you keep me without chains

As I continue to shape my next post series, here’s another post pulled from the unpublished files.  The moment recalled in this story was a defining moment in finding my pastoral identity.  I’m still thankful for the challenging words of this denominational leader. 


I walked confidently into that room.  I knew who I was, I knew what I was called to do and I was ready to share it with the people on the other side of that table.  

I was most of the way through an interview process where I had to sit with various leaders of our denomination and basically sell myself.  They would say it’s more for them to get to know the graduating class, but we all knew what was really happening – we were pitching our personal brands of ministry hoping that someone was willing to help us find a place to practice said ministry.  

My interviews had been going well, I felt encouraged and I had no reason to believe this next one wouldn’t go just as well.  My time in this seminary had helped me fine tune exactly what I felt God was calling me to. So I entered that room boldly, sat down and shared what I had to share.  

When it came time for them to ask me questions, one of our leaders looked me squarely in the eye and asked if I would consider a senior pastor role.  I was caught off guard and so I said something about how I didn’t feel ready. All my experience was in youth ministry. I was 27 years old. What church would hire a young youth pastor to run their whole church?  That seemed crazy.

He paused a second before he responded.  “Why do you think it is that the majority of your male colleagues have come in here with less experience, younger than you and every one of them has said they wanted to be a senior pastor?”  

I stared blankly at him, not quite sure how to respond.  I knew what he was saying was right. I’d walked three years beside these men.  I sat in class with them, I led worship alongside of them, heard them practice preaching, debated ethics with them.  I had first-hand knowledge of their brazen self-confidence.

I knew the question wasn’t meant to get a response from me.  I think the point was being made that I had put a glass ceiling above myself.  Because even in my own denomination that ordains and calls women, even though I had served alongside and under the leadership of many gifted and talented women, I couldn’t see myself doing it.  

And this man was calling me out on it.  Because my response could have been that right now my call was not to be a senior pastor.  I could have said that I’d be open to it someday. But my response was that I was not ready which he could see through to the heart of what I really felt – I didn’t see myself doing it.  

The truth was that I had just spent three years in seminary trying to prove to myself that I really was called to ministry.  I spent three years wrestling with my identity as a leader in classes full of men who seemed to never question those things.

So the reason that ceiling was there for me but not for them? They’ve probably never been asked whether or not women could be pastors.  They probably never had someone laugh in their faces or ask them if they were becoming nuns. They probably didn’t get feedback in preaching class about the amount of make-up they had worn.  

I am not at all minimizing their own soul work that had to be done.  We all have stuff we have to work through. But in that moment, in that interview, I realized that even I looked at myself and wondered if I could really do this.  Not because I am not capable, but because I am a woman.

I thought of you and where you'd gone

Grief is a complicated thing.  Sometimes it’s a wave of emotion that you feel like will never subside.  Sometimes it’s a dull ache or a phantom pain.  Sometimes it sneaks up on you when you’re least expecting, to remind you that something you once loved is gone.

24 year old Alicia thought December 5th would be the darkest day of her life.  She ran out of the ICU to the sit on the curb outside and have a moment of quiet tears away from everyone who was feeling the same grief and pain she was feeling.  She gulped the fresh air after 36 grueling hours of recycled hospital air.  She just needed to find the courage to keep breathing on that day when it felt like all the hope she had been holding had died.  

25 year old Alicia tried to find a way to turn that dark day into something different.  She tried to celebrate the memory rather than mourn the loss.  She pushed through the pain and let others into her life in a way that felt foreign but also needed.  

December 5th became this weird day that I never really know how to plan for.  I never know what version of grief is going to radiate from my chest.  There was a year that I had the privilege of standing under the Brooklyn Bridge and remember how much my dad loved that city I was looking at.  Most years I put up a picture or find a way to write myself out of this funk that sets in – to remind myself that it’s okay to feel pain and okay to not feel pain.  

Last December 5th I stayed silent.  I was 5 months into my life in Minnesota and hadn’t let anyone in far enough to tell them what this day meant.  I don’t remember fully what I actually did that day.  I think I avoided most people, if I’m honest.  Later that week I let one person in, I told her I didn’t know how to tell her or what to say about how I felt about it.  

Because to be honest, the thing that crosses my mind every December 5th is – what would my dad think about this life I’m living?  Somedays I’m sure he’d be proud of me, proud of how I’ve created a space for myself.  Proud that I’ve taken adventures and lived life as fully as I can.  Other days I’m more realistic with that question – he would have no frame of reference for this life I’m living.

On December 5, 2009, not only did I lose my dad.  I lost the hope of a restored relationship.  The ugly truth of our broken relationship was that for the two and a half years prior to his passing, we hadn’t spoken much.  Somewhere in the back of my mind I had hope that we could eventually get past it all and move forward.  But we didn’t get that chance.  

My dad never knew what it meant for me to be a youth pastor.
He never saw me get my masters.  
He didn’t help me move into any of my apartments.  
He didn’t see me get ordained – although I honestly can’t even imagine what he would have thought of that.  

