If You Say You Are Pro-Life

Throughout history there are a few moments that truly changed the course of the world. The invention of the wheel, Pax Romana, and the declaration of the Magna Carta are a few such events.

In 1215, for the first time in history, a governed people demanded and assumed certain rights given to them by God, not the king.

562 years later, following this same logic, the founders of the United States of American declared independence and began a revolution that changed the understanding of government and human rights forever.

Life. Liberty. Pursuit of Happiness. To the founders, these ideals were unalienable – unable to be taken away or removed from the possessor. Most of us would say we support these ideals. We want healthy kids, social mobility, freedom of religion, choice, guns, and speech. Yet far too often, we want freedom when it works for us. We want liberty for us. We want life for us and those we care about.

If we say we are pro-life then we have to care for unborn lives. We cannot take away the life of a child because it is inconvenient for another person.

If we say we are pro-life then we have to care for the teen mothers,  mothers addicted to crack,  fathers dealing drugs and their children. We have to act on behalf of kids in foster care. We have to be willing to get messy, dirty, and hurt. Being pro-life means caring for all lives-including the ones we would rather not.

If we say we are pro-life then we have to care about the 14-year-old girl with an unwanted pregnancy. Should she abort the baby? Should she place her in foster care with a waiting list of over 200 needed families in one county in SC alone? Should she try to raise him herself? Should she go on welfare? What would you do?

If we say we are pro-life then we have to care for the immigrant and refugee. We have to welcome the refugees with open arms into our abundance. We have to be willing to lose so others will gain. Our fear cannot overpower our faith.

If we say we are pro-life then we have to care about black men incarcerated at a rate of 6x greater than white men. We have to fight against a penal system that seeks not justice, but punishment and often assumes guilt, not innocence.

If we say we are pro-life then we have to care about the child being bullied because he is gay. We must teach our children that to differ in opinion is not an excuse for violence, hatred, or separation. We are to defend those who cannot defend themselves; even when we disagree.

If we say we are pro-life then we must care about the men and women on death row. We cannot decry the killing of a life in one scenario and then celebrate it in another.

If we say we are pro-life then we must care for the weak, the poor, the immigrant, and the orphan. To do so means we will lose. We will lose strength supporting those weaker than us. We will lose money to provide for those poorer than us. We will lose resources to welcome an immigrant with merely the clothes on their back. We will lose sleep caring for children not our own.

If we say we are pro-life then our own lives should reflect our beliefs. In a world of political black and white, we must embrace the gray. Caring for life is never easy. It is most often inconvenient, disruptive, and difficult. There is little tangible reward, great pain and many unknown answers.

Caring for 6 month old twins in foster care is not easy, but it is good.
Bringing a teenage mother into your home is not convenient, but it is right.
Welcoming a refugee into your community is not glamorous, but it is merciful.

If we say we are pro-life then we can’t just yell and protest with friends. We can’t just vote for the guy who promises to make America great again or promises to bring us back to the good ol’ days (spoiler alert: taxes were a lot higher then). We must act in the unseen places; bedrooms at 2am to nurse a hungry child not our own, recovery centers where no instagram filter will make reality look better,  the housing projects alongside rats where the most recent immigrants are eking out life. It won’t be pretty, but it will be right.

 

To the SC Assembly, Take Down that Flag.

confederate_flag

Today, our state leaders face a momentous decision. It’s been a long time coming. Today is the day South Carolina law makers will vote to (hopefully) remove the Confederate Flag from State House grounds. This cannot come soon enough.

As a native of South Carolina and Columbia, I have driven past the State House many times and seen the flag flying both above on the dome and below on the ground. It never ceases to disgust and anger me. There is no doubt in my mind the flag represents hatred, promotes racism, and is a painful reminder of a shameful past.

Yes, some claim it is a relic of history, a story of heritage, but is that the heritage we want to celebrate? Admittedly, many Christians, blinded by their own cultural narrative, twisted the Bible to suit their desires – and this was done to their own detriment.

