To Momma:

It is important to know the ways that God makes himself known in our lives. When we’re told how we reflect the nature of Jesus, we are less prone to doubt that he is with us. I give praise to God for how he continues to shape you more and more into his image, and I want to point you to the ways that God’s character is evident in you.

First, you are gracious. You do not let the sin of others cause you to seek justice. Like Jesus, “where sin increases, grace increases all the more” (Romans 5:20). Though we are guilty before God for all of our heinous sins, Jesus gave us more grace than we could ever imagine. The gracious way that you act towards others has taught me to choose forgiveness over anger or condemnation.

You also have endurance. The Christian life is one of difficulty. The writer of Hebrews calls it “a race.” Instead of choosing to be lazy or to quit when things get difficult, you have endured. You have “laid aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles, and ran with endurance the race that is set before you, fixing your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Jesus is our perfect example of endurance, and you emulate him in your life.

Another quality of God within you is the way that you give boundless love. You love others deeply, fully, and richly. There is this amazing word in the Old Testament used to describe God. It’s called “hessed” and it is usually translated just as “love” but it means much more than that. It’s the kind of love that is pure, the love that produces kindness towards others, the love that is better than life itself (Psalm 63:3), and the love that is only able to come from God. The Lord has given you the ability to show this kind of love to others.

Finally, you feel things deeply. This may not seem like a quality of God at first, but God is the creator of emotions. He is the one that made them, and they are good. They have a purpose, and that purpose is to draw you closer to the One who created emotion. You have taught me how to feel, and how to not be ashamed of those emotions, but to let them draw you closer to God.

(I wrote this letter to my mother for part of her Christmas gift. It was appropriate to share again today.)

25 Women Who Have Influenced Me

For my 25th birthday, I wanted to share 25 women who have influenced me so far in life:

1. Momma

Is it possible to measure the influence of a loving mother? I don’t think so. I do think, though, that since my mother has an immeasurable influence, it screams of her immeasurable love for me. Momma displays the deepest, kindest love of any woman I have ever known, and has shown me how to love like Jesus. Not another woman on this list can hold a candle to her influence.

2. Amanda

I’ve written about my sister before, and you can read my full description of her influence here. In short, Amanda influences the way I see the world. She will forever be the one I look to as my earthly example for how to have the compassion and grace of Christ.

3. Alaina

My baby sister is different from me in a lot of ways, but she has become a dear friend over the years and her desire to know Jesus and seek for the best way to follow Him has taught me a lot. She has wisdom that I didn’t have and I learn from her thoughtfulness often.

4. Stephanie White

Stephanie was the first real mentor I had. She was especially influential in my love of literature and the arts. I have always been encouraged by her drivenness and vision, and for how she has loved me like a true older sister in the faith.

5. Hannah Vernon

Hannah was my advocate in the Fusion process and exemplified life-on-life discipleship to me. She showed me grace in times when I didn’t deserve it and challenged me to love God with my life.

6. Michelle Peters

Michelle is my best friend and one of my biggest role models. A lot (if not most) of my growth in my early adult life can be contributed to my life, conversations, prayers, and arguments with Michelle. She has loved me through it all, for some strange reason. 🙂

7. Tamara Zajac

I’ve known Tam for as long as I’ve known Michelle, and what was at first challenging for me to see has now become a strong influence. Tamara has influenced the way I relate to others and has taught me how to listen and care for those with whom I commune.

8. Akilah Medlock

She gets me. There are some people who understand what you’re saying, and others who know the precise emotions and reasoning behind your words. Akilah is that person and has influenced the way that I seek to understand people as fully as she does.

9. Amanda Gibson

She also gets me. We share many of the same loves and Amanda has influenced the way that I enjoy life’s little pleasures. She is also one of the most selfless people I’ve ever known and continually challenges me to give up my own comforts for the sake of others.

10. Mallory Pulliam

In so many ways, Mallory has influenced the kind of woman I want to become. If I ever have children, I want to parent like she does. I’m incredibly thankful for her influence in the characteristics I strive to emulate.

