It is well.

Tonight, I walked out the door at dusk. I had stayed much later than I'd planned...again. It's been a week of working late. So, I was definitely tired. As the glass door opened to the sidewalk, the sun was almost set and only a corner of the sky was pink. The air was damp and laden with the chill of fall- my favorite season. Stepping out into the evening, I stopped ... and inhaled deeply. Peace rolled over my soul.

In the same moment, I was suddenly conscious of music. It sounded like it was coming from the restaurant-turned-mission/soup kitchen that is part of the organization I work for. The song was familiar... one that often resonates with me, yet the words were temporarily escaping me. I meandered toward the sound as if being pulled by a magnet. I reached the front of the mission and corner of the street where I realized the music was coming from somewhere else. My eyes glanced across the street and propelled my feet, along with my ears, toward the little park couched between two old edifices. It looked like an outdoor worship service and I, on impulse, was going to join the party. I scurried toward the gathering. But thankfully, just before I entered the little gated area, I realized - this was no ordinary worship gathering. No, it was a wedding...and the bride was seconds away from making her grand entrance!! I was about to barge in, uninvited, to a quaint wedding in the park... just in time to up-stage the bride herself.

Awkward moment impeded, I quickly redirected my steps across the street. Safely on the other side and being tired, I should have headed toward my car, but I could not. I was enraptured by the hymn being boldly brandished for all of C-street to hear. I stopped in front of a store front across from the park, leaned against a pole and listened. The blissful couple, unaware that I was a bystander to their moment of covenant. I took in the twinkling white lights entwined in the vines above the bridal party.... and I listened. The bride arrived at the front and the band continued to sing.

In that moment, I could not help but recognize the deep meaning of the music intertwining with this moment of covenant for this happy couple. Instead of the traditional bridal march, this bride had chosen to make this moment less about her...and more about proclaiming a very simple truth... "It is well with my soul." It is well... even outside of the circumstance of this blissful moment. The promise of this old hymn saturated deep into the dark moments of the past, as well as, the challenges of the future. This couple was boldly proclaiming God's sovereignty over their relationship - past, present & future.

In that moment, I was overcome- overcome by the sweet Presence of Jesus... the Faithful One... the One who gives me the grace to remain faithful to the calling over my life. He reminded me... I am not measured by circumstances, roles, titles or others' approval... My worth and my peace of heart flows out of a deep knowing... I am His and He is mine... I am His Beloved.

My evening ended with the gentle reminder...
Because He is...
It is well.


Hanging out in the Kingdom... Reflections on [BEing] Called

It's been a while... [Be forewarned, this will be long]

I have not given myself much space to process "what's really going on."

Since July, life has been such a whirlwind. A whirlwind of answered prayer. A whirlwind of transition into new things. A whirlwind brought on by over eight months of waiting... eight months of significant questioning... eight months of living in what my dear friend, Stephanie Nance, would call the "thickness of time"... eight months of embracing the Mystery of God.

In June of 2011, I moved from my home state of Kentucky to Springfield, MO- a town that I never planned to live in. I came here with plans. Plans to become, plans to overcome, plans to come into my own. And yet, by November, everything that brought me to town... came to an abrupt halt. I lost my job. I decided not to continue my seminary journey. The only thing keeping me in this little town was the Holy Spirit and a deep heart commitment to a community of young adults. I was bound to seeing God move within this community... Over the following eight months, it has been this community that God has used to surround me... to comfort me and to shape me. I have held tightly to the conviction that I am part of something beyond myself...

On the first of July (2012), I moved into a new apartment with a new roommate. On the last day of July, I began a new job. The third week of August I began graduate studies. The first week of September our community went from one service to two...and then two weeks after that, we went to three!! ALL of these events were fantastic! However, that is a LOT of change in two months.

Let's just say, I have been feeling a little overwhelmed. And, the one thing I love most...investing in people... has suffered the greatest. Sad day. I have actually felt like becoming a hermit. Crowds have become something I literally ... dread. Sincerely sad day!

Balance. Haha. It has always been elusive to me... but right now, I keep striving to find some way to achieve something close to it.

Last week, I realized something saddening. I am working a job... so that I can go to school to become trained in something I already love to do (Write)...so that I can afford to... are you ready for this ... Serve in ministry!! Tadah!

I hate the expression LOL-laugh out loud- how often do people actually laugh out loud when they type that? But, just now...I did laugh out loud... it was not a happy laugh. No, it was a little cynical. This is a cycle... a familiar merry-go-round of discontent.

What's funny... the most satisfying seasons of my life have been when I am barely making any money...when I barely have any time to just "BE"... Abnormal times. Times when my world is UP-side Down. During those times, my main focus was simply being sold out to BUILDING God's Kingdom...

I am SO incredibly grateful for what God has given me in this season. I am grateful for a job...not just a paycheck, but a job serving in an organization whose focus is restoring lives... BIG plus! I am grateful for the opportunity to study... I love learning new things!! I am grateful to have a cute, cozy little apartment... and money to buy food and cook for others. I am grateful for friends who love me and care about me. I am grateful for a family that loves me beyond my oddities and quirks... I am grateful for normalcy. After all, that IS what I've been wanting...right?

