Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Church

I'll be the first to admit that I don't love church.

Most times, when I go to church, it's just something that I do... because that's what I'm supposed to do. And as much as I try to break free from these Christian obligations, this is one I don't feel good about neglecting.

While I can jump right in with the best of them and criticize the Church for all of the things it does wrong, all the ways it disappoints, all the ways it perpetuates stereotypes that I want nothing to do with... I can't avoid it. I can't want nothing to do with it.

My Church History professor told us at the beginning of the semester that her hope was that we would learn to fall in love with the Church. That we would learn to love the bride of Christ...

And ever since she said that...I know I can choose nothing but that. I must love the bride of Christ. I must choose to love the Church, even when I don't love church.

I've been thinking about church like relationships lately. I actually had a friend who felt pretty hurt by some stuff that went down in her church and I was talking to her about the pros and cons of leaving vs. staying. It was almost like talking to her about if she wanted to break up with her boyfriend or not.

Because, like people, no church is perfect. 
And, honestly, sometimes I forget that. Sometimes I expect it to be (who am I kidding? Most of the time I expect it to be...). When we realize that it's not... it's easy to want to leave. When we realize that we aren't getting as much out of this relationship as we wanted... it's easy to try and find somewhere else that will give us what we want. When we get hurt by something that happens, our defense goes up.  When we don't agree with something...we fight about it or we peace out. It's natural...

But it doesn't mean that we have to leave. It doesn't even mean that we should leave. It doesn't mean that we can't love the Church. It doesn't mean that there's nothing good that remains.

Like a relationship, we have to decide what matters. We can't expect or demand perfection (or what we think is perfection). I think it's valuable for us to determine what matters most to us, and what matters in the grand scheme of eternity. I think if we can find a church that we agree with the core values of, and if we can find a church that we truly trust the heart of the leaders (trusting/believing that they truly love Jesus while recognizing that they are sinful, imperfect people who may mess up from time to time)... then I think we're doing okay. There are some non-negotiable points, sure... but there are a lot of other things that we get hung up on that affect far more than they should.

I guess what I'm saying is that no matter our list of grievances toward the Church, no matter how much it feels like things never seem to be 'right'... Jesus still loves the Church. Throughout history, He has continued to love the Church, to bring about redemption, to keep it in existence.

I want to love church.
I want to love the Church like Jesus loves the Church.
I want to set aside my skepticism, my disappointment, my unrealistic expectations, my own notions of 'right' and 'wrong' and learn the fullness of what it means to love it well.

To not be divisive...
To not slander the Bride of Christ, whom I claim to love.

Jesus Christ...who died so that I might live, has claimed the Church.
I cannot deny it, ignore it, or reject it.
I must love it.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

More Goodbyes

I'm getting sad about leaving.

Not because I'm not excited about what's next for me, but I'm just tired of good-byes. I'm tired of having to have 'lasts' all the time. I'm tired of feeling like I have to cram everything and everyone into a 'final week' in order to feel like I made the most of my time, in order to feel like there was sufficient closure.

But mostly I'm sad because there are still thoughts of what my life could be like if I had chosen to stay and now I'll never really know. I wonder about the possibilities and the opportunities and the knowledge I'd get from the classes that I'd take and the books that I'd be required to read. I wonder who I'd become true friends with, I wonder if I would have gotten the scholarship that I applied for, I wonder what college students I would have gotten to work with for my job.

It's what happens when you make choices, though.
And it's okay.
Because I know with the move comes all sorts of new opportunities and adventures that I am excited about.

It's just hard to say goodbye.
It's hard to leave good places.
It's hard to leave good friends.
It's hard to leave family.
It's hard to pack up and move again when you feel like you just got settled in.

I have a little over a week left, and I'm still trying to figure out the best use of my time. A large part of me is trying to pretend like this isn't the last week and these aren't the last times I'll be seeing many of these people. Just another week in my life...  It seems easier that way.

Change is on the horizon again.
Big changes.
Life changes.

Changes that I step into meekly, holding my breath as I await the blow of how they'll rock my reality.

But it's okay.
New things... new life... new unknowns... new people... new places... new home... new job...
It's okay.
It's something to look forward to.
And so even as I leave something good, there doesn't need to be regret.
I would never change this past year of my life.
It was exactly what it needed to be.