11. Ashley Smith

She probably doesn’t know this, but she was the instrument God used to influence my decision to pursue writing. We were in a small group together, and she said, “go for it,” which was the confidence I needed to submit the first post.

12. Stephanie Savage

In my first few years of life in Kansas City, Stephanie was the one who became a “mother” to me. She took me into her home for meals, prayed for me, and exemplified what it means to welcome people into your home without hesitation.

13. Amy Gilmore

When I returned from my second trip overseas, I struggled with several things in the years to come. Amy was the one who gave me language for the depression I experienced and the tools to overcome. She showed me how to counsel others with care and boldness.

14. Elizabeth Mejia

There’s a phrase that Liz said many times many years ago that has never left my brain. “What does the Word of God say?” Always, with every statement I made, she challenged me to seek God’s Word as my foundation and not my feelings, and I still cling to that question.

15. Faith Lewis

Faith is the Timothy to my Paul. That statement is less about my greatness and far more about her faithfulness. I clumsily disciple Faith, and despite my failings, she has held fast to the Lord and obeyed him with joy. She lives up to her name and pushes me towards stronger faith.

16. Marina

What a gift, this sister is to the church. Marina partnered with me overseas and taught me how to be faithful amidst real persecution, how to fearlessly proclaim God’s Word to people who don’t know Him, and how to be a woman of prayer.

17. Amy Doolittle

In a moment of deep uncertainty, Amy stepped in and with tears in her eyes and told me to go back to a country and a people group I refused to serve. She reminded me that God calls us to obedience and that we serve a God who makes all things new, which I still remember regularly.

18. Howard

My high-school literature teacher is probably one of the main reasons I love literature and writing so much. She was the first person I can remember who encouraged me to pursue writing and I think my love for fiction could be traced back to her as well.

19. The Woman at the Well

This story in John 4 has always been one of my favorites. She doesn’t deserve the attention of Jesus, and yet he shows her deep love. She is known by God and that promotes her to share her story with the whole village. Incredibly influential women.

20. Lillias Trotter

Y’all don’t even know how much this woman is shaping me right now. Her story is not well known, but she was a fierce, obedient, artistic woman in the 19th century who I have learned much from, and hope to continue to learn from for the rest of my life.

21. Ann Judson

Her husband usually receives the spotlight, but what an incredible woman! She gave up all comfort to take the gospel to Burma, fought to keep her husband alive, and worked hard in the ministry. Her life reminds me that the gospel is worth our whole lives.

22. Belle

Judge all you want for this, but Belle from Beauty and the Beast was and still is influential over my personality. I found it difficult to balance my bold personality and compassionate heart as a child, and Belle helped me understand how to be a strong woman. (I wrote a bit more about her here if you’re interested).

23. Elizabeth Elliot

Mrs. Elliot is one of my heroes. She didn’t leave the mission field even after her husband was killed. Her steadfastness and sincere love of God is a beautiful example to Christians, and I’m extremely thankful for her life.

24. Marilynne Robinson

Few novels have enriched my soul like Marilynne Robinson’s. She is one of the few authors of our day that writes lasting stories. Her books have taught me how to reveal simple things as extraordinary.

25. Lore Wilbert

Lore’s writing has impacted my writing style and the way I think in ways that she’ll never know. She once said, “God has you exactly where you can bring him the most glory, and when he wants you to bring him glory in another place, he’ll move you.” That statement changed my life.

The Cure for Cynics and Scoffers

From the beginning of time, skepticism has been the natural inclination of our hearts. Our sin in the Garden highlights the beginning of our doubts. Even the most remarkable truths, like the truth that creation is “good” (Genesis 1), is subject to destruction by the imputation of our preferences over the will of God. We have doubted goodness ever since.

Not only have we doubted, we have disbelieved. In skepticism, we hesitate to agree with declarative statements made by friends and leaders. Yet it doesn’t always stop with simple disagreement. We have somehow found our way into cynicism. It is in our cynicism that we hold so strongly to our preferences and become scoffers of anything that does not build up what we love.

