Precious Memories

As a kid, I used to love a good hurricane. In the 90s it seemed like Southeastern NC got a Category 2-4 every season. Hurricanes in my family meant securing our homes, and bunkering down with grandma and grandpa to ride out the storm. This meant; snacks whenever I wanted, no real bedtime (because the town shut down), spending all day every day (for 3-4 days) with my family, watching movies (assuming the power wasn’t out), playing upstairs in the attic (I realize how unsafe this is now), filling the tubs and sinks with water, and playing cards or board games with my family. If we were lucky enough for the power to go out (yes, I realize this is not a ‘lucky’ thing), then that meant stories with grandma and grandpa, listening to the hand crank radio for weather updates, moving food from the fridge to the cooler, building a fort in the living room to protect us (my grandpa can tie a mean knot), and singing hymns or quoting scripture with grandma. During the eye of the storm we were allowed to go play outside. Most of the time this included a video camera, and playing weather man/woman updating everyone on the storm. These are some of my favorite memories from being a kid. I used to hope and pray for a hurricane. I never wanted them to be scary, I just wanted an excuse to spend a few random days with my family.

Now, as an “adult” (I use that term loosely), I’m not so sure I care for hurricanes. My hip and knees have been hurting for over a week, thanks to the change in temperature and rain. I can’t sit, stand, or lay down comfortably for more than 10-15minutes. I know the damage that hurricanes can have, whether they make landfall or not. Sure, as a kid we lost shingles, and we replaced them with grandpa less than a week later. Trees went down sometimes, but people never got hurt. Places flooded, but homes and cars were never destroyed, and lives were never lost. I mean, they were, but my family protected me from that. I still look out the window every 10minutes like I did as a child. It’s still mostly from wonder and amazement, I have always found hurricanes and forces of nature fascinating, but on some level I check out the window or door from fear. Not necessarily from fear of the water levels rising too high, or from losing power, or something being ruined, although if this rain keeps up all of that is certainly an option. I think I just have more respect for the elements, and now I fully understand what they are capable of.

I miss the days of not being afraid of the elements, however grateful I am for my respect for them. I miss the days of feeling protected by my family when I was afraid of the thunderstorm from a hurricane. I miss grandpa telling me stories during howling winds, so that I wouldn’t be so afraid. I miss playing in the attic, and opening the window, and not realizing just how dangerous that is in a category 4 hurricane that has made landfall 15 minutes from your home. Maybe this is part of growing up. Making memories you want to hold on to so tightly for the days of being an adult. I’ve always said I never cared much for adulthood. I did childhood much better. But what I have learned in adulthood is how to be grateful. Grateful for the respect I have for nature, grateful for my family to give me memories that make me miss them and my childhood so much. Grateful for my safe home, and God’s provision in our lives so we have never had to worry about our home being destroyed by a flood.

Precious memories, how they linger
How they ever flood my soul.
In the stillness, of the midnight,
Precious, sacred scenes unfold.

-S

Beloved Community

Two posts in one night, so clearly you won’t hear from me again for months. This is the same as the last one, just a different topic. I could have combined the two, but that would have been incredibly long and you may not want to know what I think of both, so you want to skip one. This makes skipping easier, you’re welcome.

The second topic I am supposed to be commenting on is what do I think “Beloved Community” looks like.

The first thing I thought of when I saw this question was Baptist Student Union during my undergraduate career. There was and still is I would say, no where else I felt more safe and at home (then at home, of course, but I don’t think that counts). This was where I first really gave the notion of a call to ministry serious consideration. This is where I was mentored, and encouraged as I discerned that call. It was where I met some of my best friends. They were the people I shared my life with for three years. I transitioned with BSU as an individual and as part of the organization. I went through the growing pains of college as a student, and I went through the growing pains of a leader in a transitioning organization. They were there for me for the mountain tops and valleys, the late night cookout runs, and the early morning breakfasts. They were my support and stability in a time when life so easily becomes unstable. I can honestly say that without a few key people at BSU, I would not have stayed in college.

So after that, I again, went to the theme passage. Colossians 3:12, 14 (NRSV):
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience…14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

So what does this mean? This, like a lot of things in the Bible, reminds me of the greatest commandment. Love is the greatest commandment. It bears all, believes all, hopes all, and endures all. Without it, there is not much, if anything left. Same here. Without love, you cannot be compassionate, kind, humble, meek, or patient. It’s not possible. Without love, you cannot be genuinely concerned for another person. Without love, you cannot be kind and good. Without love you cannot be modest in your view of yourself. Without love you cannot be gentle. Without love you cannot tolerate a difference in someone or something else.

