Saturday, September 13, 2014

when being extraordinary looks ordinary...

I want to be radical.
Even at a young age, I would read and watch stories of people like Mother Teresa, Shane Claiborne, Todd White, C.S. Lewis, David Platt, Steffany Gretzinger, Francis Chan, Katie Davis, Heidi Baker, etc., and I would be so incredibly inspired.

I wanted to be radical. I wanted to be like them. I wanted to start ministries, see people resurrected from the dead, minister and watch God heal physical wounds, speak & change hearts, see revival. I wanted to sell it all & move to Africa to be an on-fire, sold-out, radical, twenty-something, Jesus-loving minister of the gospel who had nothing to lose and everything to gain.
And I still do. I still want to be a radical, sold-out, Jesus-loving minister of the gospel, but boy does it look so different than I thought it ever would.

Three years ago, I would have never imagined that I would still be in Midwest America at a small, conservative Christian college. Yet here I am, pursuing my third year of nursing school, taking care of a beautiful woman with Multiple Sclerosis, leading a floor of women towards Christ, teaching little kids not to hit & scream at me, and leading a group called Global Vision.

Not quite the radical life I thought I'd be leading, but it's funny how much God can change your heart & open your eyes to the life that is right in front of you.

It's funny how, all of a sudden, you're listening to a person's heartbeat through your stethoscope during clinical and you realize you are learning to be a healer like your Father; not just a healer of the physical body, but of the heart & soul- of the deeper, untouched hurts and pains, the insecurities, misgivings, and spiritual afflictions.

It's funny how, all of sudden, you're deciding how to approach a disciplinary situation on your floor & you find yourself pouring words of love and encouragement over the offender, rather than shame & rebuke because you've learned to be an encourager & constant friend.

It's funny how, all of a sudden, you're seeing brokenness and heartbreak & you find yourself on your knees in empathy and seeking to restore, because God has increased your capacity to love with greater depth and fullness.

It's funny how, all of a sudden, your nephew is about to turn one & you haven't seen him in two months & your heart still hurts and desperately longs for closeness, but your soul is at peace because you have found your strength & you have learned so much about being present in the season that God has you in.

It's funny how God feels closer because you've established your relationship with him in the secret place.

It's funny how your long-lost dreams are starting to flood your mind in a new and more powerful way because you have learned to lay them at the cross & allow them to be changed, taken away, or sacrificed for something greater.

It's funny how, when you stop looking for the extraordinary life that you want to live, and start drawing close to the Lord's heart, you find yourself living the ordinarily radical life you always dreamed about.

God is faithful, friends.
He knows us so well & he desires to see our dreams fulfilled, but sometimes he knows us better than we know ourselves & we have to step in to plans that seem crazy and so not in line with our dreams.

So if you're dreaming of something more, of something deeper, of something more radical, may I encourage you with these simple words: don't lose hope. Keep going.

He knows what he is doing & he hasn't lost sight of you.
He is working on you & paving a way for beautiful things to come about in and through you. It may look ordinary now, but you'll soon get a little ways down the road & all of a sudden you'll have some perspective and realize that there is no such thing as ordinary with God; he only does extraordinary & you are no exception. 

He is doing what he promised in and for you, this I can guarantee.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

wholly single...

Small town, Midwest America is a beautiful place, quite possibly one of my favorite places in the entire world simply because it is home.

In this small corner of the world, corn fields abound;
people wave to just about anyone, whether they know them or not...but chances are good they know them, since everyone knows everyone;
your road companion is often times an Amish buggy;
your graduating class is small enough that you usually know and have talked to everyone;
about 90% of the population would identify themselves as Christian or religious;
a Friday night's entertainment usually consists of a high-school basketball game, a bonfire, or hitting up the local theater, Wal-Mart, or hang out spot;
and, typically, by 22, 23, or 24 you are married, engaged, or pretty darn close.

