This last week has been one of those weeks. One of those weeks where you cling on to the promise of faith because not much else seems to stay still long enough to grab on. We lost a dear member of our congregation this week. This woman was such an example of what the body of Christ should act like – she was a constant encourager. But in a way that you knew she really meant it. It didn’t seem like a platitude. It was a genuine pointing out of your gifts and acknowledging God’s work in your life.
She came to our church shortly after I did. She came with her daughter and son-in-law, always sitting towards the back on the left from where I stood up front. Her smile was contagious and her hugs in the receiving line were always a highlight of my week. She always greeted me with a smile and a “Hello my friend.” She asked me questions about my life – not to pry but to let me know that she cared for me, the way she cared for her own grandchildren. She always encouraged me to share from my heart – to be honest with who I was because she loved it when I was real.
In my last post I shared that I have a hard time really speaking my truth from my story. So today’s #FridayFive is about names of God – I’m going to share the Names of God that I have discovered from the margins.
So today’s #FridayFive is in her honor. I miss you already my dear friend.
#FridayFive: Five Names of God from a Self Appointed Outsider
When I first started Seminary I took a class called Spirituality and Conflict. The first day of class one of the teachers did a devotion asking us each what our go to name for God was, I picked Father. At the end of class, this teacher gave us each an image for our name for God with a note in it from what we had shared over the course of the class. It was amazing.
I often get asked about if it’s hard to see God as father considering my past. The question comes from a good place – I found God during the most difficult time in my family. Most of my pastors and youth workers had never met my dad. Most of my mentors have only heard the hard parts of the story. But we had good years before the bad years. I knew what it was like to have a dad which made the sting of his withdrawal heavier. I grew up knowing what it was like to have someone teach you how to camp and hit a ball. A man who I knew loved me deeper than I could comprehend. Then in my teenage years it went away – the years when I needed someone to fight for my worth, to teach me what relationships were supposed to look like, to show me how I deserved to be treated. But God picked up where my dad left off. Through mentors, surrogate father figures and his soft whisper, God showed me the love that my earthly father could not. I still mourn the years that alcoholism robbed me of with my earthly father, but I praise a God who sought after me in that time. That still seeks after me, as a father does for his daughter.
I heard a sermon recently that rocked my world. It was on the story of Joseph and she taught about the different stages of Joseph’s life and how it led to something great because of God’s work in Joseph’s life. God did some great things through Joseph, he refined Joseph’s gifts and blessed many people through Joseph. At the end of Joseph’s life, his brothers are lamenting selling him into slavery – the evil that they did to him – and Joseph says: Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
I’ve read that verse so many times and it usually gets cut off after “good” – but the rest of it is so important. It would have been enough for God to have just redeemed Joseph’s story – to end the story at Joseph not being killed or treated harshly in slavery. But God took Joseph’s story and redeemed it so that people could have life. Not only does God redeem our brokenness – he does it so that we may bring about life in a world of brokenness. I love that God redeems – that he takes broken stories like mine and redeems them, gives them life again so that they may be used for his glory.
I attended a seminary that publicly endorses multiculturalism and women in ministry. Because it’s the seminary of our denomination that says these are values we hold dear. But my time in seminary was extremely difficult, partially because God was working in me and partially because I am a female and I am biracial. In one of our degree seeking meetings with a professor, I was asked, “What is it like to attend this seminary and not be Swedish?” He was asking because he really wanted to know, he was one of our professors who was constantly challenging us to hear the stories of others. He wanted to hear my experience and challenged me to share it freely with my classmates. There were many difficult moments in those three years – moments where I felt silenced, discriminated against, marginalized but there were also moments where I felt empowered, valued and cared for by my brothers and sisters.
There was a moment I clearly remember. A fellow classmate came to me with something that was being said about me. He sat across the table at Starbucks from me and told me that he had gone to bat for me. That he had defended me against what was being said about me because he knew me. That he told the other person that wasn’t who I was, to give me a chance and hear my story. The moment stands so clearly because my classmate and I had walked alongside each other. We knew each other’s stories, we had taken time to talk through difficult truths. God was sowing unity between us. God used this person to help me find unity in a community that was anything but unified.