As sad as it is to leave?
It's time.
I'm ready for what awaits...even when I don't really feel ready at all (but, isn't that how it always goes?)

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Hoping For vs. Hoping In

I'm a sucker for details.

If you're telling a story around me and I know that something didn't happen exactly the way you're telling it, it's hard for me not to correct you. I will make sure everyone knows that it wasn't ten monkeys that jumped on your back, but it was only two... (which, in my mind, doesn't make the story any less cool...but factual). 

Because I think the facts matter. 
Semantics matter. 
And sometimes I have a double standard about this (like, why can't people know what I'm trying to say without me having to always say exactly what I mean...?)

Recently I've been in an ongoing conversation with a friend about hope. Granted, texting and facebook messages aren't the best way to get your point across or expound upon what you're trying to say in the most accurate fashion... but I've been trying to distinguish between hoping for and hoping in. I think the two are different. Very different. 

I hope for a lot of things. 

I hope for world peace, for the end of hunger, for no more pain and suffering. I hope for people to be honest, to live with integrity, to love each other well. I hope for good health, for success, for my pants to not get any smaller. I hope for someone to buy my bed before I move, I hope for Felicity to somehow choose Noel in the end, I hope for the last time I eat Nick's Roast Beef to be just as good as the first time I ate it.  

I hope for a lot of things. 
And I'm disappointed a lot. 
My disappointment often turns to cynicism... no, not because I can't change the outcome of a television show, but because life isn't perfect. People aren't perfect. There is still pain and suffering, and there are still tears left to cry. Life is filled with the unthinkable, the unimaginable... and oftentimes, despair begins to patch up the places where the hope has been crushed. 

But somehow I still hope for things. I haven't lost that. Even on the lowest, darkest days... I still hope for better. 

And I think it's only possible because of what I hope in
I hope for a lot of things. 
But I hope in One. 

Because, at the end of the day, there's still Jesus. There's still joy to be found in Him. There's still ultimate hope that this world is never how it was intended to be. That even when I'm shattered because of how the things I hope for don't always work out the way I want or the way I think that they should... there's a greater Someone that I hope in, and because of that, hope can always be restored. 

Because Jesus means second chances. Jesus means redemption. Jesus means love. Jesus means that even when nothing makes sense, that there's still order to the chaos. Jesus means life when I deserve death. Jesus means the lame can walk, the blind can see, the poor are no longer hungry, the broken are made whole. Jesus means that hope is restored. 

But it's not easy. 
It's not always this easy solution to the hard times, to the crushing blows on my ideals, to the disappointment when people (including myself) fail again and again and again. But it's still there. The reminder that what I hope in...who I hope in...doesn't change, even if what I hope for doesn't always manifest itself in the way I deem most fitting. 

Let's not get so lost in the cynicism that develops when what we hope for doesn't always work that we lose sight of who we hope in. 

There's a difference. 
But let us not stop hoping for things, either. And even when there's disappointment at the end of that hope? I pray that we are so rooted in what we hope in that we continue to believe the unthinkable can happen...that even the most unlikely people would surprise us in the best ways, that even the biggest problems would have resolutions. 

And in the end? 
Let us fix our eyes, instead, on what is unseen... the eternal. 

The perspective shift.. 

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.” --C.S. Lewis 

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Thursday, July 25, 2013

Giving up on Love?

I'm more cynical than usual lately.
It's maybe ironic, seeing as the theme behind my blog as everything to do with second chances.

Perhaps it's the transition period that I'm in, or perhaps it's the witnessing of challenging relationships, or perhaps it's the recognition that perfection doesn't actually exist...but I've found myself truly coming to terms with singleness for life. Let me rephrase that... not even 'coming to terms with', but there's more of a welcoming of it.

Whenever I get to this point, I remember the time an ex-boyfriend sent me Sanctus Real's 'Don't Give Up' and then I have it's chorus repeatedly etched in my mind.

Have I given up on love?

I told my mom the other day that it just wasn't going to happen. It was an attempt to prepare her for the possibility, but also there was a strange okay feeling attached to it.

