The morning after.

I.

If you follow me on Social Media you know that I had (have, one is later this afternoon) 3 weddings this weekend. Ah, weddings. I’m used to them by now. I have my little routine.

Arrive on time. Small-talk with people I know and others I just met. Choose which groomsmen is the cutest (and notice whether or not he is wearing a ring…). Marvel first at the bridesmaids dresses and then at the bride’s. Cry during the vows. Snap the perfect Instagram shot as the pair comes down the aisle during the recessional. B-line for the open bar. Must. have. two glasses of wine before dinner. Dinner. Toasts. Mentally decide if I’m going to stay for dancing and if so, one more glass of wine. If there is a bouquet, I’ll try to catch it. (I’ve actually caught three – so it’s kind of my “thing.”) Cry once more when the bride and groom walk through the soccer-esque tunnel that we all make for them. Get in my car and go home.

I truly, truly love weddings because I truly, truly love seeing my friends happy. In love. Euphoric. In anticipation of what’s to come (both in life, but also later on that evening…ha).

But I’ll admit, every wedding I attend, the sting of being perpetually single gets a little more acute, a little more painful.

When will this happen for me? 

Or recently, just:

…will this happen for me? 

(Note: Some of you might be thinking, please. I’m much older than you and have gone to ten times more weddings than you and it sucks much more for me than you. Some of you have told me this, when I share my feelings about being single with you. (Just so we’re clear – that’s not helpful.) But yes, I acknowledge that. I acknowledge that I am young and still “have time” and shouldn’t think about this as much as I do. But I am a thinker and a writer and that’s the most terrible combination when it comes to matters of the heart, so here we are. We each have our own stuff, and this is mine. I don’t want to compare and contrast, and it’s not your place to judge whether or not I am over-thinking this or feeling too many feels about being single for a person my age.  Please just allow me to process, to make sense of something that really shifted my perspective. That’s what this space has always been good for, anyways.)

II.

I always hate to compare weddings because every wedding I’ve ever been to is lovely and perfect and special – fitting the bride and groom like the proverbial glove. But there was something inexplicably profound about the wedding I attended last night. I’m realizing, not so much because of the wedding, but because of the state of my heart during this time in my life.

I’ve been in this weird season for the last few months. Everyone told me it would be like this after Seminary. Initially, it started out with me being mad at God for not providing me with a relationship. But then it moved to this place of questioning everything I ever believed in. It’s normal for a twenty-something who has followed Jesus her entire life, I suppose, to have this doubt.

Does it really matter that I live a holy life? I’ve done pretty well thus far, I think I owe it to myself to live a little more free and adventurous for a while. Was Christian University and Seminary really worth it? Because I don’t even know that I want to go into vocational ministry, so it seems like it might have been kiiiind of a massive waste!? Is being a follower of Christ worth it? Because while I’ve experienced great joy in my walk with Him, I’ve also experienced great sadness. Grief. Pain. And frankly, that’s been more my story as of late.

I went into this weekend jaded. Bitter. I’d never say it flat out because like I said I love my friends and am so unbelievably happy for them, but you could probably sense it in the way I rolled my eyes when I told you “I have THREE weddings this weekend” or when I made the joke about needing my flask nearby at all times to endure it all.

I’m sorry I mask my feelings with this petty sarcasm.

But last night, something happened. This wedding, ironically, reminded me that a wedding is not about a wedding. It’s not about the pomp and circumstance or the dance party or the bridesmaids dresses or the hashtag.

We started out the wedding with worship. I was a bit skeptical when I heard about this plan, but once it started, it just felt right. We all know that a wedding ought to be a ceremony that puts God on display and points to Christ. But starting out with worship allowed this couple and the rest of us to, as they say, put our money where our mouth is.

As I sang the words from my favorite hymn:

“Heart of my own heart, whatever befall, still be my vision, Oh ruler of all.”

Things alarmingly came into a new focus.

Whatever befall. Singleness is what is, um, befalling (?) on me in this moment, but I’ve lost the vision. I’ve lost Christ in a haze of doubt and fear and skepticism and bitterness.

Because in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer, in single-ness and in not single-ness, the calling is still the same – to glorify God by enjoying Him forever (thanks J Pipes).

I think sometimes us single people forget that a wedding and even a “person” will not make everything better (But, maybe it’s just me, so I apologize for making a generalization). A spouse is not the reward for following Christ. They are a gift, but not the gift.

Sure, being in love is amazing (or so I’ve heard), and there are about ten-thousand things that are awesome about being married, but it’s not the ultimate thing we as humans were created for. I forget that. I forget that my reward for following Christ is not a husband, but Christ. I forget that the adoring gaze or loving embrace of a man will never, ever match the adoring gaze or loving embrace of my Father. And no, it’s not about diminishing the wonderful-ness of being married to make myself feel better, but rather, making sure my thoughts about marriage take their proper place in the hierarchy of my desires and priorities. Marriage is something God created in His infinite goodness, but that’s not our singular call. If I am not living a holy life or pointing others to Christ  - I am not walking in a manner worthy of my calling. Honestly, I’m learning now that whether or not I have a spouse is irrelevant for the work God has called me too.

My goal in life should not be to find someone and to be a wife; my goal in life should be to glorify Christ, always. This is not a new epiphany, but for some reason, it is resonating in such a palpable way today.

III.

So, Will and Sally, your wedding reminded me that following Christ is worth it. Not because you’ve “found each other” but because individually and together as a couple, you remind me that God is good. Neither of you has had it easy, and even as you celebrated yesterday, the heartbreak you’ve experienced in this season was visible. But, even still, you worshipped. You glorified God. You made the promise in front of all of us to yes, cherish and love another, but most importantly to glorify God as individuals and as one.

Your wedding was spectacular – fun and sweet and hilarious – all the things a wedding should be. But, as I sit in bed on this morning after, a time normally spent grieving that life I want but don’t have, I am surprisingly at peace about it all.

Your wedding was healing for this single gal’s soul, and for that, I am grateful.

-L

 

On Being Nearly 25.

I.

