Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Restoring Faith in the Church

I shared in my last post that one of the greatest challenges of this school year was dealing with some past wounds. I thought I would share one of the painful wounds in my life where God has brought a tremendous amount of healing in the last year. I’ve been hesitant to write about this because I don’t want people to get the wrong idea so let me make this disclaimer:

There are absolutely no ill feelings toward any specific churches or individuals. I grew up in a wonderful church and have been a part of some great congregations. I am well aware that I have hurt and wounded people, just as people and circumstances have hurt and wounded me.

Okay, now that I’ve made that clear, let’s get on with the story. 

As I look back at my life of growing up in the Church, most of the picture is beautiful full of amazing role models and giants of the faith that have had a tremendous influence in my life. But scattered throughout that picture are several dark scars that at some point overshadowed the beauty of the rest of the painting. Those scars are the voice of those who told me I didn’t look the part. Voices of those who told me I asked too many questions. Disapproving looks as I speak truth boldly when my “role” was to be silent. They are scars from losing jobs or not being hired because I don’t have the right body parts. 

Soon after I graduated from college, I reached my breaking point. I was done with the Church. I kept attending a local congregation because the Text says so much about community and being together, but I wasn’t invested. I just showed up. It didn’t take long before some good friends surrounded me and started to get me plugged into our local church. But even after getting involved and serving for several years, I didn’t trust the Church. I was skeptical. 

When I started working for Impact any healing that had come was about to be tested. All of those voices I mentioned earlier were back and they were louder than ever. I quit counting how many times I was told I was a sinner or going to Hell because I was woman devoting my life to doing ministry or because I wasn’t getting married and having babies. The hardest part was that some of those voices were of close, trusted friends. 

I’ll be completely honest. The last several years have been incredibly difficult. I accepted a new position that would require me to work even more directly with a church than I already was. I confess I was not happy about this, but I was confident of what God was asking me to do. Here is the great thing about following God’s lead: no matter how hard it is, it is always worth it.

I came to California super guarded. I was greeted with open arms, tons of acceptance and a Church that was eager to follow God’s leading. I came having lost sight of that Church. My perspective had been skewed. As I’ve dropped my defenses, allowed the people of the Church to be the Body and sat at the feet of some great teachers, I’ve rediscovered what God’s Church is. I’ve regained trust in Church. I have a deeper love for the Church than I have in years. 

The voices are still present, but I’m choosing not to focus my eyes on the scars but rather on the beautiful picture that is the Body of Christ. 

Monday, June 02, 2014

Resurfacing Monsters

After my last post and confessing my love of control, you can imagine how I feel about change. Like conversations, I like to prepare myself for as many aspect of a transition as I can. I did exactly that as I prepared to move to California. Now that I’ve been here for nine months and completed my first school year, it is interesting to look back and see how I handled the transition, the things I was prepared for and what I was not.

I expected the transition to be very difficult, while it has had its challenges, it really hasn’t been as hard as I expected. I knew there would be times when I missed family and friends. I did not expect to make such great friends here as quickly as I have. I did not expect to be welcomed accepted by the church staff like family from day one. For the most part, this move has far exceeded my expectations and been an incredible blessing, except for one thing.

I was not ready to have past hurts and insecurities resurface like waves crash into the rocks at the coast as the tide comes in. This has most definitely been the single most challenging thing about coming to California. Not long into the spring semester I started having horrible nightmares. I wasn’t sleeping well. I wasn’t eating well. Focusing was a challenge. Internally, all of those hurts and insecurities were like roaring monsters that I could not silence. I knew I had a choice. I could allow these monsters to silence me or I could allow God to do more healing.

I’ve decided this is a hidden gift that comes with the chaos of change and transition. There seems to be something about the shaking up of our “normal” that reminds us of our own monsters. The sudden awaking of our awareness makes way for another layer of healing and growth. I’m discovering when I allow that to happen, the insecurities fade away and the hurts have less control over me.

Now I’m not saying I’m a fan of change, but I’m learning to embrace it in new ways. And before anyone starts worrying: I am sleeping well, eating probably too well, and concentrating just fine.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Throwing Out the Script

Hi, my name is skoutz, and I’m a control freak.
I am well aware many of you are chuckling as you read this, because you are very familiar with this issue in my life. A couple years ago I realized one of the ways this desire for control manifested in my life was in conversations with other people. I love to play out conversations, especially difficult ones, in my head, imagining every possible way a conversation could go. I do this because I hate surprises. I hate surprises because I can’t be prepared for them. I can’t prepare how I am going to respond. I can’t control the emotions or thoughts I may have in that moment of surprise. So I write scripts in my head for conversations.

Now this isn’t always a bad thing. There is great value in thinking through your thoughts and how to best articulate them before you go into a conversation. The problem is when you start to decide what the other person or people will say as well. Instead of actually having conversations, I found myself deciding how people would respond and continuing on with that assumption. When I discovered this I started being very intentional about not having conversations for other people.

