Posted in Honesty

Back Home.

Church has always felt like home to me. Maybe it’s because I spent many mornings and evenings there as a child, running the halls and sitting in Sunday school and singing in front when I could. Maybe it’s because I had chapel multiple times a week for years at school, and there is something about sitting in a large room of people to sing and listen that is comfortable and routine for me. Or, maybe, it’s because, at the worst parts of my life, church was always there for me, and I came to lean on my faith as a support when I didn’t have much else to go on.

But, lately, the church has not felt like home. The past 9 months have been hard. Not the same kind of hard that knocked me on my back in high school and college, but an unsettling, keeps you up at night, funny feeling in my heart kind of way. There have been personal and professional challenges that I haven’t known what to do with, and I’ve felt lost. It’s the deepest feeling of confusion I can remember feeling – because I did not understand how I could be so sad and so torn when I was living out the calling that I knew God had placed on my life and my ministry. It’s hard to be confident in your faith and your work when nothing about it seems good, and when nothing about it feels anything like home.

And when the church stopped feeling like home, I stopped feeling like myself. I’ve been tired these past months – not the “I need more coffee, I didn’t sleep well” type of tired that becomes a norm for so many of us, but the kind of tired that sits somewhere between your head and your heart, taking minutes and bits of passion from things and reducing you to feeling “blah”. This type of tired is the hardest kind to shake – it’s the kind that stops you from reading, from writing, and from wanting to do really anything. It drains you in every way, and the long hiatus on this blog is proof of that.

But there has been a work happening in the past 9 months, one that I didn’t see but was in the little details and small moments. There were people who were slowly speaking life into me, reminding me of my calling and that the season I was in didn’t have to be my reality forever. There were moments where the love of my work was there, reminding me that kids are the purest and most joyful expression of faith that I will see this side of Heaven. And there were moments where I prayed, deep big scary wild prayers, and there were moments where I tried to pray and couldn’t. In all of these things, God was working, and I see that now.

I see it because I’m finally feeling like the church is home again. I’ve done my fair share of “soul searching” through the end of the summer and the start of this fall, trying to find the path that God was leading me on and figure out just where I was supposed to be. Through conversations and prayers filled with “I just don’t know what to do” and more tears than I care to admit, God lit a path with neon lights, showing me who I was and where I was going at the time that I needed it the most.

And now, church feels like home again. I’m happy to go to worship, to be a part of a body of believers, and to feel like myself again. I’m happy to create motions for Bible memory verses, to sing songs and laugh and dance and play with kids who show me what joy looks like each day. I’m happy to live into my calling with all of the gifts that God has given me for ministry, and I’m happy to be leading and learning and loving the people that God has called me to.

I’m happy to be home.

Posted in Honesty

Good Friday Mini-Sermon

Tonight, I had the opportunity to be one of three teachers at our church’s Good Friday service. Each one of us too a different piece of the story leading up to the crucifixion, from the Last Supper to the prayers in the Garden to the final words of Christ on the cross. My piece of the service was a five-ish minute telling of the story of the time in the Garden. I’ve copied the manuscript that I used below – enjoy!

As we reflect on the Last Supper, this important meal that Jesus shared with His disciples, we see glimpses of the tension in the story. We see that Jesus knows what is to come in the next days, and who will set those events into motion, but his disciples do not see it yet. The fully human and fully divine natures of Christ are coming to a head.

As they leave their meal together and travel to the Garden, can you feel the tension?

I imagine the disciples walking in groups, whispering to each other as they went, trying to decipher the words that Jesus had said – and where exactly their friend Judas has disappeared to. I imagine that Jesus walked just a bit ahead of them, overhearing the conversations behind Him but not chiming in. He knew what was to come, but He also knew that the people that He loved most did not and would not know in the same way.

Arriving in the Garden, Jesus asks three disciples – Peter, James, and John – to follow Him in, a bit further, to pray. These are the men who were the closest to Jesus, who were His best friends and close companions during His years of ministry. It makes sense that in this time of need, these were the men by Jesus’ side. Multiple times throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus retreat by himself to a quiet place to pray and be alone with His Father. However, this was not a normal evening, and Jesus does not fully retreat alone. Jesus shares with these three disciples that He is going to pray – and that He is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38).