In the last few weeks of my life, I’ve often contemplated how weird a thing it is to be 25. I am not 25, I am nearly 25.

25 is such a weird age. There are so many ways to be 25. Some of my closest pals are 25 and traveling the world, learning about other cultures and meeting fascinating foreign people and soaking up every moment of life abroad. Others are 25 and married, going through the daily joys and challenges of doing life with another person. Others, like myself, are slowing down after an intense run of grad-school or other post-graduate work. Oh, some of my most beloved friends are 25 and parents – some pregnant with their second child! There are so many ways to be 25.

And yet, there is no right way to be 25.

II.
When you were a kid, didn’t you imagine certain things about your adult life? When I was a little girl, 25 sounded ancient. I had lots of plans: Journalism school, move to Washington DC, grad school by 25 I would have an entry-level job in the United Nations. Sidenote: how much of a nerd to you have to be to have THAT be your dream as a child?Normal girls wanted to be a model or princess or fairy or something but I wanted to be a diplomat. But yes, things were mapped out, including my personal life. I always told people in high school that I wanted a career more than anything in life, and that meant if I had to choose between a job and a family, I’d choose the job, hands down. Funny how things change – anyone that knows me now would laugh at this. I might just be a tad…obsessed with children? Anyways, I digress.

In college, when I realized I didn’t want to get into politics, I decided that my life plan would surely include be married by 25 to a pastor or some sort and being the “cool, young, awesome” pastor/pastor’s wife duo. I get a little queazy knowing that at some point in my life I wanted to be known as a pastor’s wife (not that there is anything wrong with being one. I mention this only because I was so misguided during my early years of ministry, and I never would have considered becoming a pastor myself). But yes, this is what I thought a good Christian girl ought to have as her story. My college roommates spent nights planning our future weddings to anonymous pastor boys whom could be inserted into our dream world with ease, charm, and good-lookingness, of course. Ugh.

Towards the end of college, I realized that being married by 25 was probably not a reality, let alone being married to a pastor (fun fact: there were about 10-single pastors at my small Christian university and they were all not interested in dating women. Well, it’s likely that they were just not interested in dating ME, but whatever. They were lame). Here was the point in my life when I decided that by 25 I would surely be traveling the world, living in a foreign country and writing my brilliant travel memoir and impressing the online world with my hilarious blog about being an American in ________________.

25. A quarter of a century. 1/3 of the way through life (supposing I will die around age 78, which is the average life expectancy for someone like me). All these life plans – the next Condoleezza Rice, Pastor’s wife of the century, World-Traveling wunderkind.

III.
I’m sitting here in my favorite coffee shop. I’m a regular around here, I pop in once or twice a week and they know my name. I like that. I mainly stop here because I work full-time but when the day is over the last thing I want to do is sit in a mess of traffic, so I kill some time writing or reading or chatting. It’s my own little routine.

Because I’m nearly 25, I wanted to take inventory of my life. Let’s see how all the goals I had for myself are working out.

Politics and I had a break-up in college and we haven’t really hung out much since then. Every once and awhile I’ll tip-toe around an issue or a controversy, but compared to the energy that I used to exert on debating foreign policy and the constitutionality of American laws, it’s nothing. I couldn’t tell you one thing about the UN, and it literally might not exist anymore for all I know.

I am very unmarried. I am especially unmarried to a pastor of any kind. In fact, one thing I look for in a man is not being a pastor. Because I’ve grown out of my “only men should do ministry” phase – I no longer feel like I need to be attached to a man who does ministry to do ministry. And also, I want to spend time with someone who has lots of things to talk about other than pastor-y things. Nothing wrong with pastors, just not for me. My younger self would tremble in fear at this statement.

I’ve traveled a little bit, but I decided I really like America. A lot.

So if the younger versions of myself, kid-Lauren and college-Lauren and end of college-Lauren, evaluated me, would I be a failure?

No.

Because there is no right way to be nearly 25.

IV.
I am nearly 25. I’m fresh out of grad school. I just finished a 3-year degree in theology and education at a Seminary in the Orange County area. I work in the Communications department of a local church that I’ve been at for 8 years. I have a few close friends and lots of fun acquaintances. I live in a cute house in the sleepiest California beach you ever did see. I spend lots of time in coffee shops reading books and writing blogs. I am single, and while there may be men that catch my eye, I’ll probably be single for a while. I listen to mostly Broadway soundtracks and classical music. I love my family. Holding babies makes me very happy. Sometimes I dream of becoming a history podcaster or a theater critic or a fiction writer.

None of this is according to plan. And that’s amazing. Because as I breathe in the aroma of freshly roasted coffee and listen to the eclectic-mix of conversations that are happening in this place – I am content. More than content…happy. Being nearly 25 is the weirdest thing but it’s also the most wonderful thing.

I believe that I can change my mind about pretty much everything in my life right now, and it’s one of the most beautiful things about it.

So, here’s to another month of being nearly 25 and then a year of being 25 and then a year of being one year older than 25 and so on. If you’re reading this and your 25 or 26 or 32 or 28 and you feel like you’ve done everything wrong and nothing right and your plan didn’t come true and you’re not where you’re supposed to be or what you’re supposed to be or who you’re supposed to be or with who you’re supposed to be with – stop. You’re you. And that’s the best plan you could have right now.

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-L

 

Media Fast Update 1.

It’s June 14 which means I’ve been media fast-ing for about a month and a half now.

I should mention that during this time, I’ve also finished school, moved into a new city/house, and changed jobs slightly. So, no big life stuff happening over here…or anything. Oh, and I also just got off of a two week work sabbatical (so no going into the office/doing work/etc.), so I’ve been sitting at home doing very little for the last 14 days. Extroverts, we call that punishment.

There is so much to update you on: how boring life is without school (although I’m sure the feeling will subside eventually), how interesting I’m finding it is to live with 4 other girls in a house, how challenging it is to be single during yet another engagement season, how weird some of the thoughts are that I am having about my faith and ministry…

But, the media fast. That is what I’m choosing to share about.

