Real strength is quiet.

Some people think that strength must be seen to be real. These sorts seek to be the loudest, the biggest, the most obtrusive, in any room. They point out their strength to others by making stories of hard times harder in the telling, by exerting authority over people when they have none, by manipulating situations, by being bullies in word and deed. If others are seen as less, then they are more, they are the MOST.

They are strong…and everyone must know it.

But real strength is not like this. Real strength does not exist to be noticed. It exists because it must, because ordinary people are put through extraordinary events and they choose to not let the hard kill them.

Real strength is in the daddy who toils away long hours to put food in bellies.

Real strength is in the friend who holds your hand while you cry and doesn’t feel the need to say anything because some pain must be acknowledged to be healed.

Real strength is in the mama who says goodbye to her baby on the same day she ushered him in to the world.

Real strength is in the honest sinner/saint unafraid to tell his story, uninterested in impressing anyone with it.

Strength, the real kind, is not an act. It is not something to strive toward nor something the very strong think on much, if at all. Strength is lived out in a life that does not seek self-serving, eye-catching, people-pleasing feats, but seeks to walk valiantly in the mundane, fighting unseen battles without an army.

Real strength is quiet. Subtle. Whisper-like.

 manos-viejo-flor

Bleached back to sanity.

I bundled up and traipsed outside this morning to take some photos of the snow. We got a fair bit last night in this Iowa place, and I had to show the people I love from my Southern home proof of how it is here. And I wanted to play, too. I am the woman who grew up largely in the South and made my adult home in the South for several years, with several years in the North tucked in here and there. Enough years that I should hate the snow, but I don’t. In my usual awe and wonder about Northern winters, I felt the urge to make a snow angel this morning.

So I did. It was still quite dark outside and thus, no one was witness to my wild. I laid down and made my snow angel, and then I laid there a minute more to express my gratefulness to the Lord and to ponder.

We talk, we sing, we wax poetic about being washed whiter than snow. I’ve long loved that imagery because my redemption was a hard-fought battle and the scars I (and others) carved on this skin are deep. To be washed whiter than snow and to find the freedom in that was, and is still, a wildly incredible gift. Perhaps that is why I have a sincere appreciation for snow. A reminder of what the Lord has done, can do, and is doing.

I once heard the term, “bleached back to sanity.” It was in reference to bed sheets, how once they are bleached and given a thorough scrubbing then they are usable again. In this redemption story of mine, I used to think that is how a heart must be presented to the Lord. Scrubbed, spotless, bleached back to sanity. I used to think that it is only then that He can use us, redeem us, LOVE us.

Now, of course, I know this to be false. The Lord doesn’t want us bleached before He will use us, consider us, think on us, LOVE us. He takes our messes, our tiredness, our pain, our dark spaces, our deep ruts, our disobedience, our garbage. All of it. Every little thing. He breathes restoration into those caves in our hearts where no one dares wander. He washes us whiter than snow with His blood and His grace and His love. And He lets us wallow there, play there, make snow angels there, and breathe deep sighs of relief and soul gratitude in His grace that is more refreshing than new snow and more pure than any cleansing and binding up and healing that we could manage on our own.

And then….And then….He calls us to love as we have been loved. To love not looking for hearts bleached back to sanity, but for unscrubbed fellow travelers. To be gracious not to the spotless, but to the dirty, to the ones with hearts as calloused as their hands, to those without voices, to those wrapped tightly in cloaks of their insecurities and their shame. To speak life into dusty lungs and to whisper in word and deed that being bleached is not a requirement to approaching the throne of grace.

Because deep down, we all tumble towards grace as piles of mess and mistake.

Runaway.

runaway2

I went too far south the other day. I was driving down the highway, headed towards home, and I drove right past my town. I had this burning desire to just keep heading south. It was a little bit intentional and a little bit surprising, really.

