With Deepest Empathy

One of the main roles of working in campus ministry is being a listener.

When a student chooses to share a piece of their story with me – a deep hurt or current chaos – I feel both incredibly honored and wildly deficient.

Brené Brown explains empathy well in this video. It’s messier than pitying from a distance; it requires involvement, presence, with-ness. “Me too” – the ability to connect over a feeling or experience – is a powerful thing we can offer, even when we don’t have answers or resolutions to pain.

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But here’s what I wrestle with. Sometimes – many times – I can’t honestly say “me too.” I feel like I can’t actually relate to that thing. Abuse is far from me; I’m not burdened by addiction or discontentment with singleness.

And I’m tempted to think, “Well, I’m certainly not very useful here,” and write myself off because (in all truth, praise God), I have not experienced everything I hear. I can zoom out to the larger reality and relate to broken relationships, desiring control or lacking passion for scripture. But to sit with someone in a specific trial, what does that require? A relatable answer? A prayer? Redirecting them to someone obviously more equipped than me?

I’m discovering, slowly and with a constant pushing away of negative and un-affirming thoughts, that two other phrases (articulated and practiced) can be just as healing.

  1. “God sees you.”
  2.  “I’m here.”

Because He does. He sees and knows and loves you.
And I am. I’m here if you need to vent, need a meal, need to know you’re not alone.

Of course, there are healthy limits and boundaries; we can’t be anyone’s superwoman or savior. But maybe that’s exactly what frees us to move towards people, anyway, with seemingly little to offer.

Empathy begs to extend beyond “me too.” I feel like I’m just beginning to test the waters.

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Redefining Value

Something of magic happens when the weather turns a few degrees warmer, hinting at spring and open windows.

I know we’re not the only ones who dragged our grill to the back deck, swept off the front door mat and walked around sockless. We moved here in deep winter, and even the slight uptick in temperature has us refreshed, hopeful and craving more. We’re coming up on three months in this house. I’ve not been working, which has been a great blessing in that I’ve been available to support Thomas through sleep-altering schedules and nutty stories.

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So I think about these fast three months and wonder at them. The freedom of un-rigid days that sometimes, somehow, still felt daunting. The idea that I’d use this season to do or make progress on, or, at least, plan something substantial for my writing or other another big idea. Like a productive sabbatical where the stars would align, bolstering my ambitions and hindering obligation to other people’s needs. It was going to be my time.

In an ironic turn, a different message keeps pressing into me. In our church small group, through sermons, blogs, books and hard conversations, what I’m hearing has nothing to do with goal-setting, productivity or self-preservation.

Instead, I’m asking questions like:

“How can I give more of myself away?”

“What actions and pursuits have long-term value?”

“How can I love those directly around me and tend to this small piece of the kingdom I’ve been placed in?”

My body fights it. I want to protect myself and my season of freedom so I can accomplish something concrete. I don’t want to be taken advantage of by always taking care of others. Every ounce of culture tells me I’m entitled to pursue what I want, like we’re all little soldiers fighting for our rights.

So again, I think of these fast three months and see a lot of small, seemingly inconsequential actions…dinner-making and dog-bathing and candle-burning on the nights our friends come over. In terms of things I’m doing, it all seems average.

But the idea that it’s not all about me and what I accomplish has been refreshing and satisfying. The quiet days with tiny victories, un-pressured and un-hurried, have been generous to me.

I’m redefining what’s valuable and learning that even the inconspicuous and intangible have worth. I’m reconsidering what is pleasing and good, productive far beyond me and not just about right now.

Every meal made, every person cared for, every prayer uttered, every dream chased and every idea set aside for now – I think God uses all of this, shows up in all that seems small, so we don’t need to worry about what we’re not accomplishing by the world’s standards.

And for that, I am so thankful. It’s exhausting to always lead the charge, to always feel the need to achieve, to feel that our achievement is who we are.

This is ongoing for me. Releasing what has no place here, pursuing what is good, and differentiating between the two.

That’s the journey I’m on. And, maybe, the one we’re all on together.

P.S. I’d be lying if I told you the only thing on my horizon was more cookie-baking. This June, I’ll begin working at Purdue Christian Campus House, a church that primarily serves college students and a growing number of young professionals. I’m thrilled for the opportunity and will certainly keep you posted!

Purpose Where You Are

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about addressing the fact that our lives don’t always feel significant…”shiny” is the word I used. I gave a hint that I was experiencing this myself but wasn’t quite  sure how to explain it without feeling very pessimistic. Seeing that I’m not a pessimistic person (generally), I decided to wait. So here’s what I think about it all:

The idea of a shiny life is fairly standard. It may mean big houses with attached garages and cars under 100,000 miles, but it doesn’t have to. Sometimes I envy those who travel the world in a year with a couple backpacks, social entrepreneurs with one really good idea or authors with a ton of them.