Just to recap, I’m doing a year-long fast from a few things: non-Christian music, movies, TV. The book thing has kind of wavered because there are a few books I’ve been reading (mostly American history and creative non-fiction) that aren’t “Christian” but also aren’t “questionable.” Also a reminder – I’m not fasting from these things because I think they are inherently bad or evil, but because I was not not enjoying the ways that each component was uniquely affecting my mind and mental state. I gave some examples of what this looks like in that previous post, so check that one if you want to know more. And lastly, Social Media is NOT one of the things I am fasting. Again, read the previous post for reasoning on that.

So, first things first, yes, I’m still doing it.

The first month actually was not as challenging as I thought it would be, but I attribute that to the fact that I was frantically running around trying to…you know…graduate with my Masters…so I was a teensy bit busy. I can say that during the month of May, I did not engage any form of media that I was not supposed to.

An important thing to note is that during that time I was a normal person. There were plenty of times when people turned on music that I technically was not supposed to be listening to, and I didn’t scream in terror or melt or anything. I just simply carried on like a normal human being. The whole point of this fast is for ME to choose to not engage in that media on my own volition, but not to chastise others for it, or make them feel weird.

Shout-out though, to a few of my sweet friends who always made it a point to make sure the music we were listening to was Lauren’s fast approved. You’re too good to me.

Then June happened.

I had already made a consent to see a movie with my friend because we had read the book and made plans to see it before the fast started, so I thought looking forward to that would be enough.

But the month of June meant a few things: no grad-schoolwork for the first time in 3 years, a move into a big new house with a big new TV, lots and lots of alone time since I didn’t have to go into work. The last 14 days have been really, really hard. All I want to do is curl up on the couch and binge watch the new season of Orange is the New Black or soak in something that makes me feel all nostalgic like Dawson’s Creek or One Tree Hill or something like that. I’m not kidding, there were moments when I was holding the remote and I had to talk myself out of watching TV when I was home alone (yes, I talked out loud and yelled at myself).

And then there was a moment, two specifically, when I didn’t talk myself out of it. Confession time people: I cheated once this month. I won’t tell you what movie I watched (because that’s just plain embarrassing for me) BUT I thought it was important to share that. I know, I know, it’s not the end of the world. People cheat on diets and fasts all the time, so I’m not sitting over here beating myself up. In fact, my roommate offered some sage advice when I confessed to her, and she said that the most important thing is that I don’t allow myself to just give up or fly off the handle, but rather to accept that I cheated, move on, and continue with the fast. I can’t let one slip up define everything.

So that’s what I am doing. I messed up, and that’s fine. What’s important is I still think I need to be doing this fast, and so I’m doing it, regardless of the fact that my perfect record is now blemished.

To briefly share about my “state of mind:” it’s fascinating to me how my mind can take me places even when I don’t have media to stimulate me. That’s been the hardest part, having to still deal with things even after removing what I think is a large contributor (media), simply because once you’ve seen something or heard something – you can’t unsee or unhear those things. It’s only been a month and a half, so I  know that the “detox” phase is still very much happening…but it’s frustrating to still have to be on guard with what is racing through my mind, even after limiting myself so much. I guess that’s life though, right? We have to deal with things all the time that are hard or aren’t fair and we just do it. There’s no rhyme or reason, but it’s how it is and we figure it out. That’s what I am learning. I can’t necessarily prevent myself from thinking sinfully because I’m human, but I can take steps in the right direction, and so that’s what I will do.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense…I didn’t even really know how to articulate most of these thoughts, but people kept asking for updates, so I couldn’t think of a better way to share. Thanks for being a part of this journey with me. I appreciate it. Here’s to the next 321 days.

Whoa.

-L

(thought it would be fun to add this little survey at the end of each update)

Currently…

craving: The new Coldplay album (if you’ve never heard something, can you crave it?), One Tree Hill
pondering: Will I honestly make it 321 days? I looked at that number…321…so.long.
asking: For prayer. I know it’s weird and I don’t want to over-spiritualize this, but the point of this whole thing was to cleanse my mind and think toward things that are lovely and true and pure and holy. Prayer that I would begin to see a transformation toward that would be epic.
thanking: My roommates for putting up with me and trying their best to find other things to do besides watch TV and movies all the time, other friends who have been rooting for me and genuinely care about this journey for me (when you tell me you want me to experience the fullness of this year and you are proud  of me…man that’s encouraging), and lastly, my “unofficial arbiter” – you know who you are and I am thankful for your encouragement in this season.

 

An Imperfect Space


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It’s been a little over a week since I moved into my very first home.

That sounds misleading, I didn’t buy a house or anything, and I don’t live in it alone (thank God!) but still, for all intents and purposes, it’s mine. It’s my space. I’ve spent hours (and hours) dreaming about what it would be like…cozy and put together and homey. It’s starting to feel like all of those things, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that this home will be nothing like I imagined it would be.

Before we moved in we went over a couple of times to do some walk-throughs. I remember being captivated by the hardwood floors and the sunroom and the amazing deck in the backyard with the beautiful red barn table and cute lanterns on the corner-posts.  This space is begging to have people in it I thought to myself. I had visions of twinkle lights in the big tree that gives amazing shade to nearly the whole backyard, mellow music, warm red wine, and lots and lots of laughter. Idyllic.

But as I’ve spent time in the house this last week – organizing and cleaning and making the house somewhat livable - I have started to notice the flaws.

Cracked walls and missing panels and creaky cabinets and horrendous wallpaper (don’t mention it when you come over because WE KNOW. It’s bad.) and so much more.

This was disappointing, you see, because there is nothing I wanted more than to have people fill the rooms in this house. To invade the space in the best way possible and enjoy it alongside myself and the girls I live with. But as I began to see more and more of it, the real it, the flawed it, the less I wanted people here.

There is so much to fix. There is so much to put together. There is so much to clean and make “presentable.” If people came over now, they will see the weird sliver missing from the door or the place where the molding is coming off. It sounds silly when I actually put it into words here…but those are the thoughts that ran through my mind. Perfectionism has a way of making everything ugly and not good enough. I hate that. In a world of Pinterest and Martha Stewart it’s damn near impossible to be satisfied with the way your house looks, I’ve decided.