So 33 year old Alicia is angry and frustrated at this broken world and that awful disease of alcoholism that robbed her of a future where she gets to have an adult relationship with her dad.  

This year December 5th comes more bitter than sweet.  I will try as I do every year to remember happier times, to remember the things about him that I loved so deeply.  But I also know that this year I mourn a little deeper that I can’t share any of the beauty I have in my life with him.  Because while I don’t know what my dad would have thought about my being ordained or being a youth pastor – I do know that he would have been over the moon to see how happy I am. 

The best thing I can give to you is for me to go

It’s been a bit since I’ve posted.  Life has had it’s challenges and it’s blessings in this past season.  As I get back into a habit of writing I thought I’d share some older posts that never made it to the blog.  So enjoy this post on relationships written in a season of life that was much different than my current one.


There’s this song by Joshua Radin that features the beautiful voice of Patty Griffin. You’ve Got Growing Up To Do and the second verse contains these lyrics:
Looks like the rain’s pouring down on me
It’s drowning me now
And all I want is to go back home
But this old corduroy coat –
it’s not keeping me dry
But I can’t think of what else to try
I’ve always loved this song.  Joshua Radin is one of my favorite artists because of his use of lyrics to convey emotion or situations.  This verse is a powerful word picture of a relationship that just doesn’t seem to find the groove.
All relationships take work.  But some are just not right for whatever reason.  You fight and fight for it but it’s just not the right fit.  It’s not the best for either one of you. It’s like wearing a corduroy coat in the pouring rain and wondering why you’re wet.  
I love that verse – and how it ends: I can’t think of what else to try.  The solution you’re looking for is an umbrella or a raincoat or to go inside.  Anything but stay standing in the rain in that corduroy coat. It may be a great coat, perfectly worn in.  But when the rain comes it’s only going to make matters worse and become a weight on your shoulders.
There are relationships that are comfortable – perfectly worn in but when the rainy season comes they aren’t right.  They don’t fit the way they used to because what you need has changed. It’s different now, you’ve changed or grown and the relationship hasn’t changed with you.  It’s time to go because you’ve got growing up to do.
It may sound harsh.  Heartless even. But I think that the way there are two vocals – male and female – shows that sometimes it’s mutual.  The fit isn’t right anymore. The relationship was good for a while but for whatever reason, it’s time to move on. Maybe it’s both people, maybe it’s one or the other.  But it’s time.
Maybe it’s time because there’s no moving forward until you move on.  Staying in a relationship that isn’t a good fit can stand in the way of the one that might be coming that is the right fit.
And the best thing I can give to you is for me to go
and leave you alone
You’ve got growing up to do.

what a privilege it is to love

I was called a nerd in staff meeting yesterday.  It was a term of endearment (I think) because of my love (obsession) for the Enneagram.  I was giving an update about the Enneagram workshop I had done with my Youth Leaders on Sunday afternoon.  Let’s be honest here, I was gushing about it. Because I love the Enneagram.
I first took the Enneagram in 2012 as a piece of a cohort I was a part of in Seminary.  I liked the insights but if I’m honest, I didn’t fully understand what it meant for me.  We went through it as a group but didn’t quite have a grasp on the reality of what it was revealing about ourselves and each other.  It’s come up a few times in the years since and each time I am amazed at how much it explains who I am and why I do the things I do. But it was kind of just an acceptance that this “Personality test” had me pegged and I would move on.  
In the last year I’ve dug more deeply into it through the help of an amazing life coach we are utilizing at church to teach and develop our leaders with the Enneagram.  She has stretched me and pushed me towards growth through my Enneagram type. Through this process each staff member was given a 30 minute coaching session with her to talk about our results.  Since I already knew my number, my coaching session focused on creating a growth plan for myself. After a long bit of rambling around the topics that were currently causing me distress or disunity in my life, she asked some clarifying questions and then challenged me.
First though, a bit about who twos are.  Enneagram type 2s value love and nurture.  They are deeply relational and connected people.  They are emotionally charged and intuitive. A common phrase spoken about 2s is that they often know what others are feeling before the person knows it themself.   Chris Heuertz says that “2s are here to help us connect to our hearts.  They give us permission to explore our own hearts – they validate our connection with our emotional selves.”  
One of the areas where Enneagram Type 2s can struggle is in meeting and knowing their own needs.  It’s kind of a funny idea that they strive to meet the needs of others and yet are so clueless on their own needs and emotions.  My two friends and I often use the phrase “I have all the feelings, I’m just not sure why or what they are about.”
Twos can also have a hard time defining themselves authentically.  We often find ourselves defining our identity based off of who we are for other people.  Twos are capable of a lot of deeply intimate relationships because of their being so rooted in their feelings.
So much of my own identity has been wrapped up in who I am to others, but not just my relation to them, the type of relation I have to them.  I’m not just a youth pastor, I’m a relational youth pastor. I don’t see myself as a friend, I’m a confidante – someone you can rely on and trust with your junk.  I hold myself back from difficult situations and conversations because I’m afraid of how someone else will perceive me, especially if I feel like I’m letting them down.  
So that’s what our friend and life coach challenged me to – to take time and define myself outside of my relationships to others.  To spend time really searching my heart. Chris Heuertz echos that in his challenge to Twos, “I suggest that that’s consenting to solitude – That’s finding that time alone to explore the gifts of who you are when you are not giving yourself away because when you can know the truth about yourself, that’s when you can find all that it is you have to offer.  And there’s a lot there. Don’t cheat yourself and don’t cheat us.”
I love that Chris says, “Don’t cheat yourself and don’t cheat us.”  Because that’s what happens when a 2 doesn’t take care of themselves first – they cheat themselves of the ability love others well, which of course is what we want to do.  We are eager to love others by caring for them. But when we allow that to define ourselves, when we don’t turn that love inward first, we are cheating ourselves. And we end up cheating others because our loving kindness can become manipulative.  
In his podcast explanation of his song about the Enneagram 2, Ryan O’Neal of Sleeping at Last says, “Once the two steps away and gives the attention to themselves… it’s probably a difficult process and I imagine it being a really uncomfortable thing.”  He nailed it. It’s extremely uncomfortable, but it’s so necessary. And so I am learning to take the time outs from being a helper and turn that care inward. I am learning to define my own needs and then asking for help myself when I need it.
Self care is hard for a two.  But if we want to continue living into the relationships that give us so much life, we must learn not to depend on those relationships to define who we are.  


