On the Shelf: Understanding Gender Dysphoria by Mark A. Yarhouse

I picked up this book last winter at Urbana, a student missions conference that takes place every three years in St. Louis.  It was a purchase made on a whim, a title in a large stack. With all the controversy about bathrooms this past spring, transgender issues were on my mind and I wanted to be more informed.  Although David Ebershoff’s The Danish Girl opened my mind to the nature of what it means to be transgender (I never really understood how deep the identity struggle is), there is so much I don’t know or understand.  My faith also spurs me to ask questions: How should Christians respond to transgender issues?  What does the Bible have to say on the subject?  So many of my fellow Christians have responded to transgender people with fear and hate–an attitude that makes me extremely uncomfortable.  So I picked up Yarhouse’s book to learn more. Continue reading

Sonshine 2015

When one of your favorite bands plays at a music festival a mere twenty miles from your house, you can’t not go.  Right?

Yesterday, I attended the annual Sonshine Music Festival with my old roommate, Alli and one of her childhood friends.  I’ve wanted to go for a long time, but this was the first summer I’ve managed to be in the crowd.  Usually, the festival takes place in Wilmar, MN–near where I went to college.  This year, the event moved not only towns, but states!  It’s now in Somerset, Wisconsin–just across the river from home.

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Alli and I after Rend Collective’s set

Although the festival goes for many days, I only went for one.  Because of the location shift and a brutal thunderstorm in the middle of the night, attendance was low.  Alli, has been to Sonshine many, many times and was shocked at how small the crowds were.

It was a perfect July afternoon–hot and sunny.  I dressed for the weather in breezy shorts and a tank top, but still managed to sweat gallons.  I can’t count how many bottles of water I consumed just to keep hydrated.

Heat complaints aside, it was really fun to see all the different bands.  I got to see Remedy Drive, a group that played at several youth conferences I attended in high school.  We watched Children 18:3, who hail from Morris (my alma mater).  I’ve seen the band’s members lead worship several times, but never perform.  They went CRAZY.  We hid in the back of the crowd to prevent getting trampled by overly enthusiastic fans.

The best part of the day, though, was Rend Collective.  Hailing from Northern Ireland, their music is folksy and hard not to dance to.  Although they’ve become pretty famous in the Christian music sphere over the past few years, it hasn’t affected their heart for worship.  Their concerts aren’t performances.  They’re all about celebration, authenticity, and family.

During Rend Collective’s time on stage, all my troubles melted away.  We were lucky to be in the front of the crowd, as close to the stage as possible.  As they played song after song, I couldn’t stop smiling.  Despite being relatively reserved most of the day, I jumped and shouted and danced without a care in the world.  The set wasn’t about putting on a good show–it was about celebrating the honor of serving a wonderful God.

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Rend Collective

We didn’t stick around for the big closing act–the Newsboys.  I know they’re one of the biggest bands on the Christian music scene, but honestly… I’m not really a fan.  We watched a few of their songs, but they completely lacked the heart and soul of Rend Collective.  So while the other Sonshine attendees screamed and shouted excitedly, we packed our chairs and headed to the car.

All in all, it was a day well spent.  I love attending concerts and they’re even better when they’re bands close to my heart. I ended up with my worst sunburn of the summer, but wouldn’t change a thing.

Want a taste of Rend Collective’s style and philosophy on music?  Check out the following video.  It’s got the same spirit as their live shows.

Kidnapping the Austrians

Over the past year, I’ve been in a position where almost all my close friends live far away.  For the most part, this absolutely sucks.  I’m the type of person that doesn’t need to be surrounded by people all the time.  Give me a few solid souls to lean on and I am set.  It’s been incredibly difficult without the people I love most in the world by my side.  No amount of reading and Netflix can compensate for deep talks and belly laughter.

The one good thing, though, is that it makes the time I have with my dear ones so much more precious.

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Right to left: Anna, Emma, Anna-Laura, and me. Taken while waiting for the hometown parade to start.

This past weekend, I was able to spend time with some of my favorite people in the world, who happen to live in Austria.  We met at Camp Shamineau, where I spent the past three summers working, but our friendship has gone far beyond camp life.  When I studied abroad in Europe, I visited their home in the Alps.  This weekend, I brought them to see my home.

