Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Vine in the Water

A couple weeks ago, I was asked to give the sermon at my church. I'm speaking this Sunday. I'm really excited and little nervous. I put a lot of thought and prayer into this -- I pray He will use me to spread His word where it needs to go.


A Vine in the Water

When I was a kid, my sister and I watched the Disney movie, Pocahontas. There is one scene in particular that has stuck with me over the years. Right as the Native Americans and the English are preparing to fight and all the action is building, Pocahantas and John Smith go to ask Grandmother Willow for advice. She shared a very simple lesson with them. The took her vine and dipped it in the water. From the one vine in the water, ripples formed in perfect circles, expanding outward. As Grandmother Willow said, "So small at first, then look how they grow. But someone has to start them. John Smith protested, "They're not going to listen to us." But she stated in her wise, willow ways, "Sometimes the right path is not the easiest one."

We all have a kind of Grandmother Willow. We get these same lessons every Sunday. Like today.

In today's reading from 1 Thessalonians had a similar message. The people in the church at Thessolonica lived out the message they heard from Paul, Silas, and Timothy so that the believers in Macedonia, Archaia and everywhere else the stories were spread looked up to the Thessonians. That's huge. And I'm sure it wasn't easy. But they had the advantage.

You see, all the stories in the Bible sound impossible. They do! I read about all the prophets and even those who tried to run away at first like Jonas and I think to myself. Wow, I don't know if I could ever do the things they were asked to? Can you imagine getting a task like Noah or Moses did? I can't. But they were able to do all those things because God joined them on their journeys. Not once did God say, "Hey, can you do this for me? I'll check up on you in a few weeks. Good luck!"

I thought that maybe the real, recognizable presence of God was just for other people, who had big, special, important plans in their lives. They had amazing skills that God could really use to make a difference and I was just another example of average. Woo hoo...

But I want to share one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Last spring, I woke up in the middle of the night. No real reason for it, but I wasn't going back to bed anytime soon. I rolled over and looked at the clock which said 4:13. I rolled back over, about to try to go back to sleep when I thought for a split second, "Isn't it strange that I noticed the time?" 4:13. Maybe it means something...

At this point, I was wide awake, so I opened my Bible. Genesis 4:13. Nothing. Exodus 4:13. Zip. Leviticus. Nada. Number 4:13. Zilch.

And I got bored. So I went back to bed.

A day and a half later, I had to get my dose of caffeine to prep for a full day of classes, work, and studying for exams. I headed down to Starbucks with a gift card I had leftover from Christmas. I think I bought a frappacino. I handed the woman my gift card, mumbling something about, I don't know how much is left, but hey something is better than nothing. And then, she said to me. Oh wow, your card just covers it. I looked at the register. My drink cost $4.13. The balance?

This wasn't a coincidence.

Let me prep you with a little background here. I was stressed. I was worried about my future career or lack thereof. I was questioning my friendships and my values. I had lots of projects, classes, exams and work. And I was barely keeping my head above water.

That afternoon, I met up with a new friend. She was a freshmen and we didn't know each other very well, but we had hit it off and wanted to chat before I graduated. I met her in the student union, and asked, "Bree, I have a strange question for you. Does the number 4:13 mean anything to you? Her response, well there's Phillipians 4:13. I thought, okay, I'll bite. "What's Phillipians 4:13 say?" Her reply left me speechless. "Oh you know, it's the one that says, "I can do all this through him who gives me strength."

What?!? God literally said to me, "You CAN do all this through ME. I'M the one giving YOU the strength.

Okay, God. Got it.

So the story went, here's my message Emily. Sorry, I don't get it. Here's my message for you, Emily. Sorry, no clue. Fine, here's someone who knows my word and will tell you exactly what I need you to know.

Ohhhh, got it.

God really can do anything he wants. Even for little, insignificant me.

This experience really lit a fire under me. Soon after, I accepted my first full-time job, I started making important decisions that
reflected my values and beliefs, and I began living the life that I think God's wants me to. I feel most alive, most real, most valuable, when I am serving. That's how I give, best. I love volunteering at the People's Resource Center. I enjoy doing runs, walks and hikes for great organizations. And I like lending a hand when it's needed. Now, I'm absolutely nowhere even remotely close to perfect. But I've finally found a way to use the strengths or gifts that God has given me. I'm sure I'm not done, but it's exciting to know that I am where I'm supposed to be right now.

To use a church term, I'm being a good steward of God's investment in me.

According to my dictionary app, a steward is "a person who manages another's property or financial affairs; one who administers anything as the agent of another or others.

We all know that the stuff we have, really isn't ours. It isn't going to last and it isn't going to heaven with us. It's all His. We are just stewards of his creation: ourselves, property, money, skills and talents, emotions, and so forth.