As the signs flew by and I found myself surrounded by cornfields, I started contemplating how long it would take me to get to Texas. That is where my heart is, after all. San Antonio is full of my people and the whole place dances with wild abandon. And then for a fleeting moment, I wondered at what point I could turn and head west instead and just drive straight to the mountains of Colorado and find myself a wee cabin and simply write for days on end and have the people I love over for hot cocoa and hugs. My people there are big dreamers with big hearts and they fill up empty spaces with their love and passion.

I have long been a runaway.

I ran away from childhood at 14. Well, it kind of ran away from me but then out of spite I turned and ran faster and farther just to escape the devastation sudden and too-soon adulthood brings. I ran away from God about then, too. I ran away from the states at 22. That was a wild time. But the Lord caught up to me the day I turned 23. Just a few months later I ran away from a dream and returned to the states. Then I ran away from Iowa after two years. I ran away from Arkansas a few months ago. And now…

I just want to run away again. Everything is awry. I just want to run and hope I don’t miss the point of the adventure along the way.

It is hard to be a runaway.

Some people, for their own safety and security, want you to settle down. It makes them uncomfortable when you cannot stop your wild core from flinging love and joy and dreams and deep thoughts and raw honesty all over the place without shame. They want you to stay (literally and figuratively) in one place long enough to be a part of their circus. I just can’t do that kind of life. I can’t be tamed and I can’t be strangled to make others feel better about their own misery and to justify their jealousy and their cruelty. I just can’t. So I run. Far far away. I wish them well on my way out and I harbor no ill will. No space for that in this heart anymore.

Thankfully, the Lord runs, too. He caught up to me some eight years ago and He has not let go. I’m pretty quick. But He is quicker. That’s a good thing. The One who loves and saves doesn’t expect me to quit being a runaway. He Himself has called me to a nomadic existence of sorts. What He does expect, what I cannot ever run away from, is the command that I am to love and serve in all things, that I am to abide in Him, that I am not to get too caught up in myself, but to get caught up in Him so that I may love well, that I am to live the grace I have been given. To do anything less or other would be the waste of a good good gift.

I get it wrong. All the time I get it wrong. I fail and I say all the wrong things and I get misunderstood and I do things too quickly or I expect too much.

In these times, I run away and hope He forgets me.

He doesn’t.

He remembers me.

And He offers me rest. And He promises that the restlessness in this runaway heart will be met with the privilege to love. And He assures me that He is much more faithful than I and He will not grow tired of calling me daughter. He will run as far and fast as He must in order to keep me.

He loves runaways, too.

Being THAT girl. {Guest Post by Tori Mick}

{These are words from my closest friend, Tori. She has been part of my tribe for several years, and is my sister both in love and in Christ. Her heart for speaking truth in a raw manner and for taking the unbeaten path never fails to excite me. She currently makes her home in KY, loving her kids, serving God, calling out nonsense, and making music with her life as only she can do. Since my focus for this wee blog is to encourage my sisters (and brothers) to live out their journey in freedom and love and without comparison, Tori graciously agreed to write some of her perspective today….}

Most people have opinions about women being in ministry. Good or bad, they are your opinions. I am not here to debate them. In fact, I’ve devoted hours of my life and hours of my coursework to figuring out how I fit into the context of ministry. I can assure you that being a female in ministry is generally the path less travelled. Can I let you in on a secret? We’re not overly different than the men we work with, we just bring different strengths to the table. Sure, I wear jeggings and boots. And okay, I wear a dress and heels on occasion. And I will neither confirm nor deny eating my feelings in a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. But, instead of telling you how hard it is to be a female in ministry, how about we discuss a few characteristics that men and women share?

Individuality and Passion.
I was a musician from an early age. My parents will tell you that from the time I was little, I marched to the beat of my own drum. I wore what I liked. I felt and thought deeply. I wasn’t concerned with the status quo. Frankly, it wasn’t really my thing. Being an individual labeled me “THAT girl”. We got involved in a great United Methodist Church and praise the good Lord those people celebrated my individuality. They didn’t care what color my hair was when I came to youth group. They certainly didn’t care what brand my clothes were. They nurtured me and loved me in a way that only a healthy congregation can. I love them for that. My individuality wasn’t dependent on who society wanted me to be and neither was my passion. Everyone has the opportunity to be passionate about something. Early on in my career, I stumbled upon what has now become my favorite scripture verse.