I don’t really know what to say about my time with the Austrians.  I dragged them through several charming small towns, to a local parade, a waterfall, and (of course) Target.  We laid around, ate good food, and soaked in each other’s company.

Being around people you care about brings out the best in you.

During the past few months at home, certain pieces of myself have gone dormant.  I’ve forgotten what a joy it is to serve others, to put their needs before my own, and what it feels like to be surrounded by my Christian brothers and sisters.  My faith does best when I am on my own, independent of my parents, and although this summer hasn’t been BAD, it hasn’t been productive.  I’ve lost sight of what it means to GROW in my faith.  I’ve settled for getting by.

The two days spent with my Austrian friends reminded me of these things.  Just by being in their presence, listening to them talk, I felt God’s Spirit flare up in my heart.

Anna and I by the waterfall near where I live
Anna and I by the waterfall near where I live

I felt a desire to grow, to serve, to love.  I wanted to spend time investing in my faith instead of hobbies and activities.

Saying goodbye to Anna, Emma, and Anna-Laura today was incredibly sad.  They’re some of the dearest people in my heart and, since we live on other sides of the world, I don’t know when I’m going to see them next.  But being with them helped remind me of so many things that I had let slip by, giving me badly needed encouragement regarding my future plans.  I am so thankful for that.

However, I do know that these girls and I are friends for life.  I never imagined I would come to be tied so deeply to a bunch of people from Austria–of all places, why there?  I cling to the knowledge that we will meet again.  Friends like them don’t come along every day–and when they do, they stick.  I don’t know how much time will pass between today and our next meeting, but I earnestly look forward to it.

This weekend was, by far, the highlight of my summer thus far.

Life and Times of a Small Group Leader: a Conclusion

Three years ago, I turned to my roommate Alli and announced that I felt like God wanted me to start a Bible study.  The only problem was I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

Alli looked over at me with a sly smile.  “Here’s what we’re doing.  You and I are going to lead a Bible study together, we are going to target it towards single girls, and we are going to talk through our problems.”  (At the time, the both of us were struggling a lot with being single.  When you’re interested in dating good, Christian guys, Morris is not the place to be.)

That, friends, is how I became a small group leader.

That first year, we were known as the Single Ladies Bible Study.  We read the book When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy.  Although we had some good conversations, I really don’t recommend the book.  A lot of the content is really simplistic and cheesy.

Every year, the Bible study has changed significantly.  After year one, we dropped the “Single”, lost Alli to graduation, and our numbers dropped significantly.  I was abroad for half the year and, when I came back, the once bustling group was down to three or four core members.  We had lots of great talks, though, and really got to know each other.

This year, I co-lead with my friend Jourdan and the group changed entirely.  Last fall, when we met to discuss what the study would look like, we had no idea how many people would actually show up.  The core group returned and, to our surprise, so did a boatload of new faces.  It really was a wonderful year.  For the first time, it really felt like a community.  The variety of the group still amazes me–we had freshman to seniors, newspaper lit nerds to athletes, biology to Spanish majors.  Everyone was so different!  But we all got along and learned so much from each other.

Family-style photo of this year's group at Jourdan's house.
Family-style photo of this year’s group at Jourdan’s house.

As leaders, Jourdan and I were pushed and stretched in ways we hadn’t expected.  Before we knew it, we were each meeting one-on-one with several of the girls, mentoring and encouraging them.  We planned Girls Nights once a month and came up with our own lessons every week.  Planning lessons was a big challenge, but also an incredible opportunity.

Last week was our final meeting.  The girls all surprised me with a party celebrating my graduation.  Everyone brought treats, one girl made chicken tacos, and Jourdan made a cake.  Their parting gift to me was a little plastic box covered in quotes.  Inside, each girl had written out encouragement notes and shared their favorite Bible verses.  It’s something for me to take with as I move into the future.  Although I was pretty brain-dead the whole time (on account of the library staff party and English major picnic being the same night), their thoughtfulness really means the world to me.

Although it will continue to meet next year, I’m really sad to see it go.  Being a small group leader has been one of my favorite parts of college.  I’ve learned so much about myself and what it means to be a leader and have gotten to know so many wonderful people.  Serving and loving people is hard, but it’s one of the greatest blessings life has to offer.

A new perspective on sharing my faith

I loathe being told to share my faith.