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Regardless, the message of chasing your dreams, acting upon your good ideas, pursuing passion disguised as work and living as an empowered go-getter is everywhere, from the college classroom to internet memes.

What I recently learned, though, is that if you ask the average baby boomer, or even the generation that came after, if they experienced this same bombardment of uncovering “what you were made to do,” they would likely say no. They worked to work.

I won’t go into what mentality is “right” or “healthy” (seeing that I’m not sure, myself). But it’s interesting to me that this work entitlement seems to be strongly correlated with younger generations – my generation. So we graduate college, and many of us want to work a job that doesn’t feel like work at all.

I’m an idealistic person. I believe in passions, coming into the fullness of who we are, and using our gifts well (and if we get paid for those gifts, even better). But when I graduated and began working full-time for a small marketing company, idealism and realism clashed right in front of me.

Let me pause and say this: I enjoy my job. I love meeting different people and figuring out how best to convey someone’s message. My boss opened this door for me and took a chance on me fresh out of college. For that, I am so grateful.

But work still does feel like work most of the time.

Here’s why: devoting yourself to anything for eight hours a day feels like a loss of freedom at first. Especially when you just left college. This job challenges me and pushes me daily to be organized, tactful and composed under pressure. College, though difficult at times, never tested me in the way this full-time job does. I like it, but it still feels like work.

The most promising realization I’ve had lately is this: it’s ok that work feels like work.

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I’d love to be a missionary one day. I’d love to live overseas for six months, a year maybe. I’d love to write and encourage for a living, and lead others to uncovering and pursuing their own passions. But even these things would still feel like work at times. And in those moments, I’d probably forget that I once considered those things shiny.

What I’m learning is that I can absorb the skills, tools and grit I’m developing now and have confidence that I’ll use them later on in life, as well. Maybe when I do those things I mentioned above.

In wallowing in the fact that we don’t live what we perceive as shiny, we rob ourselves of joy. An attitude of thankfulness turns into doubt: “Am I wasting my time? Do I deserve something better?”

I don’t want to live in those questions.

So to you, wherever you are right now: it’s ok to use your positioning to identify holes in the world and uncover what you’re suited to do. But please don’t miss out on where you are currently. Even purposeful dream jobs are dull sometimes.

The other day, I was writing in Thomas’ birthday card, and a simple message articulating all of this presented itself clearly on paper.

“I pray this year finds you hopeful for the future, but fills you where you are.”

This is my wish for you, too.

A Little Affirmation

When you’re a youth director, you feel inadequate about 60-ish percent of the time. If you’re me.

I took the job two years ago with a very slight clue of how to go about it. My goal was to maintain the smoothest transition possible and uphold the normal youth traditions of nerf wars, lock-ins and the like. However, I also wanted to try new activities and test reactions. It’s been a slow process.

I say that inadequacy easily dwells in this role because it’s easy to compare myself against other youth leaders. I’ve seen a youth group at Starbucks slurping frappes with their bibles open every Sunday that I’ve been there and thought, “Oh, they’re so much holier than us. We just shoot each other with nerf guns.” On the mission trip a few weeks ago, the leaders got together and two adult men from another group insisted on more serious chapel times and less programming. Sure, I organized some group reflection times that had some seriously great conversation, but in that moment, I felt like a little, inadequate and inexperienced youth leader.

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Fortunately, I didn’t get stuck in that place. Because on that last evening of the trip, my seven youth and seven adults gathered for our last time. We talked about fears conquered and goals achieved, confidence boosted and hearts opened. And for the first time in a long time, I knew I needed to stay. Not in North Carolina, but right beside my youth for another year.

In this job, and largely due to that trip, I’ve been able to witness what cool things happen when the younger people of the church serve others, in turn challenging themselves. I’ve seen how they respond to leadership roles. And I’ve learned that simply listening to their most sincere thoughts is a ministry in itself.

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I don’t need a master’s degree in theology and 20+ years of experience, and frankly, my youth don’t need that either. I’m really glad Thomas will now be able to join me for our events. He will be a great help. Plus, the guys (and I think the girls, secretly) love him.

This coming fall, things will be different. I’m in the brainstorming phase of restructuring our meetings and figuring out just where this group is headed. The possibilities excite me, and I can’t wait to get started.