This is not the type of bad day sorrow that can be quickly fixed, or even the kind of sorrow that feels better after conversation and prayer with friends or family. This type of sorrow is the kind that grabs a corner of your heart with a strength that catches you off guard, a sorrow that works its way into your thoughts and actions and prayers. In this moment, Jesus feels the weight of this sorrow and the tension that this night holds for Him. He goes a few feet further into the Garden from His disciples and falls down, flat on His face, and does the only thing that makes sense – He begins to talk to the Father in prayer. This is not a prayer that seeks comfort, or a prayer of thanksgiving, but a prayer that is filled to the brim with sadness and sorrow and longing.

Can you hear the desperation in these words? Jesus cries out saying “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus is begging for a change in plan, because He knows the pain that will come in the next days. Fro the first time He will be separated from His Father, placed into total darkness, opposite of everything that is divine in Him. Jesus is crying out – but yet, through the sorrow that fills ever fiber of His being, He ultimately relies on the will of His Father, no matter what that means for the days to come.

After praying these words, Jesus goes back tot he disciples – maybe to look for comfort, maybe to try and explain to them one more time what the coming days will look like, maybe to share one last parable with them – and He finds them asleep. This is the night that will change everything, and there they lay, eyes closed and oblivious to the pain that their Rabbi is feeling just a few feet away. Jesus wakes them, probably with a mix of anger and sadness, saying “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray that you do not fall into temptation!” (Matthew 26:40-41).

With these words Jesus urges them to pray as He is praying, and leaves once more to spend time with His Father. Jesus falls to His knees, face down before God, and begins to pray again. This time, though the sorrow is the same and Jesus feels it just as deeply as before, the words that come are different. Jesus prays “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” (Matthew 26:42)

Do you sense the change here? Instead of begging for a change in plan, Jesus acknowledges that there is no possible way to change the plan. This cup that leads to His death on the cross is the only way – and even in sorrow and pain, Jesus accepts it as the will of His Father, and He will do it.

Jesus prays these words a second time after once more finding the disciples asleep. Instead of waking them, Jesus simply returns to prayer. In this moment, in the midst of this night, prayer is the only place that He has to turn. And His prayer is overwhelming, one that holds love and sorrow in tension together – one that says, “I don’t want to do this, but if it’s the will of God, then I will.”

Shortly after this final prayer, Jesus wakes up the men that He loves, telling them to be alert because the hour of betrayal is coming. He has poured out His soul, His sorrow, and His desperation, and the beginning of the next chapter in the story has arrived.

In this moment, between the holy space of prayer and the dark place of betrayal, we can feel the tension in the final prayer of Christ:

Even though it is painful, may your will, Father, be done.

Posted in Anxiety Disorder, Faith, Honesty, Self-Care

Mountain Tops.

The image you see here is from one of my favorite places in the world – the peak of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park in Utah. I made the hike to this peak with my dad and a group of friends almost 5 years ago, and it is by far one of the most beautiful and most terrifying things I’ve ever done. My fear of heights has not gone away after this accomplishment like I expected them to – but still, it was an incredible moment that taught me the meaning of “living on the mountaintop”.

I’ve had many mountain top moments in my life, some that were literal like this one and some that were metaphorical in my life. Standing on stage exchanging wedding vows with Kelly, walking across the stage in Dimnet Chapel to receive my diploma from seminary, and preaching at Zion Reformed Church for the first time were some “mountain tops” that I will always remember as big, important moments in my life. Even though I was only on a stage that was a few feet off the ground, I felt like I was on top of the world.

I haven’t had one of these experiences in a while. In fact, I’ve been living in a bit of a valley, a low spot in my personal life and at work where I’ve felt tired and worn out, like a failure in my ministry and my marriage. I won’t go into many details, because it’s not necessary, but it’s been a rough month or so. Spiritually, I’ve been drained, because pouring out my heart in prayer and searching the Scriptures for answers didn’t seem to be accomplishing anything.

