Legos, Pillars and the Temple

When I was little I often preferred Legos to Barbies. That’s not to say that at some point there wasn’t a large box filled with chopped hair, markered face, scandalously naked dolls in my room (I tended to not like outfits on my Barbies, but did like to cut their hair thinking it’d grow back). But there was a large red bucket of Legos that I would avidly drag out more times than not. The reason being is that I loved to build things. To construct and design what I wanted, just the way I wanted it.

legosMy own community, created and orchestrated by my hand.

If I am honest, I haven’t changed much in that mentality from those days of playing with those Legos. I like community on my terms, even when it comes to those in the Christian faith, my very brothers and sisters in Christ. Yep, I’m admitting that frankly it’s alot easier to be with and listen to people who I choose. To not be challenged to love harder and think deeper, to sit in judgement rather than in the hurt and compassion of others. I like community on my times and in my orchestration.

And yet, that’s not how the body of faith is built. And it most certainly isn’t how I am called to be a part of it either.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

Ephesians 2:19-21 (ESV)

I am being fit into the building of His very holy temple. The imagery here points back to when the pillars were built on structures, and no seams were seen on how rocks were smoothed and sanded to fit, to mold into one specific structure with complete unity.

That means I am being fit in to the very structure that has laid the likes of Paul, John, and Esther alongside the ones I find difficult in the church, brothers and sisters I would “rather not” with. It means I am being sanded and smoothed down to fit in complete unity with them too. My roughness and scratchiness smoothed out to be in community in order to build a seamless temple for the Lord. His holy Church, the Bride He awaits.

And I really don’t like that idea because it butts up against my selfish nature, my comfort and my idea of control in what community is for me, for the church. And y’all it’s just plain ugly. To live in the comfort and security I have created and ordained as “good and right” rather than what He has defined as the Church. It humbles me to think of the selfish nature and my personal preference has taken the prime spot of life instead of listening intently for where I am supposed to be in the community of God.

It means disagreeing in love, it looks like uncomfortable silences and awkward reintroductions. It means giving forgiveness when I really just want to be self-righteous in my pride. Most of all, it looks like a seamless temple being built not out of my design but out of His.

Getting Ma’amed

It was bound to happen. At the ripe (and I do mean ripe y’all) age of 36 I got a ma’am from a guy that looked to be about 35 and a half.

EYE ROLL

I was leaving the gym one night and he was parked next to me, had his big ol’ truck’s door flung all the way open and was doing his post-workout “let me situate all my stuff” in his truck. I stood to the side and he looked up and said “Oh sorry about that ma’am” and let me through to get into my car.

not-maam

Let me be clear, I have been ma’amed before. Mostly by kiddos or college students. To be honest I hadn’t really taken offense to any of it because we’re in the South, it’s part of our learning. You ma’am and sir everyone who is in a semblance of authority or out of respect. But this one y’all, this guy got me. It’s been several weeks and I still am thinking on it.

Here’s why…

Because I haven’t really thought what a specific age would be like for me personally. I honestly was never one to say “by 40 I’ll have a husband, a cute refurbed ranch house and two very stubborn children who both take after their father. Oh and that dog I have always dreamed of.” It just wasn’t me, and it still isn’t. Maybe that’s a good thing, but part of me started thinking after I heard the word ma’am come out of this stranger’s mouth that it wasn’t.

I get he was being respectful but it’s opened up a huge thought train in my mind of future planning and where I often tend to cut ties with life on. Yes I have a 401(k) and have a mortgage, so obviously I plan for some future. But I have over the years never really drawn out much beyond the present state of affairs for my life. I jokingly, when asked by friends or family, point to Scripture in my obvious state of holiness saying “Only a fool makes plans and tells them to God.”

But there’s something to be said for pushing towards a future because when I dig into this deeper I find that I don’t think I am truly capable of one. I worry that setting some sort of goal (like writing a book) without putting a marker or date on it, will mean that I will get around to it eventually but have no means for monumental let down if I don’t. That by not putting any investment into some future plans, some hallmarks or goals, I am essentially setting myself up for mediocre living and underperforming to the potential God knows I have.

Am I the only one that does this? That sits in a consistent 45 mph drive and allows life to continue on without looking at where the GPS could take me if I pushed the pedal down or put my hands to the wheel? For me it took hearing a guy call me ma’am to jar me into this space of future, of seeing where life was letting me coast on cruise and where I was allowing myself to sit unchallenged and undefined, sifting through presentness without much concern for future. I am often here for the present making sure I am all the way into it but allowing the future to just come as it may, but now I am finding at this ripe age of 36 that future Sara would like some say in what present Sara is spending her time in, what she isn’t setting aside time to do, and where her goals are being set.

Have you ever had a ma’am moment that shocked you into seeing something about yourself you hadn’t realized was a problem? Where is it you need to set a focus or goal on in the future for yourself?