You also can’t learn and develop these traits on your own. You cannot love by yourself, not well. You cannot be compassionate without having someone to show compassion to. You cannot be patient, unless you have someone testing your patience.

So what does a beloved community look like to me?
A group of people, that not only gives you the opportunity to learn true compassion, kindness, and patience but also gives you the opportunity to make and watch love become an action.

So again, what do you think a beloved community looks like?

-S

Transformed into New Life

I meant to do this weeks ago… so obviously I started at the last second. Go figure.

This weekend I am going to a conference in which I will be helping with a video. In the video they want me to briefly say what I think the word “Transformation” means to me. So, I’ve been thinking about it, but for some reason I can’t think of what I think of the word. So naturally, I went to google. Google said transformation is “a complete or major change in someone’s or something’s appearance, form, etc…” Which, that makes sense. I can back that definition. But what does that mean to me?

So then I went to the theme verse for our conference. Romans 12:1-2 (NRSV):
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Right. obviously I can back that verse. But what does that mean to me? So then, I started thinking of transformations I had seen. The Biggest Loser transforms peoples bodies and lifestyles. Butterflies are transformed from caterpillars who crawl on their bellies to beautiful creatures who fly and would never dream of crawling on the ground.

So what do these things have in common? They are both losing or gaining something. They are both in essence, just as they were before. But there is a drastic difference in which they would never dream of going back to the way things were. The man or woman how loses hundreds of pounds on The Biggest Loser would never dream of going back to the unhealthy, potentially harmful life they once lived. They are still themselves, they are just different healthier. The butterfly is still a caterpillar in body, they are just capable of something they were never capable of before.

You and I as humans are just that-humans. From the day we are born until the day we die, we never stop being human. Humans were made by God, and for God. When we know who Christ, we are still humans – made by God, for God. But we are a different human. Not better, but different. We are forever changed. To truly be transformed means never going back to where you were. Transformation is the process of making a permanent, complete change.

The butterfly remembers being a caterpillar, but it would never dream or desire to become a caterpillar again. The weight loss champion remembers being extremely overweight, but they would never desire to be that unhealthy again. By allowing our minds, bodies, souls, and hearts to be transformed by the Word of God, we are allowing ourselves to do things we were never capable of doing before.

So what does Transformation mean to me?
By being transformed we are allowing ourselves to become someone and do something we would previously never have been able to do. We are remaining ourselves, but allowing God to completely and permanently change us for the better.

What are your thoughts on the word Transformation?

-S

Change is Scary

I have a feeling 2015 is going to be an interesting year. I could be wrong, I think I’d like to be wrong, but I’m not sure that I am. For some reason I feel like this is the last year that my life could look as it has (more or less) for the past 24 years. I don’t know how I feel about that. This Christmas has probably been one of the best, and my family always has a good Christmas. Donald graduated from UNCW, I got to see lots of friends, and spend a lot of time with my family. I finally got to give Donald his Wicked tickets for the end of January (a secret I have been keeping since September), and we surprised mom with an iPad for Christmas (something she’s really wanted). It almost felt too good to be true. I felt the need to really be present more because everything could change at a moment. Like this time next year my entire world could be very different. Even Donald said a few times how this Christmas could be our last one like this. How we may not have many more opportunities for the 3 of us to be together. I’m in a fairly serious relationship (not that either of us are planning anything for anytime soon, calm yourselves people. We have to finish school), and Donald is at a point that at any point he could be in a serious relationship.

The more I think, the more I don’t want things to change. Anyone who knows me, knows I don’t handle change well at all. Over the years, I think I’ve become very flexible, and within reason I think I still am. But for some reason, I am terrified to think that my life could change entirely over the next year. Maybe with Donald’s graduation, me being in my first real serious relationship (particularly in which everyone likes the guy), and it being Christmas we were all in a different state of mind. I remember thinking after my grandma died, that life and Christmas would never be the same again. And it was very different, and it was really hard, and I was terrified; but it wasn’t bad. We were all emotional and reminiscent of her, but we still made the best of it. Over the past week mom talked about the first Christmas after Daddy died, and how she was afraid that we wouldn’t make it through Christmas, and not knowing what to do. But we did, and I bet that was a hard Christmas for her, but we made the best of it, and I bet it was good. Different yes, hard absolutely, but good.