This old house is teaching me quite a lot about myself. Because you see, the scenario is very much the same with my own life. I spend endless amounts of time dreaming about the type of person I’d like to be – put together and stable and wise and perfectly in tune with Jesus – and I sort of refuse to let people into anything less than that idyllic, perfectly put together life. I keep even some of my closest friends at bay sometimes because I’m afraid they would run away in sheer terror (how’s that for dramatic imagery) if they only knew the real state of things.

I’m missing so much beauty by doing that. One evening last week taught me that.

Even though we don’t have lights in the trees or paper plates or any idea how to use the grill or anything on the walls or enough seating for everyone in the living room – against my better home decorator’s judgment – people came into my house and spent time here the other night. We laughed as we did the dance that is called “all being in the kitchen at the same time,” and we ate together on the big red table on the deck as the sun set and everything around started to do that sort of humming thing that happens when evening settles in. Just like I’d imagined. It was absolutely wonderful. It was what I had been dreaming of. People. Here. In this space.

Sure, everything wasn’t perfect and if I had more time I would have done a few more things before people came over, but I am glad that I got over whatever perfection I was looking for and just let people into the proverbial mess. I am so glad I did that. I will always remember the inaugural dinners we had in this house – tons of pizza and beer on the first night and burgers with wayyyy too many garlic fries and Luke’s pineapple cocktail creations and Alice’s yellow cake smashed into ice cream on this other night. Those are the memories I’ll look back on with fondness, the ones I’ll be ever-glad I didn’t pass up because of some weird urge for everything to be perfect.

I should do that more often, I’m seeing, in my own life. Let people in. Stop waiting for things to be a certain way and just invite people to be in it with me, no matter what. Yes, it’s cliche and every writer always has a story about a “house that changed things for them”…but this is mine. This is the unfolding story of an old, flawed, imperfect space that is teaching me things, and for that, I am grateful.

(Pardon me now, I need to go clean something.)

-L

 

Remember + Celebrate (Part Two)

I graduated last Friday from Talbot School of Theology with my M.A. in Christian Education. It is surreal to think that my days of studying and reading book after book and writing papers is finally over.

Ok, let’s be real. A) I will most likely be going back to get my PhD in a few years. And B) I am still going to read and write and study because I am a nerd (and super single) and that’s how I roll.

But, yesterday I just sat and read a book that I just felt like reading for no reason and I stopped when I wanted and started another one and it was glorious. Reading for fun…who would have thought!?

Anyway, now that I have completely sealed my spot in the kingdom of the perpetu-nerds, let’s see how this whole thing went down according to my iPhone.

How clever is the water they gave us? Sidenote: the weather was GLORIOUS! I think we all were a bit worried seeing as the week before temps were nearing 110 and La Mirada is like a hot death-pit. But it was overcast and perfect. Emoji praise hands! 

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I met some pretty cool people in my years at Talbot! Heather, Stacey, and I had a few classes together – and I actually knew Heather from church even before Seminary! I remember her and I sitting at dinner, talking about how we’d be in grad school together and now…we’re done! 

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I wish I could have taken photos with every professor because they all were terrific. Dr. Leyda was my advisor and taught two classes. He is retiring this year, so it’s kind of like his graduation too!

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I could not have done this without the sacrifice of my parents. They let me live under their roof, they spotted me when I was the stereotypical “broke grad school student,” and so much more. I love and appreciate them! 

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There is so much more that went into the last 3 years that I should talk about, but since this post is already very overdue – I’ll just say that I am grateful for each and every person who played a part in the journey of Seminary. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

-L

Looking Back (Part One)

Well, here I am. Done with Seminary. Well, I haven’t walked across the stage and flipped the tassel yet (do they do that in grad school? Related: also how come the robes for grad school are SO much cooler? I mean seriously, and I know this is an overused analogy/joke, but I look like I am from Hogwarts when I wear it!) but that’s the easy part anyway.

It’s weird, to close this chapter of my life. It’s absolutely bittersweet – for I am a student at heart, learner is my number 2 strength, and I have always just…been in school. I took a year(ish) off after college, but grad school was always basically in the periphery. But on the flip side I am elated to have free time again. Eek! Imagine the possibilities! (Sarcasm, because I am still going to be the busiest girl evvvvver. It’s me we’re talking about, come on!).

It’s funny to look back at posts I wrote during that first year of grad school – I was sooo excited, it was the cutest. I had all these grandiose plans for what I would do, the plan I had in my mind was set. Sure, I was a little overwhelmed at times, but I felt so confident in my choice to be at Talbot.

Sidenote: did you know that I never wanted to be “in the ministry?” If you knew me in high school or even college, I would have told you that I wanted to do some sort of political journalism, and that the only thing I was considering was law school or a Masters in International Affairs or something like that. Part of me still wonders if I might do that some day, but that’s a whooole ‘nother story right now…

Anyway, that first year was really wonderful – retreats and fun projects and learning all these really amazing theological things that I had never thought about before.

It was also really hard too. I went through some pretty gnarly stuff with friendships and the high school ministry I was working with, and I eventually stepped down from my intern position with the group. It was weird, because here I was in seminary, learning all these things and having all these discussions about ministry and such…but I wasn’t doing it. I felt like kind of a fraud. In any case, I finished my first year, packed my bags and headed off to work at a camp for the summer.

Then I came back from camp, and began working at the church again, in a different department. It was all kind of a whirlwind how that happened, but I settled into my new rhythm: working a lot and school-ing a lot. My second year of seminary was hard. Not necessarily academically or anything – but there was so much that I was processing and learning about myself. I didn’t really have a strong community of friends, I felt the need to prove myself over and over at work so I wore myself out on a regular basis, and I still hadn’t found the place where I fit in “ministry.” Throw some financial problems in there, and you my friends, have a bonafied quarter-life crisis.

But all of that has nothing to do with seminary, right. My second year of seminary kind of all blends together for me, and it’s actually something I regret. I didn’t engage as much as I had the previous year, or as much as I did this year. I was preoccupied and stressed and burnt out and spent pretty much everyday asking myself “why are you doing this Lauren? what is the end goal?” 