Because while I can see that love exists all over, I think that maybe the love that I often think I want to exist might not (okay, it doesn't). You know... the type of love that's perfect and easy and filled with only good memories and great communication and comfortability and always thinking the other person is the most wonderful person in the world... a love of happily-ever-afters. A love that completes.

Unrealistic love.

I've felt like a little girl lately. A little girl who exists in the fantasy world of her someday prince coming and sweeping her away on a white horse to a realm where everything is magical and filled with awe. Only, I know better... and I know that's not how it works. But, rather than adjust to the realistic idea of what love actually does look like, I feel stubborn in it. I still want to believe in at least some of the fairy tale parts of love, but because I can't imagine them actually happening, I feel like I've given up.

Now, here's the complicated paradox of the matter: I don't actually want the 'unrealistic love'.
I can acknowledge that some of the most beautiful things, some of the deepest loves come out of working through the hard stuff together and of loving each other despite the imperfections and inadequacies.

I suppose I just think I want the Hollywood/Disney-fied version of love sometimes because of how simple and fulfilling it can appear. And when I'm faced with real relationships and real possibilities, I'm tempted to think that the unrealistic is actually better than reality...which then scares me away from reality. It lends itself to a thinking that something better is available and anything 'less than' is just me settling.

So I realize there's a balance.
And I realize it's more complex than all of this.

Maybe I just don't feel capable of real love. Maybe I don't feel capable of loving someone through all the junk. Maybe I feel too selfish, maybe I want too much. Maybe I want more than anyone is able to truly give. Maybe I somehow still think perfection is attainable.... or maybe I just have a double standard.

I guess what I'm realizing is that I'm impossible to please, which means that love seems pretty far out of the question.

And I guess, ultimately, what I'm realizing is that if it ever does happen, it'll truly be a miracle.

Because I'm crazy.
Truly crazy.
Crazy enough to give up on love while simultaneously hoping some strange balance of my fairy-tale notions and 'real' love can coexist.

I'm complicated.
I know...
I'm working through it.
And living life in the meantime...not so much 'waiting' for anything anymore.
I'm okay with it.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

How will you live?

So lately I feel like I'm just holding my breath, waiting for something terrible to happen to me. It's completely unwarranted and irrational... perhaps paranoia operating at full force.

The other day I was listening to some friends discuss a few things going on in the news. Discussing them like anyone living in America should clearly know what was going on. Now, if this had been a year ago, I might have justified my ignorance being due to the whole 'living in the middle-of-nowhere' thing... but now? Now I don't really have a good excuse.

So, I decided to read up on some news.
Within ten minutes, I was reminded why I don't like to stay thoroughly informed. I was horrified by what I was reading... horrified that the stories were real....horrified that this is what was happening. One particular story sucked me in and I began scouring for anything and everything I could find on the topic. An accidental death while doing a very normal thing... but a thing that most people definitely don't die while doing.

Immediately you think...that could have been me...
And it turned into...can you even imagine...

Late into the night I was up processing and agonizing over the inevitably of death, pain, horror, and other bad things which are sure to ensue in this lifetime.

It felt overwhelming.
It still feels overwhelming.
But they are things I can't avoid, things I can't even begin to predict.

My mom called today and I picked up the phone asking, "Are you okay? Are you alive?" I was partially kidding, but partially serious. Mostly it just allowed for a good segue into my latest thoughts.

Because... the thing is that there's been a lot of good in my life. A lot of blessings. My life isn't defined by tragedy. But I know that someday it will strike. I know that someday my parents will die. It's a guarantee. Someday I'll get a terrible phone call. I know someday I will die.

So initially this causes panic. A 'how-can-I-prevent-all-bad-things-from-ever-happening' type of mindset. It creates an overcautious, overworried, overprotective, overneurotic person who is fearful of anything that might involve risk.

And then eventually I decide it's all ridiculous, out of my control and I continue to live life jumping out of airplanes, speeding in cars, drinking the water in developing countries, getting sunburns that make my skin molt (I didn't mean for this one to happen...).

A friend reminded me recently of the quote: You don't get to choose how you're going to die. Or when. But you can decide how you're going to live...

It's true.
I don't need to dwell on the fact that bad stuff will happen. I don't need to let that keep me from functioning, from joy, from risk.

