Exploring the Deep

Passionately pursuing life, faith and adventure…


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#tbt

#tbt. If you have a Facebook or Instagram account you understand what that little phrase means. Each Thursday our newsfeeds are littered with “Throwback Thursday” pictures and captions describing our former selves. You name it, it’s out there: pictures from grade school, vacation, college friends, and more. They are our favorite memories and Thursdays have become our favorite day to share them.

I enjoy heading online each Thursday to see what friends have posted as their #tbt. Most are the best bits of life, but is that really an accurate story of our lives? We choose our #tbt pictures carefully, choosing the ones that make us look the best. Our hair is just right, our smile is big, the circumstances behind the picture are good or funny. We edit our lives to show the very best image of ourselves.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not necessarily saying we should post the negative pictures of life, but what if a stranger were to randomly pick a less glamorous picture to post for your #tbt? Would you be proud of what was posted? Would your Facebook friends and Instagram followers “like” your image? Would you be filled with joy or regret as that story is shared?

I am as guilty as the next person at handpicking how my story is shared. But there is a bigger question in all of this: are you living in such a way that you are proud to tell the complete story of your life?

While I certainly don’t succeed in every circumstance, in every thought, in every friendship and in every interaction, my goal is to live each day in such a way that I would be proud to tell my entire story. I want to be able to share with my grandkids stories of adventure, fun, romance and faith without having to leave out or explain away parts that are not pretty or polished.

I want to tell them that I broached the conversation when it revolved around a difficult topic. That I stood beside a friend who needed support when others walked away. That I fought for purity in a relationship and godliness in friendships when others couldn’t understand why.

#authentictbt

Talking and flipping pancakes on a summer camping trip…sans make-up and a cute outfit. #authentictbt

And when I have messy moments, I hope that I will share those just as freely. That I can pass along to others the lessons learned in the times I messed up. I hope that I will not be so consumed with having a perfect exterior that I can’t share my imperfect interior.

But it’s more than telling that story to my future grandkids; I want to share that story with the people in my life now. I want to live authentically and transparently. I want to be a person that others know is real, who makes mistakes and owns up to them, who isn’t afraid to share the good and not so good, and who strives to be a better friend, daughter, fiancé and Christian.

Telling that kind of story means starting now. It means I have to start today with changes to my friendships, attitude, behavior, faith and involvement. To kick it off here is my #authentictbt. What’s yours?


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conflict & your life story

“Now I appeal to Euodia and Syntyche. Please, because you belong to the Lord, settle your disagreement. And I ask you, my true partner, to help these two women, for they worked hard with me in telling others the Good News. They worked along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are written in the Book of Life.” – Philippians 4:2-3 (NLT)

During a recent devotional time reading through Philippians I found myself mulling over this story of two women and their conflict. For weeks I’ve thought about these women and their story. What was their conflict? Why couldn’t they resolve it on their own? How in the world did it elevate to the level that Paul got involved?

I could take guesses all day about what Euodia and Syntyche’s conflict was about (lack of respect or honor, a household situation, a relationship), but the real lesson in the story of these two women is that continuing in their disagreement wasn’t an option according to Paul.

There are two things that stand out about this story of Euodia and Syntche:

They were believers and labored alongside Paul. The work they did to spread the Gospel brought their names to the level of attention that Paul not only knew who they were, but was also invested in seeing their conflict resolved. Their conflict was harming more than just themselves; it was also impacting the community of believers around them as well as tarnishing their witness about the forgiveness Christ offers through faith. By resolving their issue, Euodia and Syntyche would ease the tension of themselves and those around them (family, friends, fellow believers), be able to continue sharing the Gospel effectively, and actively live out a good testimony about conflict resolution that could be shared with unbelievers.

The simple act of living in community with others guarantees that we will face conflict. It’s our response to the conflict and how we take steps to resolve it that sets us apart from others. As Christians we are called to resolve. We can’t turn our back on a conflict and pretend it didn’t happen because then we are simply carrying the dischord with us. It’s a negative mark on our testimony about the forgiving and peace-giving nature of Jesus. Instead we need to make the active decision that our conflicts will not overshadow our witness.

