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.

**Title from Mat Kearney’s “Face to Face”**

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?”  


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!

What it’s like being single in the church: Part Two

This conversation has gotten some interest on here.  As I’ve watched my stats go up and as I’ve heard from people in my life, I’ve realized that we have a lot to talk about in this realm.  This is going to take more than the three parts I had planned out.  So I’m doing a little bit of reorganizing.

Here’s where we’re going to (try) to go with this conversation:
Part One is for the Church and those in leadership in the Church
Part Two is a bit of a Married Friends Gut Check
Part Three is going to be a bit of a Single Friends Gut Check
Part Four is going to be some practical steps forward.

We’ll see how this actually works out.  I’m going to try to do a part each week so we have time to digest and really thinking through these things.  My overall goal with these posts is to take a look at how we can deepen our community across the lines of relationship status.  Often times in the church singles feel separated out because they don’t have a spouse.  That seems like such an obvious statement but I also think that as we hope to deepen our communities and become more of a spiritual family, we need to say that out loud.

So here we go – Part Two – Married Friends Gut Check.

I often hear from single people that their married friends only want to hang out with other married friends.  And I often hear from married friends that they don’t want to make single people feel uncomfortable.  Or both sides of the equation are thinking the grass is greener on the other side.  Married people think that it must be nice to live so independently and single people think it must be nice to always have another person by your side.  And BOTH are true.  It is great to be fully independent – but it’s also lonely and ostracizing.  And it is great to have someone by your side until death do you part – but it’s also complicated and challenging.  But what we’re looking at here is a huge disconnect between our married friends and our single friends.

We need Emotionally Healthy Relationships.  Just like with any relationship or friendship – they function best when all parties are emotionally healthy.  One of the trickiest parts of relationships across the married/single divide is maintaining health and integrity.  We have to name that.  Married couples need to know what their boundaries are in relationships with others, I get that.  But here’s the thing married friends, your single friends do not want to threaten your marriage.  I know there are horror stories of affairs and predatory people and we have to be real that sin exists. But please don’t ostracize people out of your life because you’re afraid.

I want to give counsel that before you can really let single friends into your world, you probably need to have boundaries and conversations about how that’s going to work.  I’m a big fan of boundaries and conversations.  (So maybe you and your spouse should chat through that and if you’re both cool with having single friends.  We’ll still be here you when you get back from that convo.)

One of my biggest complaints about the church is when we marginalize single people out of fear that mixing them with married people automatically produces affairs.  I want us to assume the best in people.  Just because a person is single and hopeful they may have a spouse one day does not mean they want you or your spouse. 

Before we can even begin this conversation, we need to really assess what we think about single people around us.  If you are hoping to take some steps towards people who are single, here are some ways to move that forward.
Think about the single people in your community – first, can you identify them?  If not, that’s probably not a great sign.  They are all around you, single by choice, single by situation, single moms, single dads, widows, widowers, divorcees – they are there.  And if you don’t see them in your community it’s a good thing to ask yourself why.
Secondly, think about the last time you interacted with them, especially in spaces where you are already in community with them.  Did you engage them in conversation?  I cannot tell you how many times I have been serving alongside of men and women who seem to not know how to talk to me because I am 32 and still single.  It ranges from straight up leaving me out to not knowing how to engage my singleness outside of some platitude that really makes no one feel better (i.e. Jesus is your husband).

This second step might need some time.  Be aware of the spaces you are in with people who happen to be single.  Be aware of the conversation around the table/room/whatever.  Seek out their opinions, their stories, their interests – even across gender lines.

On some level, I understand the separation between married and single people.  We live in an overly sexualized culture that seems to send us the message that men and women are incapable of being friends.  But like I said before, I want us to assume the best of each other, and if we are Christ followers aiming to live lives of integrity, can’t we assume that two people in a can be talking a public setting without anything shady going on?  And remember that I’m talking about people already in your community – people you go to church with, sitting at a community lunch with you (and probably your spouse).  No one is talking about one on one dinners or hotel rooms.  I’m talking appropriate spaces to be friends with the opposite gender.  (okay- soapbox time is done).