The origins of our cynicism do not begin in isolation, but in communities that forget why they exist. We are inclined to spend time with like-minded friends, and though it is good to dwell in a community that holds similar ideals and opinions, these groups can easily become a breeding ground for an attitude of supremacy. I can give countless testimonies of how this has played itself out in my life, but let me draw you into one way I have been guilty of this. I love good quality coffee and most of the people I spend time with are confessing coffee snobs. Because of this, I have become convinced that coffee is superior to all other warm beverages. In turn, I patronize anyone who thinks differently than me with a “good natured spirit.”  Though this is a light-hearted testimony, there are far more serious acts of cynicism that can destroy the ultimate foundation of our love for one another.

To love one another is not to love our shared ideals. Our sinful motivation to receive human acceptance casts a shadow upon a rightly-motivated longing for unity found in Jesus. This universal striving for acceptance and self-elevation plays out in the lives of Millennials more evidently than any other generation. Far too many of our conversations are about why one church is the best in polity, or how a specific kind of music, preaching style, discipleship model, major, leadership training program, or missions agency is superior to all others. All the rest is reserved for scoffing.

Don’t mistake what I am implying. I am not saying that disagreeing about our preferences is wrong. We are shaped by humbling ourselves and then allowing others to challenge our opinions and ideals in a gracious and loving way. The truth is that there is nothing edifying or loving about a disposition of disagreement. Instead of building up the body of Christ, we turn our opinions into law for other believers. The dilution or degradation of another believer’s voice is a painful reminder that we love ourselves much more than we love each other. When we elevate our personal preferences over the truth of the gospel, we are communicating to those who share in the Spirit of God that we care nothing for their thoughts and ultimately do not need them to interfere with our kingdom of right-thinking. Human dignity is demolished in the face of our adherence to our own kingdom. We set up a banner of unity that says something other than “Jesus.” What we desperately need is to adhere to the King.

How can we achieve true unity? Is it possible to have conversations about Calvinism where our motivation is not to win an argument, but instead we are motivated to elevate Jesus and affirm one another? We could look to plenty of moralistic methods for positive thinking and being tolerant. But “morality” did not save the Pharisees, and it will not save us. The solution is a person, not a system.

The only way we can be healed from our negativity towards one another is through Jesus. Christ achieved the perfection we could not achieve and did so with greater humility than we could ever strive to produce. It is in the context of unity among believers that Paul encourages the church to speak in a manner that edifies and gives grace (Ephesians 4). This leaves no room for cynical, scoffing people in the Kingdom.

Is there hope for the one who, like me, tends to speak her opinions without love? Only in Jesus. We must stand under the banner of His Name, not our ideals and preferences. Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together that, “the goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation.”

We can bring the message of salvation to one another. But we can only do this by submitting our hateful tongues and dirty hearts to the Lord. Thankfully, it is not up to us to create unity and speak without cynicism; at our best we will still possess latent sinfulness. We need the grace of God and the power of the Spirit to clear our lives of cynicism and make the way for loving unity that only comes by the work and person of Jesus.

Why I’m Going to Seminary, and Why I’m Going [Back] to Midwestern

If you have ever graduated from anything, you have been asked some form of the question “What’s next?” As my own college graduation date approached this past May, this question fell from the lips of every single person I knew (which, strangely, is not much of a hyperbole). My reply to them became an ever increasing forceful shrug of my shoulders in exasperated uncertainty. Apparently, this is not an acceptable answer to this question, so I would stumble around trying to conjure up a statement of my mythical desires and opportunities to give to my well meaning friends until I satisfied their inquiries.