If we claim Christ, we must let his words speak for us. Our ancestral narrative does not trump our narrative in Christ. When one member of the body suffers, we all suffer – regardless of our physical bloodlines.

We must continue to move beyond symbols and move to action. We must speak up when we hear racism, even seemingly benign, in conversation. We must advocate against the alarmingly high incarceration rates among black men. We must not mistake our situational advantages resulting from our zip code of birth for merit, reward, or favor. We must stand against unjust systems even when we are unknowingly the beneficiary of the systems.

The same fervor that drives us to fight for the rights of unborn children should drive us to stand alongside and fight for our African-American brothers and sisters. Symbols are powerful – just ask any Christian with a cross hanging around his/her neck.

If we want to remember our heritage, let’s remember our heritage in Christ; the shame, scorn, and humiliation that comes from hanging on a thief’s cross. Let’s claim the murderers, adulterers, poor, and outcast as our own. The unwanted, foolish, and illiterate are our friends. The orphans and widows are our family.

We don’t celebrate that which hurts our own. It’s time to remove a flag that hurts many and helps none.

Love Wins.

In writing this piece, I know I will disappoint, frustrate and anger many people. Still, I hope you find compassion and love here. I am not writing for those who agree with me, I already know your thoughts, but for those who disagree. You’re probably busy celebrating right now – a sensible response, but maybe you’ll take the time to reflect with me.

Today marks a historic day for the United States of America. Today, our Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, voted to forbid states from banning same-sex marriage. It is a rare treat to be a part of memorable history. We know our children’s children will learn this date in school. The implications of our actions will be felt long after we are gone. Today, we belong to something greater than ourselves.

We know the Court’s function is to uphold and represent the original intentions of the Constitution. But how can you uphold an intent that was never conceived? The justices have the unenviable task of wading these waters on a regular basis, and not just with regard to same-sex marriage. Like everyone, they are subject to their cultural, historical, educational, familial and other biases. The decision today is, in my opinion, more a reflection of modern culture than an attempt to uphold historical intentions. Popular opinion is a fickle mistress and today she and I disagree.

In reviewing several articles already circulating in the news, one line has struck me again and again. Justice Kennedy, in his majority opinion, stated: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family,” he wrote. “In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”

I agree wholeheartedly with his statement. No union is more profound than marriage. Marriage is the embodiment of the highest ideals. In marital union, two people become something greater than once they were – they become one. Justice Kennedy, we agree.

My question is, however, why? What is so fundamental in marriage, what is the essence, that makes marriage so unique? Why is marriage different than dating?

I cannot fully answer this question myself with a checklist or simple solution. Marriage is a mystery. It is a mysterious reflection of a greater union between Christ and His Bride, the Church. Just like a statue is a reflection of the great man (or woman) who once lived, so marriage is unique because it represents something greater than itself. We don’t remember the statue, we remember who the statue represents.

Marriage is given to us by our Creator and as such, is defined by Him alone. Despite the appearance otherwise, no individual, court, or state can define marriage. In restricting marriage to one man and one woman we represent greater diversity. In marriage we see the full reflection of God – male and female – created in His image.

By limiting marriage to Biblical standards, we are not trying to limit fundamental rights or attempt to crush anyone’s identity. I know that sounds like foolishness, but bear with me. Yes, to those who desire to marry a member of the same sex, I would restrict your freedom. However, all of us operate under some level of restrictions. No parent would argue it is beneficial to place no limits on your child’s desires – even genuine heartfelt desires. However, by maintaining the Biblical view of marriage we continue to affirm the dignity of all, male and female. We affirm each of us is necessary to reflect the full image of God. We teach ourselves that we are not defined solely by our sexual identity. Or any other identity, for that matter. We have an identity that is supreme above all – we are image bearers of God. This identity is not dependent upon our actions, the courts, our desires, or ourselves. It is given to us by virtue of our Creator without any merit on our part.

