It’s been three weeks since I blogged and I’m going through withdraw.
Honest to goodness withdraw pains.
I have felt a real longing in my heart to be staring at the WordPress screen and writing something. It’s been on my mind constantly, like an old friend that I haven’t spoken to in months. I guess this is how it feels to be a writer.
So what’s been keeping me away? Well it’s all good stuff. All important things. Getting kids ready for back-to-school; volunteering at said school which moved into a beautiful old building this summer and has needed help with renovations and preparations for the new year; helping to prepare for church services; a few dates with my husband; a long-needed day with my sister; fixing up my front porch. And of course that pesky day job of mine (for which I have a renewed love and energy since my trip to our home office in South Africa a few weeks ago). You know, just life.
There isn’t anything new on the list, it just seems it all came at me in abundance in the last three weeks and left me with no time or creative energy in the evenings to write. And this, I think, is the struggle for all blogger/writers/artists/creative types who pursue their creative love and passion in the midst of a busy, fulfilling, beautifully messy life.
I’ve been reading Lysa TerKeurst’s new book “The Best Yes” in small snippets over the last few weeks. One of the things she talks about is how we can find the best “good choice”. You see everything I listed above, everything I devote time to are good things. Good choices. But each “yes” to one of those inevitably means a “no” to some other good choice because there are only 24 hours in the day and this girl needs sleep to function.
So how do we choose which things to say yes to and which to put on hold? How do we avoid putting our creative love on the back-burner in favor of the persistently practical?
Well, I didn’t say I’d finished the book, did I? I don’t know the answer. All I can say is that I know the things that have been pulling my time and attention the last three weeks are seasonal. I only have to get the kids ready for school once a year. After the renovations and repairs are done on the new location the school will need less of my time. After we’re done planning and preparing for the next series at church there will be several weeks before we have to start on the next one. I also know that saying “yes” to these things is directly impacting and helping others.
So, I choose to say “yes” to the things that have the greatest pressing need right now. Where I can do the most good or have the greatest impact in this moment. But I do it carefully. I don’t say “yes” to every request. Then I remind myself that saying “yes” to those things doesn’t mean I’m saying a permanent “no” to my writing. And…I try to stay in tune with my body and my emotions. When that dull ache of desire to write turns into an all-consuming need, it’s time to stop and let myself have that moment.
I don’t claim to have discovered the perfect method. In fact I fail miserably at saying yes to the right things all the time. Or more often I fail at saying yes to the right amount of things and find myself completely overwhelmed. But, I’m getting better. These days I’m trying to listen to my inner voice a bit more. To honor the woman inside who is many things, but can’t be all things at once or she will drown.
So. Today, right now, I’m fulfilling the writer in me and ignoring the laundry, and the dishes, and the emails, and the school, and even my kids, for one hour. Just one hour on a Saturday morning. Because I needed to find her and give her what she needs to keep thriving.
If you haven’t picked up on it by now, this will be the blog post that assures you I fall short in my faithfulness in so many ways!
True confession time. Prior to January, if you asked me if I thought that weekly church attendance was critical to my spiritual well-being I would have said “eh, not really.” Big moments of spiritual growth didn’t happen for me on Sunday morning; they happened at retreats, where intense focus, study and community for 48 hours straight set my spirit to overflowing. Or it happened in small group Bible studies where there is a measure of safety that allows me to be raw and honest, sharing real truths. Or large conferences where amazing key-note speakers reignited the passion I felt as a young believer and being in a room with 800 other people singing 10,000 Reasons moved me to tears.
Sure, it was important to have a church home, someplace to feel connected. But church for me was primarily an entryway to learning about those conferences and retreats, finding a small group Bible study to join, or getting connected to other Christians. It was a chance to serve and give back (if the area where I served even required me to be there on Sunday morning, which often it didn’t). But Sunday morning service? It was not something my soul yearned for each week. It was just a means to an end. And the truth is I’m not the only one to think like this.
According to “Sacred Roots: Why the Church Still Matters” by the Barna Group, 51% of people surveyed say church is not very important to them, and 40% of that group say they find God elsewhere — outside of church. That means at least 20% of believers aren’t looking to Sunday morning worship to be a source of spiritual growth. And those that do think church is still relevant? Well these days going to church once a month is considered regular attendance by that group, compared to my parent’s generation where 3 or more times a month was considered regular attendance. And I get it, because until very recently I fell into that group.