A little glimmer of hope came toward the end of my second year of seminary – a missions trip to Tanzania with a group of girls from the university I graduated from. Maybe this was it! My true calling! Surely I could use all the theological and ministry knowledge I was learning to become a dynamic missionary (or something like that!)! Everything was crystal clear you guys. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

For a hot second.

Upon returning from Tanzania, I felt the overwhelming sense that awesome missionary in Africa was not in the cards for me. Like, not even a little. Door after door closed, and I spend the rest of the summer angry at God for ripping the thing that surely I was supposed to do away from me.

My third year of seminary was really a time of letting go of all the plans I had laid out for myself and accepting that I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.

I took a break from blogging for a bit this year. My mind was just so blehhhhhh and I felt bad sharing that with the rest of the world. It was hard, taking time off, because I have always been someone who self-therapized (not a word, I’m aware) by writing. I don’t know if this was a good call or a bad call – not forcing myself to put on paper what was going on in my heart – but it was what happened.

And that’s OK.

In the fall, I started writing my thesis and had this whole new discovery that I love learning about and working with emerging adults. I had kind of been doing that all along, but I just didn’t see it. I immersed myself in research and felt like I had truly found the “thing” that I was going to be doing for a long time. Dreams of being a professor surfaced – and along with that came the thought of PhD programs (But don’t worry mom and dad. That won’t be for a few years.)

And continuing with the upswing of a year- I joined a discipleship group during my third year of seminary and landed a new group of amazing friends and kind of got my groove back in “ministry” (Friends, the air quotes are used because I am a believer that anything we as believers do can count as ministry, but this kind of “ministry” is the “ministry” that people often think of when they think of the word ministry. Got it?).

Coincidentally though, as I walked through life with community and let people into the abyss known as Lauren’s heart, things got messy. I’ve spent more time in tears this year than ever before, I am a mess. Sometimes I am like who are you girl who cries at the thought of just about everything and what have you done with the strong, bad-ass woman who never lost her cool about anything? 

But the time in tears has provided some pretty great epiphanies and I’ve gone through a major season of healing and restoration from a lot of junk that I’ve been dealing with, well, forever.

These last few months have also been kind of insane. I’ve wrestled over and over with what I want to do in life…move? Stay here? Work at a church? Stop going to church? Work at a normal place but still go to church? 

And to be honest, most of the answers I had for myself ended up being wrong. Because here I am. Here. In California. At the same job. With the same people. At the same church. Doing a lot of the same.old.thing. And I am still single which is definitely not something I thought would be the case after not one but TWO christian private schools. Geez.

But I am happy. There is a lot of good that’s coming my way, and I want to fully embrace it and receive it like a parched desert soaks in a long-awaited rain.

My spiritual director and I determined that I don’t really celebrate things well. Especially monumental things like graduating. It’s true. In high school I was over it and anxious for college. I barely remember my graduation party and celebrations…I think I did something cool? I had already been out of school for a semester when I walked in my college graduation. I was way too cool for school thinking “man, I am sooo far ahead of these people. I know what real life is like since I’ve experienced it and all.” (Barf, I know. Why I let these thoughts cross my mind…I’ll never know). I was half in and half out and really didn’t take time to savor the goodness of my college experience and all the amazing things that happened there.

So, I don’t want that to be the case here. My life is drastically different then it was three years ago, and I want to celebrate that. I want to remember and smile and remember and thank God.

But since this blog is already outrageously long – I’ll do that in another post. HaHa – this post was basically just an intro to that future post. Don’t you feel duped?

:)

*P.S. If you’re disappointed because I did not outline all the theological concepts and ideas I now subscribe to after three years in a conservative seminary, I apologize. But I have come to this conclusion: I think it was more about what happened in my heart then what happened in my head…and I am fully OK with that. Do I have lots of new opinions and thoughts on Calvinism and Eschatology and ethical conundrums and the purpose of the Evangelical church? Yes. But I am more excited about the way my heart has been broken and put back together again for the things that matter to Jesus…and that’s what I am taking away and celebrating from this season.

-L

And so it begins…

The other day I had a conversation with someone who said that he doesn’t listen to a ton of secular music because of the impact it has on his mental life.

At first, I joked with him about it, teasing him every time a song came on in the coffee shop we were in - “do you know who sings this?” and laughing when he didn’t. I made light of the particular situation, but in the days since that concept has really messed me up. Monitoring intake because of mental impact? It sounds like an experiment or a thing a “super-religious” person would do. But actually, the more I’ve thought about, the more convicted I’ve become. I have been meditating on Philippians 4:8 and Psalm 101:3 and cannot help but think I’ve let myself get entrenched in the mindset that I am invincible in remaining pure in thought, when actually, I am drowning in my sin.

When I look at my thought-life, I am disgusted with the way I have let pop-culture and media infiltrate it. As a young woman, I see the ways I am affected by the things I watch and listen to. Even the books (my most favorite thing!) impact me more than I’d like to admit.

A few examples:

I found myself being completely desensitized to the dark violence of a TV show I just finished the first season of. Like, I can watch people be brutally murdered and feel little to no emotion about it. Yikes.

The idea of sex outside of marriage is something I have struggled with so much. My moral compass is all over the place…seriously.

[Affairs? ok - if the two people are passionate and in love (thank you, The Notebook). Inappropriate relationships (teacher/student, etc.) totally fine if the teacher is super hot (Ezra Fitz, anyone?). Sleeping with anyone, and just about everyone? Normal. Acceptable. The reality of being a 20something (every TV show/movie ever).]

And this is only the beginning. I spent some major time thinking about the way that I live my life is directly impacted by the realities I create for myself based on something I’ve seen/read/listened to – and it was scary. I know that not everyone is impacted in the same way that I am…so I am not saying that if you watch these shows or movies I think you are a bad person. I just know it’s not good for me. 

