Friday, May 29, 2009

learning to juggle

so i realized today why i am more nervous about the next 2 weeks of the summer than i am for the 8 weeks we'll have with actual youth participants on site. i have a rather lengthy list of to-do's that need to be checked off over our 2 weeks of preparation...and it's up to me to build structure around that, to establish routines & patterns. once we have everything ready to go, i'll run like a well-oiled machine. but it's that state of stasis that is my adversary. there are a lot of balls to juggle, a lot of small details to set into place. so i'm learning to juggle at the same time that i'm leading others in the juggling act.

God has given me a lot of confidence this week, though. when i wrote my last post, i was riding a roller coaster of emotions. but over the last 3 days, i've asked God to help me focus on one day at a time--to live fully & full of fire each day. Jesus tells us that we shouldn't worry about tomorrow, because today has enough troubles of it's own. and i've been thinking about and working on living in the present for the last couple of months. and that type of focus has really filled me with great energy & purpose, without letting me get overwhelmed. but it's also been a delicate balance, because this whole week has been about thinking ahead, preparing, mapping out 10 weeks of upcoming summer programming. but i know that even more so in the next 2 weeks will i need to close my eyes on the day without having the mental rolodex whizzing. God will give me work to do one day at a time, and it will get done one day at a time without me needing to stress & worry over day 10 on day 2.

okay, taking a break from the deep thoughts for a moment--i've gotten a lot of cool stuff in the past few days! i just received 5 YouthWorks t-shirts to wear for the summer (we'll get 4 more on site!), a YW ballcap, a necklace, a water bottle, a cell phone, a credit card, and countless binders of training manuals and site information. plus my team has 2 sweet rides for the summer--a '99 minivan and a '09 Chevy Cobalt rental. yes, be jealous :) but we've also got to drive those bad boys from Alabama to the coast of NC over the course of the next 2 days, so be happy that you don't have to do that.

(PS--YouthWorks partners with a really awesome ministry to supply t-shirts to staff & to sell to youth participants. It's called Youth Enterprise and the ministry gives high schoolers in Minneapolis a chance to learn business skills while working on screen printing tshirts. They have also boosted graduation rates by huge percentages & offer tutoring as a part of the students' work days. The students are also discipled. Go to

We roll out tomorrow at 7:20 am (I've already gotten better at functioning on low levels of sleep!) and drive to Fayetteville, NC. Then on Sunday morning we have another 4 hours or so until we reach Hyde County. Please join me in prayer for safe travels, and for our initial transition into the community.

I would also ask for prayer on continued team bonding & trust, my leadership during these 2 weeks of prep, and for all of us to carry our weight & work efficiently during this time.

Here's a few verses from Colossians that I'd like to share--this passage has really been focusing my heart for this ministry I'm preparing to enter with my team:

Therefore as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtures, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. Colossians 3:12-17

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

and so it begins

i'm writing this to you from my home for the week--a Sunday school classroom in Moody, Alabama where I'm undergoing training for my YouthWorks summer. i'm currently propped up on my air mattress, awaiting dinner, and was excited to find a wireless connection :)

it's really good to be here & get this process underway--it's nice to have anticipation & expectation meet reality. i've met my staff team--Katy, Jake, & Cameron. I think we're going to get along well. We determined today that we're all neat (clean) people, which gives me great hope :) It's funny to begin interacting with people who you know you'll be super tight with in a couple more months..yet right now it's still a bit awkward & new. I look forward to getting to know them better & watching their strengths & gifts come out in our ministry this summer.

as for me, i've been fluctuating between confidence and nervousness, uncertainty and surety. this week is all about information & modeling what a YouthWorks week will look like on site. so we're just hit over the head with info again & again, and that can be both overwhelming & daunting. i trust fully that God has chosen me for this position & will equip me (and all my fellow staff members) for my job. when i rest in that knowledge, i feel so great & so pumped. but if i drown myself in all the details and my inexperience in this particular setting, etc--i am overcome with anxiety. it seems like a lot of people are feeling this way, so i'm thinking that the abstract nature of our preparations may contribute to this feeling. i look forward to the time when we're all set to go in our community & have our first groups arrive. that is still 3 weeks out! i know we need all this prep time, but i'm ready to get my hands dirty & stop fretting over how it's going to happen and just let it happen.

