The Silent Week.

Every have one of those things happen in your life where you thought you were prepared and you did all the research and then it happens and you had absolutely no idea what you were getting into and now you’re completely freaking out?

First year teaching, man. Whoa.

I started my job on January 19, a Tuesday (Monday was a holiday.) Two days later, Snowmaggeddon2016 happened and we got a 6-day weekend. Then two more days, and a scheduled in-service day. If you’re following along at home, that means I only worked 4 days in my first two weeks. Pretty sweet.

I took over my classes on February 1 and immediately realized I was not in Kansas anymore. Two weeks later, running on coffee, adrenaline, and stubbornness, I was feeling run-down and my throat was killing me. Normally, I’d ignore this kind of thing, but it seemed to be getting worse, not better, so off to the doctor.

Strep Throat. Life: 1, Simone: 0

silenceIf you know anything about me, you know that I am essentially a walking musical. I sing in the shower, while driving, in public places, at funerals (just the one time.) I sing directions to my students and my Chinese takeout order to a very confused Asian man. Every Sunday, I minister to my church as part of our worship team and then I lead a couple dozen elementary schoolers in worship during Children’s Church. Singing is intrinsically tied to who I am.

But for one week, I went silent.

I won’t lie, it was incredibly difficult. My heart yearned to express myself in music. The greatest test was church this morning. I’m on the mend, but still wary to cause damage by belting out notes on untested pipes. Instead I had the opportunity to listen. I listened to the people around me in the service pour their hearts out to God in music. I listened as 21 6-12 year olds sang sweet songs to the Savior. In a way I didn’t know was possible, my silence allowed me to hear the voice of the church, to hear the voice of the bride of Christ. Overwhelmed and humbled, I rejoiced for my sickness and the beautiful moment it allowed me to feel the presence of God.

How much would we hear if we stayed quiet long enough to really listen?


Even Jesus said No | An Ode to the Over-Committed

This morning, I walked up to my pastor and said, “Find me some help in Children’s Church, or I quit.” Whoa, friend. Let me start from the beginning.

I need to be needed. desperately want to be the person who swoops in a saves the day. I crave the kind of recognition that makes your ears turn pink with glee because someone noticed and appreciated the work you did. And so, I say yes — to everything. I say yes before I even really understand what is being asked of me. I dive in, head first, and hope that I’ll figure it out along the way.

This kind of self-imposed martyrdom gets a reputation and before you realize, you’ve committed to taking care of everyone but yourself. What was supposed to be a short-term commitment to the children’s ministry has turned into 18 months of exhaustive work. For a season, I was capable and willing to step in to meet this need, but I slowly lost my support and began shouldering more of the load. When I walked into church this morning, a half-dozen people asked me if I was alright. They told me I looked exhausted (thanks, by the way), that I looked upset, that I looked like a hot mess (direct quote). That was the wake up call I needed. I have been so focused on serving, feeling selfish for wanting some time to be fed, to be spiritually nourished, that I forgot that even Jesus needed alone time.

In Matthew 14, after the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus sends the disciples on ahead of him while he gets the crowd to go home. He then retreats up the mountain to pray, by himself. In Luke 5 we’re told that he often “withdrew to lonely places” to commune with his father. Mark 6 tells of a trip to Tyre where Jesus didn’t even want anyone to know he was around because he needed time off from the constant ministry.

If you, like me, are feeling the strain of burnout from over-commitment, start saying, “no”. No need to drop everything all at once and leave everyone else in a lurch, but start pulling back. There is guilt, of course, but such sweet freedom. I promise you, it is important. You aren’t good to anyone if you reach your breaking point. God calls us to work, to do what we can for the kingdom and for those around us. He does not call us to sacrifice our health, sanity, or families with overwhelming burdens and commitments.

It’s okay to say no, and mean it.

Hide it in your heart | 5 Tips For Memorizing Scripture

Raise your hand if you went to Christian school for 11 years and spent that time frantically memorizing weekly Bible verses in order to pass a quiz.

Just me? Cool.

I know that scripture memorization is an important part of my spiritual life. I know that the more of God’s wisdom that I store in my heart the better I am able to use that wisdom a) in times of spiritual attack or b) to encourage others.