There is nothing wrong with the normal things of life. Really, actually, I think there is something wrong with me. Why do I always find myself here...longing for this elusive state of having normalcy & yet being sold out, actively BUILDING God's Kingdom? I'm not really sure what that means

The other day... I was reminded of another season in my life. During this season, I became angst (big surprise)... my feet began to itch... my heart ached to "be where the people are.." (go ahead, sing the Little Mermaid song... you know you want to :-) I just did!) The angst arises out of this sense that I'm not DOING what I'm called to do... this feeling that I'm just "hanging out in the Kingdom." I don't want to become too comfortable. I'm afraid of developing a lazy, welfar-ish, sense of entitlement. Reveling in God's favor...and squandering it... when there are people dying.... without ever knowing about Jesus, let alone, knowing Him!

What am I doing with Jesus? There is this fear that I am like that servant who took his one talent and went and buried it. And when the Master returned, he had nothing to show for his wealth, except that which he had been given.

Over the past six years, I have wrestled with what it means to be "called." When I was ten, I heard God speak my name... I felt Him close... I heard Him ask me to follow Him and to care for His sheep. And again... over and over... throughout the years, He repeatedly reminded me of this calling.

I don't know how to describe it. It's like when your best friend asks you to do something... when you promise to take care of their child or pet... you feel a deep sense of responsibility to carefully attend to their request. (BTW, this metaphor is weak). I have always felt like I was called out...to be sent. Yet, my prayer for the past six years has been to be planted... to BE like the tree planted by the water. That is what is happening... and yet, I am discontent.

And I cannot help but wonder...is because I am called...to be sent, not planted? This is a deep and agonizing question. I do not know just how to answer it. I most often feel like a round peg in a square hole.

I was talking to a friend last night and I told her that I had always felt called to serve overseas... and the strangest things happened... she was surprised! She never knew that about me. Um, weird, because all of my life...that one thing has somehow defined me. Shortly after she left, I found myself feeling concerned. Have I forgotten who I am called to be. AM I BEING WHO I AM CALLED TO BE?

Or... am I just hanging out in the Kingdom? ? ? ?... ??? ... ???


In Honor of Dee Dee Belle

**Today marks the birthday of a very special person in my life. She has been in heaven for six years...but I wanted to share something I wrote four years ago in her memory... **

Sep 1, 2008

today is a special day...a day that always reminds me of one beautiful woman. her name, delores belle klayer west. and for those who knew and loved her best it was simply dee-dee belle born on september 1, 1927, she lived almost to eighty.
a woman i can remember from infancy...full of creativity and giggles. she loved like no one i know. she loved fiercely, and at times, to her own detriment. she was a listening ear and a comforting hug. she looked into your eyes and saw who you were destined to be rather than who you were at the moment. she was my nanny...my grandmother.

i shared so much in common with her...her love for jewlery and fun shoes. i still use some of her vocabulary, like the word snazzy roo (only on special occasions). but she loved to dance...loved music...and she loved Jesus! as the years passed, her memory slowly faded but the one thing that never changed was when you mentioned the name of Jesus...her eyes would light up...her countenance would soften to that of genuine love and she would look like a young girl in love. she would rattle off scriptures and songs...
i loved chatting with her...she had a way of absorbing everything that my lips and brain could express...and then she always knew the best words of wisdom, encouragement and discernment.
i miss her today. but i know that if i could see her now, i would see her dancing with her Lover...with Jesus. she is free in the arms of her Savior...

it's been almost two years and i'm glad she's free of this world, but at times, i think of her and smile...and blink back a longing tear...one day i will sit with her again and we will expound on all of the beauty of Heaven and our Jesus!


Restoring Eden: The Saga

I am guilty of consistently misunderstanding others.
Instead, I fight to be properly understood.
I fight to be free and independent.
I fight to dominate and coerce submission.
I fight to be biblical.
I am a mess!
I am not alone in my fighting.
The fight to be understood is human condition.
In all of our fighting,
we have created a no-man’s-land.
Meanwhile, those in the trenches
on either side
sit with heads in hands,
weary and lonely.
Although we rarely admit it,
even to ourselves,
we have forgotten.
We no longer remember
that precious golden ring for which we fight.
We forget that we are actually from the same land.
We are people not altogether different from the legendary Narnians.
We are colorful. We come in all shapes and sizes.
We speak different languages. We have varying traditions.
We are male. We are female.
We are human.
We fight for the same thing.
We fight for peace.
We fight so that we can live united.
We fight to restore Eden.

Yet, in the no-man’s-land of misperception,
Drenched in irony,
exists a seldom acknowledged truth:
The battle for Restored Eden has already been won!
Our need to be understood, to be enough, to be complete, our need to BE at rest, caused
the UnLimited One to limit Himself.
Our need for restored intimacy caused
Him to come nearer to humanity than even we, ourselves, are willing to come.
He made Himself fully present to the human experience.

He was born. He grew.
He laughed. He wept.
He breathed. He slept.
He understood.
He died.
But, in His death,
He accomplished what we could not…
He bridged the gap our selfishness and lack of trust created.
In His death, He lives and we also can live.