I fully believe that God works as reconciler. That we cannot reconcile conflict without him. I hate conflict. I hate disappointing people. It makes me physically uncomfortable. But I am human and I make bad choices sometimes. And when I am hurt, and I have hurt others – I am not fully capable of doing the work of reconciliation. I mean I can say I’m sorry – but I cannot find reconciliation without my God. I’ve tried. Something always slips in and stops me from full reconciliation. But with God, I have the strength to fully forgive and forget. To sow back together relationships that were broken and ready to be abandoned.
I am always in awe of what God can do. Through all of these other names I’ve written about – he has done a mighty work in my life. This year my focus is on recognizing his hand at work in my present life. He is the Almighty. He is alive. I believe these things, but it’s hard to see his hand at work in the present. I can look back and see his fingerprints on every step of the way, but to really be in tune with him and see his hand in the present has been hard. To see him in the midst of my crappy weeks, the times when everything seems to be chaos. I cling to faith but am I truly able to see his hand at work? I’m trying, I know He’s Almighty – I know he will do a great work. I know He is Alive. I trust that he will work all these things for his good.
What are your names for God?
I’ve always felt a little like an outsider.
I grew up in a small town on the east coast where I was the only kid in my class with two working parents. I was also the only kid in my class from a biracial family.
Then we moved back to CO to be near family, but we had been gone for most of my life so even with family I was the outsider.
After I became a Christian, I was different than my friends. I lived at home through college straddling life at home and life in college while everyone else ate dorm food and had late night study sessions.
I started working at churches where I was always one of the only women on staff and the only person not raised in a Christian home. References would be made to things “we all grew up with” and I would stare back blankly or fake nod like I understood.
I attended our denomination’s seminary and came face to face with the reality that while my denomination values multiculturalism and women in ministry both are still a minority in a white male dominated profession.
I’ve never really felt like I fit. When I was younger, it was an insecurity. I saw myself as so different from my peers that I would just mold myself to fit in with them. I played up my white side in order to fit with the other girls at the lunch table. I wouldn’t talk about how my nanny helped me with my homework because my parents were working. I would force myself to try and fit in with my cousins, even though all the stories were of times and places I wasn’t a part of. I taught myself to be quiet because even though my opinion was different, theirs were louder.
But as I’ve grown up, I realize that my outsider nature is actually an asset. Everyone strives to fit in, everyone struggles with being just like everyone else. But I was given a story for a specific purpose – and I’m working on finding mine.
I was listening to a podcast this morning with author Sally Lloyd Jones. She said that someone once told her that all writers need two things to be good – to have been transplanted from one place to another in their childhood and to have a deep wound in their childhood. I’m not sure how true that is, although neither was Sally – but it got me thinking…
All these experiences have convinced me that my voice isn’t good enough. I’ve been on the outside for so long, I’ve felt wounded by the exclusion of not fitting into the box that everyone else fit into. And while there is portion of that burden on their shoulders, there is also a portion of it on my shoulders.
I’ve allowed it to happen. I’ve faded into the background instead of working through the pain. I’ve said that it’s easier not to rock the boat than to speak my truth. I’ve allowed it to happen because it’s too hard, in my eyes, to try and speak up.
But Sally’s words spoke to something deep inside of me. That my story needed to get out. That my voice matters and that while others have told me that repeatedly, I need to give myself permission to speak.
God’s been moving, stirring in my heart for a few months now. He’s working me up into a tizzy that can no longer be silent. Now it’s up to me – to have the courage to share, courage to speak up, courage to use my experiences to help others see what life looks like on the outside. To pour into others on the outside and give them the mic to speak.
We all have stories that need to be heard. We all need to self-edit to keep the message relevant, but maybe it’s time for me to self edit just a little less.
The last few weeks have been a whirlwind. It’s the combination of retreat season and our denomination’s pastors’ conference a couple weeks ago. Add in a couple of new things going on in my “normal (non ministry)” world and you get the insane pace I’ve been running lately. My apartment has been in a constant state of chaos – laundry half done, books scattered and shoes/purses everywhere. Where did I get all these bags and shoes?!