i had a really sweet moment last night when i was weary from traveling & a long day of mingling and was just ready to go to sleep. it was 10:15 pm (11:15 Eastern time, where I started the day!) and we were moving into a time of worship. as our leader prayed to begin the session, all i could ask was, "God, just keep me awake." He did that & more--I felt so lifted up & fulfilled by the presence of Jesus. it's so beautiful to realize how fully & truly He is our sustainer, our very life. it is all about Him, He is so so worthy. that is my center and my purpose for this summer.

i hope to keep the updates coming, but still am not sure how often i'll have time to get online once our summer really gets underway. but i'll try to blog once a week, at least. tales of youth adventures to ensue!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


i feel like a chicken with my head cut off right now! between finishing school (at least there's no exams...), packing & preparing for YouthWorks, trying to get a handle on details for Emory this fall, and squeezing in a 3 day trip to the beach with my fam--i feel like my life has exploded everywhere! it has, at the very least, exploded all over my room.

but once i get to the beach tomorrow night, hopefully i can take some time to seriously relax before the onslaught of my intense and wonderful summer experience. relax and not think about what i have left to pack & how the heck i'm going to fit it all in one suitcase.

it may be awhile before i post again--and i really don't know how often i'll be able to do so this summer! so here's all my love & the very briefest of updates (sorry!). no one hesitate to call me over the next few months--i want to keep up with what's going on in your lives as well :)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

revelations on Revelation

i've been a bit stand-offish with God this week.

which i attribute entirely to the fact that i've been reading through revelation for bible study tonight.

for me, revelation has nice bookends. but the stuff in the middle has really yanked my chain this time around. and i have been completely blindsided by my present irritation with this text. i thought i had made a lot of peace with it. probably because last year my beloved disciple-ee sara wanted to work through rev. together--and as the "leader" of that discussion, i imagine that i squashed down many of my own questions and frustrations to seem more knowledgable and to focus on what she wanted to discuss. and not having studied personally through rev. since then, clearly i was left with a false sense of security--like i owned Revelation. most people are confused by its symbolism and wild imagery, but no sir, not me. i mean, i guided someone else through the book, c'mon, i know what's up.

yea, right. now i've got all these questions swirling around about rapture and "Left Behind" and Darby's dispensationalism and pre- vs. post-milleniallism. it's a feast for the mind of a reli major..

but more significantly, i'm mad. angry because somehow all these wrathful images in Rev. don't correlate with the God I know. i'm vaguely Universalist, i admit it. (though i was somewhat pacified by John's commentary that the earth dwellers suffering through the great tribulation were nonrepentant despite the plagues and killings and death. talk about hard-hearted).

but if i'm honest with myself, it's not just thinking about all those atheists and buddhists and unreached people groups perishing in eternal flame (note the slight sarcasm...i think), but it's questioning where i fit into the picture of eternity. part of that hinges on the unanswerable: will i be alive or dead during the eschaton? and i one of the 144,000? the great multitude? am i taken up in the rapture? is there a rapture? do i have to wait for 1000 years while the martyrs reign before i'm risen in Christ? i consider myself a Christ follower and believe that my salvation rests in Him, but have i messed up too much for my name to be written in the book of Life? am i unworthy to receive His seal on my forehead?

i want to believe, with everything inside me, that the answer to those last two questions is a resounding "no!" but that's what Revelation does to you! it messes with your head.

i guess i should imagine how John felt ;)

today i decided that i would rest in the knowledge of the love of my God and Saviour. the questions may swirl around, but they sure aren't going to be answered by anyone on this earth. Not by Darby, not by the "Left Behind" authors, not by my pastor at bible study tonight. and so we wait. for Him. for Him who loved and died for a people undeserving.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Friday, May 8, 2009

week in review

i'm on the verge of drifting away into an afternoon nap right about now, so it might not be the best time for blogging. but here goes nothing.

this morning was spent at a baby shower for one of my coworkers. followed by a brief meeting about our last 2 weeks of school.

two weeks of school. that's it. no more kiddies, no more Kelly, no more Charlotte, for that matter. my YouthWorks summer is rapidly approaching. and as i expected, now that my time is dwindling in the life that I know and change hastens, i am starting to mourn the passing of this year and the things i will not be here for this summer. but all sentimentality aside...ONLY TWO WEEKS LEFT! YES!