Restored Eden.
He made a way for God and man
to dwell in trust again.
He reunited long-separated children to their Father.
He opened blind eyes and unlocked deaf ears so that
men and women would no longer fear Him…
nor should they fear one another.
Restored Eden is eternal life.
While heaven awaits,
His Kingdom is
living in the no-man’s-land…
being understood in light of His sacrifice.

All of this said, we,
sons and daughters of
the Living, UnLimited, UnCreated God,
continue to dwell in the gray trenches of
“my worldview” versus “your worldview.”
We long to play together in the space that lies between us,
but we fear.
We fear because
we fail to remember…
Perfect Love drives away all fear.

We have been re-created.
We are new.
We are not our stories.
No, our stories are but stylistic embellishment,
badges nonchalantly proclaiming,
“I am HIS!”
Our journeys are only pathways
navigating us toward Restored Eden.

In Eden, we trust.
We live in confidence,
not in ourselves but in the One who has restored us.
In Eden, we are defined by what He is doing through us,
rather than what we have done to ourselves.
Every day, we have the choice.
Live in the trenches or…
Dwell in the “no-man’s-land” of restored trust
…the place where being understood flows out of being known…
…the place where being whole trumps being understood…

“Therefore, I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowances for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. ” Ephesians 4:1-4


Embracing Mutual Submission: A Study in Humility

This week I have been following Rachel Held Evans’ synchro-blog event, One In Christ, a celebration of Mutuality. There have been  so many excellent blogs from RHE, as well as other fellow egalitarians who decided it was time to speak up about why mutuality is so great. So far, I have only reveled in their insights and shared them with all of my followers. Now, I am ready to share my own reflections… This is first post of two I intend to share is an adapted version of a paper I wrote for a course on Gender & Culture that I took with missiologist Anita Koeshall at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary.

Embracing Mutual Submission: A Study in Humility

A hush falls over the crowd as the lights dim and the spotlight draws all eyes to two people in the center of the rink. The action begins with the first note of the song, two individuals seamlessly emerge as one unit; gliding over the ice, side-by-side, hand-in hand, spinning and mirroring one another. They dare gravity as they leap in unison and, occasionally, he will lift her high into the air, still gliding upon the ice as one. Couples figure skating fascinates me. There is something invigorating about watching two people work as a team to perform daring feats that appear effortless. Yet, it takes great strength, skill and team work to pull off such a performance.

The movie The Cutting Edge depicts the story of two very strong-willed, independent athletes, a male hockey player and a female figure skater, both disillusioned with their previous careers, coming together as a figure skating pair. Competitiveness and love of the ice are the only things the duo share in common. Throughout the movie, they take turns one-upping each other, always followed by a spray of ice in the face and the one liner, “Toe-pick.” However, they eventually realize they must let go of their own pride in order to win as a team. Slowly and painfully, the pair builds trust, which proves to be the key to winning.

This movie embodies my own struggle and competitive approach to male/female relationships. Having been raised in an ever-increasing individualistic and feminist culture, I wrestle with being second, especially to men. In fact, my initial question began as, “Do all women have to submit to all men?” Being certain of the answer, I set out to prove that men and women are equal and that Christ calls us to mutual submission, even in marriage. However, a deeper question emerged in process, “What does mutual submission look like within covenant community?”

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul says, “And further, submit yourselves to one another in reverence for Christ” (5:21). The verses that follow make practical application of this verse within a marriage context, as well as other relationships, such as, parent to child and master to slave. For many years, mutual submission has been my license to be an independent individual, to compete with men and to prove that we have to submit to one another. My cultural and personal bias has been keeping me from the heart of Paul’s message.

Ephesians 5:1-2 says, “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children. Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us…” Before anyone submits to anyone, Christians are called to imitate God and follow the example of Christ. Submission begins with studying Christ, not ourselves.

Philippians chapter two defines the attitude of Christ, “though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to….he humbled himself in obedience to God…”

M. Sydney Park, makes several observations regarding Christ’s submission as described in this passage. He debunks the “notion that submission is defined only by obedience…” Park agrees that obedience is part of Christ’s submission, but it actually “begins with Christ’s equality with God and is exemplified through forsaking his rights, status and privilege of being equal with God.” According to Park, submission is “not borne out of or for oppression-rather it is embraced voluntarily.” Finally, he concludes Christ's submission is "the willingness to give primacy to the concerns of another over and above his own legitimate rights, even at the risk of humiliation, suffering and death” (123-124).

As Christ’s example reveals, true submission can only take place from a stance of equality. Ephesians 5 levels the gender playing field. Paul elevates the status of women with his command to submit to one another. Payne drives this point home when he writes, “Paul does not limit any of these [“one another” commands] to only one gender. If only one party does all the submitting, it is not mutual but hierarchical. The bidirectional nature of mutual submission presupposes the equal standing of the persons submitting to each other” (71). Humility is often defined as embracing a proper understanding of self...recognizing and walking within the limitations of our strengths and weaknesses, being careful to empower others to do the same. Jesus sets a standard, illustrating the deference of one’s rights for the sake of another. His motivation flows from a desire to bring glory to God and to reconcile God and humanity. 