Thirdly, while you’re interacting with the single people in your life, remember a few things – unless you are a good friend of theirs, their relationship status probably shouldn’t be your conversation topic.  You can literally talk about anything else – music, sports, food, family, jobs, the weather, politics – just please don’t start your conversations or interactions asking them why they are single, if they’ve gone on any dates recently or if they would like you to set them up.

Once you get to the point where they are firmly in community with you, those conversations may come up but that shouldn’t be the starting point.  No single person wants a stranger asking them what the deal is with their singleness.

The best thing to remember in community with people who aren’t like you is that you need to be humble in your approach.  In this case, remember that unless you were recently married, you may not remember what it’s like to be single.  Or you may have found your spouse in your younger years and so you haven’t experienced singleness in your late 20s, 30s, 40s, etc.   Either way, what it’s like to be single in today’s culture and world may be a foreign concept to you and that’s okay.  Us single people are not expecting you to 100% identify with what we’re going through; we simply want you to value our presence in your life.

My encouragement to you is to really take some time to think through this stuff.  Especially if you hope to have community with people who are single (if you are not).  Taking a few moments to gut check yourself and be aware of how you interact with single people around you could go a long way in moving forward towards Spiritual Family.

If you have further questions or comments on this topic, feel free to comment or reach out – I can give some specifics/anecdotes if you really want to hear the crazy things my friends and I have experienced in this conversation.

And single friends – our gut check is next, and I promise you it’s going to be just as challenging as this one is to our married friends.

What it’s like being single in the church: Part One

I’ve always looked towards others to be the voice of the single person in the church – well one other cause I only know one author/speaker who is single.  But I’ve realized lately what a tremendous pressure it is for her to speak on behalf of all of us.  So I thought it was time for me to put myself out there as well.

Let me start by saying this – I love the Church.  And not in a naïve way where I pretend we have no problems, but in a deep way where I just can’t quit it.  I am deeply committed to being a part of a church body, not just in leadership as a pastor but in the overall community of followers of God.

When it comes to Church I’m sitting across the table saying, “This thing we’re doing here – I’m in – I’m all in” ala Luke Danes in Gilmore Girls.

All that to say, at times, it’s really hard to be in the Church.  For a few different reasons but one big glaring one is because of the fact that I’m single.  I am not one half of a couple, in fact I’m nowhere near that stage of life yet and while that’s a battle between God and me, at times it’s a battle between the church and me.

So I’d love to start a conversation about what it’s like to be single in the church.  To really dig in deep and ask ourselves some hard questions about this divide between married/single people in the church.  I want us all to come to this internet table and talk it out, but it’s gonna take a few weeks to really do this well.

Here’s where we’re going to (try) to go with this conversation:
Part One is for the Church and those in leadership in the Church
Part Two is a bit of a Married Friends Gut Check
Part Three is a bit of a Single Friends Gut Check
Part Four is full of some practical steps forward.

My hope is to do a part each one, this is obviously part one, and I’ll link up each week so no one misses a part.

Here we go – Part One – for the Church and those in leadership in the Church:

I’ve watched many of my single friends struggle in various church settings.  I’ve seen them contemplate leaving the church all together – not walking away from their faith but walking away from the buildings where we meet together.

Even though I know there are many reasons, one big one reason I think that they leaving is because there is no room for them to be single.  It’s almost like the church doesn’t know what to do with single people – so they create a singles’ ministry which trust me when I say, that’s not what we’re looking for.

We’re looking to be seen as who we are right now – not who we could be with a spouse.  A lie that single people have to fight is that we are incomplete without someone in our lives.  So much of the Christian message in America is that you’ll be complete when you’re married – as if marriage is the magic cure-all for this disease of being single.  Everything will be better after you say your “I dos” and walk back up that aisle.

But we all know that’s not true.  So why are we continuing to perpetuate that message in our churches?

