Perseverance and Grit…

 

I love the show American Grit on Fox. I so much enjoy watching people dig deep and do things they never thought possible! (Although admittedly, the first season was way more intense and challenging than the second season.)

September is now, and forevermore known as “Sucky Sober September.” Obviously the name alone makes it sound like it is connected to alcohol only, but in reality it is a shout out to a friend who almost died a year ago. – You see, in solidarity, the best friend Trifecta adjusted our eating habits for a month to help one of us get healthy again, and in that process we also gave up alcohol. Because we do all the healthy things, we also change the name depending on how we are feeling and add various descriptive S words.

To some people, Sucky Sober September sounds dramatic and crazy that we remove alcohol from our diets for a month, and yet other people don’t understand why that’s even necessary (“do you drink that much?”).. In all honesty, it’s not hard, but, the reality is that living in DC, most social activities revolve around alcohol. So, we have removed alcohol from September moving forward, but alcohol is only one facet of what happens throughout the month…

In September, I am finding my perseverance and grit.

My grit physically looks like running 3 days a week, and doing strength training at the gym 3 days a week.
September means choosing to hydrate appropriately (and praise the Lord for sparkling water), exercise 5 days a week (usually meaning I have to get up early and workout before work), meal prep for the week, and remove sweets and junk food from my diet.
It is difficult to describe how challenging it is, I hate running, I hate mornings, and I hate being up before the sun. But, it is also hard because I have a disorder that means my tendons and ligaments don’t have enough collagen and I dislocate easily… Meaning, I am in some sort of pain most days, and while getting into shape definitely helps hold my body together, it’s significantly harder for me to get into shape because I cannot over fatigue my muscles or I will dislocate while I sleep.

Yet, here I am, 5 days a week, making it happen because I have decided. Simply saying I am showing up isn’t enough, it’s actually more about being diligent, persistent, holding steadfast and persevering day after day no matter how I feel.

On top of getting my life together physically, I am also in this corresponding spiritual season of resetting all of the things.

I have started doing a morning devotional phone call at 6:45am (it also helps to make sure I’m up and out of bed to workout too!), I have purposefully created time each day to journal through my thoughts and prayers, I have desired and created space to spend a ton of time reading scripture, and reintroduced fasting into my spiritual diet, I am also fairly certain I have been living on worship music alone. – This month I realized that when I’m not listening to worship music, my heart begins to fill with fear, anxiety, and insecurities… Neat.

There is a war going on, do not be fooled, the enemy is fighting whether you are or not.

Physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually I am hitting reset for September; which sounds super fun, easy, and like it should be the type of motivation that gets others up and going too… But, let me assure you, it is actually insanely hard, it sucks most days, it hurts in every single sense of the word, and many days I am not sure how I will make it through.

Two things the Lord has consistently communicated to me this month:
Steadfast and Perseverance. 

Doesn’t that sound like I should post such a nice little inspiration about how great and important being steadfast and persevering is? – In raw honesty; it looks more like a $h!t show, brokenness, hurt, pain, exhaustion, joy, faith, hope and then choosing obedience no matter how I feel day to day. It is much harder to be steadfast and persevere than anyone can easily explain.

Don’t get me wrong, some days have been so amazingly good, full of fun, laughter, joy, contentment, gratitude, and so much Grace from the Lord.
But, many days have been headphones in, head down and just getting through the day while hurting, and choosing to be obedient to what I have had laid out before me.

In my attempt to heal and restore my heart and insecurities, to work through and calm fears and anxieties, and to gain greater understanding, clarity, and more wisdom, I have spent hours every day reading through scripture. I have copied impactful passages into my journal and reviewed them almost daily. This month I have lost track of time as I research and read through scripture on peace, steadfast, perseverance, obedience, character, the armor of God, and fruit of the spirit.

In Ecclesiastes 3 it talks about how there is a season for everything; this season for me is intense, it is hard, and I am learning how to be steadfast and persevere regardless of how I feel. Yet, I am unable to close down my heart like I do naturally.

I am finding my perseverance and grit emotionally.