Because right now there's good stuff. And even in the pain, and even after the pain, I know there will continue to be good stuff. I don't want to miss all the good stuff because I'm so focused on trying to avoid the bad stuff.

I can't control it.
I don't want to live life paralyzed in fear of when or how or to whom it'll happen.
I think there's a freedom that can come in choosing to live fully in the life we've been given instead of in the death that we've already been saved from. A certain freedom that comes in choosing to walk in the knowledge of the grander scene of eternity.

I want that.
It doesn't mean I need to be ignorant, or make unwise decisions... but it does allow me to live at peace internally.

A letting go...
As it always tends to be.

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Tuesday, July 23, 2013


Sometimes I think that what I have to offer is valuable.
Maybe more valuable than it actually is.
Maybe so valuable that I'm scared to actually give it because I don't know how people will receive it... will they also guard it tenderly, or will they quickly discard it? Can they be trusted?

Sometimes I convince myself that no one will guard what I have as well as I can, and so I tell no one. These are my secrets. Only mine. And since they matter more to me than anyone else, I will keep them... I will let no one in... I will tell no one.

Sometimes I give tests as people coming knocking on my door to prove that they may be worthy enough to entrust my treasure to. It's a series of tests that no one will pass... because that's the way I've set it up. Tests set up so that everyone will fail. You might call it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

And so the cycle continues.
Because I think no one is to be trusted, I only let people in so far until they prove me right (through whatever test I put them through).

This is how I worked in college.
Bearing my soul to another meant vulnerability, it meant exposure, it meant letting parts of me be seen that I didn't want others to know about. When others knew, I felt like something was lost. Like I no longer had control of who I was or over who knew what about me. There was sometimes shame. There was sometimes the feelings that if people knew more about me, they would reject me for who I really was. There was sometimes hopelessness that came with this withholding of myself from others...as though I was clinging desperately to something that I needed.

It was lonely.
And it was full of despair.

I was convinced that in order to be vulnerable with someone, they had to meet certain stipulations that required commitment and follow-up questions/continued interest in my life. I had to know that they would be around for the long-haul. I wasn't super interested in summer flings, or semester-long friendships that faded as time went on. I wanted the 'real deal'. I wanted depth. I want life-long partners to joureny with.... that I trusted with my everything.

As I've gotten older, I've encountered reality.
As I've gotten older, I've come to realize the importance of vulnerability in seasons in life.
As I've gotten older, I've recognized that I don't need to hold so tightly to all these 'secrets'... that these things don't determine my value...that these things often don't define how others view me.

I've certainly had some friends that will be life-long friends. But they aren't friends that I talk to consistently, they aren't friends who know my daily struggles or stupid mishaps. They're the friends I call when I really need to talk to someone who knows me... when I really need to talk to someone that I trust unswervingly.

But then there are friends who I have for seasons in life. Seasons where we maybe lived together, or worked together, or went to school together, or had some sort of other connection. Seasons where they knew my daily struggles, and even my past 'secrets' and my joys and pains. Friendships where at times I knew that while maybe we wouldn't be friends for the long-haul, it didn't change the dynamic of our present relationship. And it was okay. I think my reaction to these types of relationships in college was to distance myself from anyone who I didn't see a 'future' with. But now... these friendships are vital and life-giving. They are some of my most cherished friends, even if we lose contact over the years. They are some of the people who have spoken the most Truth into my life, even if it was only one conversation. I don't ever regret being vulnerable with these people.

What I'm trying to say is that sometimes we limit ourselves, sometimes we hole up in loneliness, sometimes we convince ourselves that no one is to be trusted and that it's impossible and never worth it to be vulnerable and open with people we don't know if we can 'trust' with our secrets for all of eternity. But sometimes (almost always), I think we miss out when we hold back from other people... when we don't allow ourselves to be known. Even if it's only for a moment...

I think sometimes we put too much pressure on people to guard our treasures carefully... as carefully as we would... and I think that it's unfair expectation. Why would they? How could they? But it doesn't negate that in this moment, for this season, for whatever reasons... that they want to know. A lot of times I think it's okay. We don't have to trust them to never tell another living soul, we don't have to trust them to take a bullet for us, we don't have to trust them to be perfect. Do we? Should we? How could we?