All is blissful and well...but that last part (the marriage part) has started to rub me the wrong way recently, not because I think getting married young is bad, but because it has become a standard of living that ostracizes the singles into a category that portrays them as the leftovers, the unwanted, or the defective.

Especially at a small, Christian college in this Midwest oasis the pressure to find Mr. or Mrs. Right before you graduate is intensely high. I feel like I'm constantly fielding questions from genuinely good-natured and well-intentioned people about if I'm seeing anyone and why I don't date more.
As I give a half-hearted response of, "Oh, well, we'll just have to wait and see...", I usually get a slew of semi-encouraging responses that range from, "It's really just a blessing that you can focus on God and school without any distractions," to "Mr. Right will be here before you know it. One day it's just going to hit you out of the blue."

Don't get me wrong, I SO appreciate that I have so many friends and family that care about me, encourage me, and want to see me happy.
But, I think the problem lies right there: they assume that being single equates to being unhappy or searching for more. The slightly pitying tone in which people respond when you tell them you're not seeing anyone instills a lie in people that says: I'm so sorry. You must think you're doing something wrong. You must hate your life. You must want so desperately to be with someone, anyone!! 
And eventually, singles will begin to believe that they are, in fact, defective, doing something wrong, or deserving of others pity. But, that. is. just. not. true!

God made you. He hardwired you. He knows you to the very core of your existence and he has a unique and individual plan for you and I'd wager to say that He doesn't want you (or any of us!) to settle for anything less just because we feel like the world (that means you, pestering sisters, married friends, pushy mothers, nosy aunts, etc..) expects things to happen a certain way.

Side note to put everyone's mind at ease:
Do I want get married someday?
Yea, probably!
Am I opposed to people getting married in their early twenties?
No, no, no!! Almost every member of my family has married before turning 23. There's nothing wrong with it!

What I do oppose is the intense and ridiculous pressure to find one's soulmate before a certain deadline (i.e. your college graduation, your little sibling's wedding, your mother's death, etc...)
Being single does not equate to being less whole or desirable than the dating or married woman.

So, be single.
You're not unwanted or pitiable. You're not any less attractive or admirable.
You have things to conquer & learn, so get to it and stop waiting for Mr. Right to come along so you can do those things.

And gosh darn it, be selective.
Don't settle for just any old guy off the street who treats you "alright".

If a guy asks you out, it's okay to say no!
There will be more fish in the sea, girl.

A few months back my dad wanted to see me, so he offered to pay for my gas to come home.
I earnestly obliged.
He's a Jr. & Sr. high principal, so his Friday night consisted of supervising and supporting the bulldogs in their home basketball game. Often, if I'm home, he'll ask me to join him to keep him company, and this weekend was no different.
So, off we went to the game.
He dropped me off at the door before he parked because it was raining and he didn't want me to get wet.
He paid for me to get in to the game, and then we stood together in our little corner of the gymnasium as the game unfolded.
The team's water jugs leaked on the floor in front of us, and rather than finding the custodial staff to clean it up, he looked around for some rags, got down on his hands and knees, and cleaned it up himself.
After the game, he readily began helping to clean the gymnasium and put away the water jugs, chairs, etc...
He's a principal. That's not his job description.
But he's humble.
He's a servant
And he genuinely cares for the people who serve that school.

He takes criticism, complaints, and pay cuts, yet he continues to commit himself diligently in ways far beyond his job description... kind of like how Christ continually commits himself to us, His children, beyond all contracts, job titles, or preconceived notions.

As Freudian as this might sound, might I suggest: look for a man like that.
A man that pays for you, sits with you, reflects Christ with and to you.
A man that is humble and kind.
A man who goes above and beyond.
A man who puts his phone away and pays attention to you.
A man who looks you in the eye & truly listens to your heart.
A man that sings with you and laughs with you.
A man that is there in the good and the oh-so-ugly.
A man that knows, encourages, and is willing to deny himself to see your desires and dreams fulfilled.
A man that worships with his words, his thoughts, his actions, and his life.
Look for a man that knows the God of love, so that he can reflect that love to you and others.

