Five Minute Friday: Promise

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Gentle Reader,

I fell asleep around 6:30 p.m. last night. Woke up at 8:15, feeling confused but also deeply at one with the blanket. And I wasn’t the only one; my dog, traumatized by his visit to the groomer’s earlier in the week, snored loudly.

Kate says: promise.

Go.

I’m not a runner. I’ll do just about any other kind of physical activity. Hiking, Pilates, kickboxing, weight lifting, dancing, swimming. Hardly the best at any of these, but I’ll do them. Running, though? If nobody is chasing me, what’s the point? (And if somebody was chasing me, good chance I’d go all “deer in the headlights,” anyway). I’m just not competitive enough, with myself or others.

And yet I am a runner.

Youth ministry crashed into my life like a tornado a few months ago, almost as if God said, “Yeah, so, you’re going to stop avoiding this now.” Why He plopped these beautiful people in my lap, I’ll never know for sure, because nobody thinks “youth leader” when they look at me. Too anxious. Too reserved. Too studious. Too always trying to hide a highly sensitive heart behind an analytical, detached exterior.

Ah, but He who began the good work in me sees it through (Philippians 1:6).

That’s a promise to which we can hold. God’s ways are not our ways. His plans are not our plans. He sees things in us that we don’t see in ourselves. When we stop running, and give ourselves over to Him, we experience the strange combination of energy and rest. Passion to do what He made us to do. Peace in knowing that we do not do it in our own strength.

Why this and why me? I have no idea. Maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe it’s enough for me to just say “yes” and love these people. And I do love them, fiercely. Like the proverbial mama bear, I watch as they take faltering steps to truly form community, to truly engage with the Gospel, and I know that I cannot and will not allow anything to mess with that or them, even if that means I have to access my not-so-gentle side and come out swinging.

They have my heart.

And I realize that them having it means that God has it, perhaps in a way He never has before, because i have not allowed Him to pull and stretch me like this. I have held onto the false promises of low expectations and safety.

Now?

I cling to the promise of life, rich and full, found in Him.

Stop.

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Any Time at All

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Gentle Reader,

Interrupting what is apparently going to be a series on the sisterhood of suffering (I often don’t know exactly what will develop when I begin writing something) to share some thoughts on motherhood.

What?, you think. She knows she doesn’t have kids, right?

Jen Wilkin writes:

Just as my biological children needed me to train them in self-control, industriousness, and obedience, so also do young believers in the church need those who are more mature to train them in godliness. Every believing woman who grows to maturity becomes, in her time, a spiritual mother to those following behind, whether she ever becomes a mom in physical terms. She fulfills that most basic calling of motherhood: nurturing the helpless and weak to maturity and strength. She helps the young believer to nurse on the pure milk of the Word, faithfully teaching basic doctrine and modeling the fruit of the Spirit. She sacrificially makes herself available, like the mother of a newborn infant, allowing her schedule and personal needs to be inconvenienced for the sake of caring for the spiritually young and vulnerable. And she understands the work to be not a trial but a sacred duty, finding deep delight in wobbly first steps of faithfulness and stuttered first words of truth. (emphasis mine)

My beloved youths chose to participate in 30 hours of fasting over the weekend, a fact that led to me being awake for 36-plus hours. For someone who loves sleep as much as I do, that was the real sacrifice. Not the logging off of all social media and leaving my phone in my backpack. Not the shunning of food (though I did come to realize how much I love coffee…and Nutella…and cheese [which I shouldn’t eat]…and all carbs). Keeping my bleary eyes open to make sure they were safe, not fainting, or fighting with each other – so hard. Part of me wanted to say, “Do whatever you want. Just don’t burn the church down,” and then find some quiet spot for a long nap.

But I’d do it again. No question.

There are not sufficient words to describe how lovely it is to watch them begin to process big concepts like compassion and justice. So many despise teenagers, find them annoying and basically useless. That many couldn’t be more wrong.

They got up very early on Saturday morning and (mostly) cheerfully served breakfast – that they would not eat – to homeless people. They want to go back and do it again.

They walked around a downtown section of our city, choosing to be bold and brave enough to approach strangers, to ask them for a bit of their stories and to offer prayer. Most of them were rejected. A few experienced the elation of being received. They want to go back and do it again.

They really had no idea that they go to school with people who don’t have food at home, or even a home at all. They want to do something about that.