All quotes taken from The Sleeping at Last Podcast episode “Two” & the Enneagram.
For more reading on the Enneagram, check out books and podcasts by Ian Cron, Chris Heuertz (Linked above).  And keep checking back here, I’ll be writing more on my own journey with the Enneagram.

she wouldn't dance with another

After a recent visit to a local record store, I thought it was time to revisit some of the records I’ve obtained from my dad’s collection.  When I moved into my first (solo) apartment and bought my first record player, I made my brother go through our dad’s records over the phone with me and set aside a group of them.  Mostly Beatles, a James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Earth, Wind and Fire, The Four Seasons, a B.B. King and others that were nostalgic for me.  He boxed them up and sent them to me.
Tonight I sorted through them, put them in order and pulled out a couple to listen to while I cooked dinner and got myself ready for the week.  First a Haim record I bought myself right after I moved to MN.  Then the Joni Mitchell because I was curious about it.  Then my favorite Beatles album – A Hard Day’s Night (the movie soundtrack version).  And lastly, Meet the Beatles! (US Version).
As I lay on the floor and listen to John Lennon and Paul McCartney sing over me, I’m instantly transported back to my childhood.  So many evenings and weekends listening to these records with my dad.  Playing air guitar or drums, harmonizing and dancing around the coffee table.  Songs that shaped my early concepts of love – “This Boy,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” and of course, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” which I’m convinced began my obsession with holding hands.
Those late night jam sessions with my dad were everything to me.  I’m sure they drove my mom crazy, she was probably more concerned with getting my brother and I to bed at a decent hour.  But my dad would flip that album over, “just one more time.”  We’d get to that one rare song with George Harrison on lead vocals and sing out how we were “happy just to dance with you.”
Those early Beatles albums were full of hopeful love, romantic gestures promising “all my loving” and calling the girl “darling.”  Childhood Alicia only knew of that kind of love.  It was before my friends’ parents started getting divorced.  Before my own first heartbreak and all the ones that came after that.  Before my parents announced their separation and later divorce.
As we walked around that record store the other day, we talked about our top 10 albums.  What were the albums that lasted the test of time in our lives.  It’s hard to name any newer albums because who knows if they are going to continue to have that kind of impact on us.  Are they going to instantly transport me back to a season of life like these Beatles albums?  And what artists had a good few songs and which ones had albums you didn’t skip a single song?
So I listed off the first few that came to my mind.  Obviously A Hard Day’s Night by the Beatles (although I mistakingly called it Can’t Buy Me Love and am tempted to text my friend to correct myself).  Then Jimmy Eat World’s The Middle which instantly takes me to that grey Jeep I first drove around after I got my freedom (aka my driver’s license).  Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers self entitled album was next – few have heard of it but the song “Such a Way” will always by my college anthem and young love aspiration.  I struggled coming up with just one Sara Bareilles album.  Or John Mayer – his albums got me through that awful first year of college (Heavier Things),  my parents’ divorce (Continuum) and my dad’s death (Battle Studies).  Not to mention driving around in my youth pastors’ car to get Starbucks (Room for Squares).
Music just has that effect on some people.  It’s filled with nostalgia and promise.  It shapes the way we see the world, the way we interpret the people and things around us.  Music can help us to voice feelings and emotions that seem impossible to understand.  It can make us feel connected to a bigger story with other characters.  Music has been a home for me in spaces and places where home has felt disjointed or distant.
Someday we can talk about the ways music has led me astray or molded my opinions and outlooks in not so healthy ways, but for now, it’s time to flip the record and listen just one last time.