When we find ourselves frustrated by the limitations on us as created beings, we remember the God who limited his ultimate freedom and restricted himself to become a son of man, a human in all our limitations, to rescue us from our greatest need. We were condemned to death and we have been given a chance for new life through his death on the cross to pay for our sins and his resurrection and defeat of death.

To come back to the initial question, why is marriage unique? What is its essence? Marriage is unique because God made it unique. In unfathomable love, God created a way for traitors, haters, murderers, liars, and bigots to be made right. In doing so, He gave nothing less than Himself. His commitment is demonstrated in part through the mysterious union of a man and a woman coming together in a unique way through which they become greater than themselves.

The essence of marriage is the unwavering, unfaltering, unending commitment of God to his people reflected in the unwavering, unfaltering, unending commitment of one man and one woman to each other through marriage.

Today, our nation disagrees. The beauty of being an American is we can disagree. Those of us who are disappointed must remember our hope lies not in the American court system or with any human power, be they just or unjust, but in the God who will one day make all things right – love will win.

Knowing Your Strengths (when everything changes)

Much like a athletes on a team, each person should know and use their strengths for the benefit of others.

Much like a athletes on a team, each person should know and use their strengths for the benefit of others.

Those of you in the business world or members of Grace Church are probably very familiar with Strengths Finder. I was first introduced to Strengths Finder as an intern at Grace Church in the Summer of 2010. The basic premise is that you should, as much as possible, operate out of your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Rather than focus on improving your weaknesses, the majority of your energy should be spent on maximizing your strengths.

As an athlete, this concept makes so much sense to me. We first learn the “basics” of a sport with everyone playing lots of positions. Then, as the work and skills required become more difficult, we specialize and maximize the specific talents of each individual on the team. Henry Ford’s assembly line manufacturing also took advantage of this principle. Still, it wasn’t until I was almost finished with college that I learned to think about it in terms of my personal and professional life.

I recently took the Strengths Finder test again for work and I was surprised to find 4/5 of my strengths have changed, probably reflective of my seasons of life. I’ve listed my strengths below. Learner was the only crossover (duh, I’m a nerd no matter the situation), but it moved from first to third.

2010 Strengths:

Learner
Achiever
Individualization
Developer
Discipline

2015 Strengths:

Strategic
Relator
Learner
Analytical
Command

Last week, we asked all of the Mill Community Ministry interns to take the test and then we shared our results with the group. We defined strengths as something when you do it, you feel strong. You may be good at it, but if it drains you and makes you weak then it may not be a strength.

Joey Espinosa led our conversation and we talked about how our strengths are to be used first for God’s glory and purposes and second to serve others. When we are aware of our strengths we can actively seek out ways to use them for God’s glory and others’ benefit while also finding people whose strengths match our weaknesses. Together, we are a complex masterpiece reflecting God’s image on humanity.

So what do we do when the game changes? We’re no longer a baseball player, but a soccer player. (You know I’m refraining from making a snide soccer>baseball comment!). Our previous strengths may not be as applicable or we may need other strengths. The risk of knowing too much though, is that we can use our strengths (or lack thereof) as an excuse. It’s not in my gifting, we say. I’m not called to do that; it’s not how God made me. Yet sometimes, we must serve and work outside our strengths knowing God is most present in our weaknesses.

For me, in my new job, this has included thinking a lot about the best way to grow Nasha Lending. The main part of my job is working with entrepreneurs to help them start their businesses, including connecting them to resources (personal and financial). Perhaps this is why strategic and relator are now busting through the top.

Now, more than ever, I’m thankful I have clarity about my strengths, community to bolster my weaknesses, and grace to cover all. After all, my greatest strengths are often also my greatest weaknesses.

Tell Your Story

person standing

My image is a conference room in a sterile office building.

When I think of an image, place, or person that has changed my life, my mind goes back to a conversation in a non-descript conference room when I was 17 years old.