There are times we need to be wise in our disclosure, especially if it can affect how others are viewed... but I think too often we are scared of vulnerability for all the wrong reasons. And the more we fear it, the more we run from it and the more we never face the things that we truly need to process through.

You know by now that I'm a huge advocate of honesty.
I pray that you wouldn't hold back from being vulnerable either. Even if it's one conversation. I pray that we wouldn't be people who tuck away secrets, guarding ourselves from others, remaining isolated in our own prisons, unwilling to allow anyone else in. I pray, instead, that we would be inviting, open, and eager to see how the Lord can use even the darkest things for His glory, how He can transform even the most unlikely of us. These things we hide aren't the 'treasures' that we need to be clinging to... because these aren't the things that define us any longer.

Life doesn't have to be as lonely as we make it.
I truly believe that.

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Optimism & Cynicism

I was going through some old things the other night and came across a letter. It was a letter I couldn't bring myself to read again, but in looking at the date at the top and knowing the recipient of the letter... it was a letter that symbolized only one thing to me: betrayal.

The wounds aren't fresh and, ultimately, feel mostly healed...but the sick feeling in my stomach that had existed almost constantly for months on end returned for an instant.

I hesitated, debating on if I should toss the letter with the plethora of other things I was getting rid of or if I should keep it.

I kept it.
I want to remember.

Perhaps it's unhealthy and perhaps I should destroy any evidence that reminds me of the pain I've experienced throughout life, but I don't want to. Perhaps it seems self-destructive.

I'm not ever someone that's quick to push away the negative. I'm probably prone to focus on it too much, I realize. But as much as I'm likely to see the negative, there are also others who only see the good... and I guess I'm not sure that either extreme is the best way to live life. There needs to be a balance, a realism... an optimistic realism that can exist without constant negativity.

Sometimes I think it's easier for us to want to cling to the negative though. It's easier to only hear the negative... and believe the negative, especially when it involves us. I was talking to a girl recently about her relationship and while her boyfriend had said multitudes of kind things to her and about her, all she could receive was the negative.

Isn't that what a lot of us do, though?
In the fifty nice things someone might say to us, we tend to only hear the one point of criticism. And then that point becomes the thing that momentarily defines us, dictates our mood, affects us for days and days. It's the reminder that we aren't perfect. That we aren't doing everything right. Out of all the incredible things that happen to us, all of the things we are blessed with... it becomes easy to focus on the few things that are hard, challenging, and even heartbreaking. Those things quickly become the reason for why our lives are good or bad in a given moment. They are the things that remind us that this world is not perfect and that sometimes bad things happen (oftentimes for no good reason or explanation).

But what if we allowed the points of criticism to move us toward better? What if we allowed the bad things that happen to do the same? What if instead of dwelling on them, feeling sorry for ourselves and throwing the pity party....we either looked for ways to change those things or accepted that 'it is what it is' and moved on? What if we dwelled on the positive and remembered the good?

I think we can dwell on the positive without forgetting the negative, without forgetting the reality that we aren't perfect and that sometimes bad things do happen.
I guess what's why I kept the letter.
While I don't want to exist throughout life afraid to trust and convinced that everyone close to me will betray me, I also don't want to live life naively, either. But, beyond that, I think the letter reminds me of forgiveness. It reminds me of a time in my life where I had to choose death or life. It reminds me that despite the pain, hope prevails. That life goes on. That, this too, shall pass. It reminds me that in time, wounds heal.

And so, while I often feel deeply rooted in cynicism, there's still somehow hope. There's still good. There's still much to be joyful about, thankful for, to laugh about.

I don't know if you're up against something like this right now.... up against something bad that's happened to you, struggling to believe the good things about yourself over the bad (whether someone said something to you or no)... but, I hope that you can press deeply into the good.

That we can be people who are truly joyful despite the opposition that faces us, because we know that we have something to be joyful about. That we can be people who don't suddenly forget all the good in the midst of the bad...and that we can be people who have a healthy perspective (not unrealistic) even in the good.

There's a balance.
Sometimes bad stuff happens... and sometimes it breaks our hearts. Sometimes we aren't perfect...and sometimes it feels absolutely defeating. But it's not hopeless. It's not the end of the world.