#blessed

I really enjoy Bruno Mars’ music.  It’s like if Barry White and Bobby Brown could have a kid, it would be him. It’s fun, fresh, and easily danceable. 24K is one of my favorite songs of his, and I find one of his lines so interesting:

“Got to blame it on Jesus, hashtag blessed.”

I think he captures something many perceive, that when it’s good, when life seems to be on this trajectory upward, where health, wealth and prosperity seem to be clicking on all cylinders, we are blessed and it’s directly from God. I tend to agree too, that those are good things, they really are blessings to have good health, to be prosperous in pursues and not be in poverty.

I have even joked about it on social media, whether it is an extra nugget in my Chick-Fil-A box or no line at a store. But I think we’ve taken the true idea of blessings of God and manipulated them for our own definition and benefit. Then we point them back to God as privileged or better because of that blessing.

But the blessings He bestows on those who believe in Him? Well those are a bit more lasting, eternal than just good health or a pay raise. They are spiritual blessings which move beyond the things of this world and what are defined by this world. Spiritual blessings bring us deeper into relationship with Him, often taking us through a time of pruning and growing, they unify us as believers, and bring Him praise for His compassion and goodness.

Those spiritual blessings He gives us aren’t always what we define as wanting, but He knows it is what we need to be blessed with-encouragement, relief of a burden, wisdom, reliance. It isn’t so much about what we get out of His blessing, but that He gives it willingly to those of us who love Him and call Him Lord. And it goes beyond earthly blessings, to those where He is seated in the throne room. It goes beyond defining them in the way we do in our context of culture or earth.

Praise be to the God and Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Ephesians 1:3 (NIV)

Distracted and Consumed

I am chief among sinners. 

I thought about Paul’s words as my pastor spoke the words “Distracted and Consumed” yesterday. I felt the arrows of conviction hit straight and true as he continued on with his sermon, knowing those three words had struck at the heart of a problem. One that I know many wrestle with, even as a society and culture we are suffering from the very disease of distraction and consummation.

I get the irony of writing about this on a platform (and sharing it on other platforms) because it’s the very thing which is distracting and consuming this heart, this mind, and this time. I like to say “well it’s to keep up with this or to share my writing.” Unfortunately though it’s to the detriment of my heart and my focus.

Maybe it’s not so much social media that distracts you, maybe you don’t get consumed by the words, the actions, and the thoughts of others in such a divisive culture we are living in. Maybe the distraction is binging on the newest release from Netflix or your kids’ ballgames (this one I saw first hand last weekend y’all). It is whatever is consuming your time and distracting you from the very thing which God desires of you.

What is consuming your heart that it’s not allowing Him in? What is distracting you to the point you cannot hear Him? I am the first to admit that I willingly would choose those over time with Him, time digging in to His Word, time spent in silence with Him, waiting on Him. I would rather be consumed with distractions than allow Him space in my life…that’s what I am telling Him when I “scroll for just a few minutes.” Or when I say “just one more episode” or let someone else take up residency in my heart.

When I am distracted and consumed, I am more prone to worry, anxiety, doubt, fear, and control. I find that peace and stillness are commodities in short supply. The quiet filling of connection is negated with an empty longing to be known when we are consumed by anything other than the God who desires to know us more.

Maybe it’s time to stop the fighting for our attention and our hearts by simply giving them solely to Him. Not a screen, not the success or failure of our child’s pee wee league team, and not some fictional characters we enjoy.

 

Dear Peyton Manning

Many of you know that I went to the University of Tennessee for both my undergraduate and graduate work many moons ago. Some of my dearest friends I made during those college years I still call friend today, some 18 years later. Some know the story of how Tennessee came into the picture as a college for me to consider, but most don’t. Today, I wanted to share this letter because it seemed fitting given that the person it is to is being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.


Dear Mr. Manning,

I could’ve called you Peyton I guess but first of all my momma taught me better and second of all we aren’t that acquainted for me to use your first name. Although I have to admit, I have yelled it a time or two on some Sundays over the years. Many years ago, almost two decades ago (how are we that old?) this small town girl was looking at the possibility of going to college after high school. I was only a sophomore at the time but with an older sister already through college the path was set that I should be considering it as well.

My mom was pretty insistent that I would head to college but she never pushed a certain school on me, only that I weigh options available. So I started looking around at colleges outside of my home state of Tennessee. This Tennessee born and bred girl wanted as far away from the state as she could muster, giving considerable weight to both the University of Maine and Illinois Wesleyan for college. I used the guise of good teacher prep programs at these two institutions, but frankly I just wanted away from the small town I lived in.

screen-shot-2015-01-15-at-8-47-51-pmOne day I came home from school, and happened to catch a press conference going on for this guy in college. It was decision day on whether he was going to return to school for his senior year or opt out for the professional league. I was intrigued by this, as a high school athlete myself (but no where near collegiate level play) because I was seeing the money awaiting this guy. It was a lot from predictions and I wouldn’t have blamed him one bit, and he was on track to graduate in three years anyway. But that’s where you proved us all wrong didn’t you? You showed us that it wasn’t about the money or the prestige of it all. It was about your character and your heart for the game and the University of Tennessee.