Submission starts with an attitude of humility.

There is a series of passages throughout the New Testament often referred to as the “one another” commands (Eph. 5:18-21; 1 John 4:13, 16; Gal. 5:13; Rom. 12:10; Eph. 4:2). Each “one another” statement can be linked with Paul’s familiar command to “Be filled with the Spirit.” The Holy Spirit enables us to walk in submission to each other... to “Serve one another,” “Honor one another…” “Be gentle and patient with one another…”
The direct fruit of mutual submission is unity, not competition. Submission is a bold choice to set aside one’s rights for the sake of something greater: unity. Phillip B. Payne defines submission as “voluntary yielding in love” (281).  Using a quote from Tertullian’s book to his wife, Payne reveals the perspective of the Church father specifically regarding submission between a husband and a wife:

“What a union of two believers—one hope, one vow, one discipline and one worship! They are brother and sister, two fellow servants, one spirit and one flesh… They pray together, fast together, instruct, exhort, and support each other” (281-283).

In reference to the original Greek word used in Ephesians 5, Gerald Sittser writes that “it combines two words, one that could be translated ‘under’ and the other ‘order.’ … it implies that we choose to order our lives under the circumstances, relationships and roles in which we find ourselves.”

Sittser underscores the radical nature of Paul’s call to mutual submission. He points out that Paul gives this command to each individual in the Body, rather than a certain gender or social status. Specifically, he requires that “those who occupy dominant positions in social order be subject to their subordinates; they are to order their lives under the very people over whom they exercise authority.”

Sittser points out that “how we obey this command depends upon the particular position we occupy within the social order.” He goes on to say, “...to subject to one another implies that we acknowledge the necessity of social order, accept our place within it, and transform the social order through the power of radical obedience and sacrificial love” (42-43).

There is truth in the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” I recently had the privilege to interact with a precious couple who serve in a Muslim country. Due to the senstive nature of their work, we will call them John and Jane. As I listened to their stories, I kept hearing the Holy Spirit drive this point home. 

Mutual submission is a sign to unbelievers...revealing the power of what Jesus did on the cross. John made a shocking statement, “My wife is the key to my ministry to Muslim men.” He goes on to explain that Muslim culture expects men to be able to control their wives. Jane does her best to fulfill the role of ideal Muslim woman, to the extent that Muslim men respect John and trust their wives to Jane's care.

John and Jane work as a team, like the figure skating pair. They each submit to Christ and to each other, fulfilling the culturally expected gender roles. In so doing, their relationship proclaims the gospel. People see Jesus. Muslims may not know they are seeing Jesus but the choice this couple has made to walk in mutual submission opens the door to share. Jane says the key to her ministry has been 1 Corinthians 9. She has learned to become “all things to all men” in order to reach a culture.

I still have more questions than answers. I feel as if I barely scratched the surface. As a single person, I find myself asking what mutual submission looks like within community. It is easy to perceive submission as something only for people who are married, but Paul makes it clear that we all are to walk in submission to one another.

Submission is difficult to grasp, let alone actualize. It is a Spirit-led behavior. Submission runs contrary to ourhuman nature. As an American, I have been taught to think for myself, to be true to myself, to be proud of my accomplishments, to fight for my rights. As an American woman, I expect equality. The very idea of submitting myself to someone else involves humility. 

I now recognize that mutual submission is not a license to dominate, but a command to be humble. Mutual submission requires consistency and intentionality of heart. It starts with humility and is expressed in unity. Mutual submission, like figure skating, requires a dual commitment to working together, embracing one another’s strengths and supporting one another in weakness.

Today, I choose to embrace the call to mutual submission. Lord, give me grace to do so with humility and, in so doing, bring glory to Your Kingdom.



It should be a four letter word.
At times, it holds the same connotation
I have a love/hate relationship with "trust"
I love when I feel safe enough to trust
Yet, hate that most often I don't feel safe to trust

trite. empty
meaning skewed by relativity
What does it mean?
"reliance on...
of a person or thing;
confident expectation"*

a certain sense of naivete
a denial of past experience
a full throttle advance into uncharted waters

to live by faith-
to please God

With all of your
deepest longings
unrequited love
pipe dreams
life goals
screwed up plans


a good, wise and loving
not yourself,
not your circumstances,
not your status,
not your own ability to "get it right"
not others
nor their opinions of you

with your thoughts
with your feelings
with your words
with your actions
with your investments