I mean, it’s something that we are called directly to do.  Jesus says in Matthew 28:16 to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”  We’re encouraged to share our faith, to spread the good news, to be lights in the darkness of the world.

But in Christian circles, there’s a lot of guilting that goes on when it comes to evangelism.  So often, I come from those talks feeling like, by not sharing my faith, I’m doing something wrong.  And then I feel guilty.  I feel like I should share my faith out of obligation and duty, not because I want to.  So often, evangelism makes me extremely uncomfortable.  In order to do it, I feel like I must have all the answers, like I have to start going up to my classmates, shoving Bibles in their faces, and taking them through the Romans Road.  It makes me uncomfortable and inadequate. I feel pressured and that, if I don’t present the message well enough, I’ll be a failure.  Sharing faith in these ways sounds just seems unpleasant.  I don’t want to do it.  But then I feel guilty for not wanting to do something God clearly asks of us.

The thing is, I genuinely want to share my faith.  I want to tell people about the joy, the love, the security I have in Christ.  But I don’t want to demean others and I’m afraid of being seen as the Bible-shoving stereotype.

At IVCF last night, an old classmate came and talked about the dreaded topic.  What she said really hit home.

To summarize her message, she talked about talking about faith the same way we talk about things excited about.  We don’t have to have a perfect message.  The outcome of sharing our faith does not depend on us.  We don’t have to worry about how we are received, because God is bigger than that.  He can handle it.  Instead of preaching to people, we should talk about Jesus as if He’s a real person.  We shouldn’t spew off boring facts as if he’s merely a figure in a book.  Instead, we need to be open and honest about what He’s like, what He says, what He does, and what it’s like to hang out with Him.

Boldness is key, but not to belittle.  Not to condescend.  Not to preach.  We need to be bold in sharing our excitement about who He is and what He is doing in our lives.  Because if we’re excited, then it will spread to the people around us.

The other thing that is key is trust.  We need to trust that God is bigger than us.  He’s bigger than us, bigger than our circumstances, bigger than our voices.  We don’t have to defend Him.  He can defend Himself.  He knows what He is doing.

I’m not very good at sharing my faith.  I really struggle with this.  As previously stated, I’ve always felt this sense of obligation, that I should be doing more, saying more, preaching more–and this has always made me REALLY uncomfortable.  But all this time, I’ve been thinking about it the wrong way.  I don’t have to go out and do anything.  I just have to be me.  I simply have to live and not restrict my relationship with God to my personal life.  I have to let the love I have for my savior, my best friend, my beloved show.  I have to be open about Him–open about what He’s doing and willing to tell people about my excitement.

It’s encouraging to know that I don’t need to have it all together.  More than anything, though, it’s wonderful to walk out of a faith-sharing talk without feeling guilty.  For the first time ever, I actually feel good about being open about my faith.  Which is incredibly freeing.

 

Tis the Season Day 7: JOY to the World

We’ve come to the final day of Tis the Season.  It’s Christmas Eve, my favorite day of the year.  But instead of decorating cookies with my younger brother, I’m sitting here pondering the meaning of Christmas.

(As I wrote that last sentence, I could hear Sam from the next room go, “How ‘come Amelia’s not helping?”  I really should be helping.  Sam’s decorating takes a violent turn if left alone for too long.  We’ve had a number of bloody snowmen cookies over the years.)

Christmas is many things.  It’s a time for family and friends.  It’s a time for giving.  It’s a time for laughter, for memories, for nostalgia.  More than any of those things, though, it’s a time for JOY.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about happiness and joy.  At first, the two words appear synonymous.  Dictionaries will tell you that they’re the same.  But I disagree.  Happiness great, but it is fleeting.  It’s a state of mind, something that you feel for one moment and then is gone the next.  I can chase happiness and something still falls short.  The thing about joy, though, is that it runs deep.  It sinks into the soul.  Down in the core of who I am is a small, indistinguishable flame.  When the metaphorical storms of life hit and everything seems to fall apart, joy remains.  It is steadfast, unshakable.

Where does this joy come from?  Easy.  It comes from knowing and being known by God.  When it comes down to it, that’s what this holiday is all about.