They sat in silence on the beach for over half an hour, reading their Bibles, journaling, or contemplating nature. The majority said this was their favorite activity; they never have time for quiet. Some of them heard the Spirit’s whisper for the first time. The wonder on their faces…

They got hangry, like really hangry, but banded together and encouraged each other to see it through to the end, even as they made dinner together, a dinner that they would not taste-test (but turned out pretty dang good).

They served each other Communion.

…a motherless church is as tragic as a motherless home. Guiding the spiritually young to maturity is not solely the job of the vocational pastor, the elder, or the Sunday school teacher. The church needs mothers to care for the family of God. We must rise to our responsibility, eagerly searching for whom the Lord would have us nurture. There is no barrenness among believing women. Through the gospel, all become mothers in their maturity. And unlike biological motherhood, spiritual motherhood holds the potential for hundreds, even thousands of descendants. Older women in the faith, do you recognize the vital importance of your influence and example? Whom could you make room for in your life to guide toward maturity? Who needs the hard-earned wisdom you hold? Spiritual babies need help to open God’s Word, to live at peace with God and others, to be lights in dark places. Babies need mothers. (emphasis mine)

They really are “my beloved youths.” The affection that pounds in my heart is deep and real. I am their Cougar, their Sexy Grandma, their Second Momma. (Nope, I won’t explain the first two, because you definitely had to be there). I love listening to them, joking with them, being around them. I can hardly contain myself as they take those wobbly steps of faith.

So will I stay up all night, holding a young lady as she sobs?

Any time at all.

None of us needs ever to question our usefulness in the household of God. We have only to draw the next searching fledgling under our wing.

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A Note to the Young’uns

Gentle Reader,

…set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, and in purity.

– 1 Timothy 4:12b (CSB)

You thought you were going to escape, didn’t you?

No, the elders are not supposed to despise you. We are supposed to come alongside you, build you up, encourage you, empower you. We are not always good at this. In fact, we often fail at this. We are short-tempered, easily frustrated and stuck in our ways. Because, you see, we have not arrived. We have not figured it all out. We’re still in process with Jesus, still needing Him to shape us into the people He wants us to be.

But.

You knew that was coming, right?

Our failures are not an excuse for you.

You, dear one who is often confused in the middle of the growing and the learning and the raging hormones but really does want to follow Jesus, are called to a higher standard. You don’t get to do whatever you want and then get mad when someone with a little more experience, a bit more wisdom, corrects you. That’s just not an option. It’s not the good or right option, anyway. In all the chaotic mess that is your thoughts and emotions, you have to make the choice to learn how to slow down and listen.

It’s hard. It doesn’t seem fair. But in a year or five, you’ll back and realize, “Wow, okay. That person loved me. And maybe they did know what they were talking about.”

I was the teenager who had big fights with her parents. I broke curfew. Spoke disrespectfully. Got so tired of hearing about how I needed to be responsible. Threatened to not go to college because…I really don’t know why, it just seemed like a good idea at the time. And that’s the key phrase: Seemed like a good idea at the time.

I was the teenager who tasted alcohol long before she should have. (Never was that into it, though my dad once asked why I skipped beer and went straight to vodka. I honestly don’t know). Who had dysfunctional relationships. Who looked okay on the outside, but everything inside her was screaming, desperate to be real but not sure how to do that. Full of the correct answers when asked, but really a hypocrite.

I was the teenager who let fear rule her life. The plain fact is that I could have gone to school just about anywhere I wanted to. Harvard was an option. If I had continued in journalism, I could have pursued a Marshall Scholarship and gone to England to study at Cambridge or Oxford. Now, at this point, I’m relieved that I made different choices and am not hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt, but that practicality isn’t why I made the different choices. I was insecure and scared. I chose not to believe that I was capable.

There were people in my life who pushed me to step up and step out. I chose to ignore them. I let an opportunity to attend Samuel School, an Evangelical Friends retreat offered to students who have been identified as future leaders by church elders, pass me by. I didn’t pursue a summer internship with a local newspaper, even though my adviser and mentor assured me that I was shoe-in. Every time someone noticed me, pinpointed something in me or about me that God had planted there, I turned tail and ran away.

Sweet one, listen to me.

Don’t follow my example in these things.