By taking a step
into scary territory
By letting go
of past hurt
By choosing
to honor instead of retaliate
By understanding
rather than belittling
By being
present in weak moments
By listening
instead of speaking

you will be
you will
find the Way

does not lead to purpose
equals purpose



Reflections on God's gift to Women 3.14.06

*** Allow me to preface this blog... I have been re-visiting my myspace days. It is fascinating to read my perspective from six years ago...tomorrow :-) I am working on new reflections but I was inspired by this old one... It's still my heart. Even though I'm more practical and less of a hopeless romantic these days... Enjoy!***

so i was perusing someone's myspace and read a really great post about the way of women... he inspired me to write one of my own.  i often write about being woman...but we share this world and we were given life to be partners with men.  it's time to give respect where it is due.
Man.  The first image that God formed to represent Himself, to be His faithful companion and to wrestle and rule the rest of His creation.  I find it intriguing that our God first chose to demonstrate His likeness in man.  Man is strength.  He's a source and an encouragement. He is safe although rugged and untame.  Within him lies a great God-given power, to be the foreman of the ranch to both tame wildness and unleash passion in a way that only points to a great Creator. 
Standing on a swinging bridge above a rushing waterfall and looking into eyes that say, "You aren't walking this alone.  I won't let you fall, just hold on tight," makes a woman's heart soar with energy to go the distance, to see what is beyond the next peak...  For a woman, nothing is more exhilarating than knowing that she is safe and protected even in her wildest dreams...that she will not be flying alone.
A man...free to be all that the Creator intended...is a sight to behold.  God knew this...that's why He made man.  What is beautiful is what unfolds just after creating man.  God realizes that man alone is not fully reflecting Himself...so He creates woman to bring a representation of His Beauty...His gentleness...and most importantly so that His passion for relationship and life would not be lost on Man who is lonely.  Without the mountain...the grass and the trees and the birds would be useless.  It is the combination of the two that brings the full picture.
Man without Woman...lacking.  Woman without Man...lacking.  Man and Woman without God...nothing.  God, as seen through the unity of Man and Woman, Beautiful Strength...

Thank the Creator God for the Strength and the Beauty...thank You for our partners....


Guarding My Heart Part 1: Questions that Defined Me

"I'm just not there right now."
To this day, those words still make me cringe. On the day those words pierced my heart -- I looked lovely, my hair curled and my makeup soft and feminine. I was wearing my Sunday pearls and I looked the part of a romantic heroine. It was Easter Sunday and I had waited all semester... invested myself fully into a deep friendship with a handsome gentleman. A man who had rearranged the landscapes of my internal future. He taught me to walk in confidence. He looked into my eyes and respected me for who I was... he was a great conversationalist... He loved other cultures and I was convinced we would go places ... together. I knew him. I was ok with his idiosyncracies and I knew it might be  a long journey, but I was ready to go the distance. For the first time in my life I was in love-- and certifiably insane. My entire world revolved around him. And it was time to verify that we were on the same page. I went to meet him and we walked and talked for a while. Finally, I worked up the nerve and told him... my feelings were stronger than friendship.  He looked at me with all the compassion he could muster and he said the words I had known all along but my heart had not allowed me to process...

"I'm just not there right now." He then preceeded to remind me that he did not plan to seriously date anyone, let alone marry until he was 27. He apologized for leading me on in any way. We talked for another five minutes, agreeing that we would still be friends... Then I excused myself, went back to my dorm and cried for the rest of the semester. I wrote him letters but never sent them. I mourned the loss... And yet, somewhere I held out hope... after all he had said "...not there...right now." I clung to them in false hope.

Needless to say, our friendship slowly and painfully unravelled into the abyss of unrequited love and after about a year of prolonged hope...I closed the door of my heart... never again would I be so stupid to love someone who doesn't love me back... I realized that I didn't even know myself anymore. I had allowed giddy passion to slowly wrap all of my identity, all of my hopes and dreams...around the existence of another. Never again.

"This is not 'Goodbye,' but it is."
After that, somewhere in my heart, I convinced myself that I was only good enough to offer friendship. I was not attractive enough. I was not talented enough. I was not thin enough. I was not, I was not, I was not. ..enough. Love was not in my future. I learned to be a good, safe friend. I learned to listen. I learned to enjoy what a man offered. I learned to offer my best and not to expect anything in return.

I soon found a friend that had been there all along. I can't say I was incapable of having romantic feelings for him. But I knew... he felt sorry for me...he appreciated me for who I was, but I was not enough to fulfiill that desire in his heart... he did not see me as a woman, but as a neutral gendered friend. I was someone who could help him grow and heal and process. I was someone who would pray for him. I would be on the other end of the phone. I would be his Sunday night dinner buddy. I would be there to encourage him and offer him wisdom when he needed it. But, that was all. That was our unspoken arrangement...and I guess it worked. Until, the first time someone asked me how long we had been married. Yes, they did. Of course, I could not tell him... he would run away...he would spook like a wild stallion and be gone... and my comfortable friendship would be gone. That was the beginning of the end... the beginning of my defending our friendship as "just a friendship."

After years of this, I finally told him. Although we were just friends, it was getting very difficult to constantly defend our friendship. I was tired. I cared deeply for him and his life, but I didn't want to keep this up. I told him that people thought we were married... And the next day, years of friendship ended in an email that began with "This is not 'goodbye,' but it is..." I did not want anything more than friendship... but I cannot tell you how painful it was to lose our friendship. I had anticipated change. And, at some level, it was a relief. But I had not anticipated the sudden jolt of loss when we were suddenly no longer friends. His friendship was different than most... and when it ended, I began to expect one thing from men... rejection.