Mission Trip

To see all the mission trip pictures, visit this link.

On Fire

Meet Brains On Fire, one of the (nearly 15) companies I hope to work for some day. And yes, the work really does sound as cool as its name. Brains on Fire calls itself a word of mouth marketing firm. They help other businesses with identity development and also work to build social movements. Their beliefs are the following, as listed on their website:

  • Great organizations are driven by purpose, not just profit.
  • They grow relationships, not just transactions.
  • And they thrive through movements, not campaigns.

Uh, yes. Yes, yes, and yes. I typically think of marketing firms and gag simply because I have this (possibly false) precept that it’s all about sales. Up the numbers, increase the profit. Develop a catchy tagline for the toothpaste company that claims they have the best recipe for tartar control. That doesn’t sound too fun to me.

As a public relations major, we talk a lot about campaigns and all the strategies and appeals and what not. Very early on in my classes, I realized that I wanted a job that went beyond the surface of selling a product and got to the heart of the cause behind it. When I found the Nonprofit Leadership Alliance, I threw myself entirely into the belief that I would work for a nonprofit, and only a nonprofit. Then my eyes began to open up to companies like Sseko Designs, 31 Bits and GivenGoods. I’m fascinated with the model and the idea that a for-profit business can make the world better. And BOF’s role, as I perceive it, is to help these companies help make the world better.

And they’re based in Greenville, South Carolina. In a historic brick building that they call the Firesphere. Check it out.

So now, my interests are much broader than they used to be. I’m excited to see where I land.

Did I mention they’re based in South Carolina?

Much.

If there’s ever a time where five plus parties/events/get-togethers occur all in the same week, it would be December. Seems like the celebratory bug gets a hold of everyone – Christmas does that to people (i.e. me). Here is a little sampling of what I’ve been up to lately.

photo copyThis is my ministry at school, Christian Student Fellowship. I just love the strung up lights and how full the room is. Wednesday night we had a Christmas Communion service, where we read scripture and sang Christmas songs the whole time. Then on Saturday, we hosted the Haiti Compassion Gallery, a silent art auction to raise money for a young Haitian girl named Markilene. We raised over $800 that will go to building her a new house! And I got two new pieces of art for my future apartment/house (thanks Em and Erin!)

photoThis was my setup for my 31 Bits House Party on Friday!  31 Bits is a jewelry business that provides women crafters in Uganda with a sustainable income. All the pieces are hand made with beads of recycled paper. Beautiful and fair trade. I have been really fascinated with these kinds of socially minded companies lately, so hosting a party for my friends and sharing their story was super fun.

photo copy 2And this is a mediocre (no one to blame but myself) picture of some of my youth group caroling to the church’s shut-ins. They sang beautifully! I only had one high school student come along (who provided an excellent bass), but the rest were my middle schoolers. So energetic and fun. We’re busy nearly every Sunday in December, but they seem to be the most well-attended events. I’m really enjoying myself this year, and I think the kids are more acquainted with me now. I always said that if I was going to be a teacher, no way could I teach middle school. This group makes me rethink that. I love them.

Finals this week, then a break for three. I’m eager for Christmas, eager to give gifts and perhaps begin a wedding registry… :)

More to come.

Getting Lost in Dreams

I can’t remember if I’ve written about this before.

But I have all these ideas about what I want to do as a career. Writing a book would be amazing. Working in event coordination for a not-just-for-profit company like Sseko or 31Bits sounds tops. Campus ministry would be wonderful. And then a part of me just wants to open a tea shop and model it after Panera Bread’s idea of “pay what you can” (see that story here).

I guess you could say that while I’m so thankful for my choices, high hopes and belief that loving my job is possible, it’s a tad overwhelming. Thomas completely supports me wanting to pursue something unique…even if it is in California or unpaid. Sigh.

So beyond prayer and seeking God fully, how do we make these choices?

Maybe you’re pondering the same thing. My brain wheels have been turning the whole week. But I’m thinking that’s a good thing.

NEWS FLASH: Make of Me is getting a new look soon! In the next day or so (or maybe hour if I’m eager), I will be updating the blog layout and switching the address to makeofme.wordpress.com. Seems a little more congruent that way. And I think you all know my middle name by now.

A sincere thanks for reading. And caring.

This gets me every time.

Fragility

This semester has been a bit nuttier than others in the past.

Not because I’m barely staying afloat in my classes. They’re going fine. Not because I’m antsy about moving out of this square room. It smells of my Autumn Harvest candle and gives me access to a second closet full of cute clothes. Thanks, rooms ;)

I’m juggling, here. A full class load, my jobs as youth director and journalism intern, my identities as daughter, sister, fiancée, friend. I’m completely aware that I’m not the only one experiencing this, and it’s likely to happen many times in my future. But I’m also aware that sometimes my obligations interfere with what I believe to be true about myself.