how many miles must it take to break through

Have we talked about the Enneagram yet?  Maybe not, but we’ll start here.  I’m a two.  The Helper, the Befriender, the Loving One.  You can read about it online, but that’s not the point here.  One of the key fear motivations for a two is shame/humiliation.  We do things in a way to keep shame and humiliation away from ourselves.  When I first heard that about twos it resonated so much with who I am.  I’ve always had this bent toward not making myself look silly or embarrassed.  But I’m also realizing it keeps me from taking a lot of risks.
Earlier this summer I took a trip to the Boundary Waters with a fellow youth pastor and her volunteers.  I’ve done some canoeing and camping in my life but not nearly as intense as this trip.  For those who aren’t familiar with the Boundary Waters, Canoe Area (BWCA) it’s a series of lakes along the boarder of Canada/Minnesota.  It’s a “Leave no Trace” area so everything you bring in you have to bring out.  And you can only access most of the area by canoe or kayak.
We entered the BWCA on a Tuesday afternoon and came out Saturday morning.  We traveled 40 miles by canoe and portaging.  It was simultaneously amazing and incredibly challenging.
Learning a new skill set is never easy.  Especially in front of others.  I have a hard time navigating between wanting to impress others and being okay to make a mistake.  Until we got to our first portage, I didn’t know what that word even meant.  (It means we carry everything we have – packs and canoes – through the woods to the next lake).  I had never learned the different types of paddle strokes to turn the canoe this way or that.  It was all new to me.  But in a group of 5 people – we all had to take turns.
So I learned to steer.  The person in the back of the boat steers.  There are three types of strokes that help the canoe turn left or right and depending on which side you are paddling on, you use either a C stroke or a J stroke to turn the boat.  My first time steering was on our second day.  I quickly became frustrated at how hard it was to judge which stroke to use and when.  I was constantly overcorrecting.  I asked my canoe partner how he got so good at it and what I needed to do and he simply said, “You just need to predict where the boat is going.”  Or some other nonsense like that.
Not.  Helpful.
But in a lot of ways, he was right.  But moreso, I needed to be patient.  Because what was happening was that I saw I needed to go right, so I’d start paddling really hard and over and over to make the boat go right.  But then we’d be going too far right, so I’d have to quick switch strokes to go more left.  But instead of going slowly or waiting for the boat to make its’ adjustments, I would just keep paddling.  I was learning that if I slowed down and didn’t panic, I could make the corrections more intentionally.  And save my arms a lot of work.
I was learning to have patience and trust in the system.  In this particular situation it was to trust that all the interactions between the water, the canoe, the paddle and the wind were going to eventually work together.  I just needed to slow down and be patient enough to wait to see how the boat would react.  I needed to learn to not rush to the solution that seemed the easiest but to let there be some breathing room.
On my second day of steering it felt like I was starting over again.  All the lessons I’d learned the day before felt like they had flown out of my head.  I was frustrated that I didn’t remember which stroke turned the boat which way.  I was too prideful to ask for clarification because that felt humiliating – all we’ve been doing is canoeing, why don’t I remember?  Eventually the fear of falling behind forced me to ask the question of our guide – how do I do this?  He answered with grace and expertise because he is an expert.  It’s literally his job to teach this.
And the second day I got better than the first.  By my third day, I wish I could say I had mastered it OR that I had no qualms asking for help, but I’m stubborn.  So I had to fight against the boat one more time before asking for clarity and admitting I didn’t know what to do.
There are so many areas of life that I don’t have the experience in but they seem to be things I should just know.  So I struggle against them, afraid to ask for help or admit I don’t know what I’m doing.  I’m learning that about myself.  I’m fine to be vulnerable when it comes to things I can control, but admitting I’m not good at something that feels easy to others – that’s not a vulnerability I’m ready to hand over just yet.
But I’m learning.  Learning to lean into areas of weakness and letting others speak into them.  I’m learning to not be afraid of my weakness – it will actually make me stronger and more capable of growth to embrace it.  I need to let go of my expectations of perfection or being a master.  It’s okay for me to not be the best.  There’s beauty in knowing my weaknesses and knowing I’m working on it.
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**Title from Mat Kearney’s “Face to Face”**