"I do not trust you."
Years passed and I became a strong, independent woman. I had dreams, goals, purpose...a calling. I did not need a man in my life... Of course, I dreamed about marriage and children like the next woman. But, I never seriously engaged men...I hid.

Enter my third life-changing male friendship. This time was different. I was not looking, God brought him to me. It was an unexpected encounter that seemed to organically unfold into a God-friendship. This friend valued me and respected me. He protected me and loved me. God blessed us through one another's lives.  We enjoyed a give and take friendship. We saw God do some awesome things through our obedience to Him... And somewhere along the way, I began to care more for him than I wanted...more than I wanted to admit.

I truly believe this friendship was meant to only be a friendship, but it was still hard when I introduced him to his wife... :-/ Yes, I did. AND I am very glad with the outcome today!  I could not have made a better match for him...God has blessed him with a beautiful life-mate who complements and enriches his life in SO many ways... AND the difference this time... I am better friends with both of them than ever before... God reconciled that friendship... I had a choice to make to overcome my pain and to be a friend...

However, my intial reaction was not so good. I felt completely rejected...again. I withdrew SO fast... I needed to. I had let my heart hope again in a strange way... I needed to regroup. For a long time, I hurt... This time, I found myself angry with God and angry with myself -- for not guarding my heart!

It was not until recently that I realized that my friend had never rejected me. I, in fact, had rejected him. I had held him at bay...and even told him that I did not trust him. Whether or not, that had anything to do with anything is a moot point... the point is that God used it to do something deep in my life.
Above All Things Guard Your Heart for it is the Wellspring of life." Proverbs 4:23

Over the next year, God began to unravel my pain. He began to answer my questions. I kept asking Him why I was never good enough...for anyone!! I felt like He had led me into a trap... yes, I did... I just accused God of playing games with my heart. I asked God questions like, "Who am I?" and "Why in the world do I exist?" and "Please, tell me why you bothered to create me?!" I was someone who should know better by now...but NOTHING made sense... nothing!

I felt a two-fold response... God kept reminding me that beauty is vulnerable. At the same time, EVERYWHERE I went I would run into Proverbs 4:23.  This caused deep-seated anger in me... I hated the concept of guarding my heart!! God, how does this work? How do I be vulnerable and still guard my heart??!!

Then, He began to respond...
One day, He asked me what the word heart meant ... to me and in that passage. My first thought was Valentine's day... and mushy stuff. Then, it went to physical body... you know the vital, central organ. Finally, I looked it up. The transliterated Hebrew word is lev which is two word pictures put together. The first word picture is a shepherd's staff, which means "authority." The second word picture is the inner layout or blueprint of a nomadic tent, which means "that which resides within." When put together, the word lev is roughly translated, "the authority that resides within." (DISCLAIMER: I am not a Hebrew scholar, but this is the consensus of others' findings).

What is this "authority that resides within"?
So, at the end of that little study, I had this phrase... " the authority that resides within." It kept rolling around in my head and I was like...what does it mean? I felt the Lord say to me...your heart is your identity. Cool... so God, who am I

He began to speak to me about my unique identity. He, the One who had created me...
First of all, my identity begins and ends in Christ.
Jesus made a way for me to be free from my sinful nature, to BE completely His and to BE fully myself.

One day, I felt God ask me what my name was...
I was like... really?
Yes, just go with it...
Ok, my name is Rachel Michelle Leonard.
Yes. But who are you?
Ok... I just told you...
Rachel, you ARE your name...

Oh! That's great...what?! Then it began to sink in... Ever since I was a kid, I was that "uncool" kid... the oldest of three...always mothering and nurturing... the one that was teased with statements like, "Ok, Mom." I hated it!! But that day, something dawned on me...
Rachel means "Mother Lamb". 
Michelle means "Who is like God?"...it is a question and a proclamation of worship and authority. Leonard means "Lion-hearted"... I love with a fierceness...
I am created to nurture souls, to worship God and to fiercely defend and protect His people through prayer. This moment was defining for me! I suddenly felt like my clothes fit!!

I realized that I had spent my life wrapping my identity around the expectations of others...allowing others to dictate who I was.

So, how/why do I guard my heart?
Well, for a few weeks, I just had this freedom I'd never known before... but I still didn't know how/why I guard it... The why came pretty obviously... we only guard those things that we value...we don't pay someone to guard our dumpster... We guard our heart/identity because we value it.

But the deeper question in my soul was ... how do I keep this from happening again?

Then one night I had a dream. In the dream, I saw this beautiful painting... I don't even remember what it looked like... but it was magnificent. All kinds of people were standing around admiring it. But the painting was roped off and had a sign in from of it that said, "Please do NOT touch."

I began to ponder the sign. Why do you not touch an oil painting? Because the oil from your skin...and everyone else's skin...slowly deteriorates the initial work and changes the entire look of the original painting. I felt impressed that, just like the painting, I could live with my life on display for all to see...but that I was not to let others touch and change His design...