Yes, we fail, hard and often. But there are adults in your life who really do care. We really do want to see you flourish. We really do believe that you have been placed in this context for a reason. We get on your case about certain things, like your addiction to your smartphone (yeah, we’re addicted, too), because we know, via our own stupid decisions and the radical, amazing grace of God, that there is more and better for you. Not one of you has to settle for the paltry, stale crumbs the world offers.

And there’s more.

Do you know that you are an elder, too? There’s always someone younger than you, looking at you, watching all the things you do. They want to be like you. They think you’re beyond cool. They love you so much. While you are one-hundred percent not responsible for choices that they end up making, you are meant to set a good example. A holy example.

You can do that. By staying connected to God through the words on the page (yes, the page, because those notifications are so distracting, even if you are sincerely trying to use your Bible app) and through prayer, especially those, “Help me, Jesus!” prayers. By finding a mentor, someone who has permission to call you on your crap and point you toward the good and the right. By sticking with church, even though it’s a real pain sometimes.

I believe in the God who made you, so carefully and tenderly. I believe that you can walk through life with your head up, neither looking down to or upon anyone. I believe that there are things that only you can do, special work designed and planned for you long before the stars began to flame. I believe that you have great value.

I believe in you.

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A Note to the Elders

Gentle Reader,

“Don’t let anyone despise your youth…”

– 1 Timothy 4:12a (CSB)

I’ve heard this verse so many times. When I was fourteen, a traveling preacher came to my school and spoke during chapel. Most of us hated chapel; it was boring but required. This particular day, however, was better than most. This man was engaging. He was funny. He had a passion for truth. And he seemed to think that we, lowly teenagers, could actually have a positive impact on this world.

The school was rooted in the soil of Pentecostalism, so at one point he asked anyone who wanted prayer to come forward. That was fine and dandy, something that all traditions do, but he started speaking in tongues and I regretted stepping forward because, honestly, it scared me. Not something I’d experienced before. Almost fled back to my seat. But when he got to me, he stopped doing that and looked at me for a long time. Everyone in the room got still. He took my hands and said, quietly, “You are a woman after God’s own heart. Never forget that.”

I never have. Never will.

Much wandering and insecurities across the years, but I can tell you that the Holy Spirit never let me go. The voice was always there. Always drawing me back to His love. To His truth. To His grace.

I watched Him do the same with others this past weekend. Young men and women, of various ages and backgrounds. They bounced and danced in the aisles as the worship music played, free in their movements. They listened attentively to the speaker, full of insights and questions after each session. Played truly competitive dodgeball. Flung themselves happily into a service project. Got hangry and tired, but who doesn’t?

And I thought, “Yes. The church is going to be okay. These people truly want Him, even if they don’t all fully realize that yet.”

So, elders, whether an elder by many years or just a few: Don’t despise them.

That’s the implied command in Paul’s words. He’s aware that some will not respect Timothy because of his age. He tells his protege to set an example for them by conducting his life in a Christ-pleasing way. All very straightforward. In the roundabout, he’s also saying that Timothy shouldn’t be disrespected simply because he’s young. He shouldn’t be despised.

I’m a Millennial, set to burn the world down while clutching my avocado toast. At least that’s what all the think-pieces claim. That’s what some of the elders in my life have communicated to me in the past. You can’t do this. That’s a dumb idea. I don’t get you. Get back in your place. It sucks. It hurts to be shot down just because you haven’t reached certain milestones or you have a different way of approaching situations.

And, if I may, it’s an arrogant and fear-based attitude.

Battles between the generations are as old as Adam, Eve, Cain and Abel. (I wonder what they fought about)? But here’s the thing: We don’t have to keep repeating the cycle. We who have the Spirit of Christ within are enabled to make better choices. We can approach the younger with open hearts. We can say, You can do this! And then teach them how to do it. That’s a crazy idea and I love that you came up with it! And then, slowly, patiently, show them how to implement those crazy ideas. I don’t always get you, but I love you. And then genuinely, truly love them, just as they are. Your place is right here, with me, doing this thing. And then actually, really, integrate them into the life of the Body.

Teenagers aren’t some separate, scary species. They don’t need to be tucked away in a basement room, cut off from everyone else. Their awkwardness, enthusiasm and ideas breathe life into the church. They are our brothers and sisters. Sure, little brothers and sisters, squirrelly brothers and sisters, but equal participants in the Kingdom of God.

Let them in.

Let them do.

Let them be.

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