(Yes, you read that correctly – I am a pastor and I am saying that praying and reading my Bible didn’t help. At all. In fact, most of the time they made me more frustrated!)

However, in the past day or two, some things have started to turn about and the valleys have started to seem less low. Nothing is a simple fix, of course, but I’m now starting to see that there is a way out of valleys that I’ve been stuck in. Things are starting to change. Am I back on the mountain top? Absolutely not, but I think I’m heading in that direction.

Do I like being stuck in a valley, feeling like failure and burn out are my normal life? Absolutely not. I don’t know of anyone who does. But, what I’ve realized recently is that living my life on a mountaintop isn’t the way to do things, either. Mountaintops come with energy and excitement and success – but no one can stay there forever. There is always a time to come down from the mountaintop, whether it is a slow climb back to the bottom or a crashing, tumbling fall straight down. The fall hurts, but it also gives us something to work towards, the memory of the mountaintop that pushes us to dust ourselves off and climb back up, no matter how injured we are or how far away it might feel.The mountains around us inspire us, and keep us going.

Maybe you’re feeling like me today, as grey as the Michigan weather is outside, wondering where certain things went wrong and why you’re feeling how you’re feeling. Or, maybe you’re up on a mountain top, feeling energized and proud and also terrified of how high you are and what it might take to get back down. Or, maybe you’re somewhere in between, traveling up or down and feeling the sore muscles and tiredness that comes with travel.

Where ever you find yourself today, I want you to hear this: IT’S OKAY. It’s okay to love the mountaintops  and the rush that comes with them, and it’s okay to feel the frustration of the valleys that surround them and the pain that can come with looking up and wondering how you fell. It’s okay to be in the middle, working to travel from point A to point B and wondering if it will be worth it. Trust me – whatever spot you are in, it is worth it.

Because, mountaintops teach us to work hard, set goals, and never settle for the place we are in. The path up teaches us to keep striving for better places and to never stop working. The path down teaches us to slow our pace and to be thankful for where we have been and for the journey that it takes to get there and back. The valleys shape us, teaching us about ourselves, what we are called to, and to hold the memories of the view from the top in the same hand as we hold the pain of being at the bottom. We need all of these places to be human and to be whole – to live into the space that God has created us for.

I’m not sure where you are today. I’m not even sure where I am today – somewhere in the middle of all of this, I think. But I do know this – no matter where you are or where you’ve been, there is beauty in the place you are and something to be learned from it. And, like you can see in the picture below – there are pretty good views from the valley, too.


Posted in Honesty

I’m Thankful for my Anxiety.

No, you aren’t imagining things, and your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you!

The title on this one says it all. I’m thankful for my anxiety.

As I was sitting in my favorite coffee shop, making my weekly schedule and to-do list like I do every Monday morning, I ran across a quote that hit me straight in the heart.

“In order to love the person that you are, you cannot hate the experiences that have shaped you” — Andrea Dykstra

There are a lot of things in my life that I would not have chosen for myself. If I had a time machine like the characters in one of my favorite TV shows, I would forget about the big moments in history and go back to the ones that were important in my own life:

The first day in 8th grade when I felt like I had no friends.

A week later, when I thought hurting myself would help me feel better.

The days in 9th grade when I woke up and wished that I hadn’t.

The day in my sophomore year of college when I thought breaking up with my boyfriend was the right answer when it wasn’t.

I’m thankful that the boyfriend I said goodbye to didn’t actually leave me, and I now call him my husband. But, some of the other days still haunt me, and I don’t know if I’ve ever been thankful for them. I’ve often told the stories of those days (both here and in other venues), and it’s always with a hint of regret and sadness, or a matter-of-fact attitude of “that’s the past, I survived, let’s move on and talk about the present now.”

Isn’t that true for most of us? There are moments in our past that we all regret, that we would take back in a heart beat if it were up to us. That’s part of the nature of life, we ebb and flow and change over time so that the person we are hardly recognizes the person that we used to be. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing, but I also know that God didn’t create us to live in the past, caught up in the should have’s and would have’s and hindsight that haunts us. That’s not living, that’s remembering – and we weren’t created for it.

