passing year.

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

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Filed under Autobiography, Faith, Lyrics