Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pride and Perfection

I'm writing this post because I have an assignment for Old Testament that has me paralyzed with fear. I've actually been working on it for weeks, but I'm not sure I'm doing it correctly which overwhelms me, so I stop. Then after a few days I realize I do actually need to complete the assignment and the cycle starts all over again. I know part of the problem is that I like doing well in school; I've grown accustomed to it. However, seminary is different. I remember during orientation (and several times since) they told us that they do not give A's. I could run down the myriad of emotions and reactions I had to this statement, but we only have so much time. Anyway, over the past few years (and a few A's), I finally understand what they mean. Seminary is not about grades, it's about God. We're learning so we can impart our knowledge, not to show off grades. I love my seminary and for the most part I've loved our assignments. But this is different. It's different because I've become wrapped in getting in right as opposed to truly learning and I don't know how to stop. I don't want to be wrong. I don't respond well when I'm wrong. Uggh.

Several years ago I did a Bible study and one thing that struck me was a comment about being a perfectionist. Before this, I blame many of my behavior on perfectionism. I used to wear it like a badge of honor. But this study talked about how our perfectionism is rooted in pride. Every time we feel like we have to be perfect, or that in order for things to be done perfectly, we must do them- this is pride. It's our pride that tricks us into thinking that we are perfect. It is our pride that makes us believe that the world will stop if we don't have our hands in every little thing. And it is my pride that makes me strive for an A instead of learning the lesson of this assignment.

I'm nearing the end of the post and honestly, I don't feel much better. However, I do know that I'm going to finish the assignment and the grade I receive will not kill me. I also know that my pride has made do things worse than this and Lord forgave me those too.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Practice What You Preach

Life is really funny. So the past few posts have been all about how I'm trying not to judge people and how we should and blah blah blah. I should have known something major was brewing. You can't go around firmly stating your beliefs without expecting to get called out on them. And so begins my story...

This weekend Travis and I went to the mountains to celebrate our second anniversary. The second night there we decided to head into Asheville for dinner at one our our favorite restaurants. After an amazing meal we headed back to the small town where we were staying, stopping first to fill up at a gas station. That's where we met our friend Alex.

Alex is a 17 year old from Charlotte who rode up to Asheville with a friend. When the friend drove off and left him, he was stuck in Asheville two hours away from home with no money, no phone, no clue how far away from home he was and no way back to Charlotte. Alex lives in West Charlotte, which is not the best side of town. We didn't know if we could trust him, so we gave him $20 and drove off. This behavior is the exact opposite of what I've been talking on this blog.

Soon Travis realized he left his check card so we turned around to see Alex still sitting there, cold and lost. We decided to give him a ride to the exit he said he needed to go to. It wasn't until we were on the road that we realized the exit he was referring to was in Charlotte, not Asheville. Somehow I remembered seeing the Greyhound station on our way into Asheville so we decided to get him a ticket home. But of course, Greyhound was closed for the night. Our next plan was to put him in a motel near Greyhound for the night, buy the ticket online when we got back to our hotel.

After we got Alex settled in his room, we thought about all the decisions we made that led us to Alex. We thought about how we almost chose to ignore Alex, how we judged him for where he lives, what he was doing and how got himself into this situation. We realized how quick we were to put our desire to enjoy our vacation ahead of the needs of someone else.  Now we come off like the Good Samaritan, but in our hearts we were too busy and just passing by someone in need. I'm frustrated that it took a second chance for us to the right thing. I'm ashamed that because we spent so much on helping Alex we wound up cutting our vacation short and I pouted for a bit. But I'm also grateful that God provided an opportunity for us to serve someone other than ourselves. Maybe next time I'll get it right.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Giving Until it Hurts

Today and friend and I discussed giving, specifically how to give without strings attached. It's a really difficult concept when you think about it. So often we pass by homeless people because we're not sure what they will do with money if we give. We may be reluctant to loan money to a friend because we don't approve of their financial choices. We don't understand how a mom buying groceries using food stamps can have her hair and nails done. The list goes on.

It's no secret that I am not now, nor have I ever been in a financial stable place. I am constantly worrying about money, how much I have, what I don't have, when more is going to show up, etc. It wasn't until I let go of my fear of losing money that I came to a place of true financial security; I now am truly walking by faith and trusting in God to provide. Now, before you go getting all impressed by my spiritual maturity, I must tell you that I fail all of the time. I struggling with getting pulled back into the fear cycle and worrying about every little penny. There's one thing that help refocus me and that's giving without strings.

I've learned that when I give without worrying about when I'll get the money back or how it will be spent my financial load lightens. I finally realized that it's not my place to decided how, when, where or why people spend. My character has never improved by concerning myself with things of that nature. I know there are people who will say this is a foolish way to live and that it's wasting money. That's fine, I understand and respect your opinion. I just know that for me it's not worth it. It's wasted energy to think about it for me.

Once again, I'm not perfect. There are still times when I clutch my bag and walk by, more concerned for my personal safety than the person who's asking for help. There are times when I see a homeless person and instead of compassion I feel superior. It's a sad truth that I live with and I'm praying that my heart will change. Honestly I wish money wasn't such a big deal. I wish we didn't put such importance on what we have or what others have. And I wish my finances looked a bit different! But the best thing is to continue to live into my faith and trust that much like the sparrow, God is watching over me too.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Casting Judgment

This morning the Tuesday morning Bible study I co-teach visited the ministry Changed Choices. Changed Choices works with women who are either currently incarcerated, just released or in a halfway house. One of the things I love most about this ministry is that Christians actually doing ministry. Our call is to be the hands and feet of Christ in world however, we often get so caught up in judgment that we forget this call. It's so sad because we're missing out on the blessing of service. Serving others is one of the few ways we can show our gratitude to God. The crazy part is that when we begin serving others, we are the ones who are filled.