I think tonight made it the absolute worst. I went to see my grandpa for a few minutes tonight since I won’t be able to see him before I leave tomorrow. One of the caregivers walked in the living room where we were, and jokingly asked grandpa to tell me who I was. He looked at me and laughed, kind of mumbled for a second, and the caregiver asked again. He laughed, and said “I don’t know.” And mom and I laughed, because otherwise I would have burst into tears. Mom told him he did know me, and she said “That’s Stephanie Diane, better known as your princess” and he laughed and said “yeah she is.” and we all laughed, but inside I felt like I was going to be sick. I know my grandpa knows who I am, because he smiles and laughs, and carries on, when I’m there. He knows I’m his granddaughter, but he can’t remember my name. It never occurred to me that grandpa’s Alzheimer’s would take away my name from his memory. In 24 years, it never occurred to me that he wouldn’t know my name. And he knows who I am, so it could be worse, but still. What will I do next Christmas if he doesn’t remember me? I thought it was bad the day he didn’t tell me to “don’t take any wooden nickels” and to “keep it [the car] between the ditches” when I left and headed back to school. But to not remember my name? I’m trying to rationalise it; maybe he was tired, or he had been out riding around in the car too long, or maybe he was trying to be funny. But I don’t think so.

Tonight particularly, made me really not want to leave home. I don’t want anything to change, I don’t want grandpa to keep changing, I don’t want my family to keep going on with their lives without me. On a very rational level, I know this is all an over reaction. Holidays are sentimental, reflective, emotional, and all of that, but right now the potential for change just seems to be too much. And I don’t really know how to prepare for it. Normally, when change is coming, I know how to prepare for it. This change, this is a different kind of change. This is a potential for drastic change, that I have very little control over, will likely have very little warning of it’s coming, and it is such new change that I don’t know how to prepare or move with it.

So I guess, in a nutshell what I’m trying to say is I’m scared terrified petrified of what the future holds because I can’t plan for it. That’s a normal fear for a 24 year old, right? Someone please say yes.

I don’t like change. I don’t like the unknown. I don’t like not being prepared for change. So please, 2015, be kind to me.

-S

What to Expect When You Get Your Nails Done

Today, I decided to go get my nails done. There are a few events coming up in the next few days that require “professional” attire. My normal raggedy nails will not suffice, so I decided rather than painting them myself, I would get the shellac polish at the nail place. As I was sitting in the pedicure chair, I could over hear the lady next to me talking. Mind you, they sat us right on top of each other (and we were the only 2 in there), and I wasn’t eavesdropping, I could just simply hear. I wasn’t sure why, but she kept talking about her and her husband were going to look at burial plots, and she didn’t want anyone else coming with her. That only struck me as a little odd, but not really. I have burial plots ready to go thanks to my grandfather, so I thought the conversation was odd placed. She seems in good enough spirits, maybe a little tired at the end of a long day, but happy enough. So, just a weird place to have that conversation, but not the conversation itself.

When she got off the phone we started to chat. Small talk really, which is not my most favourite thing on the planet. It’s awkward, and if it’s not awkward on it’s own I make it that way real quick. But she was nice enough, so I played along. Talking about different places in North Carolina we had lived, if I was in school and what I was studying, etc… The little things. Finally, this was our conversation:

Lady: We just recently had our first son. (Pause)

Me: Oh wow, Congratulations!

Lady: Thank you. He died two days ago.

Me: ….

Lady: (awkward polite laugh thing) Please don’t say your sorry.

Me: Oh… That sucks…

Lady: Yeah. His funeral is on Saturday, so…burial plots.

Me: Wow. Yeah. You said son? What is his name?

Lady: (Tells me his name)

Me: Oh wow, I love that name.

The conversation continues to some things regarding this, and moments later she gets up to leave and says “Good luck with the rest of school.” To which I reply “Thank you. Good luck Saturday.”

And with that she left. And I will probably never see her again. But in that moment, my heart broke for a complete stranger, which rarely ever happens. My heart frequently goes out to strangers, but rarely does it break. I can look at the suffering of a fellow person and think “wow, that must be rough” and not give it a second thought. That may seem heartless, but if anything it’s a protection for me. If I allowed myself to dwell on the suffering of humanity, I’d probably stay in a puddle in my apartment and never leave. So I compartmentalise. I put things in my mind where they belong. The above story did not belong in a nail salon, it belongs in a case study in class, or in the hospital with a chaplain. Not where we were supposed to be relaxing. I didn’t know what to do with this conversation, and I still don’t. I don’t know that I ever will.