I’m sure the reasons for this trend of Christians moving away from church are varied, and I don’t proclaim to speak on behalf of any large group. But I do know what it feels like to be hurt by the church. To be disappointed or let down. I’ve been there. I also know what it feels like to be uninspired and unchallenged, walking to the parking lot thinking, “well, checked that off my to-do list.” I know what it feels like to enter the sanctuary doors and just feel like a number. These are all reasons that have caused me to leave a church. And maybe you have left the church, or rarely attend anymore for one of these, as well. But if I’ve learned one thing in my ongoing quest to find the “perfect church” it’s that no church is perfect.
Churches mess up because they are run by people. And people? Well we’re far from perfect and we mess up. A lot. All of us! And as long as we hold our church leaders to higher standards than we hold ourselves, we will be let down. If this is where you are and why you have left the church or don’t attend regularly, I encourage you to forgive and not give up.
For me, despite having been let-down or disappointed in the past, my lack of regular attendance stemmed more from apathy than distrust. Church didn’t challenge me. It didn’t energize me. It didn’t fill my soul.
And this is where I found myself in the last couple of years, feeling like regular church attendance just wasn’t necessary to my walk with Christ.
But that all changed about 7 months ago. You see our church — the one I attended about once a month — decided to expand by adding a second site right in our neighborhood, and our small group Bible study was asked to be a part of the planning and leadership team. On the outside, I was all for it. But internally? I wasn’t sure I was fully on board.
Despite my uneasiness and resistance, I heard God encouraging me to be a part of this. To ride the wave and see what happened.
“Come on, Jelise, this is going to be really amazing! You need to share in this!”
“OK Lord, but I’m not making any promises for the long-term,” I bargained. “You know how I feel about Sunday mornings! I’m not sure I can commit to being there every week.”
So God laughed.
Then He found a way to get me there every week. I became part of the leadership team and my husband started playing in the band. Both of these roles required we be there every Sunday. The first few services, well they were good. I genuinely enjoyed them. But I still didn’t feel impassioned. I was going more out of obligation than some deep-seated desire to be in that chair every Sunday morning.
Then, about the 3rd or 4th Sunday things started to change. I remember standing there as the band played, singing along to the words and my throat started to close as my eyes welled with tears. I felt every word of that song. “Your love never fails, it never gives up. It never runs out on me. On and on and on and on it goes. It overwhelms and satisfies my soul.” And I was…overwhelmed and satisfied. Then the sermon started and I had a new-found intent and focus to how I listened. I was immersed in our Pastor’s words and I felt like God was using them to speak directly to me. And the next Sunday the same thing happened, and the next, and the next, and the…well you get the point.
Pretty soon it got so that I woke up Sunday morning yearning to go to church! Don’t you love that word, yearn? It so perfectly describes how I began to feel. Going to church was suddenly a must-have, a highlight to my week. It was no longer something I did if I wasn’t too tired to stay home, or a place I went out of obligation. And the work God has done in me and my spiritual growth in the last 7 months? Well, it’s been nothing short of phenomenal.
Matthew 18:20 says, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Jesus himself tells us that when we gather with others to worship Him, He will meet us there! This is what I have experienced in the past seven months. God has met me there every Sunday, week after week. I just had to be obedient enough to show up!
It took some divine intervention to get me to start going to church every week, but once I did? Boy did I realize how wrong I was about the impact the church has on my spiritual well-being. I have been re-ignited. Each Sunday leaves my soul filled to the brim and overflowing with joy, peace, and desire to get into The Word.
If you feel like I did, that being in church every week isn’t critical to your walk with God. If you’ve been hurt, disappointed or uninspired by the church and feel like it’s become irrelevant and unnecessary, please, I encourage you, don’t put it off any longer. If you don’t have a church, find one. If you have one, but don’t attend regularly, commit to going every week for 8 weeks and see what happens in your life. I guarantee, God will meet you there.
Have you ever looked at your life and wondered, “what is my legacy? How am I making a difference in this world?”
I think for some people it’s very clear. Pastors, missionaries, humanitarians and aid workers — these people can see how they are influencing lives and doing God’s work on a daily basis. For the rest of us, it may be hard to look at our lives and know how/if we are leaving a mark. Sometimes the way people touch our lives and impact our spiritual journey is bold and immediate, like a large rock being thrown into a pond, making a huge splash, and maybe even displacing us. But more often I think it is the small interactions, the bits of encouragement or truth that are said in passing, that end up staying with us, like quiet raindrops on the pond, slowly filling us up and over time changing our core substance.
Over the last 15 years I have been a youth group leader, confirmation teacher, Sunday school teacher, and led adult small group Bible studies. I can’t say that in any of those roles I’ve witnessed anything I said or did causing a big splash in someone’s life. But I certainly pray that my words, or perhaps even just my mere presence have contributed drops of hope, encouragement or truth that has stuck with them.