But it’s boring. I have a good many verses memorized from incidental exposure, but the idea of actively sitting down to memorize a passage makes me want to kick my feet in rebellion. Nevertheless, I know it’s important and I’m trying to do better. To make easy myself into it, I chose a familiar, but not yet memorized verse and gave myself the month of July to learn it. If you are trying to commit words to memory, here are a few ideas!

1) Start slow

You don’t need to memorize the Old Testament in a year. Just let that dream die. Choose passages of special significance, or common usage. It’s probably way less important for you to have the genealogies memorized than the Romans Road. If you’re new to the Bible, the letters from Paul or Jesus’ sermons are a good place to start. Be gentle on yourself, don’t expect to know it all right away.

2) Front and center

Post the verse(s) you want to commit to memory in a place where you’ll see them often. Stick a note card to your bathroom mirror or on the fridge. The more you see it, the more likely it is to stay with you. I keep mine in my planner, since you know I’m never without that. Use different colored pens, or circle key words to make it visually interesting.

3) Meditate on the words

Instead of trying to remember a random sequence of words, think about the verse. What does it mean? How does it apply to your life? What was the context of the passage? Think about the choice of words and what God wants you to glean from them.

4) Write (or draw) it out

If I really want to learn something, I write it down again and again. If you are skilled at lettering or sketching or any kind of art form, try that. If not, just jotting down the passage in a notebook or the margin of the newspaper will reinforce it in your brain. I’m not at all skilled in the art of lettering, but I like to dabble, so I do it anyway.

5) Make it a habit

Say the verse out loud while you drive, or when you brush your teeth. Use it as a prayer to open or close your quiet time. Get into the habit of saying it a few times a day. Don’t worry if you mess up, there won’t be a test!

What’s your secret for memorization? Share below!

We hold these “truths”…

I need to talk to you about something. The Spirit, He’s a-proddin’, and I can’t seem to type fast enough to get my thoughts poured out. A couple friends of mine shared an article on Facebook from Relevant Magazine entitled 7 Unbiblical Statements Christians Believe. It outlines a few of the fairy tales we’ve constructed because we like to believe in happily ever after.

I’d like to add a couple “truths” as well.

1) God put me in this place because He needs me to do His work.

Sentiments like this are prolific throughout Christian culture, using Esther 4:14 as evidence. The verse is often quoted: “You have come (or, have been called) to this place for such a time as this.” Here’s the thing, dear ones – THAT’S NOT WHAT IT SAYS. Try again:

Such a timeFor if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14 ESV) 

Mordecai is trying to convince his cousin to risk her life to prevent genocide. But Mordecai does not assume that Esther is, coincidentally, the only person on Earth who can prevent the horrific extermination of a people group. He tells her that God doesn’t need her, that help will arise from somewhere else if she is unwilling to stand. He basically tells her that she has an opportunity to be part of God’s plan, or she doesn’t have to, but the plan remains unaffected.

What hubris to assume God needs us for anything. He does us a favor by allowing us to take part in His work, not the other way around.

2) God will send you your husband when you least expect it/when you stop asking/when you are committed to Him/when you are [lame qualifier].

How many times have your married friends (who somehow assume they are the authority on marriage now) told you that, in so many words, that God is withholding your spouse from you until you complete some kind of checklist? HOW MANY TIMES? Married people, I know assume you mean well, but do you know what you’re doing? You are nurturing an entire culture of single Christians who believe that they can’t find “the one” because there is something wrong with them, despite seeing unsaved (and vastly less qualified) people fill up their news feed with wedding and baby photos. So we start to wonder, what kind of God would provide a mate for those people, and ignore my silent (and not so silent) pleas? It just seems cruel.

Then you look at us and remind us about Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lordand he will give you the desires of your heart.” Cool, I can totally buy that. You know what I don’t see?

If, and only if, you delight yourself in the Lord in the manner approved by your married (and infinitely wise) fellow Christians, then He will give you every single desire of your heart, but only if you don’t want them anymore, because God doesn’t give you things until you stop wanting them.” (The Gospel of Syllogism 17:8)

As John Green has reminded us, “The world is not a wish-granting factory,” and neither is the God I serve.

*end rant*

Come as you were…

I was driving to church on Sunday, running late, of course. I can blame the lateness a little on the time change, but mostly it is the eternal battle between my vanity and my desire to sleep just a few more minutes. Though I wish I were more punctual, I come from a long and austere legacy of dawdlers, piddlers, and people who underestimate how long it takes to get places. We talk about “Alger Time” in my family, and we aren’t being factious.

