Under Construction

“Almost all of the really beautiful, profound things God is going to do in your life are going to take place over a long period of time, through a lot of ordinary.”
– Matt Chandler

Since I’ve lived in New York State my whole life, I, like all true upstaters, am immensely adept at complaining about the cold, bleak winter that darkens about six months of the year (give or take). It’s a point of solidarity among New Yorkers, something that you can reference to a complete stranger and likely receive an earful on.

However, I don’t actually hate winter. I grew up right outside the snow belt and a recipient of Lake Effect Snow, so winter is like an old familiar friend to me. I enjoy how muted and fresh the world looks under a fresh blanket of snow. I like to ski. I like to sip hot chocolate, curl up next to a fireplace and immerse myself in a book. I like wool socks, scarves, and cardigans.

Yet, in spite of all that, this year I needed it to be spring in a way I haven’t previously. It has been a long, dark, cold few months in my personal life. I am sick of the outdoors reflecting my inward state.

I am ready for growth.

“For a seed to achieve its greatest expression, it must come completely undone. The shell cracks. Its insides come out and everything changes. To someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.”
– Cynthia Occelli

To be clear, I am not intimidated by winter – both inwardly or outwardly.

As someone who struggles with depression, the seasons serve as a source of continual personal encouragement to me. The seasons are a tangible reminder that change can be beautiful and that everything is impermanent. I am not going to get perpetually stuck in the winter months. Spring will come. Beauty will burst forth, and I will reap what I’ve sown. And, I’m certainly not scared of struggling. Shaming struggling is a facade. Everyone struggles; there’s no reason for shame. Thus it’s a facade I refuse to participate in.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I am relieved that it’s finally spring.

“In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.

And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back.”
– Albert Camus


Was it Necessary to Do It?

I tell you that ant is very alive!
Look at how he fusses at being stepped on.
–  Mary Oliver

Even my church building has been a source of ready encouragement to me.

About a year ago, the church that I attend, Goodwill – New Paltz, finally had the privilege of opening the doors of its permanent location for the very first time. Together, we rejoiced as a church, as this is something we had been praying for consistently for the better part of a year and a half. Previously, we had been meeting in the Community Center in town, which, though accommodating, presented its own unique set of challenges. Fellowship was significantly hampered after church due to the fact other groups also used the building and we had to vacate the premises by a certain time. Not to mention the extraordinary outside effort and time it took each week to completely set up and tear down all of the chairs, tables and instruments required for both services.

And, not only did we finally have a permanent location, but the building that my church gets to call its home is, by no exaggeration, one of the most historically significant buildings in the Village of New Paltz. (Interestingly, though the building itself dates back to the Civil War era, my church was founded in 1729 – prior to the American Revolution.)

Feeding the 5000: Transforming a Steakhouse into a Church

The building that now houses my church has traditionally been at the center of the culture and hubbub of community activities. (Coincidence? I think not. God is good.) In fact, in 2004, the building was officially declared a landmark by the New Paltz Village Historic Preservation Commission. The two-story, 3,200 square foot brick building that sits on the corner of North Chestnut Street was initially built as a Village Hall in in 1864. However, it has worn a variety of titles throughout its history. It has been a traditional theatre and a “moving-pictures theater” on multiple occasions, (usually both at the same time,) as well as an Opera House, Community Center, and various restaurants. It has also housed a hardware store, a school of ballet, a barber shop, and a shoe repair shop. It has even briefly housed residents! It has hosted everything from basketball games to barn dances.

Pastor Josh has remarked on numerous occasions that: “To know that we get to be the stewards of this jewel of New Paltz – to me, the most iconic building in the Village – comes with a sense of great joy and great responsibility.”

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Stupidly excited. God is moving in New Paltz, and it’s a privilege to be a part of that.

Turning a restaurant into a church is no small feat, however. Thus, for the better part of the first few months that we occupied it as a church, it was in a state of obvious construction. At this point, everything that is left to do is primarily cosmetic, but there was something very cool about worshipping God in a space that was still in the process of realizing its full potential.

After all, aren’t we all in a state of perpetual construction before Him?

“We, in Communion with Jesus Christ are a Community of friends and families who love and trust Him and passionately pursue the Christ-like Character essential to fulfill our Commission to change our lives and world for Him.”
(Goodwill’s purpose and identity statement)

We live in a society that rewards and celebrates the “big things” – starring in a play, releasing a single on iTunes, getting a metal at the Olympics. Social media has only contributed to this propensity to play into the highlight reel of our lives. But what’s not seen by the masses is the hours of rehearsal, the voice lessons, the frustrations, and years of daily pushing the physical limits that led up to each of these individual successes.

What’s not seen by a visitor of Upstate New York in the spring is the winter that proceeded it. What’s not seen by a visitor of my church now is spackle behind the painted walls; the long days put in by Doug Jeffries and many unnamed others to transform a restaurant into a functional church.

We need to stop waking up and waiting for something wonderful to happen. We are that something wonderful. Let’s make it happen.