It’s in the language used from up front, in the division of small groups, in the way we interact with one another on Sundays mornings and outside of our gatherings.
It’s subtle in most cases and if I’m really honest with myself, I know it’s not overt.  But as one of my married colleagues shared with me recently, “I don’t know what I don’t know.”

The thing is, a lot of people that serve on church staffs or in church leadership are married.  They have beautiful and fulfilling marriages – and that is amazing.  This can also mean that it has been a long time since they have been a single person attending church alone.  Or it’s entirely possible that they have never been a single person attending church alone.

They don’t know how to relate to us.  And they definitely don’t know how to relate to us when dating looks so foreign to them, so different from how things “used to be.”
So fellow church staffers, let’s talk about what we can do to make it a little easier on our singles.

Let’s watch our language.  When we’re illustrating a point or giving an application in our sermons, let’s think about all stages of life.  Unless you are specifically sharing a message about marriage – anything you are preaching on can be related to a single person as well.  Using inclusive language can go a long way to making someone who is single feel comfortable.

Let’s value who they are as individuals.  Seek out a single person in your church and invite them out to lunch.  Listen to their stories and ask about their lives, not why they are single but what excites them about their work, their friends or their family.  Let’s include them in our small groups, on our worship teams and get to know who they are individually. And for that matter – let’s stop treating married couples as a whole, they are two individual people as well, let’s get to know them for who they are independent of their relationship status.

Let’s stop idolizing marriage as the end game. Marriage can be and is a beautiful thing.  I am in no way trying to negate it, I am just saying let’s be cautious about how we glorify it.  When we’re inviting people to participate in services, is it always a nuclear family?  Do we use language about “waiting for marriage” rather than talking about practicing healthy habits?  Do we assume that marriage is the end game for everyone?

Let’s stop asking them why they are single or what they are doing to not be single anymore.  These are intensely personal questions that should only be asked when a pre-existing relationship is present.  Just because we want to explain away someone’s singleness does not mean we get to.  The amount of times that single people have heard a question like this is countless and each time it can bring pain.  Even if we don’t mean to insinuate that something is wrong with the person across from us, that’s how this question is received.  If the single person desires to not be single anymore and they knew why that was the case – don’t you think they would have changed something by now?

I realize that in this realm, I speak from a place of privilege.  I am a pastor which means that the way that I interact with a congregation is much different than someone who is visiting or regularly attending.  I get invited into homes and families because I’m the friendly neighborhood youth pastor.  It’s an honor to serve churches in this capacity.  Most Sundays I walk into the church I serve and am warmly welcomed by the community around me.
And even still, I get the messages the Church is subtly sending that I would be better off if I had a husband.  That there is something missing within me because I am not married.  That there must be something God is still working out in me if I’m not married.

And all of those things are lies.

Single people are not somehow less than married people.  And I know we don’t believe that.  But let’s think about how we are communicating value to our singles.

What else have you seen that’s been helpful or harmful?