Unbeknownst to me, I was being set up for a great surprise. At the time, I was a little frustrated, confused, and uncertain. I was there to “interview my Dad” about opportunities for high school students to shadow him. Really, I was there to receive a scholarship to a local university.

In the middle of the “interview” a man I didn’t recognize walked in and preceded to offer me a scholarship. I was still confused, but this time for a better reason!

Eventually, I decided to attend this particular university. Unbeknownst to me, it would be one of many decisions I made without realizing the full weight of my decision. Looking back, I see the significance and the opportunities that shifted because of my decision, but at the time it was a fairly neutral decision; do I want chocolate or vanilla ice cream, in-state school or out-of-state?

Today, I can say I would not be the same woman had a made a difference decision after the conference room conversation. My life, my friends, my job, and my passions have all been shaped by my decision. My future will always return to this point (as it does to all points in the past), but this image will always stand out.

For better or worse, my story is a part of me and it makes me who I am today. We all have a story, a moment, a person, or an event that has shaped us. It’s the image you think of when you’re asked What makes you who you are?

For me, the meeting in the office is one of several defining images-some good (like a scholarship) some not so good. Regardless, the good, the bad, and the ugly are all a part of a larger fabric of who we are becoming.

What’s your story? Why do you do what you do every day? How can you use your story to make an impact through your business or hobby for someone else?

The Struggle of Almost

rob-looking-up-at-mountainWe’re almost there.

I almost have a strict pull up.

We’re almost ready to compete.

I’m almost certain I know the answer.

I’m almost ready to buy a house.

The struggle of the almost. Right now, most of my life feels like almost. I haven’t yet arrived, but it seems close enough; at least close enough to keep me simultaneously frustrated and hopeful. My soccer team is almost ready to play with the big dogs. My reading goals are almost complete. I have almost attained a strict pull up. I’m almost ready to buy a house.

On good days, almost is encouraging. Almost reminds me how far I’ve come. Almost tells me these goals and dreams were big enough and worthy of pursuit.

On bad days, almost is hopeless. Almost reminds me I’m not there yet. Almost tells me I’ll never be good enough. Almost whispers and shouts my fears and inadequacies until I can’t take it anymore.

On good days and bad, almost focuses on me. How do I measure up? How am I performing? What skills and talents do I need to leverage? Who approves of me?

The lie of the almost is the belief that it ends. When we live our lives focused on ourselves and our strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments, and failures then we will never measure up. We will never arrive. We will never have all of the answers.

I think what I, and we, am chasing is shalom. The deep and abiding wholeness that can only come from God. Success, balance, and accomplishments are mere shadows of the rest and satisfaction resulting from satisfaction in God.

I love goals. I love achieving “things” and I will continue to set big goals for myself and work to achieve them. I would still go so far as to say I need goals to live a healthy life. However, I must be willing to live in the almost because I know that is where God reveals Himself abundantly sufficient. Though the sorrows may last for the night, joy comes in the almost. Or something like that.

Almost reminds me I am inadequate. I am weak. I do not measure up. God tells me he is sufficient. He is strong. He is perfect. My almost is his already done.

We Won!

mia-hamm-vision-of-a-championPreviously I wrote about my response after a loss. I was coaching my high school soccer team and we lost to a talented opponent. It hurt. We were disappointed. I wanted the outcome to be different. We played the same team again last Friday and. we. won.

We, the underdogs, won! Before the game we talked about sacrifice, perseverance, and not giving up. We talked about fighting for each other and not with each other. I told the girls it would be hard, but the reward of beating the #2 team in the State would be worth it.

The girls fought with every ounce of strength and skill they possessed and it paid off. However, though the game was technically won on the pitch over 90 minutes, the real game was won on the practice field. Each and every day at practice over the past few weeks the girls worked hard. The left practice sore, bruised, and tired. Girls who never saw a minute on the playing field fought hard in practice and in doing so, made our team better.