I become a victim of the productivity monster. I see my to-do list with so many uncrossed items, and I simultaneously want to complete everything without stopping and throw it out the window. But I wouldn’t dare. I fall into the trap of thinking that my identity is built on this productivity, on writing the perfect story every week, on doing things in a way that pleases others, which pleases myself. With writing, in particular, I fight continual, unwelcome daily thoughts about how I’m not doing well, or enough.

And then I’m faced with the reality that this is not who I am.

This is not what defines me. And the day I forget that is the day I forget who I belong to, the God who reassures me that my very existence brings Him glory.

So I also encourage you to not feel bogged down by unrealistic expectations – not somebody else’s and certainly not your own. God made you and thinks you’re good. Shouldn’t we be trusting of that?

This beautiful fall day.

Looking Back, Looking Forward

As I’m sure most of you reading this already know, Thomas and I had the most wonderful time in Cape Town, South Africa! We returned home a week ago today, and it has been a busy week of reflecting on the trip and purging all the stories and information onto our families and friends. Spending five weeks in a different country was so good for us in a number of ways. Speaking for me, personally, this mission trip helped me become “un-stuck” from my comfortable and non-risky style of living here in the States. Believe me when I say I absolutely love America and am so blessed to have my home in the security of Riley. But I almost felt frustrated with myself for how I’ve rarely allowed myself to do something “out there” or adventurous. Instead, for some reason, I made myself bound to responsibility and being dependable, constant. Not whimsical or risk-taking. But on this trip, for the first time in a long time, I felt brave. I completely had to trust that God would provide the funds to get over there, I was thrown into a situation where I had virtually no control over my schedule, and I even went cage diving with sharks! It was the perfect kind of liberation from my own self that I needed.

We also met a ton of neat people, including the Campus Crusade “stinters,” who are living in Cape Town for the remainder of the year to launch ministries on university campuses. We learned much from them and their example of faith, as well as the South Africans we worked with, who were so energetic and passionate. Our group also talked to many students on campus, some who called themselves Christians and some who did not. It was so cool to see God work in the conversations. Many students admitted they began questioning their faith just that week, and talking with them provided some clarity they needed. Just many instances of perfect timing.

Another thing Thomas and I realized was that while we were busy making plans for ourselves, we weren’t being diligent about inviting God into those plans. Talking with the Crusade interns and staff gave us some more interesting opportunities to consider that we haven’t thought about before. We’ll be praying for direction as graduation draws closer.

As I reminisce on the summer I spent in Cape Town, I’m also very excited for this coming school year and what the future holds beyond that. In addition to a class schedule that I think I’ll love (hello, Children’s Literature), I’m also beginning my new job as a writer for World on Campus, an online Christian magazine for college students. The best part is that I work from my laptop, so I can decide where and when I want to sit down and write. It will definitely be interesting to see how I manage that, as well as my second year as youth director at church. Now that my feet are wet, I’m eager to be with my middle and high schoolers for another round.

And while all this is happening, I’ll be planning the wedding, getting in some much-needed cooking practice and continuing to vehemently believe that Thomas and I will be home DIY-ers by the time we’re in our first apartment. Ha :)

If you still haven’t gotten your fill, feel free to view all my South Africa pictures on Facebook. Thanks for reading!

 

Stress. And the rest of the weekend

I kind of internally freaked out on Saturday morning.

Ok. If I’m being completely honest here, I completely freaked out.

I was at home, and this wave of panic suddenly overtook me, and I felt like I had a bajillion things to do between school and church responsibilities. My heart started to race and I got horribly edgy. I could only think about what needed to get done and how I was going to do it. But over the course of 3 and half hours, I completed three small papers, studied for a test and wrote a devotion for the church Advent booklet. The day turned out to be incredibly productive, but emotionally damaging and unnecessary. That’s the thing about stress though. In the moment, you can’t see the big picture, and frankly, you don’t want to. I had just never experienced that level of anxiety before…or in a long time, at least.

The weekend improved, as yesterday the youth group carved pumpkins and then hosted a trunk at the trunk-or-treat. All of them dressed in costume and played their character, which cracked me up. I’m still new to the position of youth director, and I now understand so much more the preparation that goes into the meetings, but there’s so much reward when you see them having fun. Here’s some pictures from the night.

Yep. It’s a good job.

Happy Halloween!