The sin God rebukes is not trying and failing, but failing to try. Trying, failing, and trying again is called learning.”
— Cloud & Townsend, Boundaries
Blaine Hogan. This guy is kind of amazing in a brilliant, handsome sort of way, and not to mention, powerful video.
Oh no, not this again. I can’t believe this followed me all the way to LA.
I can’t panic here like this..people will see me for the fraud that I am: the new children’s pastor has only been here for a month and is already losing it. Think of the children!
Actually, this might not be so bad. Now they’ll really see me for the weak, unworthy and most definitely unqualified person that I am and maybe if I’m lucky they’ll let me go and I can just live under a rock in Texas like I’ve always dreamed of.
If you people only knew the things I’ve done/thought/said/felt/seen even a few months ago, you would not be calling me pastor and you would certainly not be leaving your kids with me.
These were some of the thoughts that ran through my mind as I sat in my car panicking next to my mom in the church parking lot on Friday night, half an hour before I had to walk in for childrens ministry.
Of course, mom didn’t know what to do. She just kept apologizing for the passing comments she had made about my hair that day. I didnt even have the mental capacity to explain that that wasn’t the reason I was suddenly freaking out and crying and unable to breathe. That I wasn’t just being overly sensitive about her insinuations of how “unchildrens pastor-like” I looked— but that I was being plagued about how “unchildrens pastor-like” I felt at the moment.
That deep, deep sense of inadequacy that somehow manages to subtly creep its way back into my thoughts every Friday evening and Sunday morning before church, was quickly becoming my reality again. And panic was just a familiar instinctual response.
After seeing that nothing she was saying was going to snap me out of my panic attack, she ran to grab the senior pastor from his office and almost quite literally dragged him into the parking lot to pray for me. (I pictured Jesus being approached in similar manner by desperate mothers of demon possessed children). He flung open the car door and asked me if I could come out of the car, to which I managed to mumble that I couldn’t move. So, he quietly slipped into the back seat, lay hands and prayed for me. I don’t remember much of what he prayed, but I remember eventually calming down enough to recognize that awkward post public panic attack moment, one in which I usually have to make a series of quick decisions for the sake of damage control: My senior pastor is in my backseat, my mom is next to me, I have just been panicking in the church parking lot for the past however many minutes and they are looking at me to decide what to do next.
Mom offered to take me back home so I could take the night off, rest and decide what to do from here. The pastor left the car to “take the pressure off of me” while I decided. I looked out of the window, to the humble church building before me. New Life Oasis Church. God, why did you bring me here, to this place, again? This feels like the furthest thing from a new life or an oasis to me. You brought me here promising healing and here I am, just as frazzled, inadequate and vision-less as before. I’m waiting, but this is freaking hard Lord. And still the overbearing decision: Do I go in and face things, or am I going to retreat—again?
Then my thoughts are interrupted by familiar words not my own: The name of the Lord is a fortified tower. The righteous runs into it and is safe.
A fortified tower is usually standing right in the midst of chaos and warfare, hence the fortification. What good is hiding if I don’t choose to hide in the right place? My choices at that moment were to run and hide at home—a temporary safe place visibly away from anything stressful— or to run head on in and face the very source of my panic, while believing that in doing so I was running into the safe strong tower of the name of Jesus where absolutely nothing, not my panic or my thoughts or the very devil himself, could touch me.
In a moment of entirely illogical resolve, cheeks still wet from tears, eyeliner smeared, crazy-haired, and puffy-eyed, I chose to get my butt out of the car and walked into a room full of kids ready to watch Tangled.
And God ministered to me through them that night. For the next two hours of crazy, loud, sugar-pumped goodness, my worries of the day miraculously suspended, I laughed heartily at all the right parts, comforted a three year old who began crying at a close up of the ugly evil stepmother, asked a toddler to explicate his abstract coloring art work to me, and popped 6 bags of buttery popcorn in the church microwave without burning a single kernel, while humming Misty’s “Arms Wide Open” to myself.
Overall, I think Daddy was proud :)
It takes almighty grace to take the next step when there is no vision and no spectator— the next step in devotion, the next step in your study, in your reading, in your kitchen; the next step in your duty, when there is no vision from God, no enthusiasm and no spectator. It takes far more of the grace of God, far more drawing upon God to take that step, than it does to preach the Gospel.”
— Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest.