When I first began attending Church at Charlotte  over three years ago the pastor said something that has stuck with me since. I remember him warning against looking down our nose at others because if not for the grace of God we would be that person. His charge was for us to picture the most vial, detestable human being, a person who has done unimaginable harm to others. Then, he said: without God, that would be you. We are all capable of the most horrific acts but we are fortunate. This was such a humbling moment for me. Even now, I stop before I comment on what someone is doing, a criminal act I overhear on the news, even the way people are raising their children. Who I am to judge? What if someone took a good hard look at my life and started passing judgment. I'd be in huge trouble then.

This is something I have to keep coming back to. Everyday I'm tempted to judge the life choices made others. I'm tempted to believe that I'm somehow better than others because of my beliefs, my lifestyle, my choices. And everyday I need to remind myself that it was not me, but Him.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Lost Art of Listening

One theme that keeps popping up in my education is the importance of listening. Last year we focused on the importance of listening as it related to our dealings with other church staff meeting, specifically in meetings that help govern church function and activities. This semester I'm in Pastoral Care, a class that focuses on how pastors and church educators care for the congregation. In our studies we have learned the importance of listening and how people are desperate to be heard.

Our teacher joked that pastors often make the worst listeners because they are always trying to be prepared to "offer a word" to someone. We laughed, but afterwards I thought about how I too am guilty of being quick with advice. I wonder if I really stop and fully commit to listening to people when they are talking to me. I am fortunate in that many friends, students, family members and people from value my advice and opinion. This is a gift and one that I feel unworthy of. However, I'm learning that doling out advice without truly understanding the problem can be dangerous. I also am feeling as if it is not always best for me to give advice; often people need to be able to make decisions on their own, without outside opinion. When given the room to talk without interruption people can sometimes talk themselves into a solution. Maybe it's time for me to just shut up.

Last Tuesday morning I taught on spiritual gifts and afterwards two amazing things happened. First, two women approached me and said "I really want to uncover my spiritual gifts because I feel like I'm only good at listening to people." It's sad that listening had become so devalued that these ladies couldn't see what a wonderful asset they are to all those around them. I know sometimes I just want to sit and talk and have someone only listening. Not fix, not question, just listen. That sounds amazing. The other thing that happened was a women stopped and asked if I could help her with some struggles she is having with her teenage children. I was shocked that a mom would want my advice given my age and lack of children. Unfortunately, it was a quick conversation and at the time I just gave her my advice. I can't wait to speak with her again, and give her a chance to just tell her story. Hopefully I didn't do any damage, but I know I can do better by her.

I encourage to evaluate just how well you listen to others and think about the last time you were about to tell your story, whatever it may be at the time. Let me know if anything surprises you.


Friday, October 07, 2011

Struggling Well??

I love the concept of struggling well. It's something we talk about often at my church and I feel it perfectly describes my journey as a Christian. One thing that infuriates me is when I hear promises of an easy, wonderful, worry free life once you become a Christian. That is FALSE. Being a Christian makes things much, much harder. Mainly because it calls you to do things you do not want to do all of the time. When I'm in an argument with my mother I do not want to be patient, kind, slow to speak  or slow to anger. I want to yell and fight and prove my point. Alas, I'm a Christian, so I must put aside my selfish desires and stop, listen, and love. Poop.

Aside from the little things like disagreements, life will be hard. We will hurt physically and emotionally. We will hurt others. We will be disappointed and we will constantly disappoint others. It's a struggle everyday to live into our calling. However, each day I pray that I struggle well. To quote my church I want to "enjoy the highs and never let the lows keep me from pointing towards Jesus." Wow, that sounds super churchy. What I mean is that I want to be real and acknowledge life is sometimes hard and there are times when I feel broken and hurt. However in those times, I still want to be a light for Christ in the world. I want to handle the lows in a way that shows that I believe that all things work for the good of those who love the Lord. I no longer want to be consumed by the bad; I must always remember the good. 

We live in a broken world and because of this we will struggle. As long as I can struggle well, I think I'll be okay. 


Starting Over

Things are changing. I'm changing. My life is changing.

Over a year ago I made the decision to stop blogging. While I loved writing, I was not in love with the message of my blog. I knew ending the blog at the time was the right thing to do and I never imagined I'd feel the need to blog ever again. Yet, here I am.

This time, things will be different. I want to focus on my time in seminary and the lessons I'm learning on this journey. I started seminary to be obedient to call I felt from God. I had no future plan, just lived into that call on a daily basis. Fast forward three years and that's one thing that has not changed. I still don't have a concrete plan for my life once I finish school. I'm still shocked each week when I attend class or tell someone I'm a seminary student. I guess I had a vision in my head of what a seminary student would look like or act like and I am a far cry from the vision. 

To be a seminary student was a super Christian, practical perfect in every way. Oh wait, that's Mary Poppins.  Anyway, I think you understand my point. I didn't think I was good enough, smart enough, "Christian enough" to be a seminarian. But I answered my call and everyday I'm thankful I did so. Not quite so thankful when it's 1:00 a.m.and I'm still working on homework, but I know I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be in life. 

Currently my heart is being pulled by our study of Exodus and the concept of idols. I'm currently in the midst of a struggle with an idol and this week has not gone how I would have liked. But that's a story for tomorrow. Thanks for joining me here.