I know there are several instances of these small blessings in my life that have had a lasting impression. They were seemingly insignificant at the time. Simple conversations or gestures that likely the givers don’t even recall. But they have had a huge impact in my life and stayed with me.
I’ve already written about how my dear friend Mary gave me my very first Michael W. Smith cassette tape when I was 13, which began my 25 year love affair with his music. It might sound silly, but that gift really changed my life. It came at exactly the right time to get me through an incredibly difficult period of life, but more than that, it introduced me to the world of contemporary Christian music and how good music can have a significant impact on the worship experience. I am not much of a musician — despite 7 years of piano lessons I can’t really play anything more difficult than Ode to Joy (the easy version), and the three years I played clarinet I spent as the perpetual third chair — but I know and appreciate good music. I know that it can change the entire worship experience, and can surpass language and cultural barriers to bring people together. I have experienced the Holy Spirit through song. And my most profound worship experiences have been set to music.
Today, I have the pleasure of working with the worship leader at our church to recruit and schedule musicians, evaluate potential songs, and help plan and create additional creative arts elements that go into our services. Despite my inability to sing on-key or play an instrument, I have a way to influence and support the worship experience because of my love and understanding of music, and it all started with that “Go West Young Man” cassette.
When I was 17 and a senior in high school I was eagerly planning for college. After a trip to Appalachian State to interview for some scholarships and tour the campus, I came home and excitedly relayed to some friends all the reasons college was going to be totally awesome! (said in my best 90’s voice) As I told my friend Cara, who was a year younger than I, about the campus and the facilities, she asked,”did you look at any churches while you were down there?”
“Well, no, I didn’t get a chance to do that yet.”
“Don’t you think that is important? That you find a church you can attend while you’re there?” Cara was clearly wise-beyond-her-years. While I had been so caught-up in the campus life, looking at dorm rooms, checking out the football stadium and the coffee shops, I had not once considered looking at churches or finding a Christian student-group.
After that conversation with Cara, I contacted the school about the Christian student groups and ultimately joined the Lutheran Student Association (LSA), which had a HUGE impact on my spiritual formation during those four years. I also found the local Lutheran church to be my home-away-from-home. The pastor and his wife became like family to me, and in 2000 I was married in that church.
I’m sure my friend Cara didn’t know the impact her simple question would have on me, and probably has forgotten it ever happened. But 25 years later it still remains in my thoughts.
The last story I’ll share is more recent. In my 15 year career as a marketer, I’ve had the joy to work with some fantastic managers and mentors, many of whom have become personal friends. When I first started working at my current company I had two managers, one of which was in South Africa. Soon after I started in the new role I got to travel to Johannesburg to meet her, and we spent a good bit of time getting to know one another on that first trip . Ironically, we shared bits about our personal lives that might not have come up so soon if we worked in the same office. Over dinner my second night there the topic turned to our personal beliefs and we found out we were both Christians and our faith was a big part of our lives. This bit of early knowledge, I believe, really shaped our professional relationship and personal friendship because we could be very candid and honest with one another and didn’t worry about crossing any professional boundaries.
I recall one conversation in particular, about 5 years ago, when I was considering going back to school to get my Master’s Degree. I was lamenting to her all the reasons I was afraid to make the commitment. She said to me, “Yes, but God does not want us to have a spirit of fear. We are called to trust in Him.” Wow! Convicted, this girl right here, thank you very much!
Again, that one statement –that little raindrop — struck me to my core and has stayed with me. Whenever I start to get caught-up in the fear and worry of branching outside of my comfort zone, I remember Jo-Anne’s words and I turn to God to take away my fear and give me strength.
This past weekend at the She Speaks conference, keynote speaker Lysa TerKeurst reminded us that it is not about our words, it is about The Word.
When we speak the truth to all who come across our path, God will use it to change hearts, encourage the hurting, and create a lasting effect — whether it shows up as a big splash or a tiny drop. I try to remember this and trust God that He will use my words to encourage others and shine a light on the truth.
Do you have a similar story? I would love to hear how someone has said or done something in your life that’s had a lasting impact on your spiritual journey. Please share either through the comments section or on my Facebook page.
“Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” – John 7:18
“Now glory be to God, who by his mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of—infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” – Ephesians 3:20
I pulled into an open space in the large parking lot, turned off the ignition, took a deep breath and let it out slowly. As I got out of my car and started to walk toward the doors of the large convention center, where I would join 800 other women, I prayed silently. “Here I go, Lord. I don’t know why exactly you brought me here, but I will be fine with whatever happens this weekend. Even if the message is that I’m not ready, that’s fine. I will be OK with whatever lessons you want me to learn.” And then, just before I reached the doors, I heard His reply: “Why do you put limitations on me? Do you think that I cannot do great things with you? Do not doubt my power and my purpose for bringing you here!”