They weren’t alone. Paul asks a fellow believer to step in and help Euodia and Syntche work out their differences. When conflict escalates and we aren’t able to settle matters on our own, we must remember that it’s ok to bring in people to help. We don’t have to navigate life and conflict on our own. The disagreement these women faced was consuming. It was the boulder in the path that they couldn’t see around. They needed someone to step in and show them how to move past it. That’s where Paul calls in reinforcements to help.

How often do I let my own conflicts rise to that level? How often do I allow an issue, situation, confrontation, argument or misunderstanding to take up such a huge residence in my life that it blocks everything else I am doing and it’s all I can see? It is the boulder blocking my path. My independent nature tells me I can figure it out and find a way to ignore the problem. But my track record reminds me that I can’t. It reminds me that when an issue becomes so large that others become acutely aware of it, I need an outside individual to come in and help me see more than my limited perspective.

This is the beauty of life as a follower of Christ: we are a living witness. For better or worse, we are the hands and feet for Him in this world and our actions (or lack thereof) speak volumes to those around us. We are called to be a good witness – to both those who believe and those who have yet to believe. What does your life say to those around you? What would Paul say about you if he were writing a letter to your friends, community or family?


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the unexamined life

I have gone through a lot of my adult life without thinking too deeply. Not to say I haven’t been involved in deep theological discussions, intellectual conversations, chatted about interesting trivia, or had impacting dialog about current events. Rather I have not thought extensively about the motives and actions of those around me, or what my actions and words speak to those around me. In part, I have lived the unexamined life.

It is only in the past few years that I truly began looking more inward and reflecting on the purpose of my actions, asking myself the hard question about my motives in certain situations. I have begun critically analyzing the words of others and what they actually meant when they said (or didn’t say) something.

This has led to good, necessary personal growth. Although I wouldn’t characterize myself as having been shallow in my consideration for others, I no longer dance through life without thinking about those around me and how my actions or words may affect them. Instead I feel more in tune with my community. I listen more. I talk less. (Although some of my friends may disagree with that last part.) I contemplate and ask questions. I pray more about how to respond — even in the moment — and do my best to choose my words carefully. I listen to the Holy Spirit’s prompting when giving advice and counsel to friends.

It’s an exercise of sorts. It takes practice and work. I am not good at it yet and don’t feel that I will ever actually be great. But then again, if I ever feel like I’ve succeeded in this area then I am probably living the unexamined life again.

The Word gives us great examples of people living the examined life. David in Psalm 139:23-24 asks God to search his heart. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” In Lamentations 3:40-41 Jeremiah encourages the people of Judah to look at their motives when he says, “Then why should we, mere humans, complain when we are punished for our sins? Instead, let us test and examine our ways. Let us turn back to the Lord.” And in Proverbs 5:21 it tells us that God examines our lives: “For your ways are in full view of the Lord, and he examines all your paths.”

And so I do the same. I ask God to look at my heart, search my motives, call me out when I’ve overstepped or under-looked.

There are several questions I constantly ask myself to keep myself in check:

Why – Why did I react that way? Why did they react that way? (What don’t I know about the situation or the person’s background that will give me greater depth of understanding?)
What – What is my responsibility in this situation? What am I taking on that isn’t mine?
How – How am I supposed to respond that will be God honoring?

These questions keep me grounded to those around me and connected to the One above me. They allow me to walk out the examined life and become the woman of God that I am called to be. These questions aren’t perfect or complete — they are being refined, reworded and added to all the time. But they are a framework and highlight where I am right now in life’s journey.

What excites or scares you about living the examined life? What in your life deserves to be further examined? What is the biggest question you need to ask yourself to begin or continue the process of examination? In what ways do you need to allow God to be God in your life and let Him examine you?


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pink sweater

There was a pink sweater in my closet up until about a month ago. It sat on the shelf along with my other sweaters but I didn’t like wearing it. I would pull it out several times a month, put it on and make it work with the other items I was wearing that day. But in the end I would swap it for something else before leaving the house. There was something about it that just didn’t feel right when I was wearing it. Sure, it looked nice and was stylish, but it wasn’t comfortable and I always felt like it was pulling in the wrong place or just a little too short or it didn’t make me feel good about myself. And so when I cleaned out my closet a few weeks ago the pink sweater made the move into the “donate” pile.