So, I am saying goodbye to these things for one year. My mind needs it. I don’t think I will become someone who only engages with “Christian culture” after I am done. Not even a little bit. But I do hope that throughout the duration of this year I will be able to articulate the difference I can see in my personal thought life, and help people understand the true impact media might be having on them. If anything, I just want to spark interest in people – start a conversation. The exciting part is I’ve already seen that happen, and my fast hasn’t even started!

Here are some details…

What it is:

No TV, movies, non-Christian books, non-Christian music, or browsing the internet unnecessarily from May 1, 2014 until May 1, 2015. 

Stipulations -

  • I can read “Christian books.” Theology, devotional, spirituality. No fiction.
  • I can listen to any Christian music and any instrumental music (no words means that my mind won’t be dwelling on inappropriate lyrics or messages).
  • I have tickets to a concert on my Birthday, so I will attend that.
  • If a friend just happens to be in a broadway musical (you know who you are) I can see her show.

What it isn’t:

A social media fast.

Before you judge me and tell me that I am doing this all wrong…let me explain. When I scroll through my Instagram feed and see photos of my friends’ coffee or their children or a beautiful landscape, that doesn’t make my mind wander in the way that I am trying to avoid. There are a few accounts I will be unfollowing (celebrities, people who only post ridiculous things, etc.) but I will still have my own account.

Facebook is a different beast. I manage all of the accounts for my work through my personal account, so I cannot delete it. However, I can delete the “entertainment” aspect of it from my life, so I will be doing that. I haven’t quite figured that one out entirely, but for now I am going to use it for work and try to limit it to that.

The main thing here is that I am eliminating things that compromise my integrity of mind, and I don’t think these things do. If they ever start to, I will make a decision then. I don’t want to cut things out for the heck of it – I want to be intentional because I want to tangibly see the impact this kind of media has on my brain on it’s own (does that make sense?).

A death sentence to fun. 

Here’s the thing. If my friends are listening to music in the house I am not going to dramatically storm out of the room or demand they turn it off. As far as I can control, I won’t subject myself to these things, but I also won’t be an anti-social lunatic. I will hold some of these things loosely. For instance, a few of my friends will be getting marred this year. Am I going to dance to non-Christian music at their bachelorette parties and certainly their weddings? Yes. Will I feel guilty about it? No. Because the point of this media fast is to learn self-control and integrity of my thought-life when I am alone and can control it. I hope that makes sense.

I will say “no” to going out to movies or staying in to watch a movie…and I hope that most of the time this will be more talking or playing games or doing something else with friends instead. But, if a movie is on in the house, or a marathon of something is happening…I can remove myself from that situation easily.

FAQ

Accountability

I have a few wonderful friends who have agreed to walk with me on this journey. They will check in with me and make sure I am adhering to the guidelines I set up for myself, as well as be available any time I need to vent (they might not have agreed to that part yet but they will). I also have taken really practical precautions like removing all media devices from my room, and setting up a WiFi lock after 10pm so I am not tempted.

Sustainability

Like I said before, there is tons I will need to work out with this. But, for the most part, I can cut all of these items out of my life with little to no trouble.

Recording

I would not be Lauren if I didn’t write about this year. I don’t know that will look like, but you bet I plan on keeping track of the things I am learning/findings I have during this year.

What Will I Miss The Most?

Honestly I will miss: Belting it out to musical soundtracks. Jamming to Childish Gambino and Kendrick Lamar in my car. Writing to Noah Gundersen and Bon Iver. Binge watching TV shows with girlfriends. Family Guy before bed. Celine Dion when I need a good cry. A good fiction book to curl up with when my brain is FRIED from too much theology.

Yowza, that list is embarrassing, but true.

What Next?

I pray and I fast. Thank you for reading. Cheers to a splendid year of reorientation and recalibration!

-L

You Make Me Brave

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 11.45.20 AMThis past weekend I led worship at an amazing Women’s Conference, and to be honest, I went into it wildly distracted.

I won’t get into the details, but my mind definitely was on a million different things, and there were multiple times that I felt the Lord prompting to get away with Him, to simply walk down to the lake and sit with Him, listen to Him, and hear what He had to say.

But I said no.

It breaks my heart to known that I turned down that gift – out of stubbornness, fear of missing out (FOMO anyone?), and frankly paralyzing fear of what He might reveal to me.

So I ended the weekend tired, broken, confused, angry, and still desperately clinging to the affirmations of people or the validation of a “job well done” to make it through. But that’s the thing that He wanted to reveal to me..it isn’t about the things I am good at, or the people I can impress – but the state of my heart.

And let me tell you something about the state of my heart people: it’s not pretty. I have been a season of bitterness, blatant ingratitude, manipulation, and most of all, striving to make things work on my terms. This weekend the Lord wanted to call me out of all those things – but I was too scared. I knew it would hurt. I knew it wouldn’t be easy. I knew if I entered into that time with Him, I would need to undergo refining and pruning…and those things aren’t fun.

So I said no.

But but because God is such a loving Father, abundant to give us gifts even when we don’t deserve them in the least – He still pursued me. Earlier this week, through conversations with my amazing Spiritual Director, three of my best friends, and my mentor, I was finally able to slow down and really look inside at what was going on in my heart.

They called things out, pointed out the root of many of my frustrations, and opened my eyes to the hurt that I was letting control my life.

On Wednesday morning, I finally allowed myself to sit in the tension of all that I had been going through. I got to the point where I couldn’t justify acting the way I had been acting. I couldn’t keep doing things on my own strength. I couldn’t keep shoving things deep down because they were bubbling up and taking a toll on the way I interacted with everything around me.

In a moment of total weakness, the Lord met me with such a sweet nearness, and as I read the words of Ephesians 2:1-10, I felt bondages – spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional chains that I had been carrying around for nearly 20 years – fall off. It was amazing because during the weekend I had watched women experience this same freedom from the stage, but my heart was so hardened toward the possibility of that happening for myself. God is just such a sweet God, that He wouldn’t force me to come to Him, but that He would just orchestrate so many amazing things to bring me to a place of realization that my search for identity in anything else but Him is futile.