Make this chaos count

There’s that Theodore Roosevelt quote that floats around, especially in that area of the internet specifically created for Christian ladies, that says “Comparison is the thief of joy.”  For the most part I go along with it because in reality, it’s really true a lot of the time. We usually use it when we’re talking about how we shouldn’t compare our weaknesses to the strengths of others.  The phrase “Stop comparing your behind the scenes to their highlight reel” comes to mind.
And that is very true and something that is buried deep within us that we need to watch out for because it’s rooted in insecurity, not truth.  
But there’s another side to that equation, also buried deep within us, rooted in pride.  You could call it competition. You could call it vanity. Galatians 5:26 calls it vain glory or conceit.  It’s almost like we choose to compare our highlight reel with someone else’s behind the scenes that relationship has given us access to view.
Once, early on in my ministry career, I was in a conversation with a colleague.  I had just come out of an odd meeting with a denominational leader and I was looking to debrief.  I recounted my meeting to my colleague and told her of how this other leader had told me to pursue a position that I thought was way out of my expertise.  I thought the whole thing was ridiculous but wanted to process it with someone who really knew me. As I told her the story I remember feeling simultaneously flabbergasted and hopeful of some potential in myself that maybe I wasn’t seeing.  I paused for her reaction.
“It’s sad to me that it seems like our denomination is skipping over my generation for leadership opportunities.  It’s like we’ve been forgotten.”  
It’s my earliest memory of professional competitiveness.  I was being perceived as a threat, even if the actual comment being made wasn’t necessarily about me at all.  The problem is that I internalized it. I believed the lie of scarcity being fed to me in that moment.
I took that lie of scarcity into my future interactions with other women in ministry.  I began to feel that competitiveness whenever someone got an opportunity that I wanted, that I thought I deserved, or that lifted them up.  I let it grow deep down inside of me until it took over.
I had to take a hard look inward to realize what I was doing and how it was breaking my relationships with my female colleagues.  Being a woman in ministry is hard enough without adding in a factor that pit us against one another. Here are a few ways that helped uproot this vain glory in my own heart and how I keep it at check.
Do some looking back at moments that defined my value.  Looking back at my ministry career, there are moments where God revealed my calling and my gifts.  It came through lots of venues and through lots of people. I sat down and took an inventory of all those moments.  Fleshed out the spaces where God had called me to lead and how I felt in those moments. There have also been a lot of moments like the one I described above, where I questioned my value because of someone’s words or actions towards me.  I sat down and wrote them all out as well. Naming them removed their power, praying through them made me realize what were lies and what was truth.
We have a tendency to deny our hard moments because they shouldn’t define us.  And they don’t have to define us. But they do have power, and it’s only by naming them and taking their power away from them can we overcome those lies.  Once we’ve done that we can replace them with the truth. Because a bandaid of truth won’t heal a wound that hasn’t been cleaned out.
Stay connected to God through his Word.  Once we’ve done the cleaning out, now we bandage the wounds up with truth.  For me that has been through reading the scriptures that have given me life and purpose.  Philippians 1:6, Hebrews 12:12, Psalm 139. Scriptures that I’ve memorized to help me stay connected and reminded of who God has created me to be and how he has walked alongside of me.  
Gut check your feelings.  Plenty of times I hear news from friends and colleagues that is exciting for them and disappointing for me.  That feeling doesn’t necessarily go away. But it doesn’t have to take over my thought process. When I feel that way I do a simple gut check for myself.  Why does this person’s success make me feel a certain way? Is there an area of my life or ministry that is disappointing to me?
Often times, I’ve noticed, I feel that feeling because I have an unresolved issue in my own life/ministry.  It’s the whole “grass is greener on the other side” mentality. Most of the time whatever that other person is celebrating isn’t necessarily something that’s right for me, but I feel jealous because of my own frustrations.  This gut check has become an easy way to identify areas that need working on.
I also tell a trusted person about my feelings.  I have a couple people who will let me name my own selfishness and pride to them.  They won’t let me wallow in it but they know that for my process to be complete, I need to say it out loud before I can let it go.  So these few trusted people will let me say it, without judging me, and then gently tell me to move through it.
Genuinely cheer them on.  Even if I feel a certain way about the news, I force myself to cheer them on.  I make it a practice to name why I think this opportunity is great for them. To be able to say it in my head and heart makes it possible for me to cheer them on publicly and in person genuinely.  Even if it takes a journey to get myself there, I try my best to genuinely cheer them on and encourage them. I have never wanted to inflict the kind of pain I felt that day I described above. But I know that I have, so when needed, I apologize and use my words to encourage them.  
The lie of scarcity tells us that there’s not enough room for all the amazing women (and men) that do the work that we do.  Competitiveness is born out of this lie. Being competitive isn’t necessarily sinful, but allowing it to fester to the point where we put other people down or make them feel less than us is sinful.  We have to be able to name that sinful pattern in our life in order to break it.
How have you seen competition rear its ugly head in your relationships?
What work do you need to do?  
Have you let competition break a relationship with a colleague?  Who do you need to seek forgiveness from?