Normally when the word stewardship is mentioned in church, everyone thinks about their checkbook. Yes, financial contributions are necessary and good. Without your support, I would not have had an
amazing Sunday school experience, no youth group, confirmation class, no junior choir trip to the cathedral downtown, no musicals with Mrs. Streelman, no Christmas pageant. No air conditioning in the summer, heat in the winter. No flowers on Sunday morning. I could go on and on.

But there is so much more than money that goes into a community like this one. We are all made differently. Like in *Romans? Paul talks about how we are each a part of the body of Christ. Maybe you’re a part that teaches. Maybe you’re a part that prepares for the service on altar guild, a part that supports worship with your voice, with your hands as you ring bells, or with your presence as an acolyte or usher. Maybe you help maintain this community and the relationships by setting up coffee hour. Perhaps you reach out to those who can't be here on Sunday and deliver communion, a warm welcome, and kind, listening ear. Maybe you plan, clean up, or coordinate well. Perhaps your professional experience fits in perfectly with a need we have here. You are different from me. You are different from the person next to you. You may not have any desire to be a Sunday school teacher, but you love serving members of our community at P.A.D.S.

God gave you the gifts he did on purpose. When you look at your neighbor and think, I wish I could. Take a moment and remember that just as God gave you gifts on purpose, he also refrained from giving you others, with the same purpose.

As stewardship week begins, I ask you to think how you can best support Trinity Episcopal Church and our community internally and externally. If God has blessed you financially, please support the congregation in that way. But he has given you so much more. Where does your puzzle piece go?

Every choice, every action you take makes ripples, for better or worse. But we're all in the same pool, so let's do more than make ripples. Let's make waves.

After I graduated from Drake, I took a couple months to explore some of the churches in the area. Some I liked more than others. A few had incredible music and the worship moved me to tears. At others, the pastors' message struck a chord and made me do some thinking for the following weeks. There were others that weren't quite my cup of tea, and others that may have worked out well for me. But there is something Trinity has that no other place has. Not in Des Moines, not in Chicago, nowhere. I have a home here. There is a sense of inclusion, love, acceptance, and support that I couldn't find anywhere else. I have a really big, church family.

Now that I'm an adult -- which is hard for me to accept still -- it's so exciting to see new generations growing up at Trinity. I want all these kids to have the same wonderful family that I do here.

Ask God how you are called to be a good steward. Pray about it, but keep an open mind. As grandmother Willow said, the ripples are so small at first, but look how they grow.  Go, put your vine in the water.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Life's not a highway...it has more bumps

"Life is a highway, I'm gonna ride it all night long."

Thank you Rascal Flatts for singing a song that belt out on the highway with the radio cranked up. Woo hoo!!! That being said, the lyrics aren't true. If life was a highway, I'd be sailing through smoothly with only some minor slow downs, a bit of construction, and a few crazies around me zooming to get there first.

I can only speak for myself, but my life is a lot more complicated than that. I think my life is more like a rocky path. Yes, it is beautiful. But it certainly isn't smooth all the time.

I have had some amazing experiences and made some cool choices recently. I also have a lot coming up in the next month or two.

Here's a snapshot:

(1) I hiked to the top of the nation's second tallest mountain, Mt. Elbert, at 14,440 feet.
(2) I began sponsoring and praying for a 10 year old girl in Honduras through Compassion International
(3) I decided to stop my church-hopping and go back home to Trinity Episcopal Church
(4) I agreed to speak at said church in two weeks -- eek!
(5) I am also considering an opportunity to work as a youth group leader at said church
(6) I replaced William (Dodge Neon) with my new unnamed darling (Mazda 3)
(7) I agreed to participate in the Tough Mudder Challenge in mid November
(8) I will be turning 23 in less than one month

I initially intended on writing more, but I'm exhausted. I'll share some stories this weekend.


Sunday, September 4, 2011

Your Big Backyard

When I was little, our family subscribed to the magazine, "Your Big Backyard." The kids' magazine shared stories from around the world. I might argue they were stretching the "backyard" a little far; nevertheless, it was exciting to learn about what cool things existed thousands of miles away.

I guess I never grew out of that phase. I want more than pictures of cute furry animals, yes, but the desire to learn more about the world hasn't faded. If anything, it grew.

I was fortunate enough to go to a university with a diverse student population. Drake University may have been in Iowa, but students came from around the world to study in the business school. Win! I made friends from Malaysia, China, Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, Bolivia, Mexico, Bulgaria, and Vietnam and I have a ways to go before I have what would be considered a solid, basic understanding of their culture.

But I'm getting there.

Last night I spent time with friends from Tanzania. I learned more about Tanzanian, Indian, and Muslim culture. I first saw a Bollywood movie at an Indian theatre. No joking, I was the only non-India n there. It was a little bit uncomfortable to be the minority, but I honestly love putting myself outside my comfort zone. Besides, the movie was great! A good love story plus dancing and singing? I'm there!