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. – Galatians 1:10

Holding true to your individuality and following God’s will is what matters. God created us all different and yet we are part of one body. How about we start letting the body parts work with each other instead of against each other?

The Stereotype.
Just don’t. Please, for the love of all things good and holy, don’t stereotype ANYONE. For instance: I am a woman and I HATE wearing dresses and high heels. If the option for basketball shorts and a t-shirt is available, I always pick the basketball shorts. It goes deeper than what we wear. I can’t tell you the number of times it shocks people to find out that I’m a single female who didn’t get married to her prince charming while in college. I want to be married to an incredible man of God. I just like to believe that my prince charming is too stubborn to stop at the gas station for directions on his way to my house. I have children; 21 teenagers to be exact. I love them dearly. I am charged with teaching them about Jesus. I am a mom, confidant, cheerleader, voice of reason, cook, janitor, and leader. I am their youth pastor. Guess what? There are more men than women in youth pastor roles. Those men heard the call of God to lead teenagers just like I did. We bring different strengths to the table, but so does anyone in a youth pastor role regardless of gender.

Worth.
I implore you, can we please stop equating gender to worth? Being a human being in this world is hard enough on a good day. The societal expectations are daunting at best. Being put down because someone disagrees with my call to ministry is rough.

I went to a private college my freshman year that was a different denomination than my own and I learned some hard truths. People are cruel. The only way to thrive in ministry is to fully rely on God because in the end, it’s God who is transforming lives. In my freshman year, I had a music professor ask what I wanted to do with a worship degree. I stated that I wanted to be a worship leader. He chuckle-snorted to himself and told my class that the only thing I would ever be good at in the church was being an organist because “his denomination didn’t allow women in ministry.” Folks, while I have an appreciation for the organ, I play six other instruments. I think I’m good.

I moved to an interdenominational school in northwest Arkansas the following year. I sat in a theology of worship class where men were laughing and making jokes about how the women shouldn’t be in the class because we didn’t belong there. We really should just “go make them a sandwich.” Do you know how hurtful that was?

In the end…
I have received rejection letter after rejection letter for jobs I applied for because they felt like “a male applicant would be more suitable for the role.” And I questioned God in the process. Why the heck had He allowed me the opportunities I had been given and yet I couldn’t get a job? Was being a woman in ministry really even worth it? As a worship leader and now as a youth pastor, I work in a man’s world. And for the foreseeable future, it will continue to be a man’s world. Awhile back, I was sought after by a pastor who was looking to achieve a specific goal. I finished out the hiring of his dream team. Proving myself worthy in a staff where the ratio of men to women was 7-3 was tedious. Me and “the boys” as I liked to call them forged a path together that became an incredible partnership and a lasting bond. They embraced me for who I was and the gifts I could bring to the table. They were my brothers and I was their sister. We were a team. Gender didn’t matter.

Being THAT girl is not always who I wanted to be. I think as females we long to fit in and be loved. We want to feel like we matter. But, let me be honest, I didn’t live a normal life. I was born into a military family. I’ve lived in several states and visited several countries. I’ve had the pleasure of immersing myself in cultures that were not my own. But who wants an ordinary life anyway, right? I am proud that my family had a part in something bigger than ourselves. I haven’t lived an ordinary life; it’s been extraordinary.

I was THAT girl who liked comfort over fashion (don’t joke, i’m still THAT girl). I was THAT girl who never wanted anyone to feel unnoticed, knowing the feeling myself. I was THAT girl who would rather play street hockey with her brother than dolls. I was THAT girl who would volunteer to serve for just about anything at church. I was THAT girl who followed God’s will and chose a vocation that doesn’t always support gender equality. I was THAT girl. And being THAT girl is who God created me to be. Being a female church worker is right where God wants me to be, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

{You can read more of Tori’s words over at http://ammoandhulahoops.wordpress.com}