A few months ago, I began praying that the Lord would help me learn how to better navigate my head and heart together simultaneously. I have a tendency to shut my heart down and set it aside when I need to get things done, when I’m hurting and have to push forward or when I feel overwhelmed… I very often forget to check and see how I am feeling or what my heart is working through. My go-to is to think through my feelings, sometimes obsessively before I share them or even allow them to be seen or experienced by anyone else. – I want to have a grasp on what I’m feeling before I expose myself and choose to be vulnerable. And yet, a few months ago, after something my pastor said, I realized that the Holy Spirit is the perfect blending of both head and heart. In order to follow after and be more like Christ, I absolutely must do a better job of balancing both at the same time.

So, earlier this summer, I began intentionally working to balance both and not requiring myself to have my heart figured out before I shared it with anyone else… I decided to choose to let people into my process if they asked, and to take the time to actually consider my heart in the moments.

In September, I began the month not well, I found myself full of insecurities coming out to play. I was struggling with the things the Lord and I have been slowly exposing in my heart over the last couple months. In order for Him to heal the brokenness in my heart I had to be open, and yet, in my fear and anxiety, I shifted my focus from the Lord healing and restoring me, to someone tangible being responsible to fix my insecurities.

Nope. Not good, not healthy, not ok, and not acceptable.

Hard reset.

Once I shifted back to the Lord, I began asking Him to heal me, restore me, and to show me what He wants from me right now, in this season.

Repeatedly I keep coming back to Steadfast and Perseverance.

I know what it means, I know how it applies, I am aware of the situations in which Steadfast and Perseverance are directly connected. I know that the Lord is putting the challenge before me to be obedient. I have a choice, and it is not an easy one.

I am finding my perseverance and grit spiritually.

This season has been equally beautiful and rich but also hard and painful spiritually. My heart desires a closeness with the Lord that I have not experienced in more than five years. I cannot say that I feel like the Lord has “said” anything specific to me, but more a confidence and guidance as I press in and spend more time with him.

This September has felt a lot like God is asking me to “adult”…

Almost like He is saying,
“Ok, you know these things, you hear me telling you to be steadfast, to persevere, to be obedient.
But, will you?
Are you going to choose to exhibit the fruit of my Spirit?
Are you going to come to me when you are weak and weary?
Are you going to be selfless and love unconditionally like I do?
Are you going to look to me when your heart is hurting and broken?
Are you going to come to me when you’re angry?
Will you decide to give up your anxiety, fear, and insecurities to me?
What will you do with what I’ve taught you?”

Yes. Yes, I will be obedient.
Yes, I will turn to you my God when I’m hurting, broken, angry, weak and weary.
Yes, my sweet Lord, I will choose to be selfless, and I will choose hope and faith. Help me when I cannot and give me more Grace.

I believe that God’s Grace is sufficient for me. That today, in this moment, He will give me what I need to persevere, to hold steadfast, to be selfless, to love well… I cannot worry about tomorrow, next week, next month or the one after, I have to hold steadfast in the here and now; the Grace for today.

Today, I choose to be obedient.

But, let me tell you: It. Is. Effing. Hard. – being obedient is not for the faint of heart, it takes grit, determination and willpower to push through the moments and days that I just don’t have it in me.

On my hard days, my perspective is very much that I do not get an option, I have to dig deep and find my grit to persevere, to actively decide to choose grace, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control. It rails against everything I want to do in those moments, but it is obedience.

I have also realize that sometimes I literally run out of my ability to navigate and hold steady, to persevere, to choose to be obedient. And that sometimes, by the end of the day, it is like those parts of me have been exhausted and tapped dry. – Those are the moments when journaling my struggles and processing the day, when reading scripture and praying for the Lord’s blessing the next day, asking for more of His Grace make every bit of the difference.

He is faithful and He is enough.

So, Sucky Sober September is a month of making decisions against myself and my natural way of doing things. It sucks, it is hard, it is not easy, and I have no idea what is to come, but it is so good! I am not promised that things will change or get easier in October or November. I am not given assurance that everything will pay off…

But, what I do know and what I am holding fast to believing in Faith and choosing hope:

But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses.” – 1 Timothy 6:11-12

Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.
We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light.” – Colossians 1:10-12

“But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.
In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…” – Romans 8:25-26

“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58

First Impressions

My official job title is First Impressions Director for NCC. I love my job, it is challenging in a plethora of ways, but it also feeds into my strengths and passions and allows me to create space to learn more about people and how to reach them better; and then teach that to others.