the Resurrecting King is resurrecting me

Holy Week.
This week holds a lot of weight for me.
As a former kid on the fringes of church, it was the countdown until I could eat chocolate and meat on Fridays again.
As a teenager discovering her faith for {what felt like} the first time, it was the week where I made myself feel guilty for all the sins I’ve committed or been complicit to in my life.
As a Seminarian, it was the week where we all debated which church had the best theology and the best services for each day.
As a Pastor, it has always been one of busyness, rushing around to make sure that everyone in your congregation has all that they need to fully understand each moment from Palm Sunday to Resurrection.
But this week has felt different for me.  It has to do with being at a new church, in a new city and having new responsibilities this week.  Part of it has to do with where my life is at, where my walk with Christ is at and how I’ve grown from that young kid who didn’t really understand what we were doing all this for.
This week is all out of whack from my normal rhythm.  We didn’t have youth group last night so instead I held a leader meeting to process how our year has been.  As we went around sharing the highlights and challenges of our Wednesdays nights, I heard the underlying thread of our leaders’ desire for our students to feel and experience the love of Christ first hand.
We wrapped up the meeting and I wandered down the hall towards the Sanctuary where I knew the worship team was practicing for Sunday.  I sat for a while and ended up staying for the whole rehearsal.  I stood in the darkened Sanctuary allowing the words of each song wash over me, reminding me of why we do all of these things.
We are creating spaces for people to come and see/hear/taste/experience the great love our God has for us.  That he would send his Son to walk on the earth, to teach the disciples, do miracles and call out the religious leaders.  He came to flip expectations on their head – to promote justice and give dignity to the oppressed.  Jesus came to show us that the only way out of the sin and hardship of this world is through him.
And he took all of our sin – individually and corporately – to the cross.  So that we could have freedom.  So that we could stand confidently before the throne and know we have been made whole in him.  He defeated the grave so that we may no longer be bonded by the brokenness of the world.
He did all of this for us.  So that we may walk freely and to be the Kingdom Dwellers we were always meant to be – that we were created to be.
So this weekend, as we walk toward Easter, let us remember that even though this world brings it’s darkness – the promise of Easter is the Light of Christ in the world.  We have a way out – through Christ.

Spirit Come – Lenten Practice Updates

The 2018 Lenten season started almost a month ago now.  Ash Wednesday was on Valentine’s Day.  And Easter falls on April Fool’s Day.   So needless to say that Lent is not quite the same this year.  Plus, I’m in a new church community that celebrates Lent differently than in my past congregations.
This year (like most years) Lent snuck up on me because the start of it fell in the midst of my busiest season as a youth pastor – Retreat Season.  For those who follow me on the social medias – you’ll have noticed that between January and February I spent three weekends up at camp.  One weekend was spent at a Youth Pastors’ Conference.  And two others were spent pulling together some fun fundraisers.
So when Ash Wednesday came around, I was like – oh no!  I haven’t picked a practice yet and my brain cannot handle picking up something or giving something up. It’s all too much right now. 
So, instead, I decided to reimagine an old practice that I had gotten a little lax on in the past few months.  Sabbath.
Partially I chose this because I had just recently listened to Annie F. Downs interview John Mark Comer about Sabbath.  And partially because of my aforementioned schedule, I was needing to be very intentional about my down time and resting to be ready for all the things going on in my life.
On a typical week of life I have two days off – Friday and Saturday.  Now, being a pastor doesn’t always mean those days are totally off, sometimes things come up and you need to deal with them, etc.  But for the most part, I try to do all my “work things” between Sunday and Thursday and then I disengage for two days.  In the past I’ve looked at one of those days as a Sabbath day and one of those days as a day to get all the household things done.
Sabbath comes out of the Old Testament, and the most common place to see it is in the 10 Commandments where God tells the Israelites:

Remember to observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  You have six days each week for your ordinary work,  but the seventh day is a Sabbath day of rest dedicated to the Lord your God. On that day no one in your household may do any work. This includes you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, your livestock, and any foreigners living among you.  For in six days the Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and set it apart as holy. (Exodus 20:8-11, NLT) 