as for the baby shower, it was nice. we ate cake at 10 in the morning. i watched in wonder as the mom-to-be unwrapped a gift of ringed ice packs...for one's breasts. the other ladies in the room were stunned at the advance in mommy technology over the past 10 years. i, of course, was stunned by the need for such mommy technology. indeed, i listened all morning to birthing stories, pregnancy stories, breast feeding stories (you get the idea).

in other news, this past week was teacher appreciation week. which i think should be renamed teachers get fat off oversized candy bars week. no joke. if you have a chocolate craving, come visit me. we also received beautiful fresh flowers that i happily dispersed in vases around the house. and for the scrapbook--"a picture of my teacher" drawn by the three-year-olds. priceless.

this week was also eventful in that i met with the district superintendent of the Charlotte United Methodist Church. this was the first real step in beginning the "inquiry" process for ministry candidacy with the UMC. it was an intimidating interview, but I never got truly nervous, and it ended up being just a nice conversation with a dear man. though i wasn't able to run right alongside him in name-dropping professors at duke and emory, i did leave the meeting feeling good about entering this process. i also think i discovered the reason why the process scares me a bit--it's being under the thumb of the Methodist church for the rest of my life. which in a lot of ways could be a good thing. and with the deacon track (which i am 95% sure i want to pursue), i'll have the freedom to work in social orgs or schools, will be non-itinerant, and won't be bound by district-ordained geographical assignments. that helps me breathe easier...but it leaves me asking, am I ready to sign on with the UMC for good? to be so denominational? to let them have, at least in some way, control over who I am as a minister, a worshipper, a disciple? maybe that's a little extreme--but i think it's where my fear stems from. which is why i'm thankful that i have a year-long (at least) inquiry process before me. so i can inquire.

i was thinking today that it's kind of funny for a Christ follower to be so intimidated by the idea of relinquishing control of certain things to the Church. because that is what Jesus calls us to do with our entire lives--hand over control, to Him, the head of the Church. but i'm starting to see what that looks like, what it means practically--i'm working in rural NC this summer, with teenagers. i'm inquiring into ordained ministry. those things definitely were not my ideas ;) but i already have glimpses of what great experiences will spring forth.

God pushed me rather unexpectedly into another endeavor this week, albeit rather small. my pastor asked me to lead b-stud again this week. our assigned readings were quite short, and i was hoping to develop a creative way to extend our discussions. As I sometimes do, one night I pulled out my guitar before reading the Bible to spend some personal worship time before God. And I was overwhelmed with the urge to lead worship at our b-stud. Let me remind everyone that you can only call me a guitar player if your definition of "to play" is quite broad. I know the basic chords. I can't really strum (whether because I am entirely self-taught and need some professional help, or because I am a leftie playing a right-handed guitar, or both). But God pushed me, and I think it was not only because our small group has been completely devoid of musical worship and it would be a refreshing and uplifting change, but because music is a huge part of who I am, and a essential medium through which I meet with God. And I would really really love worship leading to be a part of my ministry someday, in some capacity. So God said, "ok then Whitney, take this guitar I've given you, these chords I've helped you to learn, this voice I've given you to sing, and just do it. Make a joyful noise. There will only be a few people listening besides Me." So I did--I stepped out on a limb to minister and it was beautiful. Beautiful in that God was among us, being worshipped...not necessarily in the chords I was hitting ;)

this week i said good-bye to my Sunday school class. i won't be teaching anymore, since i'm leaving soon. i know i brag about these kids a lot, but i'm going to some more. this week we talked about Iraq and September 11th (they're 4th and 5th graders--mere toddlers in 2001!). and they managed to get from a game of 'Mother May I' to our as yet unintroduced virture of the month (obedience) and from there to our Bible story (Jonah). they are smart, intuitive kids. and i'm so glad they're coming to church, because in the vein of a question in previous months ("you're telling me Zeus isn't real?!), I was questioned about God's true sovereignity over the storm--"wait, what about Mother Nature?" and they are only beginning to learn that running from God ("heck no I wouldn't go to Iraq even if God spoke to me out of the sky!") is how we end up in the belly of a big fish. or covered in that fish's vomit when God decides to spit us back up.

speaking of the big fish, we had a lot of debate about whether it was a whale or just a big fish. one dear boy proposed that someone should just gather up all the Bibles from all over the world and see how many said "fish" and how many said "whale." aren't they clever? love it. he'll probably be a Bible scholar one day...