Then we headed to the heart of the Indian neighborhood in Chicago. There's an entire street with Halal restaurants! Halal for Muslims is like Kosher for Jews. The biggest difference is just the person who blesses the animals before they are slaughtered.

Before last night, I had never thought about the dietary limitations of some religions. For example, my friends can never just stop by McDonald's and get a burger, or order a steak dinner. All meat has to be Halal.

So that's why they love this street. It's the only place they can get a Philly cheese steak. Dinner is served!

After dinner we headed to Arabia Cafe for tea, hookah, and a belly dancing show. We chatted with the server who was from Syria and found out he and my friends have family living the same city over there. What are the chances?!

I should also mention that during this time I agreed to take on a new, exciting challenge. But here's the background information first. My friend, Nabeel, founded the organization Peak4Poverty. They organized four hikes every year. Three hikes are in the US and the fourth is to Mount Kilimanjaro. They raise money for each hike and all the funds go to orphanages in Tanzania. They support eh education of the children there, so that they can not only graduate high school, but go on to college and begin to break the vicious cycle of poverty. How great is that?

So I agreed to go on a hike. Yes, in three week I will be climbing Long's Peak in Colorado. Yikes!

Now, back to the night. So, throughout the night I learned a lot about their culture. Not only about Halal, but about pan, which is chewed and eaten as a palate cleanser and breathe freshener after meals, about Muslim wedding traditions, some of the different cultures in Tanzania, and how different Indian cultures can be in different parts of the world. It was so much fun!

I am incredibly blessed to have so many friends and experience little snippets of their culture. I absolutely love it. I feel so alive when I learn and grow. I hope God keeps putting amazing people in my life. And maybe I can do some good in the meanwhile. Just like the song says, "Don't stop thinkin' about tomorrow."

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Living on Purpose

"Live on purpose." I don't remember where I first heard this, but it stuck with me. It's really easy to start living accidentally, going about your normal routines, saying hello, driving to work, responding to emails, doing your job, the list goes on and on. Are you doing those things intentionally? That is, do you ever stop and think about why you are living your life the way that you are? Or even if you enjoy your life?

Sometimes I forget to be happy. Silly isn't it? But it happens. I go through a couple days at work, some family drama at home, or maybe analyzing guy problems with girl friends. Then, after a few days of serious, problem addressing, stress inducing monotony, something happens to break my stride.

Sounds and smells usually do it for me. If a smell extraordinarily lovely flowers or hear little toddlers laughing, it always feels as if a spell has been broken. I remember...

I start thinking about God, about love, about joy, wonder, awe, excitement, passion, love...all those warm-fuzzy happy things. Praise the Lord! I'm alive again with a breathe of fresh air and I can continue on my way with a little more "oomph" than I had 10 minutes ago.

So about this whole "purpose" concept. I recently had a discussion with someone about if people's intentions matter when it comes to donating and volunteering to various causes. Does it matter if someone gives $100 to feed children in poor countries? Or volunteers at a soup kitchen? Or gives to Christmas sharing?

Most of us feel most comfortable when those giving want to give, but it's okay if the giving comes from wanting to "look good." Hey, someone gets the help regardless of the motivation, right? But what about if someone is donating because they feel they are supposed to? Without a care one way or the other. Sure, it doesn't hurt those who receive the charity, but does it hurt the donater? I know how I feel after volunteering, revived, refreshed, rejouvenated. I feel alive! What about those who help out of guilt? That cannot be healthy, right?

I still don't know where I stand on the subject, but it's interesting to me, mostly because I had never thought to think about it before. I suppose sometimes intentions do matter. Perhaps.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Last Three Laughs

What are the last three things that gave you happiness, joy, made you smile or gave you a fun little laugh? I hope you have far more than three. I hear smiling and laughing has been proven to be healthy. How cool is that?

My last three are, as the rest of my life, rather random.

1. Rubber Duckies. A woman sitting a few yards away from me has several rubber duckies in different outfits decorating the top of her cube wall. I have no idea why they are there. But the little, hopeful and ever cheerful munchkins made me smile and chuckle to myself each morning...and afternoon, too.

2. Dancing Donut. A new Dunkin Donuts opened up along one of the street I drive to get to work each morning. To attract attention, I suppose, they hired some overly energetic and excited young man to slip on a chunky chocolate frosted and sprinkled donut costume each morning. That's not the part that gets me. It's his dancing. He dances like...like me! Haha. I wish I was kidding. :-) That level of energy and seeming optimism gives me a smile and an "I can do this" feeling in the morning. Thank you Donut Boy!