In the interview I mentioned above, John Mark Comer expands on this concept still being practiced today within the Jewish faith tradition.  (You should probably go listen to it.)
For me, reimagining Sabbath meant making time in my week to truly rest and find refreshment.  Rest looks like a lot of different things for a lot of different people.  So when trying to plan a Sabbath day, it’s important to take into account what gives you rest and refreshment.  Then you can build your Sabbath rules around those things.  This gets difficult when you have to take into account the desires of others (spouses, kids, roommates, etc.)  Luckily for me, in my current season I live alone and can shape my Sabbath days in a selfish manner.
So, here are some of the things required in my Sabbath day that help me to find rest:
Cook a meal from scratch
This seems like work, I know.  But for me, it’s really calming to do the work of creating a meal from raw ingredients.  The work part of it for me is the finding the recipes and shopping.  So I invest in a meal delivery service that helps me live into this practice I love.  The ingredients and recipes show up at my door once a week and gives me the ability to do the parts I love without the headache work of other parts.
Be with dear friends
I’m an extrovert who values quality time.  I need to be with people.  BUT – as an extrovert, not all interactions with people fill me up.   On Sabbath days I limit my interactions to people who are on the journey with me, my inner most circle wherever I am at physically.  This can mean family (if I’m in Denver) but most often it means friends that become like family.  Friends who know my heart and are in the trenches with me.
Limited Phone Time
I try my hardest to limit the time on my phone.  Sometimes it means turning off my notifications.  Sometimes it means intentionally leaving it on silent, in another room or in my purse.
Listen/make to music
I connect to music more than any other type of media.  It’s where my heart finds a home.  So every Sabbath day requires an extended music session – sometimes that means sitting at a piano and playing and sometimes it means pulling up my iTunes and playing through some of my faves.
Intimate time with God
I had a spiritual director once that loved to call me out on the lack of intimacy I had with Jesus.  She always challenged me to do things that caused me such discomfort that would deepen my intimacy with the One who created me.  I’m not talking about spending time in His word or praying.  I’m talking about talking about solitude, about embodying your relationship with Jesus – as if you are physically with him.  Tangibly this means trying to have solitude with just me and God.  Taking a walk with no music or podcast, sitting in his presence and not saying anything.  I try to do something to deepen that part of my relationship with him.
The Silly “No Work/Vain” Things
Sometimes you just need to name the things that you will not be doing on the Sabbath.  For me its:  No e-mails.  No housework (except dishes cause I weirdly love doing dishes).  No guilt for not texting/snapchatting/messaging back.  No social media stalking.  No early mornings.  No mind numbing activities (like TV or Netflix).
So there’s a look inside my sabbaths.  It’s the practice I’ve taken most seriously in my history of Lent practices.  It’s also been the thing keeping me alive throughout a busy ministry season.
What makes it on your Sabbath list?

nobody gets to sing my song

We all know that my dream side hustle would be to help authors launch their book babies into the world.  I blame Jen Hatmaker for making it such an amazing experience.  And while I’m not always timely with my reviews and updates about said books, I promise I’m bragging about them in my real life to my in person people.  All that to say, I’m long overdue to review this latest one, but better late than never right?
I had been following Jo Saxton via the internet for about a year before I was ever in the same room as her.  I had read parts of her book More than Enchanting and listened to her voice on the Lead Stories Podcast.  I had the privilege of attending the Lead Stories Live recording and a leadership conference that she had created for women.  After that I signed up to be a part of her launch team for The Dream of You: Let go of Broken Identities and Live the Life You Were Made For.  I was so excited to read this book and from the moment I received it in the mail I started devouring it.  It’s taken me this long to be able to really process what to say about it other than, “Oh my goodness – read this book.”

“When our voice has been taken, we redirect our lives toward ‘more acceptable’ interests.  We excuse the damage caused by having been silenced by saying we are only being realistic.  We downplay our gifts and subdue our talents.  And instead of the life we were designed for, we live the life we think we can get away with.” – Jo Saxton, The Dream of You  (Emphasis added)