The number one question I get asked is “What is a First Impressions Director?” – The  simplest way to explain it is: Anything that would be your first impression when you go to church; all of that falls under my responsibilities in one way or another. Meaning, it includes Hospitality, Connections, safety, setup and tear down, lobby, signage and of course coordinating volunteers that make all of these things possible… “and other duties as assigned” haha

Thankfully my more than a decades worth of marketing background lends itself quite nicely to my role, as does my research for marketing clients that I do on the side.

Two or more times a month someone from  another church will contact me looking for resources, trainings, general help, and sometimes just for someone to know how hard it is. The thing I find amazing is that these people are from around the country of varying sizes with different denominations, backgrounds and so many additional factors that play into their church. I love talking to and helping these churches. I love learning from and collaborating with them because there is always something to be learned for me as well!

I have found that there is very little out there in terms of resources for churches on the who/what/where/when/why and how of First Impressions/Hospitality. – That is NOT to say that churches haven’t created amazing teams, resources, trainings, or programs themselves; it is just not a topic that others can easily learn from like pastoring, discipleship, leadership, or worship in the church. There is significantly less available in terms of resources on the topic and there are no conferences that I have found.

Some questions I get often (and my answers):

Why First Impressions?
If you read through scripture, it actually is very clear that God cares very much about First Impressions. I think the reason behind it varies depending on where you read in scripture, but it is clear, for a dozen reasons it is important… But, it also looks different in different cultures. Read Exodus and Numbers about the creation and descriptions of the Temple… There is a RIDICULOUS amount of attention to detail. God cares about the colors, metals, fabrics, people, location and frequency of the Old Testament Temple. – In fact he cares so much, that if it is handled or approached inappropriately He MAY CHOOSE to kill you instantly. Dang.

Included in First Impressions is Hospitality, which scripture actually talks about as required character trait for Elders (1 Timothy 3:2) and Bishops (Titus 1:8) as well as being a command for all believers (1 Peter 4:9).

But, it is also something we are to PRACTICE and learn how to extend it (Romans 12:13). (wording is different depending on translation for this verse)

Is First Impressions just a fancy hipster name?

Maybe the title itself to could to some degree be considered a trend, however the cultural relevance, spirit and motivation behind it are based solidly in scripture.

How do I know this?

The care that God took with the Temple.
How Paul was careful to learn about the cultures he went to in order to spread the Gospel more effectively.

Included in First Impressions is Hospitality, which is not as simple and fluffy as we can make it to be in church ministry world.

The word “hospitality” is directly descended from the Latin “hospitalitas,” which means, “to be friendly or kind to strangers or guests.”

The Greek words φιλονεξία and φιλόξενος are translated “hospitality” in scripture, and literally mean “to show love to strangers.”

In order to love, be friendly or kind to strangers, you must know and understand them. – If you do not understand them, you risk the chance of offending them, making them feel awkward, creating anxiety or giving them a bad experience… And ultimately this means they are more than likely going to miss the encounter with Jesus because their focus will be elsewhere.

Know the culture of those you are engaging with.

Remove any and all barriers that you can, so that satan cannot use stupid and simple distractions to prevent them from hearing the Gospel.

We are also commanded to show hospitality to one another without complaint. (1 Peter 4:9)
Hospitality is a way we “may entertain angels” without knowing it. (Hebrews 13:2) – (uhm what?!)

But, WHY is First Impressions important?

Because, as believers, it is our job to do whatever we can to spread the Gospel. If that means paying special attention and changing our presentation, approach, signage, language, lingo, and adjusting it so that people (who do not currently know Christ) have the chance to hear the words of Jesus without hinderance: Then do that. – No excuses.

When you are in ministry, in the church world (or in everyday life), it is my personal (views are my own) belief that it is YOUR responsibility to be like Paul, and adjust yourself to reach those around you better.