I remember thinking, “There must be something pretty great about UT for a guy to want to stick around there.” It also had me thinking that a guy not much older than me took wise counsel and weighed that against his own beliefs and character to decide to stay in college. I became a fan of you in that moment too, because that’s a hefty decision to make at 21 years of age.

Several years later, after cheering you on in the pros as a rookie I would be working in the student-athlete center one summer and meet you by chance. You had come to award a scholarship you had established, not in athletics but in the department you had majored in. I stood silent and wild-eyed at the guy who had impacted my decision to check out my state’s flagship university, and ultimately become a fellow Vol. You shook my hand and thanked all of us student workers for the time we put in helping student-athletes with being students first.

I think back on all of this as I write this because I wasn’t looking at UT for my education until that moment, and I know for a fact I would not be sitting where I am today in Nashville if it wasn’t for all of those steps that followed. I wouldn’t be able to call so many amazing people friends, nor would I have such great memories of time spent on campus at the University of Tennessee. But it started with giving thought to a 21 year old’s decision to stay at a university. It started with you.

So thank you Mr. Manning for an influence you didn’t know you had on a 15 year old girl from East Tennessee twenty years ago. Congratulations on an excellent collegiate career in the classroom and the football field. You impacted so many and inspired a generation as well.

Sincerely,

A fellow Vol for life

The Adulterous Single

I thought a commandment didn’t apply to me.

Yep, one of the TEN COMMANDMENTS.

It’s the one about adultery. Because I’m a single, I definitely felt like that just didn’t apply to me. I’m good on that one God, because obviously, doesn’t apply! That was my exact thoughts. Mark it off, I’m good.

But here’s the thing on this. I don’t have to be married to commit adultery. Obviously the very literal line of thinking leads to sexual immorality, whether it’s pre-marital or any of the other related immoral acts related to sexual relations. The one that hit me though was that I have a propensity to an adulterous heart. A heart that puts so much above my covenant relationship with God. A heart that will easily lean into work, people, stuff with more love and focus, giving itself away above my first love, that love with God.

Ouch.

Adultery does apply to me as a single individual. It applies to all of us, regardless of our marital status. It is a heart issue, it’s a covenantal issue. One that starts with God and my heart, not at the altar with another individual.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.

Proverbs 4:23 (ESV)

Never has that verse become more vivid, breathing and real than looking at it in the context of my adulterous ways in relationship with God. Everything I do flows from my heart. Every action, thought, word…every bit of it, and if my heart isn’t committed and pursuing the love of God in all things? Well that’s where the convenient opportunity of adultery slips in. When I am not guarding that fickle heart, being on consistent watch of it’s consumption and output, then it’ll easily wonder to other, lesser loves. It’ll pursue side pieces that catch it’s eye rather than God Himself, the One Who has proven faithful and good, over and over again.

As much as I’d like to believe I have that adultery thing on lock-down as a single gal, the truth of the matter is that I am far from it, and it does apply to us all. My adulterous heart should be the guarded heart, giving life to the relationship with God and not to the other pursuits that so easily ensnare and entice me from my first love.

Fighting the Storm

Sunset from window

Sometimes a picture can communicate more of what you want to say than words.

It felt like the darkness, the clouds were trying to swallow up the sun as a late afternoon storm rolled in on Monday. The sun kept fighting back the clouds and the storm and I could see it’s fight through a window at the gym.

The sight got at my heart because that’s where I’ve been recently. Unsure of the clouds creeping in and the storm that seems to be forming. I had been wrestling for a couple of weeks on a good thing, a decision that was good and confirming where my heart was leading but that ultimately was not the best thing. Over the weekend I was affirmed in what I felt was where God was leading. Once I voiced it to one person, just one person, I could feel this darkness creep in and a storm brewing. I could feel myself bristle up for a fight because I was choosing the best God has intended and not this very good thing that isn’t for me.

To see that play out visually just hours after I’d started to get that notion was just for me. But maybe it’s for you too. Maybe God needed you to hear, to see, to read that the thing you decided on and now feel the darkness creeping in is what He wants for you. He wants that very best thing, and not the really good thing you said “no” to right now. He wants that obedience in what He has long been calling you towards, reminding you of. The darkness doesn’t want that, Satan doesn’t want you going hard after obedience because it scares him when you are in God’s will, in relationship and fellowship with Him pursuing after what He’d have for you.

May this bring you hope, affirmation, confidence in the fight ahead. The sun always fights back against the encroaching storm. The Son already fought it off so that you could be in Him in all things. When the storm comes. When the clouds creep in. When the devil would have you doubt and fear the very best God has for you.