Yes, Lord…message received!
With shoulders back and head held high, I walked through those doors ready for what lie ahead.
That was the beginning of two amazing days at the She Speaks 2014 conference. The conference is designed to train and educate Christian women who feel called to use their gifts to write or speak. Whether the desire is to lead a women’s bible study or speak to a stadium of women, to write blog posts or best-selling books, She Speaks is for “women seeking to live out the unique calling God has placed on their lives.” I first heard about the conference two years ago and was completely gob-smacked about the idea. I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but God was already working on my heart and preparing me.
Having just finished grad school in May, I had absolutely no intention of going to the conference this year. But a series of events that were so perfectly aligned they can only be credited to Godly intervention, led me here to Concord, NC and this convention center, with a book proposal in hand. You see, not only had God made it so I could attend the conference, two weeks prior to leaving I was notified that I was eligible to have a meeting with one of the many publishers that would be at the conference.
The first day was an equal mix of inspiration and education. It was intimidating to be there by myself with all of these women. Despite God’s loud-and-clear message to me on my way into the convention center, I looked around the large ballroom before the opening session and thought, “how do I possibly belong here? I just started my blog 4 weeks ago! I don’t have a platform or a big following. My degree is in marketing, not theology! Why do I think I’m even qualified to be a writer?” I was sure that all 799 other women were way more experienced and qualified than I.
I sat down at a table of other women; we made polite introductions, discussed where we were from, etc. Then I was caught off-guard by the next question that came, “are you a speaker or a writer?” Say, what? They are assuming if I’m here I must already be one of these? Oh gosh, I really don’t belong. “I’m, uh, um, an aspiring writer,” I say as my neck heats up and my face flushes. The other women smile and nod.
The rest of the first day I went from session to session, furiously taking notes about the ins-and-outs of a successful book proposal, and the process of turning ideas into a book people actually want to read. I was awe-struck and inspired to hear from NY Times bestselling authors like Shaunti Feldhahn (For Women Only), Jerry B. Jenkins (Left Behind Series, and a bazillion other books), and Lysa TerKeurst (Unglued, Am I Messing Up My Kids, etc.) and I tried to just be a sponge.
At the end of the day I went back to my hotel room to make some last-minute changes to my book proposal based on the day’s learnings. My appointment was at 2:15 the next day and I was really starting to get nervous. By 10:30 p.m. I called my best friend in a panic. I still doubted what I was doing there, I doubted my proposal was any good. Heck I doubted if I was even ready to be putting together a proposal. What were my qualifications to be writing a book? But my dear, sweet friend talked me off the ledge and reminded me that God put this on my heart for a reason. He paved the way for me to attend this conference for a reason. He got me an appointment with a publisher…for a reason. It was time to put away my doubt and fear and trust God. Then she prayed for me while I sat on the other end of the phone with tears in my eyes.
The next morning I woke up early, showered and dressed, and arrived at Kinkos the moment they opened so I could print out the revised proposal. The morning’s sessions were amazing. Renee Swope talked about letting go of fear and self-doubt (boy did I need to hear that message). I met more women, and we talked about our reasons for being there. Everyone was incredibly friendly and genuinely interested in hearing about my proposal and blog. But as the day inched closer and closer to that 2:15 appointment, I felt the butterflies creeping in again. At lunchtime I grabbed my food and sat at an empty table. As the the room started to fill up and I continued to sit alone I felt increasingly uncomfortable. Then a woman walked up and asked me if the seat beside me was taken. I welcomed her to sit and we introduced ourselves. Her name was Joy. (Sometimes God is so obvious, isn’t he?) Joy and I talked about many things — our call to write, our “day jobs”, our children, various places we had lived. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation moved along, but suddenly Joy said, “You are a writer. God put that on your heart and gave you the skills you need. You have to own it.” I just looked at her for a moment, at a loss for words. Then I finally said, “I don’t think it was an accident that you came and sat beside me.”
The meeting with the publisher went well. Really well. Of course I won’t know for a few more weeks if my proposal will get passed on to the next phase, but whether this publishing house chooses to publish my book or not doesn’t really matter because it’s not the end of this journey. It took God telling me three different times over the weekend before I really got it. But I know that “God’s power is at work within me and is able to do far more than I would ever dare to ask or even dream of— infinitely beyond my highest prayers, desires, thoughts, or hopes.” (Ephesians 3:20)
I know that He put this desire on my heart for a reason and He is not to be underestimated.
I know it’s not about my words, but about the word.
I know that I am a writer.