It’s scary place to be – a Christian of nearly 20 years, a soon-to-be graduate of seminary, and a pastoral leader of a decade –  JUST realizing that you are doing everything on your own strength. BUT, it’s also a beautiful place to be because I believe in that moment, everything that I had preached to other people and encouraged them to take hold of as truth in their life became truth in MY LIFE.

There is so much more to the story, seriously, the way that the Lord orchestrated everything in these past two week blows my mind, but I know His purpose was to bring me back to Him. He is calling me to be brave in my life and to stop relying on my own strength. He is calling me “out upon the water” and asking me “why I am still doubting?” He is holding me closely and saying:

“Listen! Listen! I am for you. I am not against you. I love you and I have amazing things for you!”

I believe that some of you need to hear that.

He is for you, not against you.
He is with you, don’t run away from Him.

I love when you enter into a season of life and God puts things all around you that give perfect language in some form to articulate what He is doing inside of you. Bethel just came out with a new album from their women’s conference, and it is absolutely the perfect articulation of how I feel. I have not stopped listening to the title track, “You Make Me Brave” and have been so blessed by the song’s lyrics which give perfect language to journey I’ve been on.

Below is the script from the voiceover of their promo video. I listened to this and immediately started crying – these words are the exact manifesto of my heart.

You invite us into a life of adventure.
You are the faith behind a simple step – a wild leap.
You are the place where fear is powerless and faith remains the victor.
You are the unshakeable “yes” that our spirits sing of.
With courage we step toward the unknown and not away from it.
We breath in hope and exhale doubt, moving past fear into freedom.
Moment by moment we listen for your voice and learn to respond.
We’re free to risk because no challenge or pain can rival your love.
Unafraid of failure we are determined to trust you more than our own understanding.
You are as good as you say you are and you make us brave.

God is calling me into a life that doesn’t make sense.

God is calling me into a season of simply letting Him lead my steps.

God is calling me into a season of being slow to speak and hungry to listen.

And while this might be a terrifying and painful season – He is reminding me over and over and over and over that…

He will make me brave.

-L

Dear youth group of the early 00s, I am going to stop bashing you.

I was recently in a conversation with a friend about how we grew up in youth group.

You know, the quintessential Christian youth of group of the early 2000s – True Love Waits and DC Talk and Awana’s and this kind of vending machine in the back of the room:

vending machine

 

We were arguing over which person had the “weirdest” or the most “cliche” high school experience (she won, so there). Because both of us thought the there was no way the other could top our stories.

Our judgments were based on a few loose categories such as:

1.  Amount of people wearing novelty t-shirts with Christian sayings on them. (You know the ones I am talking about, right? If not, here are some visuals to jog your memory…

christian t-shirts

2. Number of times you took a 15 passenger van anywhere – a lake, theme-park, retreat camp, etc. 

3. Approximate number of CDs in your “Christian CD collection” (shameless plug – if you want to hear the music that marked this season of my aka 90s Christian pop music PLEASE listen to this Spotify playlist) 

4. Hours spent at any of the following events with lots of other hormonal teenagers: summer camp, winter camp, all-nighters, bowling nights, ice-skating/roller-skating nights 

5. Intensity of crush on Jeremy Camp

6. Amount of time spent card games such as: Egyptian Rat Slap, Mafia, Nertz, etc. 

7. Fast food consumed (most commonly In and Out) with a minimum of 20 obnoxious and change-using high schoolers

…and so much more.

We had a hilarious trip down memory lane and laughed for hours about the strange sub-culture we found ourselves in for the majority of our youth years.

But here’s the thing. I can make fun of growing up the most “christian way possible,” but I am who I am today because of my upbringing in the church.

I should be profoundly grateful.

+I should be profoundly grateful that I had a place where I could be around kids who were (for the most part) positive influences on me. 

+I should be profoundly grateful that  from a young age, leaders sought me out and developed me into the leader I am today. 

+I should be profoundly grateful that I found a place that I could sing and eventually be raised up as a worship leader. 

+I should be profoundly grateful that I spent glorious weeks at lakes and weekends in Utah and weeknights at the church or bowling alley with people who loved me. 

+I should be profoundly grateful that while so many kids my age were experimenting with harmful things simply because of constant proximity, I had a safe place on (at least) Tuesdays and Sundays where there was no pressure to do things like that to fit in.

+I should be profoundly grateful that I got the opportunity to travel to different countries and gain a perspective of the world outside of the Orange County bubble I was in. 

+I should be profoundly grateful that during my years in this group, I met some people that would remain lifelong friends. 

+I should be profoundly grateful that I can look back on much of teenage years with a smile on my face because it really was a sweet and beautiful time. 

I was hit with a wave of nostalgitude (nostalgia + gratitude) the other day when friend that is a youth pastor mentioned an event he is putting on for his students.

I miss those days, truthfully.

And it was then that I realized I spend more time bashing my youth group years and talking about how “weird” it was instead of reminiscing about the awesome moments. I talk about these years as if it were something to be embarrassed of, but expect people to be impressed with my “20 years of being a Christian.” It’s not OK and I want to be representation of Jesus and the transformation he has had on my life – but I trash talk the very place where that happened.

As someone who has ventured into youth ministry as a leader now, I would hate to know that the students I pour into and invest in would speak poorly of their experience growing up in the Church. It would break my heart to hear them say the same things I say all the time about being a youth group kid.

So here’s to positivity. Here’s to remembering the good things and celebrating those. Here’s to looking back with a smile instead of snarky cynicism and choosing to speak kind words about an experience that I was more than blessed to have.

HScollage.jpg

-L

 

 

“Maybe if she weren’t so aggressive…” An open-letter to the ladies talking trash on me in the bathroom today.

Note: Apologies for the snark my sweet friends. Sometimes, it’s just gotta come out. You feel me?

Ladies and gentle-ladies…if you thought mean girls were a thing of junior-high or high-school past, let me assure you, they are not.

How do I know this you ask? Well, I had an encounter with some in my Master’s program today and as baffling as this experience was (I mean…we are in seminary. Doesn’t that mean we’re supposed to be generally loving and kind people? **)

Let me set the stage. And folks, this one’s a good one. I swear, sometimes I think these things happen to me because the Lord knows I have a sense of humor…

and also a blog to vent.