Googling how to get dreadlocks
I wish I had one of those beautiful and quirky indie voices so I could rock a head scarf and dreads and well thrifted clothes and sing about my broken heart while still looking cool and collected in front of strangers at a dimly lit lounge.
And then of course I’d insert a verse or two about how I am still more than a conqueror in Christ and how, as my little brother put it last night, Jesus mends broken hearts and oh how I am still waiting to be “fully” mended on this side of eternity.
It started off with a pair of leggings that looked an awful lot like soccer sweats at work.
After work I stopped at a red light and looked out the window only to see a field of kids playing soccer.
Then later tonight at large group I met a girl who I was trying to get to know until she told me about how she was in marching band in her high school and how much she loved it. I asked her which instrument she played. “Oh, the flute.”
I found it difficult to concentrate on whatever she was saying after that.
And then a friend told me about how she gave a ride to some guy to large group and how she was nervous about it at first until she realized he was “just a kid” and “not a threat at all” once she found out how old he was. I asked her how old he was, breath held, almost not wanting to hear the answer. She rolls her eyes and says,” ‘94.”
I wonder how you get through days like this.
My new bff
My youngest brother has sort of become my new best friend here.
He’s the only person I talk to on a consistent, daily basis about life. From the random, nonsensical, silly, and mundane moments, to the deeper, bigger issues we are each struggling through; he is a great listener and an engaging conversationalist.
The more I get to know him, the more amazed I am. He is by far one of the most perceptive 11 year olds I’ve met. I think back on when I was in 6th grade, and I can’t remember being remotely this interesting. All I remember about 6th grade is that I suddenly became hyper sensitive to what people thought of me and began to behave accordingly.
This week I realized that I moved out of the house when he was only four, and basically missed out on the past seven years of his life. In the meantime, he’s grown to become quite the character. I ask him if he remembers dropping me off in Berkeley for college when he was four, and he says, “yeah I remember, but back then I didn’t realize we were leaving you there forever. I thought you were just coming back the next day.” For some reason, this breaks my heart.
These days he makes me feel like I am 11 again. We play card games, read books to each other out loud in accents, share snacks, wrestle, go for walks, or just lie head to head next to each other on the floor and chat. Neither of my other brothers are down to do this anymore now that they’ve hit the “I’m too cool for you, big sis” stage of puberty and beyond.
But this one is still (somewhat) innocent. When I ask him if he likes any girls, he scrunches up his button nose, squints his big eyes and shakes his head furiously with an emphatic “NOPE. I’ll sometimes talk to them, but I don’t like sitting next to them on the bus.”
I smile, so satisfied. “Good answer. You’re still young, you don’t have to like girls until you’re in college.”
He’s very good at keeping secrets. When I whisper to tell him about a recent dream I had about this guy we both know from church, he leans in just as close and whispers back in the most serious tone: “Was he Batman?” and solemnly promises not to tell anyone.
Last night, we went to go watch Son of God together and I noticed he was crying throughout half the movie. When we came out of the theater, I asked him if the movie had made him sad. He shook his head and said, “No. I cried because it touched me. I felt like all my burdens were being lifted from me, and now I can do anything…like go to North Korea to share the gospel.”
He also gives mean massages. Whenever I’m lying in bed too tired from work, he’ll come over and ask if I want a massage. The other day, while he was giving me one, I asked him if he would still give me massages when I become a 70 year old grandma. He laughs as if this is a ridiculous thought and says, “If you’re that old, then I would be old too! I would be…(does the math in his head)….57! That’s OLD!”
"57 isn’t as old as 70" I respond.
He thinks about this for a moment, and then decides, “yeah, I would give you massages then.”
He doesn’t know it, but I almost cried.
You guys, it’s raining here
Even the rain is erratic here. On again off again. Pouring down one moment, then barely drizzling the next so that I have to keep turning my wipers on and off, as if even the weather cannot decide who to be here.
Here, rainy days don’t require me to pull out my ever faithful Banana Republic rain boots, the ones I’ve donned since my freshman year, and still not a hole to be found. My mom reminds me that I don’t need to take an umbrella since I’m going to be driving. For some reason, this makes me sad, so I stubbornly go through my belongings which are still in boxes, to find my blue Walgreens umbrella, the one that got me through dozens of rainy days in Berkeley and the one that I managed not to leave behind on the floor of a cafe or a classroom somewhere in Dwinelle. I don’t care if I’m only going to open it to walk from the parking lot to the restaurant, I will use that umbrella.