The future was quite muddy, but I was mostly okay with that. Initially, three things kept me from considering Midwestern. One was that I just completed a five year stent of education at MBTS and wasn’t entirely fond of adding four more to that number. Wise people encouraged me to go elsewhere and expand my horizons in education, which is a helpful and good piece of advice. Another blockade was a growing apathy that was settling in my mind for lack of passion. Because I was not sure what I was passionate about pursuing, pursuing anything at all was paralyzing. I am not the kind of person that chooses a path just to choose something; I need to have good reasons and strong passions that I’m sure will make me love Jesus more to make a choice. Finally, I didn’t want to go to Midwestern just because it is familiar and safe. I know the professors, culture, students, city, and staff that contributes to making that school what it is. Not only do I know it well, I also love it. I have made a home in Kansas City and the last five years of my spiritual development have begun in the walls of the classrooms and apartments of Midwestern’s campus. It seemed like going back would be much like returning to an old friend simply because you can’t find any new friends, and that wasn’t a good enough reason.

Thankfully, I have some of the best friends a struggling girl could ask for. They began to remind me of my inclination to find what I love and pursue that wholeheartedly. During these conversations I was free to analyze all of my interests and find the thing that deserved to be next.

As I analyzed all my options, two things rose above the rest. I have been transformed by the redeeming work of the older brother Jesus to pay for my wretched ways with his blood and call me to the Father as a beloved prodigal daughter rather than a distant harlot. The Gospel has given me a yearning to know the Word of God, the revelation of Jesus better than I know anything else. Not only do I hunger to understand the Bible, I also hunger to know its implications for women. Even in the early years of my education in college, I sought the Scriptures for the meaning of Biblical womanhood which then translated into seeking to understand complementarianism, the specific gifts God has given to women, the way women can and should function in the church’s process of discipleship, and in recent months how women fit into the intellectual seminary setting.

Once I realized these two things, that I want to know God’s Word and how to utilize that knowledge to make disciples of women and teach them how to obey Jesus, the transition to thinking about seminary was an easy one.

Why wouldn’t I continue my education so that both of my heart’s longings may be cultivated?

More than that, why wouldn’t I do so at a seminary that elevates the Word of God above all other sources of knowledge so that the Bride of Christ that I so deeply desire to be communal with (Redeemer Fellowship) may be built up with men and women who can lead, equip, and love her well? My decisions could not be evaluated by standards of what would make me great. They could only be evaluated by what would make me love Jesus more.

If you know anything about Midwestern, you now know why I wouldn’t second guess my choice to continue here. They are committed to training leaders who know the Bible for the church. Sure, I am going to be in a comfortable and familiar setting, I am going to be here for quite a while longer, and I am not going on to an Ivy League school for my masters degree. One thing I am going to receive is a Biblically committed education from Christ-exalting professors, fellow thinkers who can help me grow in my love of God and his people, and a closeness to the city and church that God has called me to plant myself in. I trust I will grow in my love of Jesus over the next 3-4 years, and that is worth it all.

I pray that the passions I pursue in this next stage of life continue for the rest of my breathing life and serve as constant pillars of light that point myself and others to the God of my salvation until he calls me home.

What a Friend I have in Jesus

There is no greater friend that I have than in God. He knows me fully, loves me still, and gave Himself up for the ugly girl that I am. Sometimes I will be struggling in my heart with sins and pains that no one knows. My secrets will be hidden by the joyful smile on my face, but they are written blatantly on my heart. In these times I tend to run in to God throughout my day, acknowledge His presence, and turn and walk away as quickly as I can. It is not as though I am unhappy to see Him, because indeed He is my most wonderful friend! It is instead that when I see God, He gives me the look that an old friend gives another; the look of knowing is pervasive across His glance. He looks at me and knows that I am not alright. He also knows that I have to be the one who comes to Him to share my heart, and He patiently longs for me to do so. That should be a comforting thing to me, but the thought of admitting what is going on inside of me brings me great fear. Because I forget that God really is the great friend that I know Him to be, I keep avoiding Him and walking away at every opportunity.

When I get home and close the door to my room, my sin sits on my bed like a wolf waiting for its prey and stares me in the face. Its gaze is also one of knowing, but a knowing that says “you know you want me” with a dagger-like bite waiting to strike if I reach out to pet it. I crawl into my bed, tired from a day of struggle, and kick my sin to the edge where it still paces and lingers over me. In the darkness of this room, I find myself once again looking eye-to-eye with God. He’s there, right in front of me, and this time I know I cannot turn away because my pet-enemy is crouching and ready to devour me. I can only turn to my most faithful friend.