What I do know about this is that what happened to this woman and her family is not fair. I am fully aware that life is not fair and nobody ever said it would be. But there’s “Life’s not fair” and then there’s this. No parent should bury their child. That’s just too much to handle. I can’t even begin to pretend like I could ever imagine that feeling. What I also know is that had she not told me what was going on, I would have never known. She was able to laugh, and carry on a normal conversation in the midst of her grief. Granted, I don’t know where in the grief cycle she was, but I can’t imagine being capable of anything after something like that. It is completely normal to not function after something like that, and it is okay. But she was functioning, and functioning well all things consider. How strong of a person do you have to be, to be capable of that. And I don’t know her religious affiliation by any means, but the only thing I could think the rest of the afternoon was “I bet Jeremiah’s feelings were almost, kind of comparable to this woman.”

In Lamentations 3 (also my favourite bible verse) Jeremiah has watched the destruction of his city and his home. Which, in my opinion is a little more than just “unfair.” In verses 22-24 and again from 31-33, Jeremiah recalls the goodness of the Lord, and that is what helps to see him through. I have claimed multiple times that I felt like my world was coming apart and crashing down, but compared to this woman it really never has. Compared to Jeremiah’s situation in Lamentations, my life has been a cake walk. So how could this woman even think to laugh, or carry on a conversation with a stranger? Does she know the steadfast love of Jesus? Does she know it is good to sit and wait for the Lord? Does she know that the Lord is her portion? I pray she does. That is the only way I could see getting through what has happened.

What I do know, is that I need to be more open and more aware of my surroundings and be willing to let my compartments bleed together. This wasn’t some case study I had to analyse in Pastoral Care. A case study I could remind myself is fake and put it away without a feeling. This was a human life, this was real. This was not a situation I was going to read in a case study group and have help in knowing what to say when. This was real and it happened with a human being.

What I was reminded of today. Was the grace and compassion of God. I was reminded today that even when I think something is completely unfair, and makes no sense, and don’t understand, God does. I can’t imagine the woman I met today doesn’t know the love of Jesus. To experience the loss of a child is more pain that I would ever wish to bear or ever want anyone to bear. But to handle it in a manner that you can speak it, and not fall apart? That takes knowing you are being held by the creator of the universe. That takes knowing that even in the midst of a tragedy greater than words, that the “Lord will have compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict of grieve anyone (Lamentations 3:32-33).”

I am still trying to wrap my mind around what happened today. I will probably be attempting this for days. But as I leave, I want to encourage you to read Lamentations 3. It may sound crazy, but if Jeremiah can hold to it when his city is burning and crashing down around him, then why can’t we in the middle of our circumstances.

My heart breaks for this woman and her family. For all of those experiencing such a tragedy, I hope they find peace, rest, and any joy they can. I pray that they remember the one who set the world in motion, envelopes them in his love and grace. I pray that if they do not know the comforting love of the Saviour, that they are given the opportunity to know it in a very real and tangible way.

-S

Dear Freshman,

Welcome to your first year of college! Welcome to your new school, new chapter of your life, and your new home. You have been here several days now, and today marks the first day of your college career. Many of you are on your way to becoming doctors, lawyers, ministers, teachers, entrepreneurs, sales executives, and so much more. As a second year masters student, I constantly see undergraduate students milling about on campus, and often times over hear their conversations. The first day of school is my favorite because the conversations are more priceless now, than they will ever be. I also love scoping out the social media scene and seeing all the “back to school” tweets, status’, and instagrams followed by #InsertUniversity18 It really makes my day (so keep them coming!) But, while I love overhearing the “I got lost” or “My professor is SO weird!” Conversations, what I want to remind you of, and hope you take to heart, are just a few things I wish some one would have told me, and I would’ve taken to heart. Remember these are in no particular order, but they will save you a lot of time, effort, and grief… and maybe a GPA or two!

Study Hard, Study Often, Study Well
I know everyone reading this knows to study, but often times I wonder how well we know to study. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing my first year of college. My GPA, unfortunately, reflects that lack of knowledge. It took me until my senior year of college to learn how to study. Studying is more than reviewing your notes quickly before an exam. There are hundreds, and I mean hundreds of places to find study tips. If you think you’re already good at studying, test your methods against other peers, or study tips. Your future self will thank you when it comes time to look at graduate schools, potential internships, and maybe even jobs.