If we have to change the words used in order for people to better understand the life changing message of Christ. Then adjust.

Changing the language was the whole purpose behind The Message translation of the Bible.

Instead of fighting someone’s culture, as believers, it is our job to use their culture to help us communicate effectively and clearly with them. Changing the language to communicate clearly is found throughout scripture: Jesus did this, Paul did this, the Holy Spirit did this in Acts so that people could take the Gospel back to their cultures in their language and understanding.

First Impressions matter, it works diligently and hard with a passion for others in creating space for people to encounter and know that they belong and are loved exactly where they are today.

Practicing Hospitality..

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Showing Hospitality for me often takes the form of sharing food with others.

I have half a dozen blog posts that are half written and not yet posted, full of ideas, thoughts, and things I am working through deep down. But, today, as I love my Monday routine (I’m convinced I’m the only person who loves Mondays), I am mulling over “Practice Hospitality” from Romans 12:13.

I have been contemplating the idea of how so much of my life revolves around practicing hospitality. Learning to get good at it, adjust it, improve weaknesses, and identifying the type of hospitality that each person needs.

My job entirely revolves around this idea of practicing to get good at hospitality, and then helping to lead an entire community towards being good at it as well.

Today I am mulling over the order and process of how passages are put together. I find it fascinating is the types of things put together in scripture… Why are these things linked? What is the importance behind why they are listed like they are?

For example, practicing hospitality is listed like this:

so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly:
if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith;

if service, in his serving;
or he who teaches, in his teaching;

or he who exhorts, in his exhortation;
he who gives, with liberality;
he who leads, with diligence;
he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Let love be without hypocrisy.
Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good.

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love;
give preference to one another in honor;

not lagging behind in diligence,
fervent in spirit,
serving the Lord;

rejoicing in hope,
persevering in tribulation,
devoted to prayer,

contributing to the needs of the saints,
practicing hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
Be of the same mind toward one another;
do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly.
Do not be wise in your own estimation.

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone.
Respect what is right in the sight of all men.

If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.”

I do not think it is happenstance that “practicing hospitality” falls in the middle of this, serving as a transition point. The first half of this seems to be talking to believers, for believers, and how to operate with other believers… But, then after practicing hospitality there’s a pretty clear shift in the conversation.

The second half of this depicts life: The good and bad, the ugly, hard, gritty, un-fun, and difficulty of being in real relationships with people. And then, it ends a few verses later with: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

There are three main points that stand out to me in this passage that seem to be what hinges on overcoming evil with good:

Let love be without hypocrisy
practicing hospitality.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.

I think the reason I love these, and see them as anchors within this passage is because they point to real relationships. The beauty and struggle, the intentionality, and how authentic relationships are supposed to look.

Let’s be real: Life. Is. Hard.

But, life is easier if we love well, practice hospitality towards one another, rejoice and celebrate, and weep with those around us.

Life becomes less hard, less sucky, and more tolerable, enjoyable, and fulfilling when we travel it together.

We want real relationships, hard conversations, people who make us grow and allow us to fail miserably. There’s nothing quite like deep meaningful relationships to boost our spirits. Life feels a bit more manageable when we enjoy dinners, laughter, and silence with people who extend us grace and mercy throughout hard seasons because it creates a safe place for us to heal from wounds of our past. – Whether they are of our own doing, or at no fault of ours.

Life is hard, but practicing hospitality is important for everyone to learn how to do well; it is a skill that needs cultivation. Each person has their own flavor of hospitality, but most do a poor job of trying to hone their own style of hospitality to convey love without hypocrisy, rejoicing with those that are rejoicing and weeping with those that are weeping.

We must all get better at hospitality.

True, authentic, welcome to the real life of me, type of hospitality; not the fake Pinterest, better homes and gardens, Martha Stewart style hospitality.

The thing I love about this passage in Romans is it also prevents selfishness. Loving without hypocrisy, practicing hospitality, rejoicing with those that rejoice, and weeping with those who weep etc..etc.. prevent us from focusing on ourselves. – We must focus on others.

Life and community suck less when we are focused on others. We stop feeling alone when we enter into the ups and downs of the life of those around us.