“The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it, or learn from it.” — The Lion King

As everyone’s favorite sage from the Lion King likes to remind us, the past does have power in our present day circumstances. The past does hurt, and I’ll be the first to admit that my scars and memories are often more hurtful than helpful. Those are the days when I close my eyes and wish desperately for a time machine to take me back and let me re-live some of the hardest moments of my life.

And yes, re-living them and doing things differently would let me re-do a lot of things that I regret and a lot of things that I label as low points in my life. But, changing those moments would also fundamentally change me – it would change how I live my life, how I react (or don’t) to certain things, how I love other people, how my relationship with God works, and really, just about everything about me. I’m not sure who I would be today.

I don’t think that I would really be me. Yes, I would be some version of me – my hair would probably be the same color and I’d still love basketball and football – but maybe not in the same way. Maybe I’d still be in ministry, but maybe not. And if the major pieces of my life were the same, I wouldn’t approach them the same way or do the same things that I do now. If my life would look differently, I would look differently.

To that end, I think I’m actually thankful for my anxiety. I’m thankful for the struggles that I had in middle and high school (and college too, if I’m honest) because they taught me to be the person that I am right now. I wouldn’t be typing these words (or any of my words) if I didn’t have a story to tell. I’m thankful that I made it through what I did, because I can help others because of it – or maybe in spite of it, I’m not sure.

I’m thankful because I pick up details in certain situations faster than most people, because I can read the mood and attitude of the person sitting next to me in a moment, and because I can find the quickest escape route no matter where I am. I’m thankful that I think through things the way that I do, and that I can help others in a unique way because when I say “I’ve been there”, it still feels like just yesterday that I was the one who needed help the most. I’m thankful that I know how to work and live and love through panic attacks and anxious days, and that my depression teaches me how to love the good days even more. I’m thankful for it because, like it or not, it’s made me who I am today, and I know it will continue to shape me in the future.

So, here’s to quotes that make you take a look inside yourself in a much needed way. And, here’s to being thankful for the hard parts of life, because they shape us into who we are created to be. It’s not easy, but it’s sure worth it, isn’t it?

Posted in Honesty

Burn Out.

Confession time: I burn myself out. Like a lot. And not like burn like on something hot; the burn out that comes with running too hard for too long and not stopping. The burn that comes with working too hard, letting my anxiety take over for too long, and neglecting the needs that I know I have under the surface in favor of other things.

This past week is a prime example of the ways that I burn myself. The week at work was busy and stressful and filled to overflowing with to-do lists and meetings, and every single night I found myself pulling up my email or making another list or note about the work that would not stop cycling through my head. I then spent my weekend with dear friends and family, which was all wonderful and much needed, but tiring. By the time I got home after running errands and picking up lunch after church this morning, I was exhausted in every sense of the word…with a full to-do list and lots of things to do that didn’t get done in the midst of doing everything else this week and weekend.

I realized while driving home that I was being ridiculous.

I was singing along to my favorite album (thanks, Ben Rector) and driving with my windows down (thanks, 60 degree weather!) and feeling like myself for the first time in days, when it hit me: why was it so important to get my to-do list done today? Was anything so important that I was ready to sacrifice time with my husband and time by myself to get it done? Why did I need to work so hard today?

The answer was one that was both known and surprising: I didn’t.

I didn’t need to do my whole list of things today. My clean clothes will be just as wrinkly in their basket if I put them away tomorrow instead of today. My VBS lessons will still be there to work on tomorrow and not today. My sanity, however, might not be. And so, I started to make a new to-do list in my head that consisted of two important things: spend time with Kelly and spend time by myself. These are the two things that recharge me the most that I spend almost zero time doing, and if I’m being honest, I hate it.

I drove home and had a wonderful lunch with Kell, and I swear that an Applebee’s burger has never tasted so good. Maybe it was because I was actually excited to enjoy it (instead of trying to eat fast and save time), or maybe it was the sunshine streaming through the open window in our kitchen. Then, I took a nap, with the sun on my face and fresh breezes coming in through the window – AND IT WAS THE MOST GLORIOUS THING.