This season was transformational in my life!! I suddenly felt a sense of purpose that I had never experienced. I was free to be myself and to serve the Lord... as me :-)


Failing Forward 2012: Embracing Myself Part 2

2012: A Year of Embracing Myself...Failure & All

It's been almost two months and a couple of holidays since everything hit the fan. I spent five days at home for Christmas, but I've been spending a lot of time just sorting through my last 27 years. I'm coming to some conclusions...
  • I am a right-brained person trying to be left-brained. I have spent all of my life striving to be left-brained. I've always felt that in order to be successful, I have live in another hemisphere of my brain. It's been like trying to wear someone else's clothing.
  • I am tired of working so hard to be someone else. It is exhausting to sit through long theological debates with people and want to simply say... "Who cares?" or "Yeah, but how?" But, since I'm a minister...I just shut up and grin & bear it because "that's what we do."
  • I am a deep thinker, I just think differently about things. I am a woman but I do have a brain. I think about how someone's actions effect others. I think about how words fit nicely together. I think about how the Holy Spirit works in the world. I think about how to resolve conflicts. I think about seasonings and colors and how they complement each other. I think about characters in books like they are people. I think about why Jesus uses metaphors to explain His Kingdom instead of theological theories.
  • Everyone else can see the real me better than I can. My closest friends laugh when I admit these thingst to them and say, "Rae-Rae, I could have told you this all along." (By the way, you have to earn the right to use that name ;-)
  • I want to discover what it's like to fulfill God's calling as myself... I want to figure out how a creative person fits into the ministry world. I want to make my voice heard and believe that others will listen to me...when I am being myself.
So, with these thoughts in mind... My only resolution for this year is to learn to be ok with being me... to know God fully as He is...to explore life as a creative person being led by the Holy Spirit... Here are some intentional lifestyle changes for this year...
  • I want to learn to garden. I want to study the process of development from seed to fruit. I want to be ok with investing time into cultivating life.
  • I want to get a cuddle buddy... a dog.
  • I want to spend more time with children... They are so full of innocence and curiosity.
  • I want to write... dare I say it? A novel. I need courage to do this.
  • I want to spend more time being in nature than on Facebook.
  • I want to invest in reciprocal relationships... ones that intimidate me, yet challenge me...relationships that empower me to BE, not just do.
  • I want to explore creativity and spirituality... what my calling in life looks like in light of my findings.
  • I want to spend more time investing in God's Kingdom, than in creating the illusion of my own.
  • I want to walk in humility...being content to abide in God's Presence even when no one is looking
  • I want to spend this year enjoying each day as it comes.. without anxious thoughts...aware of God's Voice and Presence.
  • I want to fall in love with this little town... the people, the traditions and the foreigners who dwell here...the plans God has for its people...I want to make Springfield home.

This year, I want to meditate on these truths...to learn to live them in fullness...
  • Philippians 4:11 Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. 12 I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. 13 For I can do everything through Christ,[c] who gives me strength.
  • Romans 8: 15 So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children.[h] Now we call him, “Abba, Father.”[i] 16 For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God’s children. 17 And since we are his children, we are his heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share his glory, we must also share his suffering.
  • Ephesians 4: 1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.
  • 1 John 4:11 Dear friends, since God loved us that much, we surely ought to love each other. 12 No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us. 13 And God has given us his Spirit as proof that we live in him and he in us. 14 Furthermore, we have seen with our own eyes and now testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 All who confess that Jesus is the Son of God have God living in them, and they live in God. 16 We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. 17 And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect. So we will not be afraid on the day of judgment, but we can face him with confidence because we live like Jesus here in this world. 18 Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows that we have not fully experienced his perfect love. 19 We love each other[b] because he loved us first.

If you you have endured to the end of this blogpost... you are amazing!! I ask you to pray with me to come to a deeper understand of what this means and to challenge me when I start to run back... Thank you in advance. Happy Growing!

Failing Forward 2012: Embracing Myself Part 1

Complicated Me
I've always really loved people... hearing their stories, being present to their journey, watching them become more of themselves... growing closer to Jesus with them. It's one of those strange things I cannot totally explain. I can honestly say I've never met anyone I haven't loved. Really. I'm not saying people have never gotten under my skin. I'm just saying there is an innate desire in me to love people. I see them as they are and as who they are becoming.  Watching life unfold for people is so thrilling.

On the other hand, if I am not spending adequate time alone, I get overwhelmed with compassion and empathy really quickly. I recharge by myself. Me, my journal, my Bible and (most recently) a cup of coffee. Sometimes, I like to be outside and just BE... to sit and soak up the world around me... Or Ill pick up a good book and get lost in it for a while (the funny thing is that I tend to make friends with the characters and it's hard to let go of them at the end of the book). My dearest friends and family know that I am a verbal processor ... so after my alone time, I usually begin to crave quality conversation with like-minded people. I always love/hate these moments. I love them because I feel known and I am able to re-connect with reality through processing everything I'm experiencing. But I hate them because I often feel guilty and like I've overwhelmed the person who is listening. I am a deep thinker and sometimes, even the people who know and love me best just look at me with these looks of "Huh? You lost me ten minutes ago."