Spoiled Los Angeleans are complaining about how bad the rain is being right now, ruining our sunny weekends out to sip iced soy lattes beneath useless umbrellas that let all the sunshine in, sitting on intricate but cold and stiff chairs set on outdoor patios as we people-watch from behind knockoff and designer sunglasses.
"Don’t you hate it? This rain?" someone asks me, I think mostly to make small talk.
I can’t help but smile a distant, unfocused smile as I gaze out the window at the much needed rain that is quenching the thirst of this dry and weary desert of a land. I tell her that I kind of love it, that it reminds me of where I come from, as if that is actually where I’m from.
I never thought I’d feel this way about it, but there is something comforting about rain. It feels familiar, like an old friend reminding me that I am actually not that far away, that I haven’t traveled hundreds of miles to get away from whatever it is I thought I needed to get away from. It brings pleasant memories instead of regretful ones, nostalgia instead of pain.
And tonight, I find that I am missing Berkeley terribly.
I’ve been wondering about how to shift the atmosphere in which you walk into.
Today was a busy day at work. We had tons of orders from Bloomingdales, and everyone seemed especially stressed and high strung for a Thursday morning. I walked in to the usual din of sewing machines, phones ringing non stop, and voices bustling in korean and spanish over each other, everyone in a rush. You can smell the stress as soon as you walk into the place, not unlike pungent Korean food that’s been left out. I feel it even before I walk into my office and sit at my desk. It’s written on everyone’s darkened faces: “It’s 9 am and I’m already stressed. Leave me alone.”
I’ve been working here for close to a month now, and feel as though this should not be new to me anymore. It’s like I am right at the cusp of of growing immune to the constant air of stress and anxiety everyone breathes in. It’s all part of being in the market place, or so I’ve heard.
And then I met up with a badass friend this week who told me how she had to learn to “shift the atmosphere” at her work. She said the atmosphere at her workplace was full of hopelessness and despair (she works at a clinic), but then she began to see people the way God sees them and has even been offering people prayer for healing. Yeah, at a clinic, go figure.
But how do you do that? How do you single-handedly change a work culture, an environment, a language, that has been set for as long as the company has been around? No one questions stress, it’s just a way of being for people. It feels almost unnatural for a work place to not have stressed or overworked employees.
And then today, I experienced a glimpse of it. An organic moment when someone disrupted the status quo, if even for a brief second.
11 am : My supervisor asks me to shoot an email to the Bloomingdales buyer. I ask her what the buyer’s name is. “Melissa Sexton,” she says. Certain that I had misheard, I ask her to repeat it. “Her email is in the contacts, just type in her name.” Sure enough, there it is, Melissa Sexton. I stifle a childish giggle at the unfortunate spelling of her last name. I feel the need to rebuke myself for my immaturity, this is no time to be laughing at silly things, can’t you see everyone’s stressed? Be serious and get to work Manuela.
3pm: You can feel the tension and the overbalance of estrogen in the room as everyone is rushing to finish their work on time and avoid staying overtime. Heels click on the marble floor as designers run around with their samples, and phones somehow seem to be getting louder with each ring. Someone is getting yelled at, quite publicly, for not getting her job done right.
5pm: I am just watching the seconds tick by until I can finally clock out and ditch this stress-filled place for a nice warm shower, my pajamas, and dinner. People are growing more frustrated by the minute. I avoid a heated argument with a coworker over a minor issue of miscommunication. It’s amazing how contagious stress is.
5:30pm: All the orders are finally finished, packaged, and ready to go…except for one tragic detail: 5pm was the last call to ship items from the store. It is now 5:30. Our hearts stop. All this work for nothing?? I look at my supervisor’s expression and am impressed by her ability to hold a poker face through all of this even though I can probably guess what she’s feeling. She announces that we will just have to drive it to the airport ourselves for overnight delivery. It’s all I can do to pull out my purple hair and scream, “they’re JUST clothes!!!” (I am not looking to get myself into an Anne Hathaway v. Meryl Streep moment).
She calls for Carlos, the Cuban guy in charge of shipping for our office, and gives him directions to write the packages out to— there it is again—Melissa Sexton.