I’m now sitting at Biggby coffee (another one of my favorite things), and I’ve gotten more done in the past 45 minutes than in the past four days combined. I think it’s because I actually paid attention to myself today, even for just a couple of hours, and I’m actually taking care of myself. Sometimes it’s just the little things, like good food and good people and time resting in the sun, that make the biggest difference – maybe that’s true for you, too.

Maybe you’ve been feeling the burn lately, too – and not in a good way. Maybe you are tired and worn out because the lists and the tasks and the day-to-day pressure is getting to you. When’s the last time you’ve thought about taking care of yourself? And when is the last time you’ve actually done something about it? I’ve found that our culture puts no effort into self-care, and when we do think about it, it’s something that is supposed to take last place to our family and friends and jobs and everything else.

So, today, in the midst of the sunniest February stretch that I can remember, I want to challenge you to take care of yourself. It doesn’t have to be big – take a walk in the sun, open a window, crank up your favorite song, or take 30 minutes to sit with family and friends and just breathe. No matter how busy you are today or what your week looks like, I promise it will help, no matter how much time you have. Don’t run yourself so hard that you have nothing left to give before you even get started!

Posted in Honesty

Don’t Just Use the Mop.

Two weeks ago, I was able to spend time with my favorite community of people at the Children’s Pastors Conference (CPC), put on by the International Children’s Ministry Network (INCM). Three people from my team were able to attend the conference this year, and it’s safe to say that all of us came away with an overwhelming positive experience. I’ll probably be writing about the conference for weeks because I am still processing the amount of speakers that I heard, both in small break-out sessions or in general sessions with 1800 people. It was truly the “drinking from the fire hydrant” experience, but I am so grateful for every minute that my team and I spent learning and connecting.

One of my favorite moments of the entire week was during our first general session, the first time that all of us gathered in one room for a time of worship and learning. Our speaker was Albert Tate, who is a pastor in Southern California, and he brought us a powerful story to us that has stuck in my mind since that Tuesday night. This story was a look into the world of mental institutions, and some of the tests that used to be used to see if a patient was fit for release or not. How the test was run is that the patient would be placed in a room (think janitor’s closet or something similar) with a sink, and the doctor or nurse would plug the sink so it would begin to fill with water. They would give the patient a mop, close the door, and come back in 10-15 minutes to see what had happened. The test was run to see if the patient had used the mop and was working to clean up the water that had spilled on to the floor, or if they had simply turned off the water to stop the flow all together and prevent anything from spilling on the floor.

The point of the story here is that, in ministry, we often fail to identify the root of an issue, and instead use our time and resources and gifts to “mop up” the result of the issue. Or, we take the “band-aid” approach to our questions and issues, looking for the quick fix to clean up instead of looking for the actual problem. Sometimes, in children’s ministries, we give kids the “Sunday School answer” to their questions, without really looking at where their questions are coming from. We help them to learn songs about the order of the books of the Bible instead of helping them understand what is included in its pages.

Sometimes, as humans, we spend all of our time putting the band-aids on our wounds that we forget to look at why we keep getting hurt in the first place. I’m just as guilty of this as the next person, which is why this story was so powerful to me. I am no stranger to having issues and struggles in my life, but often times, I turn to a band-aid or a mop to clean up my mess instead of looking at where the mess came from in the first place. Realizing this came as a “slap in the face” moment to me, because it was exactly what I needed to hear in that chair in the midst of the crowd that night.

In the weeks since the conference (I’m still having Orlando withdraws!) I’ve tried to live out the lessons that this story taught me. When different situations arise, whether at home or in my personal life or at work, I try to recognize when my first instinct is to grab a mop or a band-aid and clean something up and cover it so I can move on. Instead of doing that, I try to see where the problem is starting. Whether it’s from me or from someone/somewhere else, this is super helpful. Especially on days where my anxiety is bad and everything feels overwhelming, it’s nice to know that I can do something more that just do quick clean ups here and there. I can prevent the “catch up” game by finding the source of the problem and going there, instead of spending time trying to clean up something that (more often than not) is preventable.