Meanwhile, I enjoy being creative. Writing has always been something I just do. People tell me I'm good at it...urging me to do it more, to write books and blogs. I've often had the desire to do it for a living...but never felt good enough. I love to cook and create new ways to make food. I've pushed that away with the excuse that there is no one to cook for... I enjoy singing and being a part of musical experiences... but my sister is the real singer...I've dabbled in painting but...my brother is the artist... I enjoy knitting and making things... but I am not a crafty person... I like making things for people...

The Journey that led me to here...
All of my life, I've been an all or nothing person. I've had very high expectations for myself and I have pushed really hard. Yet, I have often been frustrated. You see, when I was ten years old, I heard Jesus speak something very simple and personal into my heart. He asked me to feed and lead His sheep. I said yes. And for the past seventeen years, I have been trying very hard to figure out how that works out practically. When I heard the Lord speak to me so long ago, I knew that I was called to pastor... Over the years, I have worn the children's pastor hat, the youth pastor hat, the women's minister hat, the missionary hat... all of which were great in season. But, I just could never seem to feel quite ... "at home." I studied ministry in college. I obtained ministerial credentials. I served in all the areas for which I felt passionate, paid or unpaid, I tried to be noticed... I waited for doors to open, for direction, for favor... for a sense of arrival...a sense of approval. But, it never happenened. I always ended up working as a secretary to "support my ministry habit" (working full-time and doing ministry in all of my spare time) and feeling deeply frustrated...eventually burning out.
My mom always says..."You are a natural teacher. Be a teacher... Women never get paid to be in the ministry..." But the thought of spending thirty years in a public school setting feels like a life sentence to the penitentry. I know there is something to what she is saying. I am a teacher... I teach all the time. But, I don't want to teach reading, writing and arithmetic.

When I gradutated college, I had a dream. I was going to go to cemetary...ehem, I mean, seminary, someday. In fact, I almost went straight out of undergrad (probably should have) but I decided to go home to Kentucky... well, actually God led me there, I never would have gone back of my own volition. I told myself I just needed some ministry experience and I would go in a couple years. I even attempted a few times to go to seminary at home. I was accepted and signed up for classes twice, but didn't follow through for one reason or another.

In Kentucky, I began to see my generation...full of potential, a fresh, creative soul with wounds so deep... and a passion for everything real... a generation longing to be connected to the Creator of creativity and the Father to the fatherless... My heart began to cry out for my generation and look for ways to pastor the heart of this generation...

Well, last February, almost six years later, burnt out for the third time in five years, I decided it was time. I was accepted to my dream seminary... Fuller Theological Seminary... I was moving to California...as far away from Kentucky and all of my perceived failures as I could possibly go. I was finally pursuing my M.Div... finally someone would take me seriously! I was so excited about the possiblities of being immersed in studies on the sunny West Coast, surrounded by diversity...

But then, God stepped in. He reminded me about the school I oringally planned to attend. It was in no place exciting...land-locked, extremely humid & hot in summer and icy cold in winter... the people white, inbred and with A/G on their underwear... (please do not be offended... this was my perspective). At first, I had no interest, but then I knew...this where I need to be. I began to get excited. I visited this smaller midwest college town, had two interviews and two weeks later...I moved here in the dead heat of summer.

Um, yes, I did. I started working full time and it barely paid the bills. I was a secretary again. I was miserable. But, hey, at least I had insurance ... and most of my co-workers were Christians. And, they said they would work with my school schedule.

Over the summer, I became involved in a community of Christians...young adults specifically. It is everything I had been praying for God to develop back in Kentucky...but is was here, in the center of the A/G universe and I was completely shocked. Did I fail to mention I tend to see people and everything else through the lens of prophetic potential? I see them as they are becoming...and so it makes loving them as they are so much easier... I fell head over heels for what God is doing here... and it soon became all I could think about and pray for...

Enter my first semester of seminary. I am pretty stupid and idealistic sometimes. Who thinks they can go to seminary... work forty hours a week...study Greek in a distance course... be SUPER involved in a church community/ministry...have a social life...hang out with international students...lead a small group... and sleep?? This girl right here...silly old me!! EPIC FAIL.

Long story a little shorter than it actually is. I chose to engage this community first. I was working and trying to study and enraptured with deep thoughts of what God is doing here... I began to get sick. Something that is a classic sign that I've overdone it... BIG PROBLEM when you have a probationary period for work. Over six months of work I missed 2.5 days due to sickness... and I lost my job ... never had that happen before...ever... let's talk about humble pie.

To make things more complicated, this semester made me really begin to question my motives for going to seminary. I did not enjoy one moment... well, except for the class on Gender & Culture...but I was frustrated about not being able to engage it enough. Most of the time, I felt completely frustrated with the entire process... and disconnected from seminary life... and felt like I was an orange in a basket of apples. When the spring semester class list came out, all of the course times conflicted with my work schedule. I decided that I would take a semester off and pray about my seminary investment. Registration ended on a Friday, I lost my job on the following Monday.

So, suddenly I find myself in a town I tolerate with nothing to show for the past six months but a great group of friends and an epic failure in the rest of life. That brings us up-to-date...