“Wrong will be right when Aslan comes in sight.
At the sound of His roar, sorrows will be no more.
When He bares His teeth, winter meets its death,
And when He shakes His mane, we shall have spring again.”
– C.S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe


Where, oh death, is your victory?
Where, oh death, is your sting?
The sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory 
through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:55-57

One of my least favorite phrases that has wormed its way into the Christian vernacular is: “God gives His hardest battles to His strongest soldiers.” (It’s right up there with: “God helps a man who helps himself.” Gag me.)

I detest this cliché for a myriad of reasons. First of all, it’s not Biblically grounded. It completely

  1. Disregards that the only way any of us stand a chance in battle is because of Who God is, not because of who we are. Please. Let’s not get presumptuously cocky. (I don’t know about you, but pride is never something that my Bible speaks of highly. But maybe you have a different translation?)
  2. Ignores how someone becomes a “strong soldier.” As aforementioned, just like most success, becoming a soldier is preceded and continued by a string of minute decisions daily, small, uncelebrated, and sometimes even unnoticed acts of obedience.

To be entirely transparent, I have often longed that the battles that God has given me to face and carry – my brother’s stillbirth, Nancy’s untimely passing, my depression – could be re-gifted to some other soldier. Not that I would ever wish sorrow on anyone else. But at the same time, I whine at God, why me?

I often get FOMO amongst my peers. Many of my friends my age have graduated college at this point, and are either in grad school or beginning their careers, getting married, or starting a family. I’m still struggling to keep my plants alive, and am not even yet settled enough somewhere to get a pet. My plans have been written and re-written over the course of the last few years, as what I want has changed, and I’ve been forced to take time off of school for the sake of my mental health (I’m actually on a leave of absence from school right now.)

In a way, experiencing grief so young feels like I got robbed of what remained of my youth, and was catapulted into adulthood without my consent or even any sort of warning. I was a senior in high school when Nancy died, on the cusp of finally experiencing the “best years of my life:” getting to discover who I was apart from my parents and hometown, and make irresponsible decisions without remorse. (I may have done that last thing anyway.)

I have often told God that if He wanted to place the calling He has on my life on someone else’s life, I’d be cool with it. (I’m not yet sure what He’s calling me to, but He has made it abundantly clear to me that He has work for me to do.) Because, the paradox of all of this is that “to much is given, much is required” (Luke 12:48).

I have been given much, therefore much is required of me.

I personally would rather lie low. I’m rather fond of my bed. I’d be okay with just sliding by, unnoticed and uncelebrated, leading a “normal” life with “normal” activities. Unfortunately, that is just not accessible to me. God wants (and even demands) more for (and of) me.

So in trusting Him, I’m striving to celebrate the ordinary: this season of harrowing internal construction, even if it doesn’t look exactly how I had imagined or how I would have preferred. Fortunately, weather* it’s spring or winter, my Jesus is consistent in all seasons, and the gospel only gets sweeter with time.

“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is your life appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory.”
Colossians 3:2-4, emphasis mine

*entirely intentional.

 

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Celebrating the Struggle: The ‘Already’ and the ‘Not Yet’

Reeling in “get tos.”

Throughout my lifetime I have had many people tell me that they look up to me – especially in recent years. They mean that figuratively, of course. (In the literal sense, I obviously look up to everyone.)

It is always immensely gratifying and humbling to be told that. However, what a lot of people don’t realize is that the attributes that they admire – “my” strength, “my” wisdom, “my” resilience – are attributes that have been borne of grief and pain. They are a direct result of what I’ve walked through and the faithfulness of my God in the midst of my pain. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the product of what they see in the day to day – the poise with which I’m able to carry myself and the things I’m able to accomplish – is the product of many lonely nights spent weeping and crying out to God, many days of just going through the motions, many days of making microscopic decisions of obedience in faith, even when I didn’t feel like it. It has not all been glorious or beautiful. In fact, more has probably been gruesome than beautiful or noteworthy. I actually am of the opinion that I look quite hideous when I cry.

I’m not sharing this to proclaim how “amazing” I am and toot my own horn, but rather to display the incredible faithfulness of my God. I know how often I’ve felt alone or even diminished by my struggle with grief and depression. Ironically, it seems to be a self-fulfilling prophesy. In my experience it’s been all too easy to withdraw from people and isolate myself – which means it’s pretty easy to convince myself that I’m all alone and that no one understands because no one else is struggling the way I am. And how easy it would be for that perspective to remain unchallenged if I isolated myself and didn’t allow for others to speak truth into my life. Because the fact of the matter is that I’m not alone. Others are struggling and hurting. But unless you’re honest with yourself first, you can’t be honest with others. And it took me a longer time than I care to admit that I was struggling, because honestly, I’m a prideful person. I like being okay and pulling myself up by my own bootstraps (isn’t that the American Dream?)

Asking for help felt like admitting defeat. 

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As it would turn out, I was just admitting that I was human. 

It has been a rough few semesters for me. I had to take some incompletes last semester due to how crippling my depression became around the five year anniversary of Nancy’s passing. I’m still in the process of finishing the work. I’ve also had to withdraw from a few classes this semester due to some personal setbacks early on this semester – meaning my college graduation is likely put off by another semester.

I’m tired.

However. I don’t “have to” struggle. I “get to.”

