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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! 

Wednesday, May 21, 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. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sitting in Hope

I don’t often write or talk about my years battling with depression. They were incredibly painful years and not much fun to talk about. Like many stories of depression, although the doctor declared my depression “over” many years ago, there is fallout from the fight that comes and goes at different times. One of those issues for me has been grasping the idea of hope. 

Despite the fact that I can give you beautiful textbook answers about what hope is and point to all sorts of Scriptures that teach us about the hope we have in Christ, the whole concept seemed very elusive to me. For the last couple years, my goal has been to "sit in hope." I first heard this phrase when my counselor encouraged me to practice doing it. I could never figure out what she meant. 

Early in the school year, I was having coffee with my mentor and she asked me to share a little bit about my journey through depression. I shared this phrase with her and went on a bit of rant about how I just didn’t get it. You have to understand my mentor is the poster child for “sitting in hope” and could not understand why it made no sense to me. 

Then one Wednesday morning I was meeting my mentor for coffee again and sharing some stories of the past week or so with her when she interrupted and said, “You know what?! That sounds like a girl who is sitting in hope! I think you have found your elusive target.” What?! I was shocked. 

Now I have no idea how I got there, but in that moment it clicked and I was completely overwhelmed by the peace that comes when we embrace hope. Perhaps I needed to move across the country where no one knew me to discover it. Perhaps I needed to be surrounded by a church staff that respected me, trust me and valued my opinion without having to prove myself. Perhaps I had to get a little better about living in the moment and not the what-ifs. I’m not entirely sure. 

In a message on hope, Frederick Buechner said, “I think it is hope that lies at our hearts and hope that finally brings us all here. Hope that in spite of all the devastating evidence to the contrary, the ground we stand on is holy ground because Christ walked here and walks here still. Hope that we are known, each one of us, by name, and that out of the burning moments of our lives He will call us by our names to the lives He would have us live and the selves He would have us become. Hope that into the secret grief and pain and bewilderment of each of us and of our world He will come at last to heal and to save.”

That seemed to bring it together for me. So I continue to sit in hope and wait to see how God will continue to redeem and restore His people and His creation. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


When I was in college I had some great mentors and some not so great mentors. When I decided to go into vocational ministry, I started looking for a woman who had been doing ministry who could be a mentor to me. I prayed and prayed and never seemed to make much progress in my search. This went on for years. It was incredibly discouraging. 

A few years ago I was sharing this with a friend who was just beginning her journey in vocational ministry. She shared this same desire so we began praying together and seeking out some women at our church who we felt would be able to teach us more about serving well. Let’s just say neither one of us had much success.  One individual literally told me, “No one has time to mentor anymore. People can’t give up that much time for one person. Go find some books about great women of the faith and let them be your mentors.” I heard responses similar to this numerous times, even after explaining I wasn’t necessarily looking for someone to meet me every week for hours and hours. 

About a year ago, I was ready to give up on the whole mentoring idea. I went to Kenya where we had extensive conversations about mentoring and the need for it in the discipleship process. I have spent a great deal of time wrestling with the concept for years. My conclusion was, although I may never find a mentor, I would be intentional about mentoring the students I was serving. 

I returned from Kenya and was frantically making preparations to move to California. I received an e-mail from Karen, an associate pastor at Christian Church of Thousand Oaks, the church I would be partnering with to plant the new ministry. She wrote that she wanted to do whatever she could to help me with the move and transition, including giving me an hour of her time each week to ask questions or get insights on the church, community and culture of Southern California. It was a very generous offer so I took her up on it when I arrived in town. 

Every Wednesday morning, Karen and I meet at my favorite coffee shop and talk through things happening in both my ministry and my personal life. I can’t begin to explain the amount of wisdom and experience she has shared with me. This time has reignited my passion for mentoring. 

All of that to say, we cannot give up on the idea. Mentoring can look very different in terms of specifics but students need to see examples of faith and discipleship lived out in everyday life. Without these examples of faith in the here and now, how can they learn how to allow their faith to permeate their lives? I’m sure you will be reading more about this on the blog in the months to come. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

First School Year in Cali

It is finals week here, which means my contact with students is brief since they are all frantically finishing papers and projects, cramming for final exams and frantically packing up their rooms for the summer. This means much of my time is spent at my desk praying for students and reflecting on the year. This year I find myself with a million thoughts wandering around my mind. 

It has been an absolutely tremendous year. I’ve had the honor of watching four students publicly accept Jesus Christ as their lord and savior and then baptize them. I’ve watched as the Lord has taken students from various backgrounds and begun to bring them together as a family. I’ve experienced the tremendous love of God through the people at Christian Church of Thousand Oaks, who have been incredible partners in ministry and friends. God is so very good! I am overwhelmed by His goodness. 

I thought I would take the next few weeks to put some of these thoughts down in hopes of my scattered thoughts becoming something a little more concrete. I’ll be posting a series of blogs about my first year doing ministry in Southern California. This is mostly for my benefit, but I thought I would give the few of you a glimpse into my world.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Faith on Campus SoCal Forum

This week I enjoyed attending the Faith on Campus SoCal Forum at Pepperdine University with a couple of our Impact staff. I was going to share some of my thoughts on the forum, but then Impact’s President, Bill Westfall blogged about it. I decided he summed up the experience far better than I could. I am so grateful for the insights Bill has shared through his dissertation. The forum definitely confirmed his work. Head over to his blog and check out his thoughts.