There’s power in (not) naming it

We were singing this song in church recently, a song I’ve sung a dozen times before.  There were these lyrics that made me stop in my tracks:
Earth has no sorrow
That Heaven can’t heal
So lay down your burdens
Lay down your shame
All who are broken
Lift up your face

In my core I believe these words.  I believe that there is no earthly thing that cannot be healed in Heaven.  I believe that there will be a day where there are no more tears, no more sorrow.  I believe in these things.
But I also know of a pain that burdens you and cannot be simply laid down.  By that I mean the pain of systemic injustice.  Well, it can be laid down, in one moment at the cross, until the next time you walk outside and feel it’s weight come crashing back down upon you – from a tweet, a micro aggression, a jarring news story or even just an outright violation of your rights as a human being.
Is the burden of the oppressed one that requires daily surrender?  Almost like the opposite of a daily affirmation.  Or rather – it’s counterpart.
Wake up in the morning and say your daily affirmation to remind yourself that you are valued, put on your armor as you get ready to face a day where the world will tell you that you actually have less value than your counterparts with different skin, different genders, different ages, different abilities, different attractions.  Go out and face your day like a champ.
Then you come home at night.  Kneel at the foot of the cross and lay them down again.  The burdens you’ve been handed throughout the day.  The list might be short – maybe you only saw evidence of oppression in the media.  Or the list may be long – maybe you were personally treated as though you had less value.
I know all burdens laid at the cross are not a magical cure of sin.  I know that the act of laying them at the cross is one of discipline, of a practice of surrender to our Lord and Savior.  I know we have the Spirit within us, that the Spirit has the ability to heal our hearts from the hardness of suffering and oppression.  I know all these things.  But some mornings, as I sing those words, I am angry.
I am angry that I am here, laying this burden of injustice down at the foot of the cross – again.  And my oppressors are not.
And I have to accept that.  I have to find the strength to accept that I will never understand.  I do not get to dictate how others act or interact.  I cannot make someone understand the way that they have made someone else feel with their words, their actions or their violence.  I can only find the strength to come, day after day and lay it down at the cross.  I can only choose to not let it become my bitterness.  I can only choose to use my voice to call it out when I see it, in the world or in myself.
It feels as though we can hardly scan through the news without seeing countless stories of implicit bias and those are just the ones that make national news.  For those among us who are within the minority, every time we read that headline we feel that pain.  And not just the painful lament of how our country/our schools/our police officers/our churches value some over others, but also the personal pain of experience.  Countless stories of being followed, pulled over, accused of something without grounds, not given the same chances or benefits – all those personal memories come flooding in, reopening the wounds.  The personal identification of systemic trauma – these stories have a profound effect on the minorities in our country.  Even when we roll our eyes and say we’re not surprised – it hurts.
There are times when it feels like as a culture we are hoping to push through the pain and move on.  As if it didn’t just re-traumatize an entire section of our population.  As if these things don’t matter because it happened to people that aren’t here with us.  They didn’t happen to our loved ones so we can wag a finger at those people over there who reacted poorly to the presence of a minority.
We aren’t asking questions of ourselves and those in our communities to dig deeper into this heart breaking reality.  We aren’t taking a hard look inside to see where the implicit bias has attached itself within us.  We aren’t fighting against the apathy or the privilege of being able to walk away.
But the cost is too high to keep things they way they are.  When we aren’t calling it out, when we aren’t naming the sin of Racism and White Supremacy we are causing more and more pain for our brothers and sisters of color.  We are continuing a tradition that says comfortability for all is more important than justice for all.  We are perpetuating unsafe spaces for people of color.
The thing those of us in leadership need to remember is that systemic injustice is a daily burden for our brothers and sisters of color.  It can seem like a weight that will never lift.  When we fail to see that burden and call it a burden, we are invalidating the pain that is ever present.
The first step to correcting the injustice is to first have our eyes open to seeing it in the first place.

