Worth More than the Perfect Honeymoon

One of my most romantic memories was on our honeymoon in Kauai. Mike had planned a road trip to a certain spot on the island that was filled with waterfalls. He was giddy about it. But a couple hours into our drive, pain escalated for me. (I later found out I had a decayed wisdom tooth mixed with nerve pain from Fibromyalgia). Mike took one look at the pain in my face and, without a word of complaint, turned the car back around and said gently, “I think that’s enough for today.” He gave up his biggest adventure on the most expensive vacation of his life, in order to care for me.

As I reflect back on that time, part of me feels so sad. What a waste! Why did we spend all that money when pain prevented us from enjoying the island? But my spiritual director helped me to realize that the memory of that car ride, when I became more aware of the selfless presence of my life-partner, was priceless.

In Matthew 26:6-16, there is a woman who gives up a years’ wages by pouring expensive perfume over Jesus. Jesus’ disciples respond by saying, “Why this waste?” But the woman is willing to give up everything because she is aware of whose presence she is in. For the woman, getting to be in the presence of Jesus is more important than her life savings.

Becoming aware of the presence of Jesus is the key to selfless love. In the 1600s, Brother Lawrence served as a cook and a sandal maker in a monastery. He spent his whole life serving others with joy by “practicing the presence of God“. He believed that every moment is an enjoyable moment when you become aware of God’s presence, even if you’re doing something as mundane as doing the dishes.

I’ve recently been listening to this song from InterVarsity Live! called “In your presence” every time I cook dinner or work on a tedious homework assignment. When I start to feel my energy depleting or my grumpiness creeping in, I listen to it to remind myself that I can enjoy the presence of my Creator no matter where I am or what I am doing. There are also some excellent print outs of liturgies called “Every Moment Holy” that I hang on my wall to make even the most ordinary of tasks feel sacred.

When was the last time you experienced the presence of Jesus? What was that experience like? What’s one way you want to actively remember he is with you?

Photo by Kevin Doran on Unsplash

Whose Side is God on?

I remember as a kid watching USC football games with my parents and praying for our team to win, and then wondering: What if the other team is praying too? Whose side will God choose? I know now that God is always on the side of the Bruins, but I still sometimes find myself theologically perplexed. I know God cares about all people, but doesn’t only one team get to win?

Professor Robert Chao Romero, in his book Brown Church* writes, “Jesus clearly articulates a preferential option for immigrants, the poor, and all who are disregarded by society. Jesus takes their side. Not only that, but he identifies so closely with the struggles of the poor that he sees himself in them.” (See Matthew 25 and the Beatitudes.)

Although most Christians can get behind the idea that Jesus loves the poor, it is not so easy to get behind the idea that God takes sides. Doesn’t God care about all his kids? Don’t we need to see every angle before making a verdict?

But when God chooses a side, he is not choosing between rival football teams. He is choosing between the powerful and the powerless. And he sides with the powerless every single time, no questions asked.

I frequently work with students who’ve experienced bullying or abuse. Sometimes I know the person doing the bullying. But I can never take sides with the bully, no matter how much I see their woundedness or their youth. My first priority is to the one being bullied. And as Christians, if our first response to appeals for justice is to defend the powerful or the status quo rather than the disregarded, then something within us is not fully aligned with the heart of Christ.

In order to realign, we need to first recognize our feelings of disorientation. If you come from a place of privilege or have benefited from the status quo, then the world has told you that the rules of the game are fair and you’re on the winning team. And when you study the Scripture and realize that Jesus has sided with people whose experience is nothing like yours, it can cause you to doubt the most foundational truth you ever learned: that Jesus loves you. We have to take that traumatic feeling back to Jesus and talk to him about it.

The second thing we can do is to ask Jesus to expand our view of the gospel: How is it good news that Jesus sides with the disregarded? How might your thriving be wrapped up in the thriving of the most vulnerable? How might Jesus be loving you by exposing your sin and inviting you to join him in siding with the oppressed?

* I highly recommend reading this book. Dr. Chao Romero weaves the history of the Latin American church, theology, and current day events in a way that will make you love Jesus so much more.

Friendships in Conflict

We are not our best selves right now. We are navigating a pandemic, anticipating an election, living in isolation, learning to do everything online…anxiety is skyrocketing. If you find yourself a little more short-tempered, annoyed, defensive, avoidant, or paranoid in your friendships, it’s not surprising. Conflict is to be expected.

We are experts in conflict resolution: forgive, put yourself in their shoes, ask open-ended questions, etc. But even when we know exactly what we need to do to repair our friendships, there is a part of us that stubbornly resists taking that next step. Perhaps you can relate to Paul when he says, “I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, I do the thing that I hate” (Romans 7:15).