All that to say, I’ve popping back in for a little #FridayFive and an update. I’ve been keeping up fairly well with all my 2016 healthy habits – except keeping my apartment clean and blogging. But I have been writing more – they just aren’t quite ready for mass consumption yet – they’re coming soon, I hope.
But today’s #FridayFive topic got me intrigued, especially with Valentine’s day this weekend. I’ve been so thankful recently for all my wonderful friends who do life beside me (even from afar). So today’s topic is giving me a chance to talk about how to love well! So here we go!
#FridayFive: Five Ways to Show Your Love
From your Love Language
The other day one of my friends said to me, “My love language is quality time, so you must know I love you because spend a lot of time together.” We all have ways that are easiest for us to express love. My love languages are touch and quality time. When I’m expressing love for my friends it’s by spending time with them, just us, talking about life or doing something together. I’m also a hugger – which makes some people uncomfortable so I lean more on the time one with some people. The easiest way to show your love is to know what your predispositions are and then love well out of them.
Learning their Love Language
I have an older brother and like most brother-sister relationships we sometimes have a communication issue. There was a season of life where I felt like I really needed him to be there for me and he always seemed really distant. The ways I needed him to love me weren’t happening and it was really frustrating. I was getting ready to move across the country and he took my car to get serviced, washed it inside and out and then packed all my belongings inside of it. That’s when it hit me – his love language is service. It was never on my radar because how often do brothers and sisters actually serve each other. I looked at him through a new lens that day – recounting all the ways he’s always taken care of me, subtly. It changed our relationship completely. I was able to appreciate him more which made me love him better.
Brag on your friends
There’s this hashtag going around lately: #FangirlYourFriends, I’m not sure if we started it but my For the Love sisters have been doing it really well. They are bragging on each other and their endeavors all over the internet. We all know it feels good to be recognized for the things we are doing, to be encouraged in those moments that we feel like all our work is fruitless. I think we need to take to the internet and brag on our friends more. Fangirl away, or Fanguy (is that a thing?) away! Whether publicly or privately – if you see your loved ones doing their life well, tell them and tell the world. What if the internet was just all of us bragging on each other instead of pulling people down? I’d read that Facebook feed!
Kindness is contagious. It’s the best and easiest way (in my humble opinion) to show Christ’s love in our world. I often say you should be kind simply because you don’t know what the person standing in front of you has gone through that day. Following the rule of being kind helps you to not accidentally stomp on someone’s heart.
Then I heard a quote today on a podcast that really hit me. The podcaster said, “If you’re not kind on the internet, you’re not a kind person.” It really struck me. The internet is the place where we get to say what we “really mean” so if that’s the case, this quote is true. The internet gives us the freed to share with little accountability. Think about that as we go into this political season. I’m not saying don’t call out truth, I’m saying to do it with love and kindness.
Don’t be afraid to love
I know I’m typing this one for my own benefit more than anything. Don’t let past hurts keep you from showing love to others. I’m a very guarded person. I’ve been hurt a lot by close people, so I only let certain people in. But it means that I am sometimes fearful to share how I really feel. I shut down instead of express myself. I’m working on getting better at it, but it’s a process. When we hold back our expressions of love, it’s holding back the chance for deeper relationships with others. That whole “love your neighbor” commandment Jesus gave us – we’re not doing it well when we allow the pain of the past to hinder our expressions of love. We aren’t being Christ when we’re too worried about the pain it will cause ourselves. This one takes work, painful work of digging into your past pains and risk of loving people who may not be able to return it. But I think it’s worth it. I’ll let you know when I find out.
This weekend is our High School Winter Retreat – so I will be spending Valentine’s at one of my favorite camps with my some of my favorite HS kids. Plus some of my closest friends will also be there, so I’m looking forward to showing love this weekend!
How are you showing love this weekend?
As always, I’m linking up with my FTL sister Kelly for #FridayFive. Click over to her post on Five Ways to Show a Stranger the Love of God!