There's still so much good.
I pray we don't forget it.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Nica Life Inspires

I've been strangely absent.
It's been one of those times where I just needed to retreat... partially because I've felt like I had nothing important or good to say and partially because the thought of writing felt exhausting.

But, I'll try.
I just got back from Nicaragua and after trying to catch up on the little sleep I got over the past few days, my thoughts feel just as incoherent as before. After all we did and experienced, one thought keeps looming through my head:

I don't really know how to be a Christian. 

While we weren't on a 'mission trip' per se, many of our interactions and choices were fueled by a desire for the Lord to use us. We prayed together early on that we might be willing to sacrifice the things that we want for the sake of the Gospel and that we would be willing to be bold when necessary. It led us into countless conversations that we'll never know the fruit of (or if there was any).

I come back to one conversation I had quite often, mulling over its meaning. A conversation that drifted late into the night (for me, anyway)... a conversation with a drunken cynic who had his own thoughts on the Church and how Christians ought to be doing things different. As he read into my stiff and 'uninviting' body language, called out my 'Christianese' and superficiality, and remarked on the multitude of Christians who enter college only to wind up far from truly following Jesus... I couldn't help but think he was right.

He was right.
I was uncomfortable at times, partially because this guy I had only just met was pretending like he knew me...and partially because the scene wasn't one I enjoyed being in. It was a scene I didn't exactly know how to function in. Which, I think, was kind of his point.

That I can play the Christian card quite well among other Christians... I can talk the talk, walk the walk... but what happens when I'm absolutely immersed among those who don't care about Jesus? What happens to me then? I often feel out of place, insecure, judgmental, sad...

But the enlightening part about this trip was that we were stuck at a resort with all kinds of people for days and days....and even the ones who we were only overlapping with for a few hours, we were in such a magical land of tourism and foreigners and being bound together by language commonalities... it was inevitable that we would get to know people. We made friends. Because beyond the scenes that I was uncomfortable with, I was reminded that people are still people. And we met fascinating people with fascinating reasons for being in Nicaragua.

I guess I was just reminded that I don't really know what I'm doing...and that maybe it's okay. That even as I interact with people and search for opportunities to share the Gospel and pray for boldness to actually do it... there's not an exact science to it. There's not a step-by-step formula of what it should look like, of what it has to look like. I can have a conversation with an inebriated fellow about predestination, and the Lord might do something with it. We can talk to a local man in a poor developing country and encourage him to do something for the prisons that break his heart, and the Lord might stir up passion in Him to act.

But it takes being among people to have those conversations...
and I guess I fear that I too often, in my daily life, avoid the uncomfortable scenes....or even just scenes that I don't enjoy. And maybe, I'm realizing yet again, that there's something incredibly beneficial to stepping out and being among people who are not like me. So often I want to cling to what I know, to people who are just like me... and maybe I need to be more willing to branch out, to be the minority in what I believe in... and to be bold as I interact with others.

I honestly don't know what that looks like right now as I'm in a season of transition, heading toward yet another Christian community. But I do know that I don't want to be limited to that, confined to it, and get too comfortable there.

I want to know people.
To be willing to build relationships with people, not simply because we decided to stay at the same surf ranch for five days in a different country....but because they matter.

More than my own comfort, more than my own desires, more than me...
and when I'm willing to try to get to know people?

The Lord surprises me.
And for that I am thankful.
So even when I don't necessarily know what this Christianity thing is all about or how to do it 'right'? I know that He is faithful, that He is leading, that I can't really mess it up.

My time in Nicaragua was strangely inspiring... as were my fellow travel companions.
And while I'm not necessarily urging you to go out and party and forget Christian community (because there's an obvious need and importance for that)... I am encouraging you to consider how often you're interacting/seeking to know those outside of that community. I am urging us all to be more willing to enter into the world... a world that's often uncomfortable and not what we 'approve' of, but a world that's very in need of Christ's love. A world that is desperately searching to fill voids and emptiness with everything but Him.

So even when it's not our 'scene', even when you have no idea what you're doing... I pray that we be diligent and good stewards of what we've been given, walking confidently in knowing that He is faithful.

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