Mending our friendships is not just about knowing the right thing to do. Rather, it’s about getting the most stubborn parts of ourselves to agree to do what is right. And there lies the greatest challenge.

When a roommate gets annoyed with you for failing to take out the trash, the answer is simple: apologize and go take out the trash. But why, then, does this tiff lead to an eroding friendship? It’s because there’s an inner part of you who doesn’t just hear, “take out the trash.” It hears, “you’re a failure” or “you’re not allowed to be tired…you are not as important to me as a clean house.” And that part of you that feels it must protect itself from all the wounds of childhood, shuts down in paralysis or lashes out in anger at your roommate…who just wanted you to take out the trash.

One of the most mature things you can do in conflict is to access that deeper part of yourself and nurture it. Listen to your soul to discover what part of you is hurting, and speak back to it: “No, you’re not a failure. Of course you’re tired (you’re in a pandemic!)” And only from that place of compassion, will you find the courage to do what is needed to mend the relationship.

Think about your most recent conflict with a friend. What part of you was offended? How might that offense have opened up old wounds? How can you speak with compassion to that part of yourself and validate your pain? What does that part need from you or from Jesus before it will have courage to do what is right?

Friendships that Endure

In eighth grade, my friend, Keyanna, picked a flower out of the grass during gym class and said, “For as long as you keep this, we will be friends.” I finally got rid of the dead flower when I moved away to college, but thankfully our friendship is still as strong as ever, twenty years after receiving that stipulation.

When I look at my inner circle of friends, I get chills thinking about how we have different personalities, ethnicities, and world views, and yet our friendships are resilient. We have survived moves, marriages, births, deaths, theological and political disagreements…not to mention about a million PMS cycles.

What allows for friendships to last this long? How can friendships survive the changing seasons of life, cross-cultural dissonance, and conflict?

Perhaps Keyanna’s flower in gym class was not so silly after all. The longevity of friendships is dependent on commitment. What makes friendship so rich is not just having shared interests or conflict resolution skills, but a commitment to staying in each other’s lives and to helping each other grow.

Forty years ago my mom and a few friends decided to meet together every Wednesday morning at 6am to pray. They set a time that wouldn’t conflict with family or work schedules, and they committed to keeping it. Now, forty years later, even though they’re all retired, some have passed away, and their kids have moved out, they still meet at 6am to pray together. They are committed.

I met Rachel eighteen years ago. Rachel weighed one pound when she was born. She calls me often, but I only have capacity to respond about one in ten times. But she doesn’t give up on me. She writes me cards, prays for me, and mails me information on disabilities. She chooses to be my friend even when I am a pretty lousy one. Rachel is committed to me.

As my husband and I dream of buying a house one day, what feels more important than the layout of the house or the type of flooring, is the question of who we will commit to. What city? What church? Which friends? Which neighbors? I pray that these are the questions that drive our decisions, because this type of friendship is worth more than many mansions.

How are you longing for more commitment in your friendships? Who are the people God is inviting you to commit to in this season? What commitments can you make to them that you’re able to keep?

In my next post, I will write about dealing with conflict in friendships.

A Prayer for Social Media Use

In my last post, I gave a few ideas for how I am trying to develop some healthier habits in my use of social media. One of those habits is learning to pause and pray before I turn on my phone each day. Here’s my prayer. Feel free to use this as an idea and edit it for yourself:

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

As I turn on my phone today, let me do so with an awareness of your presence with me.

I do not scroll in secret, but in communion with you, God, who knows all things, and knows all of me.

Thank you for this gift of connection, this canvas for creative expression, this catalyst for social change.

Prepare me now for what I am about to see.

When I see celebration, help me rejoice, and remind me you see my desires too.

When I see injustice, hold me in my grief, and give me resilience and responsiveness to share in the suffering of others.

When I am focused on “likes”, remind me that I am your beloved. Help me look to your approval more than the approval of others.

When I feel surprised, fearful, angered, saddened, or small, help me to breathe…in…and…out.

Holy Spirit, give me strength to stop scrolling when it’s time to stop.

Bread of Life, Living Water, satisfy me today in the ways that only you can satisfy.

Amen

(Note: This prayer is also on my Instagram account in a format you can use on social media.)


Healthy Habits for Social Media

I love social media. It’s a great tool to connect, create, learn, mobilize, and to enjoy beautiful things. But it also causes anxiety if not used well.