When I read the above portion I felt my heart drop into my stomach.  It was like looking into a mirror under the worst lighting while trying on clothes that are not right.  I think I actually had to put the book down for a few minutes before I could go on.
I have always been a wildly passionate person.  I have opinions and feelings about all the things.  Because of this, I have found that there are times when people don’t really know what to do with me.  I’ve been told I’m intimidating, off putting, too much, negative, etc.  I’ve been told that because of these things I’m insubordinate, I’ll be single forever, I’m not a godly woman, I’m not good enough, etc.
And while I’ve always known those things to be lies and not true about the person God created in me.  I’ve let them into my brain and into my heart.  I’ve allowed these messages (and many others having to do with my gender, my race, my singleness, and my broken pieces) silence my voice.
In The Dream of You, Jo calls these things for what they are – lies and stumbling blocks.  She battles insecurity with the truth of God’s love for us.  She replaces the lies of the world around us with the soft whisper of the Almighty who created us.  She calls out injustice and points to a God who longs to redeem even the most broken areas of our hearts and spirits.
Each chapter starts with a letter from Jo to all women who have ever felt as if they had to apologize for being who they are.  Then she dives deep into biblical narratives that help us to see God’s agency in our world.  Her vulnerability in sharing her own struggles in all of these areas and her wisdom gained from walking these difficult paths help us all to take a deep breath in and remember we are not alone.
The journey that Jo takes us on in this book is one of dismantling the coping mechanisms we’ve learned to live within.  As you read through the book, you’ll feel as though the weight of years of striving to measure up are falling off.  Then Jo helps us to see the tools to unlock our true God-given identities.  Jo helps us to imagine a whole where we are all encouraged to live exactly as we were meant to – in close community with our God who created us exactly as we are.
If there is one thing I know to be true it’s that God sent Jesus to walk this earth so that we may have life to the fullest.  So that we may be truly free.  The other thing that I know for sure is that there are forces at work trying to make sure we don’t live out of that freedom.  This book is a great tool in helping us remember that God sees each and every one of us.  It is a step toward letting God redeem your story.
*Blog title from Nichole Nordeman – “Sound of Surviving” off Every Mile Mattered 

I'm home now, I'm coming around

Seven months ago I got a letter in the mail from my apartment complex with the reminder that it was time to renew my lease.  I took a month to pray about what to do because I needed to move, if only simply for the reason that my rent was too high.
Six months ago I made the decision not to resign and thought to myself, I have two months to find a new place to live. Mostly thinking about which surrounding suburb to look for a place in.
Three months ago I moved to Minnesota.
Today I came home from work with the strong desire to make something.  I had all the ingredients for soup but my recipe was for making it in a slow cooker.  Because it’s been cold with a few little flurries, soup sounded like the right thing.  So I decided that I would experiment with making the soup on the stove.
So I cooked the quinoa.  I cooked the chicken.  I started mixing all the things into the big soup pot and as I did I recapped my day.  Something about the stirring motion and watching all the ingredients swirl in the pot slowed my mind enough to think through the small moments of my day.   What seemed inconsequential in the moment now flooded my senses.  That moment in the hall with this person, that side conversation, that deep breath in while I felt the warm cup in my hands.
It wasn’t a particularly interesting day, a pretty standard Monday.  But as I took stock of the day I couldn’t help but smile because I’m starting to feel settled.
I had a conversation recently with a friend about what “home” means.  She’s married and has created a home with her family.  When she thinks about home and family she thinks of the one she has now – not her family of origin.  I think that’s really true of people who are in that stage of life – married with children – they have this space they created with their spouse, their traditions, etc.  But for those of us not in that life stage – what is home?
Life pre-marriage tends to have less stability (or so it seems) – so our idea of home and family is still wrapped up in our family of origin.  But the problem is, I haven’t really lived in my mom’s house for almost a decade.
I often feel a little stuck in the in-between.  My hope is still that someday I’ll be married.  I’ll create a space with someone else that is just ours.  And because of that everything in this stage seems temporary because I’m renting and I know it’s not long term.  But I’m not yet ready to buy a house or a condo.  So “my home” needs to stay a concept for a little longer in that this exact space I’m living in – this one bedroom apartment filled with all of my things – is not a forever space.
But that’s okay.  It’s all lessons in learning to be content in my stage of life.  Hope for the future can still exist but while I’m here in this space, I might as well set up camp.
As I reflected today I thought about how I love my church.  I love the people around me.  I see the potential of some really meaningful friendships and community spaces.  I’m three months in and starting to have rhythm.  I’m starting to feel more comfortable reaching out to people.  I’m finding my place here in this physical space.
Tonight in the simple act of cooking myself dinner I realized that this place is feeling more and more like a a place I could call home.
*blog title from Tegan and Sara’s The Con