The creator of the universe, the almighty God entered into His creation as one of His created.  He was born not to the wealth, glory, and splendor He deserves, but is born of a peasant in a barn.  He grew up poor and even during the three years He spent teaching, healing, and performing miracles, He was hated and despised by the very people He created.  By the very nature of who Jesus is, He deserves honor and praise.  But by the people He created, the ones He came to redeem, He received slander, torture, and death.

Despite everything, He still loves us.  He still wants us.  It doesn’t matter how broken we are, He is right there with open arms.  He not only provided salvation from our sins, but adopted us as His children.  He wants to know us and be known by Him.  He doesn’t just want us to know things about Him, to live a life of empty religion, but wants us to know who He is, His character, and His love.  It’s intimate, it’s deep, it’s rich… and there for free even though we deserve none of it.  Woah.

This beautiful intimacy of what we celebrate on Christmas is the essence of JOY.

Peter sums it up perfectly: “Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…” (1 Peter 1:8-9)

One of the most popular Christmas songs out there is “Joy to the World”.  Growing up, I never thought much about the words.  This year, though, they resonated in my heart.  Although they’re associated with the first coming of Jesus, they’re actually about the second.  The words speak of the immense joy that we will have when all is finished and we can physically be with Him once more.  The joy is so great that Heaven and Nature sings–even the rocks cannot help but cry out in adoration.

What better way to end Tis the Season than with inexpressible, glorious, inexhaustible, steadfast JOY?

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Letting go of Me

When I was younger, I was incredibly ambitious.

It drove me insane when girls I knew got married straight out of college, had babies, and settled down to be stay-at-home moms who homeschooled their kids.  I vowed never to become that woman.

I was determined to go to a academically prominant college, earn a degree, and begin an illustrious career.  I wanted to do things with my life–I wanted to go places, to meet people, to gain prestige and success.

Although I’ve always maintained high academic standards, my freshman year of college is when everything began to change.  That year, I found myself pursuing my Christian faith more than anything else in my life.  As the years have gone by, my eyes have gradually shifted from my ambitions to the sheer joy of knowing Christ.

My relationship with Jesus Christ has taken over my life.  Every part of who I am has been affected.  My friendships, relationships, on-campus involvement, grades, and even what i want to do with my life has changed dramatically from freshman to senior year.  Everything else in life is meaningless compared to knowing and being known by Him.  His love is incredible.

When I came into this school year, I dreaded everything.  I wrote several posts (Looking ahead and Return to School) expressing my dissatisfaction.  I think the reason I was so apprehensive was because last year was incredibly challenging.  I spent half the year across the world from everyone I loved and the other half learning that, because of my time abroad, I no longer fit with the people I loved in the same way.  It was a year of learning, a year of lonliness, a year of great frustration.  Part of me was scared that this year would be the same.

But the thing is, God is good.  He sees me and knows me.  He understands where I was at and knew exactly how to provide for me.  No, He didn’t bring me close friends to replace the ones I have lost.  But He gave me more of Himself.  People cannot fill the needs of my soul, but He can.  Not only does He fill me, love me, and provide for me, but He wants to be known by me.  He desires intimacy with me, deep closeness.  And, as I’ve responded to that over the past few months, I find myself falling more and more in love with Him.  There’s a line in a Christmas song that goes, “Hearts unfurl like flowers before Thee / opening to the sun above”.  That’s me.  And oh, it’s so beautiful.

Not only has God been providing for me personally, He brought me to an incredible Bible study where I am challenged like I haven’t been in years.  There are times when I feel like I know everything there is to know about God, faith, and the Bible.  But through this Bible study, God has been teaching me to let go of everything I think I know and know Him.  Every week, I walk away with a new insight on His goodness and am left breathless.  It’s been so, so wonderful and my entire faith mindset has shifted dramatically.

It’s scary, letting go of yourself and trusting something you do not see.  But, oh my goodness, it’s beautiful.  There’s nothing like it in the world.  The greatest pleasures in life pale in comparison to the goodness of knowing God.

In the book of Philippians, Paul has similar words:

“But whatever gain I had, I counted it as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that comes by faith.” Philippians 3:7-9

I’m not quite to the level of Paul yet.  I haven’t dropped every material thing, nor have I experienced any great suffering.  But the spirit behind the verses, the same deep longing and affection for Christ resonates in my heart.

I realize this is a bit different from my usual posts, but the need to express these things in words have been bubbling up in my heart for quite a while.  Here they finally are.