For the most part, I was getting much better at actually talking with people, but one of the things I learned this school year is that I still had scripts I was writing. There were topics that needed to be discussed, and I had written a script for every response imaginable. I was shocked to discover I was having a lot of conversations where my scripts were useless. Fortunately, most of these conversations went far better than I could ever imagine, but I was still trying to control them. I was still holding on to these scripts.

Over the course of this semester, I’ve been striving to not waste time and energy on preparing for a bunch of what ifs that will rarely happen. I’m throwing out the scripts!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Ministry Highlights

I am finding it hard to believe that my first school year has come to a close. It has been a week since most students moved home for the summer. Campus now feels fairly empty and quiet. It has been such an incredible blessing to watch God move on campus in the lives of students. Here are some of my favorite moments from the year.

Student Baptisms
Perhaps I don’t have enough faith, but I never even considered the fact that in my first year of planting this ministry, I would have the opportunity to watch students surrender their lives to Christ and publicly confess Jesus as Lord. This school year we had four students do just that, three of which I had the honor to baptize. One of those baptisms happened within our first month of being on campus!

12 Days of Thanksgiving
Impact ministries across the country set aside 12 days in November to gather food for local food banks. We were only in our third month, but the few students we had involved here in California gave generously and donated over 100 pounds of food to CCTO’s Feed My Sheep food pantry.

Collegiate Day of Prayer
One of my goals for this year was to gather together students and members of CCTO for the purpose of praying for our campus. The first attempt at a gathering failed miserably. It was discouraging, but we didn’t give up. During our Collegiate Day of Prayer Luncheon we had 20 people gather to pray together.

Passover Seder
I have been celebrating Passover with student leaders for several years, but I have never lead a seder for more than a dozen people. This year CCTO decided to host a seder and asked me to lead it. So we combined our Impact CLU seder with theirs and had an incredible night of celebrating God’s deliverance as the Body of Christ

Coffee, Pizza, and Cookies
College students love food! Most of my favorite moments every year are the conversations that happen over cups of coffee or lunch or simply taking cookies to campus. Rarely is there an agenda of conversation planned, but rather just moments of being present and authentic with students. It seems to be that it is always in these unplanned moments where the greatest conversations and decisions are made. This will probably always be my favorite part of campus ministry.

There is much to celebrate this year. Bless the Lord for a great year of ministry, both the good and the hard times! 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Wilderness People

“Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the wilderness and speak tenderly to her.” Hosea 2:12

Hiking is one of the many things I love about Southern California. I can do it everyday and there are several places I can explore. Hiking is one of my favorite ways to connect with God; exploring His creative work, quieting my heart and listening to His voice.

This evening, I went on a short 3.5 mile hike at one of the local parks where I do a majority of my hiking. Most days last week were over 90 degrees, and I can’t remember the last time it rained. The hills are brown again, and there isn’t much green to be seen. The trails are rocky and dusty. It isn’t very pretty to most, in fact some days it makes me miss the green forests of Michigan. But it always reminds me that God’s people were wilderness people.

The wilderness, or desert, is a land of “just enough.” There is just enough water and rain for the vegetation to survive. There is just enough vegetation for sheep and goats to graze. There is just enough shade to provide an overheated shepherd relief from the hot sun.

And because there is just enough and not too much, there is plenty of room to trust. There is plenty of room to trust you’ll have just enough food to survive the day. Plenty of room to trust you’ll have just enough water to survive the day. Plenty of room to trust you will have exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. It is not what I would consider comfortable, but it is exactly where I want to live my life.

This evening I decided to hike my regular route backwards. I did this mostly because it would be a harder climb and I need to step up my workouts in preparation for our Israel trip, but I also like the different perspective it gives me. As I made my way up the final climb to the bluff, I was reminded of one of the hardest moments in my life, my battle with depression.

During that time I was convinced the wilderness I was in was not a land of just enough but a land of no where near enough. Not enough of God’s grace to handle my weaknesses. Not enough of God’s love to love someone like me. Not enough second chances to try again after I messed up. Not enough reasons for me to even be alive. It was a very dark time. It was the book of Hosea and the Psalms where I found any glimmer of hope. If Hosea could marry a prostitute and still follow God each day and rest in His love, surely I could handle another day. If David could tell God how broken and sad he was and write about it, surely I could tell God too.

Hosea 2:12 was one of the verses I clung to during those years. My life felt like that toughest, driest desert to ever exist, but it was in the desert that God spoke to His people. Most days it felt like He wasn’t speaking or listening at all. There were brief moments where I heard His voice. Brief moments where I knew He was there with me. Those moments sustained me. Those moments healed me.

Now I make it a habit to go to the literal wilderness to remind myself of what God has done. To remind myself that just enough is more than enough. To remind myself God is present. I sit in the wilderness to listen to His tender voice.