My words fail me and I cannot muster up the ability to say what makes me want to turn to my enemy instead of my friend. It is in this moment that I realize God is not so far off that I need to shout for Him to hear me. He is there, He is in front of me, He is near. All that I can do is whisper to Him. When I first have the courage to whisper the words “God, I need You,” the wolf instantly goes away into the darkness. As I continue with more confidence to whisper to my sweet friend, my heart finds comfort in His closeness and His attentiveness. God, my friend, hears every word that is so quietly uttered from my lips.

Not only was He hearing me, He was reminding me between every tear that He yearns for my confession and trust in Him. He desires to have fellowship with me, His daughter, and He wants to point me to what He did for me on the cross. In light of God’s great love, my swift avoidance of interacting with Him was foolish. Yet even my evasion of Him was paid for and washed away at the foot of the cross. What a friend I have in Jesus!

A Deliberation on Communication

Communication finds its heritage in making things common. And this is what anyone who has ever had a friend, teacher, lover or family member could attest to. 

It is no surprise that the word “community” and the word “communication” find their construction in the word “common”. Communication implies that it must be done in community; it must involve more than one party. Likewise, community implies that there is a form of regular communication established. How could a community share things in common (Acts 2:44) if there is no communication? The answer is that they could not. 

Communication should be thorough yet simple while still being direct and loving. As a student of the humanities, I find much of my career in higher education being determined by my essays. If I am not thorough and simple (a nice word for this concept being concise) and if I am not maintaining direction and love (I think edifying is the most appropriate word), then I have not achieved what I set out to do.

When I am not thorough, my argument can easily be seen as foolish. If I lack simplicity, my writing will not be understood by many people. If direction is absent, readers will search for a point and not find one. Finally, if I do write from a standpoint of love, the essay is not of eternal value, and is therefore of no value at all. This may seem technical, but I believe that well-rounded writing helps strengthen better communication. Obviously I don’t claim to have a complete list of the necessities of good communication, but at this point I’ll stand by these four concepts as foundational ones.

In a practical sense, I have also spent much of my time in college living in small, sometimes forced, intentional and extremely messy communities. It has been proven to me time and time again that our ability as a whole group to communicate thoroughly, simply, directly and lovingly dictates how well or how poorly we are going to function.

I could probably tell a story where I failed or someone else failed in every single one of these areas. But the point here is not to complain, but to encourage. When we take a serious approach to the way we communicate with those around us, our lives with one another look vastly different than the world. Ephesians 4:29 is set in the context of describing a community of believers. In this verse, Paul commands “do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” 

As a follower and lover of Jesus, we must consider how much of an impact our communication with one another has on the community in which we dwell. 

Thorough, simple, direct, loving. Let us think and speak within these things.

A Story of Salvation

A couple of weeks ago, I reached a point of desperation. My spirit was drained to a point of emptiness. My cup was not overflowing. It actually had nothing left inside of it that I could see. The jar of clay that is my heart was not only dry, but also cracking, dusty, and useless. Because of these feelings, an avalanche of frustrations occurred. I was speaking to my friends with an incline towards hatefulness, and by speaking with an absence of love in my words, I, in turn, felt most unloved.

 Not only that, but I felt myself on the edge of slipping into a uncomfortably familiar state of being. It was as if I was standing at the top of a downward slope, and once the first step was taken, gravity’s momentum  would push me further into the black abyss that is depression. Once I went down, I knew I was not coming back up on my own. Yet I still sought to reason myself out of these feeling and speak truthful things to myself. However, that was only enough to keep me from stepping; it didn’t keep me from slipping. 

Someone was going to have to hold my arm and stand firm while I couldn’t. Someone was going to have to be strong where I was weak. In the moment where my heart felt hopeless and I saw no one around who could help, the Lord provided a friend to step in and speak these words of life over me:

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” -Romans 8:1

I have read Romans 8 more times than I have read any other passage of the Bible. This is a portion of Scripture that has been hidden away in my heart and mind for years. Yet when my friend proclaimed this passage over me, along with other truthful and loving things, my dry and cracked heart began to taste the slow and steady drip of healing. Much like a trickle of water in the Smoky Mountains, this small and crisp sip of refreshment began to rush downward into my weary heart and became a roaring river of forgiveness alleviating my sin. 