Like our wardrobes, our lives requires this same type of examination to consider whether certain aspects still deserve a place on the shelf. Are there habits you have, people in your circle of influence, and attitudes you carry that don’t fit quite right? Do you feel negatively about yourself or uncomfortable about things you do? Is there a pink sweater in your life?

There is a reason we don’t feel good about parts of our lives or actions. Like our clothes that don’t fit well, our habits can do the same. We may look ok from the outside, but the nagging feeling we have as we do these things is the very reason to get rid of it.

Ephesians 4:22-24 says, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Getting rid of the pink sweater is more than just changing the things we do. It’s not just addiction, reacting harshly, using cruel words, or abusing others. But it’s also the attitude we have toward ourselves. It’s living with a sense of rejection and a victim mentality, fear, and being overly self-critical. The most destructive things are not always what you can see, but often the things you can’t see that make the largest and deepest impact on our daily lives.

Just like the pink sweater in our closet, our negative spiritual, emotional and physical habits take up mental space as we see it as an option to choose each day. To move forward in wholeness and freedom we have to get these things out of our closet and not see them as a choice to “put on” each day. We must choose not to allow substances to be a crutch; for harsh words to be how we share our feelings; for rejection to be our filter; and for self-deprecating attitudes to be our reflection to the outside.

We need to pull the pink sweater off the shelf and never put it back. Jesus came to set the captive free – He has the ability to change us! Seek God, share with someone about your struggle so they can encourage and keep you accountable, pray with others. But remember that Christ is the only one who can bring true, lasting change. Our part is to be ready to accept the change He can provide. Are you ready to clean out your closet and ask God to help you get rid of the pink sweater?


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navigating the fog

Living in the Northwest for the past six years I’ve grown accustomed to fog. It’s a normal morning greeting living in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. And I love it. Many of my friends know of my childhood fascination with fog. I loved flying because the plane would take me through the clouds – and I knew that clouds were simply fog that was in the sky. Growing up in South Dakota I daydreamed of living on the fluffy balls, but was always disappointed when it was foggy because the reality never held up to my imagination. I couldn’t sit on the fog or make fog snowballs to throw at friends.

Yet years later, when I moved to the Seattle area I was once again enamored with fog. Thankfully I had moved past wanting to live in the clouds, but was now captured by the beautiful views it created among the mountains.

However there was a quality of fog that I didn’t have much experience with until moving west – the lack of visibility it provides. In South Dakota I remember the fog lifting nearly as quickly as it fell. But it’s different in the Pacific Northwest – especially in the outskirts of Seattle where the fog settles among the mountains.

If I want to leave my house on foggy days then I’m forced to face the consequences and drive in limited visibility. Most times this isn’t a big deal. I turn on my fog lights, brake earlier and am more alert to my surroundings (what I can see of them). But there are days when the fog is thick and it’s difficult to see more than 10 feet in front of the car. Those are the times I slow way down. I don’t stop, though, because that’s what causes accidents. I keep doing the only thing I know to do – I move forward.

As with driving, sometimes life feels as if we are walking through the fog. It can be so thick we can’t see far down the path that lies ahead of us; sometimes we can only see the length of our arm. These can be scary seasons when we question which way is forward, how close we are to a ledge, if there is danger ahead, and if we are alone in the journey.

But just as with driving, we must keep moving forward. One step at a time. While we can’t see the path ahead, we can see our next step. And once we’ve taken that step we can see the following one. We must keep moving forward, doing what we know how to do.

In 1 Corinthians 13:12-13 it reads, “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! But for right now, until that completeness, we have three things to do to lead us toward that consummation: Trust steadily in God, hope unswervingly, love extravagantly. And the best of the three is love.” (The Message)

It’s a scary proposition to trust so completely in God that He will not only lift the fog, but keep us safely on the path when we can’t see. Who knows, the fog may actually be a safety net for us, keeping us from seeing the big dangers that surround us! As verse 13 encourages us, what we must do is trust, hope and love. This is all we need to do during our foggy seasons. This is our moving forward one step at a time.


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peace in the chaos

Five months ago I boarded a plane to visit a dear friend from high school who now lives in Costa Rica as a missionary. I had little expectation for what the trip would entail aside from sun, fun and adventure. What I got was all of that plus a major catch-up session, deep conversations about faith, memories that still come to mind and a friendship fortified through new experiences.

