Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Far, far better things.

On a sunny Fourth of July, two months after my college graduation, I followed the cornfields to Eureka, IL for the first time, opening a new chapter of life. For four weeks I would work at a Christian day camp, Camp of Champions USA (Camp). Little did I know that one month would turn into nine years. 

Nine years that would grow and change me. 
Nine years of hard things. But good things too. 

After those four weeks of Camp, I was still looking for a teaching job. The recession was in full swing. Too many graduating with teaching degrees, they said. I had an opportunity to coach basketball, sub in several schools here, and a friend needed a roommate, so I stayed. Adventure, I thought. 

The plan once the school year was over was to continue to look for a position teaching and to move back to Kansas City with my parents after I worked at Camp for just a few weeks, because I loved it so. Yet, still no education job and Camp needed positions filled every week, so I stayed. 

There were rumblings at the end of the summer that a full-time, year-round Ministry Coordinator position would open at Camp of Champions. It seemed intriguing. Perhaps I would be able to use more of my gifts than teaching. Praying about the possibility on the way to a wedding in Kansas, I decided that I still very much wanted to teach and determined that Camp would need to pursue me if that’s where the Lord wanted me. Several hours later the phone rang; Camp asked me to consider taking the position.

In the moment, that was clarity.
So I decided to stay and take the job.

For nearly five years, I stayed in that role. But after the first three, I began struggling with burnout. Beyond the long hours, and various other scenarios that caused stress, I wrestled with how para-church organizations should interact with the Church.

Always a lover of art, when I moved to Peoria I began making contacts with people who were handing me graphic design jobs. Freelance opportunities were in abundance. My portfolio was growing. As I began considering what life after Camp would hold, I wanted to find a job that would be flexible enough for me to be involved in local church ministry in a greater capacity. 

Freelancing, it seemed, was the ticket. 
So for the last three that’s what I’ve been doing, not without a part-time job here or there. 
It’s been good and hard and good. And I’ve learned a lot and grown in my craft in away that I wouldn’t have otherwise. And because of my flexibility I’ve been able to give myself more intensely to my church, whether women’s ministries or Bible study or counseling or jr. high youth group. 

But underlying the last three years of freelancing, has still been the question of what’s next?
(Because in the long term, freelancing solely is not practical when providing for oneself.) 

Seeking the Lord with mentors and disciplers, I’ve been asking is it teaching? Is it further ministry training? 

A year ago I started taking steps towards attending The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and through various promptings and a job offer from a Christian school in Louisville (where Southern is located), it seems like the right season to go. 

So I’m standing on this precipice.
About to jump. About to leave a place I love. 

Central Illinois is where I became an adult.
And came to the full assurance of my faith. 
It’s where learned the meaning of discipleship. 
And how to study the Bible for myself. 

And the spark of affection I had for the Church in high school was fanned into a flame as I was exposed to the dark and light of ministry. 
It’s where I understood how to love. To truly love. 
And how to lose. And to grieve.

It’s here that I’ve experienced sweet friendship and community.
And have havered and hashed out life and loss and theology with the dearest of souls. 

While change can be exciting, there's sorrow in closing a chapter that's been so beautiful. 

C.S. Lewis writes that our desires for home are ultimately longings for a better, more perfect world. They serve as a reminder that we are strangers, aliens, living in tents, headed towards a country where there is no pain, sadness, or suffering. One of eternal joy where we will see Jesus, our friend, face to face. Forever. 

In nearly a week, I will say so long to the cornfields and journey on to Kentucky to begin the next leg of art and life, learning and teaching and ministry. Still, simply sojourning. And all the good that may be found in the bluegrass state in the next nine years will be incomparable to all the happiness that’s in store eternally. 


“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
- C.S. Lewis.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Heaven and Home.

I sit here.
Procrastinating on packing the last of my possessions.

Four years in this apartment, I'm closing a very sweet chapter of life.
A chapter that has taught me much about love and loss.
And friendship and forbearance.

In these four years, I have had the pleasure of experiencing Christ-like community in way that I'm not sure can ever be replicated.

So many tears and prayers and laughs these walls have heard.
Parties and potlucks, brunches with the pals, the've been endless.
Life-long friendships have been cultivated here through good conversations, and hard ones too.

Yet. While this little corner of the world has been a refuge, a space I call home, it's not really.
Life, it's so short, so fleeting. So temporary.

My flesh wants to hold on and create a kingdom here. But what my heart truly desires is for this to be a beautiful reminder to me that I am an alien, an exile in this world. (1 Peter 2:11). To make me long for a better place where there will be no mourning or fear or doubt or instability or questions. It will all be about Jesus.

"Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." - 1 John 3:2

To the world the days ahead seem dim, yet the future has never, ever been brighter.


Monday, May 16, 2016

So long Parks and Rec

The last two weeks I have developed a habit of watching an episode or two of Parks and Rec before hitting the sack. Sometimes even in bed, right before going to sleep. You know, to relax a little. 

"Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”
Today, and maybe my application is a unconventional, I’m asking myself if Parks and Rec is an instrument of unrighteousness in my life. As in, is the best use of my time? 

And I'm asking myself to consider the gospel too. 

To allow it to roll like waves through my heart and mind. Not just on Sunday or in the morning while studying Scripture, but all the time. Even the moments preceding slumber. 

- At least I don’t watch the however many hours of television a day the average American does.
- And it’s not like I’m benging on Netflix. These DVDs are from the Library. 
- It’s been a long day and I need to unwind.
-  want to know what my work friends and non-work friends are all laughing about.
- Doesn’t Paul say, “I have become all things to all people, so that I might win some”?
- Maybe watching Parks and Rec will give me an open door to talk to an unbeliever about what Jesus has done for me. (Use this one all the never happens.) 

But somewhere in the middle of the excuses I’ve stopped thinking about the gospel before bed. I’ve stopped praying to end the day. 

Believing in the gospel means that I don’t need the comfort of TV or music or ice cream. It means that I don’t need to fear losing friends because I’m not laughing at each line they quote. I don’t need those things to give identity or bring satisfaction, because I really believe that in the end Jesus is better and He is all that I need.

If anything prevents us from considering God and His gospel, it needs to be evaluated and eradicated. Maybe that’s harsh. Or too black and white. But in this entertained-to-death-even-as-Christians society, I think we are too lax in calling sin, sin. Not because Parks and Rec is sin, but because choosing something above Jesus is. 

I know the Lord is calling me - and you too - to something higher.
To use our time and our talents in an even richer way. 
To stop comforting ourselves with the big fluffy blanket we call pop-culture. Or the American Dream.

For me, it’s saying, so long Parks and Rec.
But for you, if it stirs your affections for Jesus and beckons you to consider the gospel, watch on...

And by way of reminder, it’s not Parks and Rec that’s the problem. It's my heart. My sin. My flesh that wants to forget Him. To find comfort in other places. And I’m continually at war against the things that distract and whisper, "It's OK. Jesus can play second-fiddle."
Sometimes even the good things - like clever humor - that He gives as a good gift. 

But I am rejoicing today, that His grace is greater than all our sin.