3. My Boss. Today he swore and used the word sexy in two meetings. I wont bore you with overwhelming detail, but let's just say he's a Type A personality on steroids. I could barely keep my laughter in hearing him refer to the sexy design of a PowerPoint and the f*&@&ers he created it for. Oh corporate America...


Monday, August 22, 2011

Catch Up!

Hello! These last couple weeks have been a lot of fun. I'm so blessed to have wonderful family and friends surrounding me.

For the last two weeks, I agreed to to house sit for my cousins. It seemed harmless at first, but then I realized the zoo I was walking into. Prepare yourself...

 Ruby, Mystic, Oscar and Penny (left to right)

A baby bearded dragon (who eats crickets)

Maui, the bird, who bites.

And there were also two tanks of fish. One freshwater fish went belly up :-( and little Nemo jumped into the filter and chilled out solo for a week. I thought he died and got eaten by the other fish. I was happy to finally find Nemo (haha...)

I also got to go race car driving. Well, they were actually go karts, but I got to wear a suit and helmet like the big guys!

And I went to a Renaissance Faire!

Some of the people there really get into it -- I absolutely loved how much excitement and energy there was. In another life, I definitely would have been one of those women dressed up fancy schmancy. But in this life, face paint is more than enough.

Now I have a loooong week of work ahead of me. Luckily, I have another great weekend to keep me going. I will finally be able to go to church on Sunday after three weeks of craziness, I'm going to a concert at Ravinia, and I get to see my wonderful friend Jessie. All that stands between me and happiness are four days. Four days. Four days..... *sigh*

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Tale As Old As Time

I had the immense pleasure of seeing the broadway musical, Beauty and the Beast in Chicago with my sister this afternoon. It was an incredible performance and stayed true to the Disney movie I know and love.

My sister and I were two of the few patrons that did not have a "little princess" with us. There were so, so many little girls, sitting in awe as they watched Belle and the Beast share their story on stage. To them, the performance was magic.

I can only imagine the pressure on the actress to not only act and sing to her beat ability, but perhaps more importantly, to give the children hope, to keep filling and fielding their dreams, and to provide a believable, magical role model. Whoa. That's a lot of pressure if you ask me.

It's a shame there are so few positive role models for kids these days. I confess, despite loving Disney for all the fun movies, I realize that some of the lessons taught aren't the best.

Beauty and the Beast, however, doesn't possess that flaw. It teaches us to not judge people on appearance, to give second chances, and that good should triumph over evil. Thank goodness for the hope in the midst of the messy darkness that is our world.

I like happy endings, don't you?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Great Expectations

It's interesting how other's expectations impact your daily life. You are constantly surrounded by a world expecting you to do so many things, from job requirements and social engagements to purchasing habits and hobbies. Our actions and reactions depend largely on our expectations of others and whether those expectations are met, or not.

The most difficult aspect to face in regards to this idea of expectations are the consequences when we fall short.

For example, if you fail to meet your boss's expectations, you won't get the raise. If you fail to meet your friends expectations, your relationship may change. If you fail to meet the government's expectations, you might go to court.

There is one exception, however. One glorious, beautiful, and humbling exception. If you fail to meet God's expectations, you aren't punished, condemned or chastised. When we fail, we ask for His forgiveness, and we are forgiven. Jesus already suffered the consequences of our mess-ups because he loves us so, so much.

It's a wonderful thing to remember, when you feel like you just aren't meeting the high expectations of others, that God loves us unconditionally, even though we are not, and will never be, perfect.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood

"Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth"

I remember reading this poem in middle school. I had a different interpretation of this poem by Jack Frost than I do now. At that point in my life, I also thought that writing poetry immediately made you a deep, thoughtful, and wonderful person. I believe I was mistaken.

When I first read this poem, I assumed that Frost implied that taking the road less traveled by is the better choice. You see, to a young child like myself, all adults "got it." They went through whatever spectacular transformation makes you a full-fledged adult, and they earned the right to say things like, "because I said so," and "I'll tell you when you're older." I admired adults, you see, because they had ALL the answers. Ha! How naive was I...

In the end of the poem, Frost is speaking of how he'll be telling the story in the future, when he's older (and wiser). So when he says, "and that has made all the difference," I took it to mean, "and that made my life better."

Perhaps these are silly ramblings, but I think this poem is just a small example of the mindset I have worked to overcome for years.

I have learned that different isn't always better; the common route is okay sometimes. One's value does not lay in just being unique. If you make the same choices as someone else, that's okay, too, perhaps even encouraging. It shows that you're at least a little bit normal! But the choices you make DO effect every moment from then on. So it's true that everyday decisions are important to think about, if only for a second.

Before I learned these lessons, I felt that if I wasn't unique, the best at something, or if I was just one the crowd, I would be less valuable to my family and friends. I felt that I needed to stand out and make intentionally life-changing decisions in order to be good enough to love. Crazy, huh? It's sounds strange now, but ten years ago these feelings were me.