So, that’s what is on my mind today. I hope this story impacts you in some way like it did for me. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll start looking for ways to turn off the sink before you dive in to just mopping up the water. Don’t just use the mop.

Posted in Honesty

God’s Plans are always Greater.

This weekend, I went home.

Not my actual home in Holland, or my parent’s home in Jenison, but to Camp Geneva, the place where I spent weeks each summer as a child and three summers straight as a college student. For the past three summers, I’ve returned as either a chaplain or a volunteer (or both!), and it continues to be one of my favorite places. This weekend, I was the chaplain for Winter Camp, a short 36-hour jammed packed retreat with 4th-6th grade students. It was a wonderful whirlwind, and I came away with great memories and lessons learned.

During the last talk that I gave on Sunday morning, I was speaking to the kids on adventure, and how a life with Christ can always be an adventure even when it doesn’t seem like it. I shared that you don’t need to be famous or travel far away to do something unknown or exciting, and that we can have plenty of adventures here in the places that God has created us for. I shared how my first summer as a staff member at Geneva in 2009 was an exciting time for me, but before I went for orientation, I had a panic attack that I wouldn’t know anyone there, and that I was actually going to go live away from home for 3 months, the longest I had ever lived anywhere but with my parents. If you know me well, you’ll know that the summer 0f 2009 was one of the best I’ve ever had, and it changed my life for the better in so many ways. I also shared how seminary, the hardest three years of my life and some of the most stressful times I’ve ever had, was something that I did not want to do but felt called to over and over and over again, and that my fear of public speaking is now being used by God to talk to countless kids and adults each week.

As I was sharing these two stories, a little girl in a pink and black sweatshirt raised her hands from the front row. I had been answering questions through out my other talks, so when I finished the point I was making, I called on her. She did not ask a question, or make a random comment, but instead said something so simple and powerful:

“So, it was almost like God took all of the plans that you had and changed them into better plans that He had for you instead!”

It took a lot for me to keep talking after that, because I was so blown away by the wisdom of this little one to see straight through my stories and into the heart of the matter. I had great plans for myself – working at camp, being a psychologist, working in clinical studies and someday being a doctor – but those have all changed. Yes, I did work at camp, but nearly for as long as I wanted or in the roles that I thought I wanted. Yes, I majored in Psychology, but found my true love in religion classes and seminary. No, I’m not a doctor, and I’m a pastor (and writer and public speaker and counselor), which is the farthest from anything I ever dreamed of for myself.

Looking back, I can see God’s fingerprints in all of these things. No, my time at camp in college was not exactly what I thought it would be, but it helped me to find my love for younger kids and my trust in God’s plans being different than my own. No, college did not go how I planned, but I found two fields of study that I loved and met my husband and many dear friends. No, seminary was never in the plan, but the struggle through it helped me find a love for the Bible and for writing. And no, being a children’s pastor was never in the plans, but man am I good at my job, and I love it more than I ever thought I would.

So yes, as it took a little girl in a pink sweatshirt to remind me of, God did take all of my plans and change them into something better. Yes, He did have this path mapped out for me, and I’m sure there were good laughs along the way when I tried to do things myself and ended up in the exact spot that I was supposed to be in the whole time. And sometimes, in the time of year when I need little pick-me-up’s the most, retreats come along that give me time to rest and read in my favorite place and talk about the verse that I didn’t know I even needed, Exodus 9:16 – “But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” This purpose is the greatest plan that I could ever hope to live in to, whether I know it or not (and whether I like the path it takes to get there or not!)

I hope something comes along for you, dear reader, that reminds you of your purpose here. That reminds you that you are how you are, where you are, for a very very good purpose that God has for you. That someone or something stops you in your tracks and reminds you that there is a plan, and that the God who wrote them has one just for you. And even if it’s different from ours, and contains the unknown and the exciting, it is a far better adventure than we could ever write for ourselves.