This doesn’t have to be my story. It gets to be. I have a story, not of defeat or failure, but rather one of victory; the story of how a girl was able to still finish college in spite of losing her sister at the onset, due to the faithfulness of her God. So it took her a little longer – so what? All the more time for God to be glorified. After all, as a Christian I don’t fight for victory. I fight from victory. Death is already defeated, and Jesus is risen. I serve a living God.

 “And Lucy felt running through her that deep shiver of gladness which you only get if you are being solemn and still.
– C. S. Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe


“I am increasingly suspicious that laughter and tears are not opposites, but that somehow, in their fullness, the two run into one.”
– Diona Southcott


“There is a kind of happiness and wonder that makes you serious. It is too good to waste on jokes.”
– C. S. Lewis

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Beaver Lodge, Beaver Camp. I’ve spent many hours in worship, quality conversation, prayer and stillness here. 

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them He said: ‘If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow Me cannot be my disciple.'”
Luke 14:25-27

Jesus didn’t “have to” come to earth. He “got to.” He chose love over fear.

If that’s what Jesus did, what other choice do I have? There is no other choice. I get to choose love over fear. As Thomas Merton so eloquently puts it, “Our job is to love people without stopping to inquire whether or not they’re worthy.”

Now, I am in no way Jesus. But I have the privilege of knowing Him. And that changes everything, including my suffering.

Especially my suffering.

To be clear, it doesn’t change the fact that I suffer. Being a Christian is not some get-out-of-jail-free card that acts as a prevention against suffering. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars. In fact, it is just the opposite. It invites it. After all, if you want to look like Jesus, you’re going to get some scars.

As Romans 8:16-17 states:
“The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. And if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with Him in order that we may also be glorified with Him.

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Imperfect yet thankful.

If Christianity prevented suffering, wouldn’t everyone convert? (I mean, it follows right?) However, as my pastor says, Christianity is a terrible religion – because it’s not based on your merit. It’s based entirely on Christ’s merit. Being a Christian is not all sunshine and unicorns. In fact, the gospel is the story of Jesus being nailed to a cross – the most tortuous way that the Romans had devised to kill people. And they were experts at killing people. They thrived on it.

But the story doesn’t end with Jesus dying on the cross. It ends with Him defeating death – the ultimate consequence of sin – by being resurrected back to life.

As Romans 8:18 goes on to say:
“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

My suffering is not the end of my story. It’s the beginning of a tale of God’s eternal glory.

“There is always enough grace for you, Amy.”
-Jarron Widrick

(a reminder from a beloved friend of mine recently that I think everyone needs)

Adventure in Hope

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Last spring, I decided to get a tattoo – partially in memory of Nancy, and partially for my own sake, as a constant personal reminder. I got the words “adventure in hope” written as a permanent reminder and memoriam on my upper left hand shoulder. It was a phrase I had coined upon initially moving to New Paltz, after years of debating how I wanted to honor Nancy. I wanted something simple but meaningful to me – words I would carry with me as a banner going forward in my life, and a reminder of where I came from. I finally settled on the phrase “adventure in hope” for these reasons:

  • I want my life to be an adventure. I want to love boldly, live joyfully, give freely. In truth, I think that my life already is one. I think that loving people unconditionally is the most adventurous thing you will ever do, and is entirely too rare.
  • Also, the term adventure reminds me of the summers I spent serving at Beaver Camp, the place that introduced me to adventure, my previously unexplored capabilities and interests, and my love of ministry.
  • Hope is a concept that became deeply meaningful to me after my mom had a stillbirth between Lorilee and Sadie Mae’s birth. It was then I discovered what a “living hope” meant (1 Peter 1:3-9). In retrospect, I can see how God used that time to prepare me for an even more devastating loss, the death of Nancy. The penmanship of the word hope on my tattoo is written in such a way that is intended to mimic Nancy’s handwriting.
  • But why the phrase “adventure in hope?” Simple. Adventure is both a noun and a verb, and hope is both a noun and a verb. Meaning they’re both things that exist in their own right, but that they’re also things that you can actively do. In my life, I intend for them to be paired together; I intend to adventure in hope. Both in knowing God, and in making Him known. (Yes, my tattoo has a dual meaning.)

The problem with knowing God is that you get a tiny taste of perfection on this side of heaven – in this woefully imperfect world. This longing to be with Christ only increases and makes some days on this fallen earth nothing short of torturous. My heart is broken by this dark, sin-encumbered world, and the despair we’re seeing as a result.

But that’s nothing – as one of my closest friends, Rachel Musteen so succinctly puts it: “God lives in a state of perpetually having His heart stomped on.”

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”
Philippians 1:21-24

“As Christians, we live in the ‘already’ and ‘not yet.'”
– Pastor Joshua Stewart

As I was reminded so boldly at a wedding for two dear friends of mine recently:

“Your ministry matters.”
– Dierdra Moran

You might not know the impact you’re having. But if you’re still on this earth, it is for a purpose. Cling to that truth. And rejoice in it. Your struggle is not in vain or pointless…ever.

I serve an intentional God.

“…all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”
Psalm 139:14bc