The action of a friend speaking the Word of Life gave way for the Spirit to break through to me. The Lord was, as He always is, completely divine in this intercession. My muffled and whimpering cry for help was heard by my loving Father, and He perfectly cared for my fragile heart. He provided by sending a member of His church to build me up and strengthen me. Yet this was only the beginning, for His great love overwhelmed me further still. How great is His tender care!

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God” -Romans 8:26-27

It is an incredible gift to be reminded of God’s salvation so deeply and thoroughly. Thank God our hope is eternal, and we need not fear depression, because the battle has already been won in Christ Jesus. Praise Him who knows what we need better than we do, and provides salvation through His mysterious and wonderful means. 

Hopeful Wandering

In the midst of seemingly endless traveling, we remember that we are hopeful citizens of an eternal city, and we take comfort.

The idea of a hopeless wanderer carries with it the implication of a journey with no end in sight. There is no hope for the one who seeks to find himself along the way because there is no guarantee that he will find what he is looking for and therein direct his steps upon a path. He will not be able to step towards anything. It is possible for a man to step away from his current situation when it is dissatisfying or when he feels he is being held back. Yet stepping away can only be fulfilling if the steps move at an end that will keep a man from falling back into the very thing he sought to remove himself from.

First, he must be found, then he may step forward in confidence towards that which finds him.

The Christian who knows God knows what he is seeking and where he belongs because he has been found by the One who knows all things. When God calls us out of darkness, we are called into His light (1 Peter 2:9). Not only that, but we are then to live a manner worthy of the calling we have received (Ephesians 4:1).

At times it seems as though the follower of Jesus is able to be none other than a vagabond. For many, this is the lifestyle that we live in. I certainly resonate with those who are constantly traveling and are not sure where to call “home”. I have accepted that a regular part of my life may be moving from place to place, yet the way my thoughts are guided by this reality can shape the structure of my path.

The difference between those who travel as the world does and those who travel through the world is based on the end that is in mind. 2 Corinthians 4-5 help us remember that those of us who are a part of the holy nation belong not to this world, but to the eternal city of God. Our wanderings can not be called hopeless, for we have the greatest hope in the promise of our unity with Jesus for all time. Instead, we can only take comfort that we are hopeful wanderers in this life with the permanent promise of being forever with our King.

Fresh Face, Old Endeavor

Three or four times at least I have set out to engage the undertaking of becoming an esteemed “blogger”. Evidence of my success in this endeavor can be found in the gap between my last post on my former blog, and the first post on this one. It adds up to one year. Clearly, I am not a disciplined “blogger”. Thus, in beginning a new website, I also seek to begin a new way of thinking.

Instead of setting out to become a blogger, I am simply stepping into the mindset of a writer. Though books, poetry and articles are not things I claim to have the gift of producing, I still believe in what I have received as a means by which I can write.

What is this that I have received? It is grace, and this grace has been given to me by Jesus Christ. He has given me a great gift in His grace, and this is the gift of knowledge. Knowing God in Jesus is Eternal Life (John 17:3). This eternal life is what my heart yearns for more than all else. The world offers much in the realm of contemplation and knowledge, but true knowledge is founded in Christ (Colossians 2:8-15). It could appear overwhelming when trying to seek truth while being bombarded with the philosophy of man. But we must take heart in the gift that we have been given to take captive every thought and make it obedient to Jesus (2 Corinthians 10:5). Through Him we can have understanding and wisdom of things that seem otherwise unobtainable.

I am making it my prayer that I would “run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding” (Psalm 119:32). My claim is not that I will present new ideas or profound concepts, but that the grace and knowledge of Jesus that I continue to grow in would be presented here in detail as encouragement or edification (2 Peter 3:18).