Fifteen hundred years ago a group of monastic Christian mystics created the concept of a “rule of life,” or commitments to ways of living. Here is my current “rule of life” regarding my use of social media. These are not intended to be “rules” that can never be broken. Rather, they are guidelines I am trying to follow in this season to help break some of my unhealthy habits.

  1. Don’t pee with or sleep with your phone. Social media is not a platform for relaxation. Although it can provide a nice escape through endless scrolling, it does not replenish or satisfy. Your phone does not belong with you on the toilet or in your bed.
  2. Don’t let “likes” be your first source of feedback. If you are looking for affirmation or comfort, social media is not the first place to go. A hundred “likes” or “hugs” on your post won’t satisfy your deeper need. If you’re hurting, call a few close friends and ask them to pray for you. If you are feeling insecure about your post, send it to a trusted leader for feedback before letting the public be your first critic. Process before you publish.
  3. Practice what you preach. If you have an important petition to share, make sure you’ve signed it first. If you post a challenge or teaching (about a “rule of life”, for example), make sure you’re trying it yourself as you’re encouraging others to do so. Spread important information with the urgency that is needed, but do so with integrity.
  4. Chew and digest before stuffing your face. Don’t let the massive amount of input make you sick with unprocessed knowledge. Read stuff, but then do something with it. Ask: What did I learn from my reading? What questions do I have? What emotions did that evoke? What invitations can I respond to? Who of my friends will I call on the phone because they’ve expressed they are hurting?
  5. Don’t let FOMO cheapen your creativity. Important conversations are happening quickly all the time. Of course you want to be a part of them. But if waiting a few days or a couple weeks can help you have a more thoughtful piece to contribute, then take the time for the creative investment. Sharing just to prove you can “keep up” is never very flattering.

These are a few of my exhortations to myself around social media. Which ones can you relate to? What would you add to your list?

In my next post, I will share a prayer to pray every time you open up your social media or turn on your phone.

Photo by Ravi Sharma on Unsplash

A Prayer for Lingering in Racial Discomfort

“The key to moving forward is what we do with our discomfort.”

Robin Diangelo, in “White Fragility” (Loc. 442).

In my last post, I talked about doing inner work with Jesus in order to overcome white fragility and be catalyzed into action. Here is one other tool for deepening our prayer lives with Jesus in order to be more effective in our activism.

As I prayed this morning about the ongoing racial trauma in our nation, I had so many questions: What is right? How do I join the movement towards justice? Am I risking enough? Too much? What do I need to unlearn? Where am I blinded by my own whiteness? It felt refreshing to name the questions. They’d been stuck in my throat for a while now.

I wanted God to give me immediate answers. Instead, his answer was to linger in the uncomfortable feeling that I will never have “arrived” in becoming a “good white person.” To linger in the unsettling reality that I am probably wrong, about a lot, and that my learning is never finished. To linger in the sadness that Black people can’t breathe, and I don’t know what to do. I heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit saying, “Welcome the discomfort. Don’t push it away with quick fixes.”

I pulled out a prayer that has helped me often, called “Welcoming Prayer“, and adapted it for today:

I welcome you, discomfort.
I welcome you, anxiety.
I welcome you, sadness.
Teach me. What do you want to show me?

(Wait. Listen. Linger.)

I let go of my desire for security— and my fatigue in risk-taking.
I let go of my desire for approval — to be seen as “woke”, important, and wise.
I let go of my desire for control — and my check boxes for doing good.
I let go of my desire to rid myself of this discomfort and sadness too quickly.

I open myself to the loving presence of the Father.
I open myself to the Spirit‘s correction, grace, and guidance.
I open myself to the body of Christ, the leadership of the Black church.
I open myself to becoming a life-long learner.

Amen.

Try praying this prayer for yourself. What part of it resonates with you? How does it give you freedom to be able to linger in the discomfort without having to know all the answers?

Photo by Max Bender on Unsplash

3 things we need from Jesus to overcome white fragility

The pursuit of racial justice requires selflessness. Following in the way of Jesus means amplifying the voices of Black people and choosing to receive correction with humility and responsiveness. But this is impossible to do when the voices of shame and fear inside of us are screaming to be heard. Instead of leading out of our strengths and giving our whole selves to seeking God’s justice, we spend all our energy trying to rid ourselves of these uncomfortable emotions, often with unending defensiveness.

If we want to be more effective in our justice work, we must be more effective in our internal work with Jesus.