What it's like to be single in the church: Part four

Well here we are, Part 4.  This series has brought about a ton of great conversation in my real life relationships.  I hope it has sparked some good things for you as well. I started writing about this topic because I knew I needed to start using my unique voice to speak into topics I’ve experienced to be difficult.  I’ll be writing more on Church community, on singleness and other things in the future. But for now we’ll cap this series here.
As a reminder, here’s where we’ve been with this conversation:
Part One was from the point of view of the Church and church leadership.  
Part Two was a bit of a Married Friends Gut Check
Part Three was a bit of a Single Friends Gut Check
Part Four is a few models of relationships that can help us with practical steps forward.
I was saying just today to my fellow staff members about how we need more honest conversations about how we do church community.  Because people are leaving the church. People are walking away from the church for a lot of reasons, not just the loneliness of being single.  But time and time again I hear my single friends talk about how they don’t feel fully a part of the community at their church. So we need to be talking about this.  
As we look for practical steps forward, I thought we could take some time to look at a couple of models of relationships across marital status that I have found really helpful and honoring.  I honestly believe that we can only step into these types of relationships when we are all in healthy spaces or trying to get to healthy spaces. If you want to know what that looks like, head on back to parts Two and Three and see what I mean by that.  
Here are a few models I’ve come to find helpful within the church and in general life:
Intergenerational Life Groups.  Or small groups.  Or D-Teams. Or Sunday School classes.  Whatever your church creates for community space.  So often, as a church, we think all community needs to be life-stage specific.  But often times, most of our lives are spent in life stage specific settings. What if in the church we mixed it up a little more.  Of course Moms of toddlers need time with other Moms of toddlers and college students want to hang out with other college students – that’s fair.  But in the church, could we mix it up a little more intentionally. When we intentionally mix it up, single people don’t have to feel so ostracized because conversation doesn’t naturally default to toddlers, parenting, empty nesting, etc.  
This can require some intentionality from the church leadership but it doesn’t have to entirely rest on their shoulders.  When thinking about starting up something, invite the single people you know. Make an effort to invite them to sit with you during service, or more radically – go sit with them.  Intentionally choose a table not with people who are just like you but people who are at a different life stage.
You may be asking reading this and thinking, “But Alicia, what will we talk about if it’s not _______ (fill in your blank with whatever you usually talk about with your peers who are exactly like you).”  Start with something easy, like the sermon or something that happened in worship. Ask about their plans for the week. Ask about their job, where they like to hang out, what are they reading/watching/listening to.  I promise you it’s not that hard – you just have to intentionally try!
The Tricycle Theory.  This is of course an Office reference.  Michael Scott once said, “My mom always said that the third wheel is what makes it a tricycle” in reference to him always hanging out with his mom and stepdad.  Two of my best friends are married (to each other) and when we all lived in Chicago I started calling us the Tricycle. When we all first met I was working with the husband in youth ministry and I decided to force the wife to be my friend (not really but I tried real hard).  One thing that works so well in our friendship is that I never feel like a third wheel. It’s a joke we make but in reality our friendship is so strong and balanced, it’s not like adding a third wheel to one of the wheels on the bike, it’s really like having an evenly balanced tricycle.  
I alluded to this in another post that we need to also treat married people as whole developed individuals and this is kind of where the tricycle theory comes from.  There are times in our friendship when the husband and I are talking about church things and ministry ups and downs that the wife is only kind of interested in (or not at all if we’ve been talking too long about it.)  And probably more so there are long periods of girl talk that the husband could care less about. And there are just as many times when we’re all talking about stuff that we have in common. I am not more friends with one of them over the other.  
Even now as we are juggling a long distance friendship, we share the ups and downs of our lives with one another.  Obviously the two of them have a deeper relationship than I have with either of them, but they never make me feel bad about being single.  In fact they are two of my biggest cheerleaders. I get the best dating advice from them because they usually balance each other out.
Spiritual Family in practice.  We talk about Spiritual Family a lot in the church.  But sometimes I wonder if we really are that good at it across lines of age, gender and family status.  Family is messy – we all know that. We all have family drama that can be tricky to navigate, so Spiritual Family is no different.  But we cannot allow that to keep us from trying, especially because this is exactly what a lot of singles are looking for.
Even if their own families are nearby, singles want to be a part of a broader church community.  They may have a desire to have a family of their own and they don’t yet, or they may just like being around the hustle and bustle of kids.  There are families in my life who have let me into their family spaces on a regular basis and I cannot express how good for my soul that is.
For someone who enjoys being arounds kids but has no kids of my own and is far away from my own nieces, it is amazing to have families who let me hang out in their family.  This doesn’t have to be a big planned out evening, it can just as easily be inviting someone who is single into the everyday messiness of being a family.
Here are some practical ways this has looked like for me and the families in my life:

  • Lunch after church
  • Letting me sit with their family at church
  • Inviting me to soccer practice / band concerts / special events
  • Running errands together
  • Going to the park
  • Family dinner (NOT a dinner party – normal family dinner where we talk about our days and our lives)
  • Hanging out on bad weather days – sledding, reading by the fire, card games
  • Riding to church events/retreats/outings together

A lot of these things are not difficult to invite people in – don’t assume your single friends don’t want the hustle of your family.  I recognize that this takes a level of trust and vulnerability to let people into your space, but I also recognize the strength of kids having multiple adults in their lives who care for them.  Being single can be very lonely, and we don’t need to constantly be in your space, but knowing there’s an invitation in helps the isolation feel less intrusive.
Lastly, I feel the need to add a disclaimer that I obviously cannot speak for every single person in your life.  These posts are trying to get us to think outside of our culture determined boxes – but please, if you are wondering how to better pour into your single friends you can just ask them.  Go ahead and blame me, here’s how that conversation can go…
“Hey, I’ve been reading these posts by some girl about what it’s like to be single in the church, what’s been challenging for you in our community?”  
FULL STOP.  
After you ask that question, just listen.  Humbly give them the space to answer you as honestly as they feel they can be with you.
And remember, these conversations always go better once you have an established relationship with someone.  So start first by building up a relationship with the single people in your life. See them as a whole person and treat them with the dignity and respect you would a married friend of yours.