Friday, May 1, 2009

holy anger

While most activists could use a good dose of gentleness...I think most believers could use a good dose of holy anger. Shane Claiborne

It was extraordinarily fitting that I read these words last night because yesterday I was pissed off. Pissed off at American Christianity that has become a subculture which, to quote myself, throws in the nice parts of the Bible, bits of the American dream, promises of a comfortable lifestyle and an island paradise for eternity (6/30/08).

What makes me really angry is the fact that we're indoctrinating ourselves with this belief. And it has moved to the Church. To my church.

I receive a weekly email from our church administrator that includes that Sunday's bulletin announcements, order of worship, etc. Although I no longer work for my church officially, I still enjoy looking over these files to see what's going on in the life of our church. This week, I noticed that the song "How You Live" was listed as the offertory piece.

I hate hate HATE this song. I usually try to avoid using the word 'hate' in any context, but I mean it about this song. I mean my stomach has started to churn again just thinking about it.

To quote myself again from that same blog post I linked above, here's why it makes me so mad:
I'm afraid we're growing comfortable in a culture that ignores the costs of servanthood & relaxes in the blessings we've been given. The Christian radio's playing songs that say "wear your red dress, use your good dishes, go to the ballgames, go to the ballet, turn up the music" and we're tapping our toes right along. I agree with the underlying message of this song--but it's not scriptural and I don't think it corresponds with Christ's main message. But when we begin to equate this and similar songs' mantras with Christianity, we find ourselves in a cultural-religious hodge-podge that throws in the nice parts of the Bible, bits of the American dream, promises of a comfortable lifestyle and an island paradise for eternity. I'm just not entirely sure that's what Jesus meant when he said, "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full" (john 10:10). I mean, really, not every Christian can afford to go the ballgame, let alone have at least 2 sets of dishes. C'mon, Jesus was eating with whores and thieves--hardly the types to have "good dishes." I bet Jesus would gladly eat off your floor if He were to drop by for dinner tonight and you hadn't yet started the dishwasher.

You can read the rest of the disgusting lyrics here. My other favorite lines include "have what you want" and the obligatory "give to the needy" thrown in on the last stanza. In my opinion, this song could be the anthem of America's cultural Christianity: spend enough on yourself to live the good life and remember to think about those less fortunate every now and again so you can feel good about your charitable contributions. God Bless the USA.

(I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said "USA bless God." Preach.)

Now back to the part about me being pissed off. I've made it clear that I hate this song--but I don't think that's enough to warrant a true state of holy anger. What gets me so upset is the fact that we're going to sing this song in church...(here's the real kicker) after my pastor preaches a sermon on Matthew 6:19-21. In this passage Jesus recommends that we store our treasure up in heaven.

So the service will run something like this: Part 1) don't horde your treasures on earth where moths destroy and thieves steal. Part 2) Live life to the fullest! Spend money on a new red dress, tickets to the ballet or the ballgame. Have what you want! We've been blessed so make sure your enjoy every minute of it! Part 3) We take communion together--with the idea being that we share in the body of Christ with our brothers & sisters around the world. Our brothers & sisters who sure as heck aren't going to the ballet or using their good dishes.

To me, this is straight up spiritual warfare. My church will be sending subliminal messages this Sunday (I think it is a fortunate occurrence that I am teaching Sunday School this week and won't actually be in the service). We've become so blinded to the difference between a life of discipleship as described in the Gospels and a life of comfortable Christianity as described by American pop culture that we don't even realize it when the very word of God is being contradicted in church. Satin has found a way in. My pastor will preach a good word based on the very words of Truth, then the prince of this world gets his sermon in as we sing a song about complacency, about comfort.

Does that piss anyone else off? Literally tears of frustration and anger welled out of my eyes last night as I was discussing this with my mother. Just thinking about it again has caused my muscles to tense up and my heart to pound. This is serious friends. The gospel of American Christianity is finding its way into the Church. We're being told that it's okay. It's okay for us to spend money on ourselves. It's okay for us to give to the "needy" instead of building relationships with them. It's okay to have a nice house in the suburbs with multiple sets of china while half the world is living on less than the coins in our change purses.

THAT IS NOT OKAY! What happened to the Gospel?? Where did it go? What the heck do we think we're doing, and how dare we call it Christianity?

Will you join me in this anger? And pray with me that this anger leads to a genuine embrace of true Gospel living in our own lives, and to the pursuit of a ministry that seeks to eradicate the heresy of American Christianity.