Put Down the Phone, and Pay Attention
This goes for in the classroom as well as outside the classroom. Your professors are not stupid, they know when you are on your phone. And they judge you hard for it and will remember it when grades are due and you are sitting between an A and B. Harsh as it may sound, but if you sit on your phone all class every class, do not expect a professor to show mercy and give you that A. Fully expect that B. You miss so much material, especially in your upper level courses, when you are head down on social media/texting. I was completely guilty of it as an undergraduate student and I completely regret it. In terms of outside of the classroom, do you know how much you miss when you are walking through campus on your cell phone? A lot. But you wouldn’t know that because you’re living vicariously through your smart phone. Put it down, look around, and take it in. You’re only here 4 years (or 5 for you victory lap folks) and when it’s your last year on campus you’re going to wish you had experienced more than your phone screen had to offer.

Get to Know Your Professors
I think everyone at some point believes the stereotype that professors are “super nerds” who have no life and all they do is teach, grade papers, and come up with new ways to make your life miserable. For almost every professors I have ever known, that is the exact opposite of the case. I have had professors who are firefighters, who have a working knowledge of every county in the state, who have traveled the world, who compete in marathons, who have had some pretty cool jobs pre-teaching days, who know multiple languages, who have done and seen more than I will ever hope to do. Yet they still find time to be huge sports fan, go to every event on campus, have great families, and still have time to answer hundreds of e-mails from panicky students. They genuinely want to help you and see you succeed.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
This is similar to the one above, but I cannot stress this enough. Your professors are not terrible people who want you to fail. They want you to do well, if you do well and go on to bigger and better things, then they can brag to their colleagues “Yeah, I know that kid, they’re fantastic!” If you don’t ask for help, they won’t know you’re struggling. If they don’t know you’re struggling, they can’t find new ways to teach the information. That’s how professors often times get “stale” in their teaching. Because they assume it works, when in reality, they may be needing to explain something in more details or in a different way. We all learn differently, and that’s okay. It’s important to find out how you learn and then work with your professors to learn the best you can.

Get Off Your Bed, Out of Your Comfort Zone, and Make New Friends
This is me telling you something I wish I would still do. I am a fairly introverted person so the idea of meeting new people and attempting to make friends is just exhausting. Had it not been for 1 or 2 key people during my first few weeks of undergrad. I would not have made any new friends and I am willing to bet I would’ve moved home and transferred to another university. It’s scary enough to go off to school where you will know people, but it is even more scary to go off to a school where you know not one person, which is what I did. If you never get off your bed and get out on campus, no matter where you go to school, you will be miserable. If you force yourself to walk out your door and just find what’s going on.This is probably the number 1 “easier said than done” I completely understand that. Please trust me when I say, you will be fine and you will make friends.

Don’t Go Home Every Weekend
I get it, when you go to a small school in the middle of nowhere, it is so easy to pack up the car and head home after class on Friday. Making in home in time for the football game Friday night, spending Saturday with family and friends, and coming back on Sunday is so easy, so familiar, and not nearly as scary as spending the weekend at school. Even in the middle of no where, there is always something going on. There are athletic events, movies on campus, geocaching, trips with the university, and so much more going on. Sometimes you have to get a little creative on quiet weekends but that is the opportune time to make friends and memories. Those are often times the stories you will be telling your friends back home when Thanksgiving/Christmas break roll around.

Enjoy the Next 4 Years… They Go by Too Quickly
I could throw in dozens of other tips for how to survive your freshman year. From being nice to your suitemates, to not eating the eggs in the dining hall, to wisely using your skips in class, to not living with your best friends. At the end of the day, your college experience is what you make it in its entirety. Not every second of college is going to be a movie preview. Sometimes you will feel like quitting, dropping out and starting a coffee shop (or a bar). Having survived 2 years at a community college, 3 years at a university, and starting my 2nd year of graduate school, believe me when I say; the friends, the connections, the lesson you learn, and the memories you make will last you a life time. Whoever said “high school is the best 4 years of your life” probably didn’t make the most of their college experience.

So for all the freshman out there, especially the baby camels: Welcome home. From those of us returning, to the ones who just got here. Welcome home!

-S

Why millennials are leaving the church

CNN Belief Blog

Opinion by  Rachel Held Evans , Special to CNN

(CNN) At 32, I barely qualify as a millennial.

I wrote my first essay with a pen and paper, but by the time I graduated from college, I owned a cell phone and used Google as a verb.

I still remember the home phone numbers of my old high school friends, but don’t ask me to recite my husband’s without checking my contacts first.

I own mix tapes that include selections from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but I’ve never planned a trip without Travelocity.

Despite having one foot in Generation X, I tend to identify most strongly with the attitudes and the ethos of the millennial generation, and because of this, I’m often asked to speak to my fellow evangelical leaders about why millennials are leaving the church.

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