It’s just who I am.

(Funny aside: David can be a bit, um, let’s go with despotic and fairly rigid on how things ought to beHe is not, however, exempt from Alger Time. So, while punctuality is not his forte, woe to the one who keeps him waiting. This is what we call situational irony, children. As his baby sister, I like to be late on purpose to see what happens. Shhhh, don’t tell!)

FantasticButterfly31-610x320Anyway, I get to church, just in time to begin sound-check. We (the praise band) were having an off day; our drummer was out of town and we couldn’t seem to get our act together. The sound team was struggling and we were all feeling the missing hour.

And then I heard it. A request made and denied. A call for compromise rejected. The reason? That’s just how I am. 

Wait a minute…

When did that become okay? When did we start accepting our flaws as fact, citing a birthright of bullheadedness? At what point did we decide to stop becoming better?

There is mercy and grace and rest and peace to be found at the foot of the cross. We are invited to come as we are to partake in the blessings. We’re also instructed to be like Christ.

Come as you are, but don’t stay that way.

My [Fill in the Blank] Life

I know a woman who I can describe in one word: fabulous.  Two words:  deeply fabulous.

Spearls-flower-girls-little-boys-pinteresthe lives a glamorous life full of shiny things and pretty cars and lots of people surrounding her who remind her that she is fabulous.  She makes her living selling the dream of her lifestyle to other people. I’m not hating on her, not at all.  She has worked incredibly hard to become successful enough to achieve and maintain this lifestyle and I would never want to imply that she is anything less than she truly is.  She is amazing, smart, funny (sometimes), beautiful, and kind.  She has been an inspiration to me and to a lot of people and I owe her more than I can say.

I just don’t want her life.

Is that wrong? Should I wish for a life of luxury? I’d like to be comfortable, don’t get me wrong. It would be awesome to get out from under the student loan debt and car payments that are constantly on my mind. It would be super to never wonder if there is going to be too much month and not enough income, to stop doing a mental calculation every time a client cancels. I love my life, but I won’t be upset when this transitional season is over.

Descriptive WordsAnyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea of the one word biography. The whole of your existence summarized in one single word. What would your word be? What would the people who know you best say about you?

Would they be drawn to your kindness or generosity, or would they only highlight the negativity you exude? I’ll be honest, I’m almost afraid to know what word people would use to describe me.  I know that I am a trophy of grace, a freely forgiven and redeemed daughter of the Most High God, but is that how I live my life? Do I exude the kind of grace and mercy that was shown to me?

Do you?

The Misguided Adventures of Super Christian!

I recently quit my full time job for a variety of reasons I really don’t want to explain to you right now.  Can we just agree that I had good reasons and move on?  Thanks, I really appreciate it.

One of the new and interesting features of my 9-5less existence is that I’m home, with no discernible schedule, on Mondays.  I’ll tell you; I rather dig it.  I keep saying that I need to get back to my devotions and quiet time, but with a hectic schedule, I’m quick to make excuses why I can’t get it done.  Today, not so much.

I was reading about John the Baptist this morning and the devotion was making the point that John knew exactly who he was and who he wasn’t.  In fact, when questioned about it, he was very clear:

[20] He confessed, and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” [21] And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” [22] So they said to him, “Who are you? We need to give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” [23] He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.” (John 1:19-23 ESV)

John knew that his purpose in life was to announce the coming of Christ, not to be the Christ.  Whoa.

I think sometimes people turn Christians into their own personal Christs.  Some people chose to be Super Christiandevoted to a particular Christian, as if that person were a religion of their own.  The danger comes when the “Super-Christian” makes a mistake, the disappointment can lead many away from Christ.  Others choose to carefully watch a Christian, quick to point out every flaw as a reflection of God.  They forget that Christians aren’t perfect, just forgiven, just trying.

I do it to myself, too.  I work so hard to be the kind of person that people admire and respect and love that I forget that my goal isn’t to be the object of worship, but to stand as a trophy of grace for the one who is.

I am not called to be God.  I am called to be Christ-like, to live and love like Jesus and help others do the same, but ultimately, my goal must be to point others to Him.

Happy Monday!

In Terms of Mercy….