What it's like being single in the church: Part Three

Just as a reminder, we’re in a series on singleness in the church that will be a four part series (for now).  Here’s where we’re going to (try) to go with this conversation:
Part One was from the point of view of the Church and church leadership.  
Part Two was a bit of a Married Friends Gut Check
Part Three is a bit of a Single Friends Gut Check
Part Four is going to be some practical steps forward.
It was great reading comments and hearing from so many of my married friends last week.  Thank you all for engaging in this conversation and sharing it with your friends. Keep sharing your thoughts and any feedback you have for me!  
This week’s gut check will be for our single friends.  Full disclosure – this is the post that I was the most nervous about writing in this series.  For obvious reasons, I can’t write a gut check for single friends without first looking myself in the eye and gut checking myself.  But hey – we all have our stuff right? And we all have to deal with it, so here we go!
Just to remind ourselves, our hope in these conversations is to talk about how to have better community across this relationship status divide.  We want the church to be a place where we can find good, God honoring community between people of all relationship statuses. So when we talk about singleness here, I’m coming from the angle of how we can better be in community with others who are not single.
Single friends, we need to deal with our loneliness.  There is a lot about my single life that I love.  I doubt that I would have had the ability to move as many times as I have or go on new adventures if it hadn’t been for my singleness.  The “freedom” that comes with being single is appealing for the most part.
But there are other parts that are just really hard.  They range from silly things to laugh at with my friends to deep wounds that are easier to push down and not deal with right now.  
However difficult though – we need to deal with those things.  We need to deal with the parts of being single that are hard and frustrating not because of what people say or think about us but because of what we say or think about us.  I’m an extrovert, albeit a shy extrovert but an extrovert nonetheless.  So being at home alone can sometimes be isolating for me. When I moved into my first apartment alone I wasn’t sure I could handle it.  I was really nervous about all that time alone with my thoughts. It didn’t take long for me to realize that in my loneliness of living alone, I was actually just numbing my mind rather than dealing with it. I needed to deal with it because when I was just numbing it with TV, music, other friendships, etc – the loneliness always came out sideways.  
And when it comes out sideways, it can cause us to be bitter about our relationships with people who are married.  It can build a wall between us because of the perception that they have something we so badly want. But the problem is, a spouse will not solve our problem of loneliness.  In fact, married people can be just as lonely.
If we don’t learn deal with that loneliness in a healthy way not only can it build resentment and bitterness in us, we can inappropriately try to fill that loneliness with other people.  We need to find the root of our loneliness and look to the true source of security and comfort – God. And not in a “Jesus is your husband” kind of way, but in a comforting, fulfilling way that recognizes that only God can perfectly love you and be in your corner perfectly.  
Something else I’ve seen stand in the way of my relationships with my married friends is my perception of how they feel about my being single.  Let me rephrase – I have a tendency to make jokes about my singleness so that other people know I’m okay with it. It’s a defense mechanism that I’ve picked up from years of people asking me inappropriate questions about my personal life, or setting me up on really bad dates, or even choosing not to be friends with me (or even colleagues) because I’m single.  
I’ve had to get some thick skin and learn to laugh at myself, which is not the worse thing in the world.  But sometimes it can get in the way of my friendships. I’m trying so hard to make it okay that I actually am just making it awkward.  I’ve learned that it’s not my responsibility to make it okay for other people that I’m single.  It’s only my responsibility to make sure I’m okay that I’m single.  And by okay I mean content that this is the season I am in, even if I’m hopeful that it won’t be forever.  
When I am feeling content in my singleness and dealing with my own issues of loneliness, then I’m not looking for my married friends to fill a role in my life.  I get to simply be friends with them. But when I feel bitterness rise up, I see it affecting my friendships, especially with my married friends or my newly in a relationship friends.  
Lastly (for now) single friends, we need to make sure we are honoring our friends’ marriages.  My rule of thumb for my relationships with people who are married is that their marriage is more important than my friendship with either person, even if I came first.  (Side note: this is assuming the marriage is not abusive in anyway.) This lesson was a humbling one to learn. But it was so necessary to learn. The fact is, my friends that are married stood before their family, friends and God and made a commitment to each other.  They entered the covenant of marriage and some of them I was a witness to, and others I met after that day. But regardless of that fact, as their friend, I have to value their marriage more than my friendship with them.
I know this may sound crazy.  I know this may sound like I’m caving into that “marriage is the end game for everyone” culture.  But in reality what I am actually saying is that marriage is holy – meaning it’s set apart. And I am respecting that.
And actually, respecting and honoring their marriage makes me a better friend, not a more distant one.  It means healthy boundaries in our friendship. It means I would never speak ill of one of them to the other.  It means I will always counsel and push them towards each other. It means I remember that couples need time to be alone.  
You cannot have a healthy close relationship with someone who is married if you don’t respect their marriage.  
So Single friends, before we can really engage in deeper, meaningful relationships with our married friends, we need to look at ourselves and our feelings.  How are we dealing with our loneliness?  How are we finding contentment?  And how are we honoring our friends’ marriages?
We’ll wrap up this discussion for now, I may have more thoughts to flush out as feedback rolls in.  Let me know your thoughts, questions, comments or concerns as we continue to think through this!