Fortunately, high school and college served me well and I finally understand everything a little more clearly. Unfortunately, the magical step into adulthood I had envisioned doesn't actually exist and adjusting to life outside of the school system is a little tricky at times. Nevertheless, I have a healthy understanding of who I am. I no longer find value in only uniqueness, but in finding similarities in my relationships as well.

In the words of Jack Frost:

I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

For better or for worse...

Monday, June 13, 2011

My Bucket List

I think it's about time that I write a new post. After all, an entire month has passed. Unfortunately, I don't have any life-changing experiences to report, no exciting news to share, or even an inspirational story to put down in words. I guess I should work on some 'character development.'

Earlier this week, a good friend of mine commented on how there is rarely any character development in the second or third sequels of movies. No game-changing events, no jaw-dropping action. The third movies (unless we're talking about trilogies or Harry Potter) are more or less, simply documenting the up's and down's of every day life.

Every so often, when life gets too dull to bear, I try to imagine my life as a romantic comedy. In seeing my world through this lens, boring errands transform into a scene leading up to a pivotal moment, the music on the radio is my soundtrack, and daily conversations are intriguing dialogues.

Sure, it's incredibly corny. And perhaps slightly embarrassing. But what can I say? I'm stuck in a simple little town for a month until I start my full-time job. Trust me, you'd be going a little crazy, too.

Nevertheless, even if my life is a romantic comedy, a film with no character development is dull. Nobody would ever want to watch it.

Let me clarify something before I continue. I would not, under any circumstances, want anyone to pay as much attention to my life as I do in the movies that I love. However, speaking hypothetically, if my life were actually a movie, I would want it to be a box office hit.

So how am I supposed to change my life from dull and boring into an exciting, adventure? I think a bucket list a good place to start. I've done my best at coming up with 50 things I want to do, believe I should do, or know that I absolutely must do before I 'kick the bucket.'

(*Note: This is by no means a complete list -- and please -- let me know what I should add!)

Emily's Bucket List
  1. Visit the Grand Canyon
  2. Camp in Yellowstone National Park
  3. See the Niagra Falls
  4. Go hang gliding
  5. Climb a mountain
  6. Run a 10K race in under an hour
  7. Get married
  8. Raise a family
  9. Adopt a dog from an animal shelter
  10. Travel to every continent (except Antarctica)
  11. Go scuba diving
  12. Learn how to play the guitar (well)
  13. Ride in a hot air balloon
  14. Watch AFI's 10 Greatest Movies of All Time
  15. Read TIME's 10 Greatest Books of All Time
  16. Stop biting my nails
  17. Earn a Masters
  18. Write a children's book
  19. Take up photography
  20. Kiss the Blarney stone
  21. See the Eiffel Tower in person
  22. Spend time in Dublin, Galway, and Cork
  23. Get a manicure
  24. Learn another language
  25. Audition for a play
  26. Go parasailing
  27. Climb to the top of a rock wLearn to waterski
  28. Donate 50,000 annonymously
  29. Volunteer in a homeless shelter
  30. Fall in love
  31. Visit a real blues bar in Chicago
  32. Grow a vegetable garden
  33. Meet a famous actor/actress
  34. Do something outrageous and life-changing
  35. Walk el Camino de Santiago
  36. Travel to Malaysia
  37. Attend a high school reunion
  38. Read the entire Bible
  39. Participate in an Improv Everywhere scene
  40. Visit Seattle
  41. Travel to Peru
  42. Become a grandmother
  43. Knit a scarf
  44. Sew a quilt
  45. Lead a small group at church
  46. Teach Sunday School
  47. Take an aerobics class
  48. Do yoga and stay flexible
  49. Organize a family reunion
  50. Step foot in all 50 states

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Can you hear me now? Good.

The most amazing thing happened to me the other day. I hope I can convey this effectively. This past week I found myself dealing with a bad case of insomnia. I laid awake in bed for hours. At 4:13 in the morning, I looked over at the clock. Why 4:13 a.m.? I had no idea. But something stirred in my mind and for some reason, I thought maybe it had some significance. I began to page through my Bible, Genesis 4:13, Exodus 4:13, Leviticus 4:13, Numbers 4:13...

Nothing stood out. I got bored. I felt sleepy and I went to bed. But the next day it was still bugging me.

I began looking in the New Testament. Matthew 4:13, Mark 4:13, Luke 4:13, John 4:13, Acts 4:13...

Again I got tired of looking and began questioning if I was crazy. Perhaps I was just so sleep deprived at 4am that I convinced myself that a particular time "meant something." I pushed the thought out of my mind. I had a final coming up and a paper to write. I wasn't going to waste any more time thinking about 4:13.