I’ve thought about this vacation often since returning to the States and how to best share it with others. This blog seems the natural outlet, but I’ve had a difficult time putting my experiences into words. How do you adequately describe seven days of unplugging from American culture and technology? How do you process the genuine friendliness that strangers extend? How do you share the impact deep conversations with a close friend have on your life? This is where I’ve been stuck spinning my wheels. And as I spin, time passes and the trip is further in the rear view mirror. There comes a point that it seems so long ago that it would be useless to share. And yet I have a driving sense to share.

Which brings me to this: over the next several weeks it’s my commitment to you – my family, friends and extended friends – to share about what I learned about people, culture, life and faith while in Costa Rica this summer. I realize it was a short trip and that it may seem odd that it impacted me so much – but I can’t explain it and so I must share it.

While many moments stand out and there are many I think about often, one has continued to surface several times since returning, simply because of where I live and the culture with which I’m surrounded. Being so close to Seattle and getting into the city multiple times a month, while simultaneously working for a large, busy, event-driven church, my life is often consumed with noise and activity.

IMG_3563On one of my last days in Costa Rica, in the midst of downtown San Jose, with horns honking, people walking and all manner of life happening around us, my friend and I visited a beautiful, old church. We took our time looking at stained glass windows, artwork and even sat on one of the pews near the altar for a quiet moment with God.

I took several long, deep breaths to rest and silence my mind and soul, paying close attention to God and what He was saying to me. What I felt brought a smile to my face: Even in the middle of a busy city, overflowing with life, you can find peace with Me if you quiet yourself and remove yourself from the noise and focus. I am that close. You can have peace in the chaos when you turn to Me.

Peace in the chaos. That is what I constantly seek. In the busyness of work; in the running here and there; in the explosions of relationships and life, peace in the chaos is my heart’s cry. And there God was, telling me exactly how to find it.

So as the city moved around me I stopped. I breathed. I listened. I found my pathway to peace in the chaos.


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a pep talk and sacrifice

The past several weeks have been filled with highs and lows. Days that were stellar and days that were not. I’ve run hard, pushed beyond what I thought I could, was up early and out late, and have slept poorly. I have not been at peak performance mentally, physically or emotionally. As a backstory, I’ve bought and moved into a new house, camped with a large group of friends, celebrated birthdays, led major events, experienced family medical issues, worked full time, dog sat for a week and picked up a freelance copy editing job. That I’ve been busy is an understatement.

All this time I’ve continuously given myself a pep talk that I can do it. All I had to do was just make it through August. As a proper church girl, I reminded myself of the importance to stop and give thanks to God for the oomph to get through each day without collapsing.

It was early July as I was reading through the Psalms that two verses in particular caused me come to a hard stop. Psalm 50:14-15 reads, “Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High. Then call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.” I read it over and over: Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God. Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God. Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God.

It naturally lead to the question, have I made thankfulness my sacrifice to God? It’s not only a question of if I stop to express my gratitude to the Lord, but if it reaches the level of being sacrificial in its expression. I found it convicting that just before these verses, God tells us that He is pleased with the offerings that are being presented to Him (vs. 7-13). But they are offerings of things that are already His; they are things that He has given to us so that we can give back to Him. But what He really wants to receive as a sacrifice is us. When it comes to gratitude, it’s not about our actions; it’s about our heart.

“Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God, and keep the vows you made to the Most High.” To be transparent, my thankfulness wasn’t at that level. The time or effort it took to express my gratitude was not lengthy or deep or difficult. I’m not positive it’s much better now, nearly two months later, but my heart is tender and attentive to move toward sacrificial gratitude.

I absolutely love what comes next in this passage: a promise of God’s deep love for us. “Then call on me when you are in trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.” His care for us, however, is sandwiched between our call to express our heart to Him. As we sacrifice thanksgiving to Him, He will help us in our difficult moments. It is then our turn to again offer Him praise and the glory He deserves.

The big question I am forced to ask myself as I read this passage and write this post with fresh eyes and a fresh experience of calling on God during this difficult season is, have I truly expressed my thankfulness as a sacrifice to God? I’ll be pondering this question for weeks to come and would love to hear your experiences.

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