Exploring the Deep

Passionately pursuing life, faith and adventure…

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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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reaching for god’s hand

Earlier this week I saw a child walking with his father along the road. The little boy was talking and laughing, lagging a few steps behind while his dad. All the while his dad kept glancing over his shoulder, keeping an eye on him and responding back as the child chattered. As my car passed by, the last thing I saw was the boy reaching up and forward for his dad’s hand. His father opened his hand and wrapped his fingers around his son’s, smiling down at him.

Isn’t that what our relationship with God, our Abba Father, should be like? We following so closely to Him, in constant conversation (prayer) and doing our best to keep in step with Him. All the while our Father keeping an eye over His shoulder at us as He leads the way.

I can imagine God’s gaze resting on me as my mouth runs wild with details of what happened that day. As I share about my dreams and fears. As I get lost in the moment and talk to Him as if He’s my very best friend, rather than the Lord of the universe. (But isn’t that what He wants anyway?)

I can imagine God smiling that all-knowing smile that says, “If you only knew that what you think are big problems are actually small issues.”

I can imagine God reaching His hand for mine to guide me with a little more surety – not for His sake, but for mine.

And yet as an adult I believe I’ve got it figured out. I know how to pray and keep in step and spend time with my Abba Father. But do I really? When I hit pause on everything in my life and focus on my relationship with the Lord, I know I’m just a child. But I’m His child. And as His daughter I want to be someone who reaches up and out to hold His hand. To feel the comfort that He is leading the way. That His grip on me will pull me forward, keep me from stumbling into danger (and traffic), and lift me up when I trip. I want to feel His gaze on me as He listens to me talking about my day and praying about the “big” things that are really so small.

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my vanilla life

To be honest, my life has been pretty normal the last few months. Vanilla with a hint of French Vanilla swirled in. Tone on tone. Monochromatic. It’s been a nice break from the roller coaster of the months leading up to this point. Life has been fairly predictable and manageable. But if I’m really being honest, I don’t like it.

While I don’t enjoy the drama that accompanies a roller coaster type of life, I do enjoy the variety and challenges it presents. It was a couple weeks ago I asked God to show Himself to me in my normal, every day life. The days when things feel mundane – that I would see His fingerprints. The days when I’m bored – that I would sense His moving under the surface. The days when I don’t have plans – that He would orchestrate divine encounters with people. I began looking and expecting to see God.

So often I turn to God when I’m in a low place: when there’s a big decision to be made, someone is sick, I’m caught in a difficult moment or I’ve fallen short. Or I turn to God when things are going well, praying that I can stay on that mountain peak. But most of life is walked out in between those two extremes. Our life is a pendulum swinging from one side to the other. The majority of it spent in every day life in between.

I am tired of feeling like the in between days don’t count for much. This is the time when life gets lived out! These are the important days when character is molded. (The difficult moments at when it is tested.) So I’ve been asking God to show up in big ways in my regular days. I’m looking for His work in the mundane, in the chance encounters, in the small conversations. I’m purposing to take advantage of the opportunities that pop up each day to share His love. I’m actively looking for His fingerprints on the things around me.

Do you know what? He is showing up.

As I’ve opened my heart more to Him and genuinely sought to see Him around me, God’s been faithful to come through. I’ve been able to pray with groups, speak life over strangers, be an ambassador of hope to friends, spiritually guide my peers (even when I only realized it when I was told). God is using me.

I haven’t felt equipped for many of the situations He’s opened up, but I was open and willing to walk in faith with Him. I am walking into situations not necessarily feeling “called,” but knowing in the moment that He has orchestrated it and is equipping me at the very moment that He’s also calling me. It’s a powerful feeling!

I’m at a place I never imagined I would ever be. Fourteen years ago when I began following Jesus I had no idea where I would be or what that decision would mean. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The opportunities it’s given me are beyond my imagination. And it keeps getting better. Each day is something new. (Even the vanilla days.) I blink hard, amazed at the responsibility God has given me and how much He trusts me to be hope, grace and His hand extended to this generation. And all I can do is lean into Him, trust Him for the future and keep asking Him to swirl some chocolate into my vanilla life.

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moving past status quo

I was doing a little lunchtime reading and prep today for the Young Professionals group I lead and couldn’t resist sharing a quote from the book we are reading with all of you. We are journeying through “Why Holiness Matter” by Tyler Braun…it’s an excellent book written by and for a fellow young professional. I love the conversation this book has spurred within the group and would be delighted for you to join the conversation!

In the final chapter of the book Braun challenges his readers about whether they would pursue holiness if they knew the full cost.

“The most difficult times in life should drive us toward relationship with Him, allowing His holiness to shape us. Too often we stop short of engaging in relationship with God forcing ourselves to stay in the status quo of life.”

Isn’t this so true?! It is so much easier to keep our fingers on the problem and try to do it all on our own strength, even when we say we are giving it over to God. It’s an interesting trick we play on ourselves – a lie we tell ourselves that we trust God to work but we never actually let go. We stop short of actually walking out our faith and engaging in relationship with the One who can change the status quo.

So today I ask you, where are you stopping short? How can you move past the wall and engage in relationship with God? Are you willing to sacrifice your control or is the cost too high? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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I want to be compelled.

I stumbled upon a video on Facebook Sunday morning from a church in Los Angeles where an impromptu miracle unfolded in the middle of the sermon. The pastor, to make a point that each of us can be the instrument of blessing in someone’s life, gave a woman in the choir some money. He nonchalantly asked, “Gloria, is that enough?” She looked at the money and said, “No, actually it’s not.” The pastor was a little taken aback – he didn’t realize that she actually had a monetary need. He reached into his wallet to give her more money, which she said was enough to cover her need. But that’s not where the illustration ended. The congregation wanted to be part of the miracle as well and began jumping out of their seats and running (literally) to the stage to give Gloria money. It was an outpouring of blessing in this woman’s life at a point that she needed it most.

I don’t think it’s a mistake that I saw the video on the day I did. My church, Eastridge Church, is hosting its annual conference this week about expanding our vision and faith, and seeing this video reminded me of my desire for more, both in my life personally and how my life impacts those around me.

It’s not the first time I’ve seen a video like the outpouring for Gloria. Four years ago a similar offering happened at First Baptist Church of Glenarden. The pastor of this sister church of mine was retelling of a miraculous offering of more than $1 million that Eastridge collected for our building project. Spontaneously, their members began bringing forward money to be sent to Eastridge. Thousands of dollars. The people wanted to be part of the blessing happening across the country. It was a love offering like I had never seen and it struck a cord within me that I wanted to be generous like that. I wanted to recognize an opportunity to bless and take it. To be part of something bigger and make an eternal impact in ways I couldn’t track.

Our Vision and Faith Conference culminates with a love offering next Sunday to fuel the ministry of Eastridge. I had already been thinking about this offering prior to watching the Los Angeles video and thinking about what I would bring. In my heart I want to bring something big, something outlandish, something sacrificial. My heart is over full and I want to express this to God through my gift.

While I still don’t know what I’ll bring, I know what I want my heart to look like: generous, giving, open, compelled, driven, drawn. This is how I want to be described every day of my life. I want to be known as a generous woman of God. Always giving to others – time, talent, money, words of encouragement, a smile and warm attitude, love. What this means for this week, I’m still unsure. What this means for my future, I’m sure.