"Wha? Melissa Sexy?!" He yells out from his desk in his suave Cuban accent. Maybe it’s the fatigue. Maybe I’ve lost it. Maybe I just don’t care anymore, but I die laughing, and to my surprise, so does the entire office— including our supervisor.
It is a magical five seconds that pauses everything: the stress, the frustration, the anxiety and fear about not getting things done. Like a chorus of very momentary joy. And thats when I felt it, the sudden shift in the atmosphere. I witnessed the underestimated yet tangible power laughter and happiness had over stress and anger. So simple and surprisingly attainable.
This made me think. I thought about how Carlos had unwittingly used his humor to break the suffocating hold that stress has in our office space, and how simple it had been for him. If someone could unintentionally do that with a lame joke, I thought about how much more the indwelling Spirit of God could do through someone who was willing to believe for more than just another stressful day at work. To walk into the office with a daily mission to replace stress, anxiety and frustration with love, joy, and peace with something as simple as a joke, a compliment, a word of encouragement, an unexpected smile even.
I think this is probably part of what Paul was talking about when he said, whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. Stressing out means I am merely working with a part of my heart— my flesh, my emotions, my limited human capacity. But If I work with all my heart, then that encompasses my entire being, as well as the very Spirit that is living in me who reminds me to breathe, calm down, and take a moment to laugh because at the end of the day, things will be ok— whether or not Ms. Sexton receives her packages on time.
"How many of you are afraid of something?" I start my second sermon with this question. No one dares raise their hand lest they reveal any sign of weakness and risk being made fun of.
”Ok. Well let me tell you what I was most afraid of when I was your age. Not monsters. Not bullies. Not even zombies—I was most afraid of my parents fighting.” Looks of empathy suddenly light up in nearly everyone’s eyes at my taboo confession. I am not sure whether to smile or grieve. ”Still not afraid of anything?”
"How many of you have seen your parents get angry at each other?" Tiny, eager hands shoot up all across the room. Suddenly everyone is trying to top each other’s stories of parental conflict. I’ve opened the floodgates.
"My dad gets REALLY angry!" shouts the pastor’s kid in the front row. Oops.
"My mom always yells at my dad!" another deacon’s kid confesses on top of that.
I am tempted to just let them keep talking, to keep revealing the juicy secrets of their lives at home. The things adults are too prideful, afraid, and ashamed to admit to each other at church. Nevertheless, I have to remind myself that that is not what I am here to do. I calm the voices down and continue with my message.
I share my testimony, of how I was once their age (gasp, you were??) and how big and scary the world always seemed to little, insignificant me. I relive my first grade self as I hid in the closet and waited with sweaty palms covering my ears, for mom to stop screaming and dad to stop throwing things. I tell them about how I terrified I was when the very people who were supposed to protect me would tear each other down in front of me, often times with words that were still foreign to my vocabulary. I told them about the destructive thoughts this produced in me, and the lies I began to believe at such a young age, things I had continued to believe until very recently.
I then tell them what the Bible says about this monster called fear. How fear is very real, how fear sometimes causes us to do things that are hurtful to others and displeasing to God, how it is something that no one has the power to escape on their own strength.
I’d never seen kids pay more attention to a sermon than at this point in my message. The room was near silent, every breath held for some sort of solution to this story that seemed to resonate with every heartbeat in the room— down from every first grader, up to every teacher.
I couldn’t help but get chills as I told them to open to Romans 8:15 and had us read it out loud together: For you have not received a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you have received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, Abba Father. It is a foreign verse to many of them. (I make a note to myself that I will have to do a series through Romans and stop recycling age old Sunday school lessons about Jonah and Noah that the kids have heard since birth.) I tell them the good news: that Jesus permanently defeated the monster of fear at the cross. Wow. I pause to let that sink in, because I don’t think it has even hit me yet. This truth which, for some reason, still seems so hard to grasp.
I tell them that circumstances may not look different—my parents still fight and occasionally throw things, but I am different. I am not helplessly subject to fear anymore. I am not alone because I know that Jesus is with me even in the toughest storms, and how he hears me even when I am too scared to say anything.
And now for the response time: “Who here wants to defeat the monster of fear?”
Several bold hands go up. I pray—for those with their hands up, those who were too afraid to raise their hands, and also for myself. I ask God to help us overcome our fears, to make his comforting presence known to us in the midst of the toughest storms, and that we would stop allowing fear to dictate our behavior but rather that we would be set free to fully live out the abundant life he came to give us.