The following day I went to Starbucks to finish writing a paper for my management final. I had a little leftover on a giftcard, so I figured a little free caffeine would help me focus and crank out the last several pages. I decided on an iced Skinny Vanilla Latte. Here's where it gets strange.

The number stuck in my mind? 4:13

The amount left on my card? $4.13

The cost of the drink? $4.13

I'm not always in tune with what's going on around me. Sometimes I live in my own little world. But this? This was waaay to obvious to miss. Clearly someone wanted me to take notice.

That afternoon, I met up with a good friend to take a study break and chat. As we walked over to a table in the student center, I felt the need to ask, "Does four-thirteen mean anything to you?"

"Well, there's Phillipians 4:13," she replied.
"What's that?" I asked.
"Oh, you know. I can do all this through him who gives me strength," she said.

Seriously? I am graduating. I have worries and stresses up to wazzoo right now. In three days, I'm walking across a stage, receiving my diploma, and entering into the working world as a full-fledged adult.

I was suffering from a bad case of the "what-if's." What if I fail? What if I don't remember enough from my classes? What if I hate my job? What if my values aren't the same as my parents anymore? What if I decide to go to a different church? What if my plans aren't God's plans? What if I don't hear God? What if I'm not even listening to God? What if, what if, what if...


God answered my fears. Loud. And. Clear. If God had used words to speak to me, I imagine his part would have gone something like this:

Emily, you are going to be just fine. Haven't you read what I wrote for you? No? Okay, I'll make sure you get the part you need right now...

(Thinks to self: she's still not getting it...)

Alright, Emily. I'll make this REALLY obvious. Unavoidable. I'll basically throw a sign in front of your face and send you someone to interpret the sign. Here's what you need to know: you can do anything because I'm with you, giving you strength. 

Emily, you should know by now that you're never alone. Do you doubt me? I didn't think so. So why would you doubt yourself? I made you. And I don't make mistakes. After all, I am God.

Four years ago I didn't believe miracles still happen in every day life, to 'normal' people. I didn't believe that God actually communicates with us still. I wasn't entirely convinced that prayer had any power. Today, I know the truth. I have seen miracles, experienced the power of prayer, and heard God's voice in my life.

I didn't think that I was someone whose life would change in college. To be perfectly honest, I was afraid that I would graduate and feel like I wasted four years of my life. I can't even begin to explain how wrong I was! The Emily that is going to walk across the stage with a drab brown tassle on Saturday is not the same Emily that came to Drake in 2007. Praise be to God.

Monday, April 11, 2011

God as a Romantic

What images come to mind when you think of "our Father?" I image a big man sitting on his throne in Heaven, Jesus who died for us on the cross, or the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in healings and miracles. From the conversations I've had with friends and family, these are pretty typical images, probably not far from what you imagine.

There is nothing wrong with these images, but I think there is something special about understanding how incredibly personal each person's relationship with our Lord truly is. I would like to suggest a small change in perspective on your relationship with the Father Almighty.

To put it simply, it's a love story.

One Sunday at my home church, the priest used the song "I Will Follow Him" by Little Peggy March to express how the Lord never stops pursing us and how we in return should never stop following him and working on our relationship with Him. In case you're not familiar with oldies, you can listen to it here.

Ever since that sermon, I have developed a tendency to imagine how pop songs and corny movie lines could relate to my faith. It may be a little off the beaten path, but that doesn't phase me. Actually, it has turned out to be much simpler than I imagined.

I guess here is where I should confess that I'm a sucker for chick flicks. They aren't always realistic, but they make me happy, give me a glimmer of hope, and provide great material for this topic. These 'romantic quotes' were written for the man and woman in the film, but they are crystal clear pictures of the passion, love, and desire our Lord has for each and every one of us.

Imagine these lines being spoken by the Lord to you, instead of to the lovely characters in the movies.

"So it’s not gonna be easy. It’s gonna be really hard. We’re gonna have to work at this every day, but I want to do that because I want you. I want all of you, for ever, you and me, every day. Will you do something for me, please? Just picture your life for me? 30 years from now, 40 years from now? What’s it look like? If it’s with him, go. Go! I lost you once, I think I can do it again. If I thought that’s what you really wanted. But don’t you take the easy way out." ~The Notebook~
Our relationship with Jesus certainly isn't easy. With all the temptations in our materialistic world, it is painfully easy to lose track of what is actually important. It's hard work. It's not always 'fun.' But when I think of my life 40 years from now, 62-year-old me still relies on the Lord to bring her strength in her weakness, joy in the sorrow, healing when there is pain, and hope when all seems lost. I know that God will never stop loving me, never stop pursuing me. I also know that it is a decision to have a relationship with Him. It is a two-way street and although the relationship is different from that of Noah and Allie in The Notebook, we can certainly relate to that kind of passionate, overwhelming love.