In life, we will have big moments. Game changers. We will have seasons of all out fighting and battle, but the real game is won day in and day out when there is seemingly little at stake.

The vision of a champion is bent over, drenched in sweat, to the point of exhaustion, when no one else is looking – Mia Hamm

During practices we worked on the fundamentals of the game – defending, passing, transitioning. When the game came and exhaustion set in, our fundamentals held strong and enabled us to keep fighting beyond what we believed was possible.

What are your fundamentals? What can you work on now, to prepare you for the big game?

Winning against the #2 team in the state required more than we thought we were capable of giving. Even with our preparation in practice, we were tired and weary. Today, we face our next opponent. The grind doesn’t end after victory, but we’re a little stronger, a little wiser, and a little more battle tested for the next round.

Leave No Doubt.

Two players imitating Madei and me as Coaches - sunglasses and all. How could you not want to support those faces?!?!

Two players imitating Madei and me as Coaches – sunglasses and all. How could you not want to support those faces?!?!

We stepped onto the field undefeated. This was our home turf. Our house. Our game. We were playing one of our rivals, a team we barely beat 3-2 the last time we played. Before the game I reminded the girls of our goals for the season, many of which we already accomplished. Still, our task in front of us seemed large and difficult. Our opponent recently took the defending state champions to double overtime. I challenged our girls to leave no doubt. Leave no doubt about the previous win. Leave no doubt that you deserve your playoff spot. Leave no doubt that you are a force to be reckoned with.

The final score was 5-0. Leave no doubt. I can honestly say this was the best I’ve ever seen them play. Each and every girl left everything on the field and she rose to the challenge with determination, poise, and panache. Before the game, I told our leading goal scorer I may need her to fill in at defense because one of our starters was out with a concussion. I thought she would be disappointed, but not only was she OK with it, but she said she wanted to do whatever it took to help the team.

This kind of attitude is typical of the girls on the team. Each of them has put their heart and soul into practice and games. They care for one another and genuinely want the best for each other. I’ve been on many teams in my life and there are few teams that are truly family. This team is one of them, I think.

As a coach, it is great to see the girls fighting for one another instead of at one another. It is exciting to think of possibilities and dream big – yes, I’m already dreaming of a state championship 🙂 We have seniors on the team who don’t start and yet they encourage and are genuinely proud of the underclassmen; not an easy task for an 18 year old to manage.

We have secured our spot in the playoffs and thus fulfilled one of our big goals for the season. Now, it’s time to dream big and challenge ourselves to defy expectations.

I want to get playoff t-shirts for our girls. This is the first year our program has made it this far. In fact, 2 years ago we only won 1 region game all year. We didn’t plan for it in our budget so we need to raise the money. The girls and boys have already fundraised over $5,000 for the program so this on is on me. If you want to be a part of greatness and support GMC Women’s Soccer then let me know and I can get a check from you. If your business wants to donate we can put your logo on the shirts too.

Go Blazers!

Success, Failure, and a New Perspective

20150202_163943Those of you who are regular readers may remember my post about my goals for the year. In addition to yearly goals, I also made smaller, monthly goals for myself. I started the year strong, making my bed every day in January and continuing the habit so far. February was a bust; my goal to solve a Rubik’s cube never got started. I still do not even own a Rubik’s cube. March was a mix. My goal was to memorize 3 sequential chapters of Scripture. I memorized 2, the first two chapters of the book of James.

Around the same time my church was starting a series on James and I’ve always loved the simplicity of James’ writing, even if the living it out part is a good bit more difficult, so memorizing the book seemed like an interesting way to engage with the sermon in a new way.

Memorizing the first chapter proved pretty easy, my brain was not yet stretched to capacity, but each set of new verses proved a little more difficult. I got a little discouraged when I realized my memorization wasn’t coming as easily, but then I was reminded why I’m doing this in the first place.