Last week, our pastor, who is knee-deep in a sermon series on the book of James, did a sermon on discrimination and why it’s no good.

Note*  I write a fair bit about the sermons that are given at my home church.  If you ever want to listen along, you can access the podcasts here.

Anyway, the discrimination part was a good reminder and definitely left me with some things to think about, but what really got me wasMercy when he spoke about mercy.  I’ve taken a number of spiritual gift tests and they always tell me the same thing: Mercy and Administration. The administration part comes easily, this girl loves to organize, take charge, delegate, and get the credit at the end.  The drawbacks are that I can be easily overwhelmed when I take on too much and my need for affirmation can lead to hurt feelings when I don’t think I’m getting the recognition I deserve, but God is working on me.

Mercy is a whole different story, though.  Growing up, I thought the gift of mercy was just the ability to encourage others, but it is so much more than that.  Mercy, I’m finding,  is

compassion shown toward someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm.

Wait, what?

Mercy requires humility.  It’s recognizing that you are in a position of power to do harm and choosing to exercise  grace instead of being legalistic.  Now, let me caveat.  (Can I use caveat as a verb?  Well I did.  Deal with it.)  Mercy doesn’t mean ignoring the actions of others.  It’s not the same a condoning wrongdoing or encouraging bad behavior.  Instead, mercy is actively choosing to look past the transgression and into the heart of the transgressor.  It requires care and attention and mountains of patience as well as epic discernment, but that’s what we’re called to do as Christians.  That’s what I’ve been called to do as someone gifted with Mercy.

Heavy stuff.

Act like you’ve been here before…

I heard something truly disturbing this week.

I also experienced something disturbing in that I saw my ex-boyfriend at Target last night, but that’s a story for a different day.

I’m not about finger-pointing or calling people out on the internet, so I’ll be vague as I try to recap.  There was a change at my church and a fellow church-goer had a good bit of anxiety about the transition and so he asked everyone to keep it in prayer. The transition has come to pass (and just about as seamlessly as could be) and this fellow congregant expressed his surprise at how relatively uneventful the whole thing was.  I was overcome with frustration and had to actively keep myself from shouting at him.

Why?  I’m glad you asked.Jabez

The purpose of the change was to enable the church to reach more people for the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Our stated mission, as a church, is “To live and love like Jesus and to help others to do the same.”  We prayed for blessing and grace and a smooth transition and God blessed us richly.  Did this (very well-meaning and highly respected) man really have a right to be shocked that God was able to do this?

Who are we to ask God for things and then act surprised when He gives them to us?  Humbled? Sure. Grateful? Absolutely.  But shocked?  Have we so little faith that we are surprised at God’s ability to answer our prayers?  How dare we attempt to minimize God?

A wise (and deeply fabulous) friend of mind has told me on several occasions that when you ask for God to richly and abundantly bless you, you need to prepare yourself to be richly and abundantly blessed.  You cannot “out ask” God.

Just ask Jabez.

Happy Friday!

Adventures in Proverbs: playing with fire…

Proverbs Challenge

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

Imagine a young, attractive, intelligent (and totally humble) girl who works in a field where customers are coming in and out of her office every day with ridiculous requests,  but she tries her best to give each customer the care and attention they need.   An aura builds. She gets a reputation for being sweet and just a little sassy, with a friendly smile and quick, sharp wit.  This particular set of qualities attracts the special attention of a certain sub sect of human culture: the married, middle-aged man

They like coming to see her, for the attention and to hear her laughs at their jokes, and they, in turn, treat her as if she’s a rare find: precious and special.  Sometimes, their comments are laced with the slightest bit of innuendo, but she pretends not to notice, telling herself that she’s not interested in them romantically, so what’s the harm?

What’s the harm, indeed.

“Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27)

Being a man of God is hard work, there’s no question.  The question is this: if I desire a Godly man to be my partner in life, and I go forth on the assumption that my sisters in Christ want the same thing, shouldn’t I be working hard to protect the character of the men with whom I interact?  Shouldn’t I be striving each day to not only hold on to my own honor, but preserve theirs?  Honor is like your life savings, once it’s gone, there’s nothing left, and you have to work like mad to get it built back up again.   Honor is gone long before sin arrives.  Just the suggestion of wrong-doing can damage a reputation beyond repair.

Do I want to be that stumbling block for others?

Do you?