Here are three things we need from Jesus daily in order to move past our internal defensiveness and into loving action:

  1. Affirmation. Our constant need for people to tell us that “not all white people are bad” comes from a deep depravation of affirmation from Jesus. This is not an affirmation based on our works but an affirmation of our identity. We need to start our day remembering that Jesus calls us beloved before we will ever be able to receive correction or be led into repentance.
  2. Focus. If we are trying at all to listen to our friends of Color, we will realize that they are offering us multiple ways to become advocates and allies. If we try to do everything, it quickly gets overwhelming. But Jesus offers us focus. We need to ask Jesus every day, “What are you calling me to today? How do you want me to choose into suffering today?” Without hearing this from Jesus, we will be paralyzed and end up doing nothing at all.
  3. Slowing. Though racial justice is an urgent matter, often our hearts can get caught up in the rapid pace of social media and our empathy cannot keep up. Jesus gives us an ability to slow down enough to feel deeply and to think wisely. This internal slowing is the very thing we need to move more urgently towards justice.

Jesus is the only one who can provide these things for us. It is not on our Black friends to give us these things. Nobody but Jesus will be able to speak these truths deeply enough into our souls so that we can turn from defensiveness and be catalyzed into action.

“If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

Photo by Stefano Zocca on Unsplash

How do you process a lynching?

Ahmaud Arbery. Breonna Taylor. George Floyd. Countless others. We are watching modern day lynchings on viral video at a rapid pace. How do you process this? As a white person, here are a few (not all-inclusive) ideas that have helped me to process:

1. Connect with real friends. 

Instagram will never take the place of actual friendship. When I was a new staff with InterVarsity at UCLA, I remember diving head first into activism when a racist video towards Asian Americans went viral. I posted all over Facebook and marched in the protests. But my mentor stopped me and asked, “Have you talked to your roommate (who is Chinese-American) about this yet?” I was preaching to the interwebs before I had even thought to ask my own roommate how she was doing. Post the helpful articles and call your community to action, but don’t forget to ask your closest friends how they are doing (and if talking is helpful to them).

  1. Follow the leadership of the Black community.

In my quiet time today, I couldn’t find words to pray. I read Drew Jackson’s poetic lament, “All we want to do is breathe.” I listened to Michael Kim-Eubanks’ song of lament: “I am just a few stories away from my demise” and wept for a while with Jesus. I listened to Keyanna Chase’s podcast about being a mom of Black boys and I let that draw me into intercession. Then I opened up Shaun King’s emails and began to follow his guided steps to calling the DA and writing letters to our local chief of police. The Black community is offering us a generous gift of leadership. May we receive their gift and follow their leadership with humility and responsiveness. 

  1. Listen for the questions. 

Henri Nouwen says, “Frequently, we are restlessly looking for answers…without having really listened carefully or attentively to the questions.” As you listen to your friends stories and read articles, what questions do you hear? Here are a few I have heard this week: 

  • How will we raise our children to be racially and historically aware?
  • How will we be a community that protects and looks out for each other?
  • How can we start locally and influence our own networks towards a more just society?

As you sit at the feet of Black leaders, what questions have you heard that stirred something in you? How might Jesus be inviting you to explore that question further? Who is a trusted friend that you can ask to process with more?

Photo by Sticker You on Unsplash

Prayer Changes Lives

In my last post I shared how my cousin Erica decided to give her life to Jesus after just four online Bible studies. But the Spirit of God was at work in Erica’s life for far longer than just that one summer. When we were kids, God put it on my mind to pray for Erica regularly to know Jesus. By the time we started online Bible studies, God had already given me twenty years of daily reminders that he wanted a relationship with Erica, leaving me little room to doubt that he would show up when she started searching.

Erica wasn’t the only person I prayed for as a kid. I have a diary entry from April, 1996, when I was ten years old, that reads, “I haven’t really liked Cassie. Maybe if she is a Christian I will like her better. I will be extra nice to her. I think it will work.” Who knows why my ten-year-old self didn’t like Cassie that day– she was actually one of my best friends. But ever since that moment, whenever I prayed for people by name, Cassie made top of the list. A few years ago we reconnected and turns out, she and her entire family are Christian! Another twenty years of prayer answered.

When I worked in a research lab I started leading lunch room Bible studies. People were curious and had great discussions but no one was really open to change. I prayed specifically that one person would become a Christian before I stopped working there. As I was on my way out the door on my last day of work, one of the postdocs, Kazu, ran to greet me saying, “Kelly, I am your brother now! I was just baptized!”

Prayer is more than a nice ritual. Our prayers, inspired by the Holy Spirit, actually change people’s lives. Do you believe that? Right now Jesus is yearning for relationship with people in your life. Will you join him in praying specifically right now for one of your friends?

Photo by Jude Beck on Unsplash