——————————————————————–

Professor makes a point in class. I disagree with that point. I raise my hand and ask a question. Professor answers and I still disagree with his point. I make one follow-up remark in my super sweet and charming and endearing and well-mannered “Lauren” way and move on. (Well, actually about 5 other students piggy-backed on my question proving that I was right to ask it in the first place. But, that’s besides the point.) 

Anyway, this is all  backstory for the main event, which takes place (in quintessential high school drama fashion) in the ladies bathroom.

So here I am, just minding my own business, when I overhear (read: eavesdrop) on the conversation happening at the sink.

Girl A to Girl B: “I mean, did she have to ask so many questions?”

(Me in stall to myself: OK SOOOO many? Try two. Maaaaybe three.)

Girl B to Girl A: “No, I mean I get why she did, but she was like, sooo aggressive! No one asked as many questions as she did.”

(Me in stall to myself: Sooo aggressive? How does asking a question in a class make me “sooo aggressive? Or in your words ‘like, sooo aggressive.’”)

Girl A to Girl B: “I know, I don’t know why she did that. I guess she is just like that. She actually does that in the other class I have with her too. (laughs to herself) She’ll need a strong man for that.”

(Me in stall…ok you get it: Like what? What does that even mean? Like a person who asks questions in class and has her own opinions and is not afraid of a Professor’s differing opinion? Oh brother. Also, let’s not EVEN bring a man into this. *I think  may have been fuming at this point. I don’t know what fuming is but I think I was ‘it’ when she brought up “needing a good man.”)

End scene. 

——————————————————————–

So ignoring the fact that I just told you about inner dialogue I had with myself while I was in the bathroom (TMI, sorry) let’s just talk about how this happened in.real.life.

Firstly, I am so confused because I feel like every girl knows: the first rule of bathroom blaspheming is to check and see if the subject of said blaspheme is in there. And ladies…guess what? I WAS IN THERE.

I know you’re wondering if I ventured out into the madness and showed my face before they exited?

I didn’t. Mainly because I didn’t want to start a brawl and I was feeling feisty. BUT also because I know they would have felt horrendous and I wanted to spare them the horrifying realization that they were very much not alone in that bathroom.

People, I wish I were making this up, but sadly, I am not. Two women in my class chose to talk some trash on me and I unfortunately heard it. The hard thing for me to swallow though, is that one of the women knows me from other classes, so she knows I am single, and she also knows that I am not super stoked on that. We all have our bad days – I certainly say cruel things – so I am trying to show grace in this situation. But yowza. That one hurt. Ugh. I wish I could convey the tone of the woman’s voice when she made the comment about the “man.”

She might as well have said “Lauren will be lucky if she finds a man who will put up with that!” or “It will take someone realllllll special to put that girl in her place.” But since you weren’t there, you just gotta trust me. It was not pretty, people.

So, with all that preface, here is my open-letter. For the record, I don’t like these things very much but it felt fitting and I decided to give it a whirl. Oh, and I am also confused if open letters have to be nice or if they can be snarky…so I just went with a mix of both. Heavy on the latter.

Dear  women in the bathroom,

Let’s just have a chat real quick. You see, I was actually in the bathroom when you decided to engage in a lively discussion about me at the sink while washing your hands. Kudos on the cleanliness, by the way.

So here’s the thing. Yes, I do ask a lot of questions. Not only in this class, but in all my classes, as you keenly observed. You know why? Because I believe that education is about discussion and disagreeing and processing out loud and not being spoon-fed beliefs. I believe that it is better to ask a question and stay on the same topic for an hour of class, because that topic is worth spending the time on. I also believe that in school, and especially in the male dominated academia known as seminary, it is important to ask questions as a female. It shows we are in the game. It shows that we aren’t just filling seats, and that we don’t deserve to be treated that way. I am sorry that you feel like I ask too many questions. I would say “I’ll stop,” but I don’t think I will ever will.

But the real issue I have is with the fact that you think my “aggressive-nature” has anything to do with the fact that I am single. Here’s the thing – you’re right. I will need a strong man. But I won’t measure his strength by his ability to stifle me, or put me in my place – but rather his ability to be a loving example of Christ to me and to the rest of the world in whatever way that looks. So. Yeah.

This rhetoric though, the verbalizing of your twisted thought that my ‘aggression’ (and I hate that word, so let’s just say ‘willingness to push back in a academic setting’ shall we?) is what is keeping me from finding a man, is so baffling to me. It’s like you’re telling me that you believe there is a type of girl that gets a man more easily than others, and that type of girl is the opposite of me. Quiet.

I don’t know if that’s true. I pray to God it’s not true. But, if it is then I am gonna be single for a LONG time because I am tenacious and curious and passionate about knowledge and outspoken about pretty much everything and I refuse to shut that off in hopes of landing a man. These are traits that I believe God has instilled in me, and while we can all be sanctified and continually made more and more like Christ – I don’t think these attributes are fundamentally wrong for me to possess as a woman.

Without getting too biblical and Corinthian/Timothy/Ephesians-y on you…I don’t think it’s true that I need to be quiet and take everything that a man says to be truth. I think it’s good too push back. Yes, very much so in academia, but also in the real world. If I get married, I will feel the same way in marriage. I will speak my mind. I will ask questions (without raising my hand!) and not always agree with my husband. But, like I said, a strong man, in my opinion, will see these things as a blessing and also as my contribution to the partnership we call marriage.

So, it’s not OK that you were gossiping about me, but that’s of secondary concern for me. I hope that you never share the sentiments you have about outspoken/’aggressive’ women with women in your life that you actually do life with. They would be so, so hurt. And I would hate that. I think you would too.

To end, sorry for asking so many questions in class. But hey, rest easy. Because, if I am never going to land a man, that leaves one more guy to be won over by your gentle and lady-like charm.

Sincerely (and SOOOOOOOOO aggressively),

Lauren

** I know: pot, kettle, black. Whatever. Shut up.