"My heart is, and always will be, yours." ~Sense and Sensibility~
It says in Jeremiah 1:5 ""Before I formed you in the womb I knew you" and before he created you he loved you. The Lord loves us like no one else can. He gives us His absolute, perfect, unconditional love despite our flaws, our sins, our weaknesses. There is nothing we can do to separate ourselves from that love. His heart will always long for us. Always. That, if you ask me, is about as romantic as it gets.

"I like you very much. Just as you are." ~Bridget Jones's Diary~

The Lord created us the way we are on purpose. Our funny quirks, unique traits, the thing that makes you you, was created intentionally. So of course He loves us the way we are -- that's what he meant to do! So don't try to change, don't try imitate someone else. The Lord who is absolutely crazy about you likes you for you.

"If I want to share the rest of my life with you, I've got to ask you now." ~Runaway Bridge~

Have you ever felt convicted? You know that feeling when your conscience is clearly telling you something? Have you had an experience that felt like God's doing? Have you had a desire to improve, to grow, to nuture your relationship with God? Those feelings are without a doubt Jesus speaking to you. The Lord wants to spend not only our time on Earth in a special relationship, but all eternity. He will always ask us to give our hearts, our minds, and our bodies to Him. It will always be "now" that He is asking. And when we say "no" or say "yes" and then pull back, God will return yet again to ask us kindly, bravely, sweetly, and convincingly, "Do you love me? Will you spend your life with me? I love you."

"You will never know love unless you surrender to it." ~Fools Rush In~

I don't know about you, but I find it much, much easier to be an outside observer when it comes to love than to be the one who takes the risk, jumps in head first, and puts my heart on the line. Maybe that's why I love romantic comedies so much. Nevertheless, the love that is 'much easier to observe' is not only the mushy man and woman love that you see holding hands, hugging, smiling, and gazing into each others' eyes. It is the love that is seen in worship, in prayer, in healings, in miracles. Falling in love is an amazing experience -- but it is also a little scary. Falling in love with a man is quite an adventure, but falling in love with my creator? The Alpha and the Omega? The beginning and the end? The King of Kings and Lord of Lords? Oh my...I think I need to sit down. Falling in love with the most perfect one of all would be the most fabulous, exciting, breathtaking and joy creating time of. my. life.

I think I am finally ready. I'm ready to start to love and be loved. To praise and worship the one that my heart yearns for. I'm ready to start living my own love story.

Are you?

Monday, April 4, 2011

We can do it! Or can we?

During World War II, this iconic image represented the women at home supporting the homefront war effort while their husbands and sons were fighting overseas. Women developed a new sense of independence and pride as they took over "men's jobs" and worked to keep the nation running smoothly while also caring for their families. It's actually pretty impressive.

Then, in the 1960s the feminist movement swept over the nation...and is still moving. I find the argument for women's rights to be uniquely complicated. Women certainly still face some discrimination in the workplace, but women have also achieved greatness, equivalent to men.

For example, take a look at some of corporate America's incredible female leaders. The following women are all CEOs of their organizations.

1. Brenda Barnes, Sara Lee
2. Carol Bartz, Yahoo
3. Angela Braly, WellPoint
4. Lynn Elsenhans, Sunoco
5. Andrea Jung, Avon Products
6. Ellen Kullman, DuPont
7. Ursula Burns, Xerox
8.  Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo
9. Irene Rosenfeld, Kraft Foods
10. Laura Sen, BJ's Wholesale

I think that women have made substantial progress in the area of equal rights. It is acceptable for women to have a career or focus on their families or do both! The independent women is no longer frowned upon across the U.S., although some still maintain the philosophy that women should stay in the home.
Now, I feel that there is a different battle that we must face as women. We are pressured to meet a double standard. Women who are too strong-willed and confident are seen as 'masculine' rather than as incredible women. Women who do not fit society's definition of beauty are overwhelmed with insecurity issues. The media tells us to be independent, society wants us to be homemakers. Corporate America tells women to continue to rise in the ranks, but statistics show that children with stay-at-home moms perform much better in school. Facts show us that two salaries will provide more for our children, but religious teachings emphasize that money is not important.

Here is a little taste of the issues you can see by watching television:

In the most recent cycle of America's Next Top Model (which includes a whole slew of issues on its own), the women acted in a commercial set during the Mad Men era, when secretaries were not allowed to actually provide their ideas or participate in the development of new campaigns. The script directs the women to use mildly sexual behavior, innuendos, and play up their looks in order to catch their boss's attention and help him to come up with a new ad campaign.

AdAge posted the following commercial as Hispanic Advertising Creative award winner. Objectively it is creative and memorable, and if you don't think too hard, perhaps even funny. Unfortunately, there is just a little too much truth in this commercial about the standards of beauty in our society.