My motivation for memorizing Scripture is not to be merely a smarter sinner, but a more repentant believer. In challenging myself to memorizing Scripture I am giving myself set time each day to spend with God – a value infinitely more valuable than any rote memorization. Gaining this clarity made me OK with not memorizing all 3 chapters, even if the achiever side of me hates not finishing a task.

As a list maker, even my time with God can become part of my routine; merely a discipline instead of a relationship. I’m easily tempted to become a hearer and not a doer, just like James says. I can learn Scripture, quote it to help others, and never let it transform me. I need grace every day, even (especially) for my good deeds.

Don’t just be hearers of the word and so deceive yourselves, but be doers of the word also. James 1:22

7 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Graduated

F-30-fun forever.

F-30-fun forever.

Graduation season is fast approaching and soon thousands of teens and young twenties will be moving into a new phase to make their life on the world. I think I’ve now moved from the “recent grad” to the “real adult” category and I’m pretty sure that happened when I turned 25. So, for all you recent high school and college grads, here’s a few lessons I wish I knew before I entered the real world

  1. Save up for wedding gifts. If you have any friends at all, you should start saving now for wedding/shower/baby gifts. Seriously, even if you’re still in high school. Let’s say you’re invited to 2 showers and the wedding. That’s 3 gifts and you’ll probably spend a minimum of $2o on each. Triple all expenses if you’re in the wedding then double it again.
  2. Get a credit card. Yes, everyone tells you to stay away from credit cards. However, if you don’t have any credit to your name then you will have to put an extra deposit on things like utilities. Nothing like a surprise $200 payment to get your water turned on – not. The need for credit is one instance where doing it “right” doesn’t pay off. Sometimes you have to play the system to win the game. This is even more true when you go to buy a car and especially a house down the road.
  3. Hang pictures. I am notoriously late in hanging pictures and designing a space, especially if I know I won’t be there long. Don’t follow my example. A few pictures, fresh paint, and a rug make coming home from a long day at work a lot more refreshing. Take one weekend in the first month you move into a new place and paint and hang pictures – preferably in that order.
  4. Learn your rights as a renter. If you’re fresh out of college or high school, chances are you won’t be buying a house right away. There are great place, terrible places, and lots of places in between. As the saying goes, if it’s too good to be true then it probably is. However, between the scams and great locations are also lazy and/or incompetent landlords. You hope you have a good landlord, but it’s hard to know ahead of time. In these cases, it’s good to know your rights and be prepared to stick up for them if push comes to shove. I’ve had landlords try to get out of doing necessary repairs or reimbursing for expenses until I showed I clearly knew my rights.
  5. Local Church. Finding a local church can be one of the hardest aspects of moving to a new city. When I was a Senior in high school I decided to switch churches. Unintentionally, this gave me a chance to check out churches while still having the safety of a “fall back church.” When I moved to go to college, I had more confidence in my ability to find a church for me and I knew the kind of church I was looking for. If possible, start looking up churches online before you move and talking to people in the area. This will give you a leg up a potentially frustrating process.
  6. Student Loans. If at all possible, avoid large student loans. Your experience at college is largely what you make of it – big school, small school, in-state, out-of-state probably won’t make a huge difference in the long run. Paying for student loans for 30 years can seriously impact your quality of life for many years. Be willing to reconsider the dream for reality. Think long term, not just short term. Is the perfect college really worth $200,000 of debt when you graduate if you will likely be making less than $30,000 a year?
  7. Friendships. Going to college means living with your best friends for 4 years. Graduating college means navigating the adult world and trying to squeeze in Friends marathons while also working 9-5, grocery shopping, and working out. When I first graduated, I was frustrated with myself because I thought I wasn’t being a good friend if I didn’t hang out with my friends several times a week. I have since learned that adult friendships are different and being a good friend is as much about intentionality as quantity of time. Also, adult friendships take time. Gone are the days when you become instant besties over theme parties and 2am Waffle House runs. You will probably be a little lonely when you graduate college, but it does get better.

If you’ve graduated recently, what else would you add to the list?