And if you have to wait....then, WAIT.

You are no less of a person, no less desirable, no less whole, no less functional, no less capable because of it.

"The woman who is content with where God has her in life, who is content in her singleness, is not vulnerable to the emotional persuasion of foolish men who wander through her life. But the woman who doesn't trust God's goodness, who doesn't wait on God's timing, or is controlled by the feeling of incompleteness without a man in her life- that woman ignores red flags, lowers her standards, justifies a lack of godliness, and in the end gets hurt by the very man she wanted to love."

Saturday, May 3, 2014

sweet grace...

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. 

That saved a wretch like me


Spring appeared to bid us farewell as we packed up the bus and prepared to take off.
The last of the girls trickled onto the bus and took their seats.
For six long months I had kept our location a secret, and for all six months the team had been pushing me to spill the beans.

Some people might voluntarily sign up to spend their spring break doing disaster relief work.
But, few would put all their control aside to sign up, and raise money for a mystery trip in which they don't know any other details.
No location, no weather forecasts, no schedule, no expectations.
Just a packing list and a promise for the trip to be focused on service and spiritual retreat.

And, yet, amidst the odds, the bus was now packed with thirteen women-all tattered and worn from a stressful midterm week combined with preparing for a trip to who-knows-where.
Thirteen women who looked like they needed a break, not a a week of service.
But here we all were, an unlikely bunch, ready to serve.

Thank God we were going to Florida.

I once was lost, but now I'm found.

Was blind, but now I see.


I didn't know what to expect.

I had never gone on a trip with a group of girls (much less led one!).
How did I get this job?
I had never been on a service trip...
Honestly....I felt like I had never really done that much "service" to begin with. 
I had never been to Florida.
Too cliche. My family had always preferred the more obscure, hipster vacation spots like Fayetteville, Arkansas. No joke. That was our spring break one year.  
I had never seen disaster situations.
Michigan's worst disaster was usually a major weather swing, some intense humidity, or maybe some heavy snow. Although one time, I distinctly remember feeling a small earthquake before school one morning. 

What had we all gotten ourselves in to?

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear

and grace my fears relieved 

How precious did that grace appear, 

the hour I first believed. 


Thankfully, Jesus is so good to us even when we are miserably unqualified.

What I lacked in ability and experience, I made up for in prayer. 
Not by my power, but by yours, Father....

There are few words I can think of that would accurately express how beautiful our trip was.
We served and we learned.
We gave and were given to.
We fixed and we messed up...and we fixed again.
We loved and were loved.
We worked hard and we breathed in the beautiful breath of rest.
We read, we watched, we spoke, we listened.
We waited on God, and it. was. wonderful.

But, the funny thing is: even in the beauty of it all, there are still struggles. There are still frustrations. Things are never perfect, never quite what you want or expect.

People are messy and complicated.
Sometimes they talk too much, or not at all.
Sometimes they're grumpy and they are demanding.
People are weird and say stupid things.
They can be annoying.
They complain and sometimes aren't flexible.
They fall short.

And sometimes, especially as an introverted, extroverted-wanna-be, I just get tired of people.
*gasp* did she really just say that? How rude..
It's true. As much as I'd like to be the loving saint that never gets worn out or tired, I. Am. Not.
Throughout the trip I found myself constantly wanting to fix all the little imperfections in the people around me- the ones we worked for, with, and alongside.

On one of the first days of our trip, Holy Spirit gently reminded me of a sermon from one of the most wise and profound pastors I have ever heard, Kris Vallotton.
It's about grace. 

Essentially he said something to the effect of this: as soon as I make a choice to do something I didn't think I could do, like loving someone I thought I couldn't love, grace comes in and makes it possible.