I do not think that women will feel that they have truly achieved gender equality until these expectations change. As long as celebrities, music artists, and so on continue to support the stereotype, we will be waiting to see this change come about.

Sunday, April 3, 2011


Reconciliation is a powerful, wonderful, and precious gift. All too often we take this daily renewed blessing for granted. During my spring break, I spent a week in East St. Louis with about 150 other college students in InterVarsity, volunteering in the community to reconcile the immense differences that caused huge chasms within the community, even between neighbors.

Merriam-Webster provides the following definitions for the verb reconcile:

  • to restore to friendship or harmony; settle; resolve
  • to make consistent or congruous
  • to cause to submit or to accept something unpleasant
  • to check against another for accuracy; to account for

From what I can gather, these definitions have direct connections with the Bible's teachings. In fact, they practically yell "listen to Jesus!"

How? Take a look at the words in the definitions: "friendship", "harmony", "accept", and "account."

The Bible teaches us to love our neighbors, to be a friend to the friendless, to accept and love others as God loves us all, and to hold ourselves accountable for our thoughts, words, and actions and humbly ask for forgiveness when we fall short.

Are you with me now? Reconciliation is absolutely necessary in our lives, in our communities, in our world.

The only problem is, if you read this in the way I intended, the idea of reconciliation probably gave you that warm fuzzy feeling, maybe even a little burst of "I'm going to change the world" oomph. It's a wonderful feeling, don't get me wrong. I absolutely love understanding what I can do to make the world a better place. Unfortunately, I tend to look for ways that don't require me to step more than a couple feet outside my comfort zone. As long as the situations are familiar, but just a little more unfortunate, a little less pretty, a little more complicated...then I'm okay.

It is the painful truth for most of us. More painful than this truth, however, is understanding that there are many, many people who need love, care, and support; who need to hear the Good News and come to understand the Lord's unconditional love for them -- and these people, we do not help.

And why not? Does this make us 'bad Christians'? I don't think that is necessarily true, but I do believe that we are trying to pull a bit of a Jonah, running away from God's call to us to clothe the naked and feed the hungry.

How do you expect to reconcile differences in your community if you don't go out into the areas that are actually different? If the people you aim to help are more or less like you, with minor differences, then you really aren't reconciling any differences at all. You are helping those who are just like you.

So now what? What is the "next step"? How does one truly reach out to those in need? To those who are different? How do I find the places that call out for God's love and genuine human care? And for the women who might read this, how do I balance helping those in unsafe or dangerous neighborhoods without putting myself into compromising, unsafe, or dangerous situations? How do we know when should we rely on God to keep us safe and when He wants us to use our common sense to protect ourselves from harm?

I think that these are all valid questions. I wish I had an answer. Every time I return from a service project or mission trip these questions come up and I mull them over in my mind. I have yet to resolve the internal conflict, but I know one thing for sure -- none of the answers are in black and white.

Our world today is colored in various shades of gray: from black to charcoal, from slate to silver, from ash to white. There is no definitive answer, but I strongly believe that having these questions and keeping an open heart and mind while praying on them leads to understanding. It is through that understanding that we may be equipped to go out into the world and be the eyes, the hands, the feet, and the heart of Jesus to all those around us.

Complete reconciliation will only come in Heaven, but for now I am pleased to be one of many working and praying to share a little piece of Heaven with those of us still living on Earth.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Takin' Care of Business

Senior year is a stressful time in students' college career. We are expected to do well in classes, study hard, participate in campus organizations, find a full-time job, hold a part-time job, and make the most of our last year in the education system, all while keeping our cool and acting like mature adults in the eyes of the public. I can only imagine what the job description would look like for a college student's life. The job descriptions posted for entry-level jobs are not as daunting when I consider everything I have been juggling for the past four years.

Nevertheless, my college career is slowly coming to a close. This morning I had my third and final interview for a position in the Leadership Development Program at Allstate Insurance. Later this afternoon I received a call from the Senior HR Consultant to congratulate on my first job offer for a position as a Leadership Development Consultant! Praise the Lord!

I simply cannot express my excitement. First and foremost, I have a job. That is reason enough to celebrate, but I also have the joy of beginning my post-collegiate career with a great starting salary, stellar benefits, and the opportunity to really make a difference.

I was hired as part of Allstate's new Leadership Development Program. The goal of the program is to bring in new talent, original ideas, and fresh perspectives. In return, we have the opportunity to develop into Allstate's next generation of leaders. I am certainly blessed to have this opportunity.

I do not know which areas of the company in which I will be working yet, so I could be in California or Texas or stay right here in the Chicagoland area. Wherever this job takes me, I know that it will be great. I had a wonderful experience working as an intern at Allstate and I grew to respect the company and enjoy the corporate culture. I have no hesitations beginning my career with the company and I am excited to see what opportunities lie ahead.