People find hope and a place to learn how to be healthy if we live like this passage in Romans calls us to fulfill.

I love that my job requires me to be intentional about understanding hospitality, learning about it, and then creating space to practice it both professionally and personally.

How do you practice hospitality?

What does that look like for you?

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More often than not, hospitality and loving well looks like me freely giving my time and sharing food or drinks with someone!

Burdens vs Load

My mom sent me a sermon from North Point church in GA.

It is a fantastic sermon and highlights something I have been processing through lately.

There’s a difference between carrying someone’s burdens and carrying someone’s load.

Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. For each one will bear his own load.” – Galatians 6:2-5

The sermon talks about relationships, and what to do if there is “Bad Blood” between you and another person.

“If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” – Romans 12:18

Meaning that you should make every effort on your side, but sometimes in order to find peace, you must also create boundaries. Unconditional love means creating boundaries from carrying someone else’s load, and a place for peace to be created with that person.

I have never really considered the difference between carrying someone’s burdens and carrying someone’s load… But it also makes so much sense to me.

We are to fulfill the law of Christ by bearing each other’s burdens.
We are not called to carry each other’s load.

I encourage you to listen to the message linked above.

Learning…

I feel like I spend most of my days trying to figure out what I am supposed to be learning or doing during this season.

Sometimes I reason with myself that the quicker I learn, the faster all of this will be over.

Maybe if I just DO more, learn more, pray more, spend more time in scripture, apply to more jobs, revise my resume for the 600th time, write yet another cover letter or send a “just checking in” e-mail… Maybe if I just be better all around.. maybe that will help this whole season to end quicker.

Even as I write that, it just sounds silly and stupid and I am tempted to erase it and not share that bit of information.

“Be better”?! That’s never solved anyone’s problems, ever.

That’s why God’s grace and mercy are so crucial to His story; because of people like me, in times like this. We always fall back to being or doing better, and it has nothing to do with that except maybe being a byproduct of the learning that takes place.

Really, I am just admitting that despite everything you see on my social media, or the conversations I have had with you recently, life is hard, I don’t “love” this season or stage at all, but I understand at least in part what if happening, and often I have the mentality of just trying to survive and get through it all.

So what is all of the struggling for?

Compassion and Faith.

One of the things that I have never been good at is compassion. Truly, I struggle with it constantly and have always admitted that I am really not the best when it comes to having true compassion for others. Realistically, whatever compassion you think you see and experience from me has been entirely cultivated by Christ in seasons such as the one I am in currently… And, that is no exaggeration or dramatization of the reality of the situation.

The other thing is faith. Growing faith is something that I have come to realize is just about as difficult as growing compassion. It is like growing pains, and in order for it to get deeper and stronger, it takes trials that force you to dig deeper to increase your faith.

For example, I keep finding myself in a cycle of worrying about finances, and then having no other option but to fall back into convincing myself that everything will be ok.

I have been unemployed for six months. This is the longest I have not worked 40+ hours a week in more than a decade.
I have lost a lot of things over the course of the last six months.
I have worked my tail off applying to hundreds of jobs all around the country.
I have done consulting work to help make up for some of the financial difficulty.

And then, sometimes it just seems like when I get to a point of “ok, I’m good, I will be fine for (length of time)” something happens that throws all of that out the window…. Such as a $300 car repair that came out of the blue.

Yet, throughout it all, I have money to cover the essential bills.

I do not have any way of explaining how my finances have covered my bills for more than six months, especially when I did not have enough of a savings to cover more than a month’s worth of expenses.

I try to rationalize, that this shouldn’t be happening to me because I have THREE degrees, eight years experience, a strong and solid resume… Not to mention I am willing to go wherever the job is.

“How can this be my situation?”

The reality is that, I do not know the answer… nor does anyone else. The only explanation I have is that God is truly using this to grow me. It sucks. This is by far one of the most difficult seasons I have experienced in my life.

I am also confident that I am learning compassion and faith throughout all of this.

Everything has worked out, despite my stressing and worry, so I keep reminding myself that God knows my situation, and He will get me through this… Regardless of what I “do” He will prove Himself faithful.

“…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” – Romans 5:3b-5