So, for the rest of the trip I had it in my mind that if I loved people the way they were, then God's sweet grace would become apparent to them and they would slowly begin to change, and it would be easier for me to love them. 
Seriously, that was my original take away from that. Who thinks that way?!

It wasn't until our trip home that God whacked me square in the face with the reality of that message. He is so good at gently humbling me and bringing me back to Him.

God's grace is for me. 

I am the wretch.

I am the one who can't fully love.
I am the one who holds unforgiveness and bitterness in my heart.
I am the one who is internally griping and complaining.
I am the one who is grumpy, messy and complicated.
I am the one in need of sweet grace...

They may in fact need God's grace to enable them to climb out of sin, but it is me who needs the grace of God in order to love them right where they are, mess and all, just like Jesus did.

And God's grace is enough for that.
Every last bit of it.

Sweet grace, how you've wrecked me....

My chains are gone

I've been set free

My God, my Savior has ransomed me

and like a flood, His mercy reigns

unending love, amazing grace...


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Chicken Bones….

I've got this really cute puppy- (for reference on her cuteness see pictures…you'll realize I'm not exaggerating.) 

Her name is Maggie and she does all sorts of adorable things. 
She rolls over, sits, stays, loves to cuddle, and, I swear, she understands a whole array of emotions that most humans can't even begin to comprehend. 
I would highly contend that she is, in fact, the most lovable dog in the world. 

Tonight as I was spending time in prayer, God reminded me of something that my sweet little Maggie does quite often. This "thing", however, is not nearly as cute and lovable as her usually well-behaved furry little personality. 

When I'm home, we'll often have a classic, family favorite meal of grilled chicken.
*Maggie loves chicken bones.*

Of course, this meal ends with a stack of chicken bones being scraped on to a plate. 

*Maggie sees the chicken bones & Maggie wants the chicken bones.*

The plate of chicken bones usually sits somewhere in the kitchen until the dishes are done and some lucky winner gets elected to run outside to dump them in the field. 

*Maggie starts devising a plan to get. those. chicken. bones.*

Somehow Maggie usually manages to sneak a bone off the plate and/or stalks the scrap-dumper and memorizes the strategic place in which the bones are scraped in the field. The next time she is let out to go potty, she runs out to the field-geographical coordinates of the chicken bones locked in her brain- and she treats herself to the yummy leftovers. 

And, more often than not, I end up chasing her around the yard attempting to pull the bone out of her mouth. What Maggie doesn't remember in that moment is that she often gets these chicken bones stuck in her mouth; they often break and hurt her; or they frequently have a hard time finding a pain-free path through her digestive system.

I wish I could convince her in the heat of the moment that she has a whole bowl of food inside, that I'd love to give her a healthier/safer treat, and that she really, truly does not need this chicken bone. 

And, yet, so many times, especially right now, I find myself doing the same thing with God. 
I love something.
I see an opportunity to do that something. 
I want to do that something.
And I start devising a plan to get. that. something. 

Never mind the fact that I have more than enough and that God would even throw in more as a treat because He loves me that much. If He's not going to give me the chicken bone, I see nothing else. I have to have it. 

And thankfully, God is so much more patient than I am. He doesn't run around the yard chasing me and whacking me on the butt, grabbing the chicken bone and threatening me within an inch of my life. 

Nope, not God. He just patiently waits and tells me gently, "Lauren, give me that." 

So, tonight I laid down a couple of my chicken bones and I surrendered them to God, knowing full well that I might never see them again, or that He could decide to break them up and give them to me in smaller pieces, or maybe that he would perfect them and make them a little safer before giving them back to me, or He might even hand them right back the way I gave them to Him.

Whatever He decides to do is up to Him, and I'm deciding to no longer run around the yard with my teeth clenched tightly to the misguided treasure that is a mere chicken bone. The ultimate treasure is relationship with Him- my owner, protector, Savior, and loving Dad. Who wouldn't gladly give up all the silly chicken bones in the world for closeness with Him?

"Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."
- Proverbs 19:21

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