Follow by Email

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Wearing your faith

As a conservative Christian who often wears skirts, I get asked a lot of these kinds of questions from strangers: "Are you Mennonite?"  "What church do you go to?"
In fact, one time an older man in Costco asked me this same sequence of questions and I had to tell him more than once that I am not Mennonite and that I attend a nondenominational community church.  He eventually turned away and mumbled something like "I still think you're Mennonite."

I left the situation laughing and thinking "I'm pretty sure I would know!"
Against popular opinion, skirts don't prevent adventure
Anyone wearing a skirt/dress of any length worth mentioning is bound to get asked these questions at some point, so I suggest letting it contribute comedy rather than offense.  (It really is a lot more fun that way!)

The world (let alone the Christian world) holds many different perspectives on modesty.  A lot of people assume that traditionally-known conservative dress is the same as "frumpy" and "unfashionable."  I don't know about you, but being classified under these labels does not really appeal to me.  My desire to dress modestly is equaled by a desire to appear professional and to prove that style and modesty can come together.
I absolutely do think that being mindful of style is appropriate and valuable.  As Christians, we've agreed to turn our bodies into God's temple.  The physical temple building in the Bible is never described as dingy, careless, or unattractive, and I don't think God wants us to be that way either.

What does it mean to dress modestly?  Does it matter?

I actually had no intention of ever blogging on this topic.  It's scary.  It's controversial.  It feels judgmental.  But I've noticed a trend among the modesty topic; this trend approaches modesty with the idea that (1) skirts are the answer to the modesty question and (2) here are all the Bible verses that should convince you.  While I think there is some validity and logic in both of those approaches, I don't think this always communicates well because it can come across as condemning.  Although I wear skirts most of the time, I am not the person who is going to suggest taking all your pants to Goodwill and replacing them with a closet full of skirts. (I wear pants on occasion and find them rather comfortable.)  In fact, I'm not even going to use Bible verses addressing modesty to prove how you should dress.  Hopefully thinking about this controversial topic from a different angle will help you practically view your motives and pursuits.

1. The way you dress provides you with an immediate reputation.  Yes, sometimes that reputation is of a Mennonite (or something with similar characteristics), but that's not the reputation I'm talking about.  I mean that the way I dress is an unspoken way of saying "I am a Christian and I take my faith seriously."  And people actually respect that!  They may not always understand it, but I've noticed that I often receive immediate respect simply by the way I dress - even from total strangers in stores.  I can't tell you how many times I have been stopped by a stranger and told, "thank you for dressing the way you do."  People appreciate and notice it more than you realize, and that's my opportunity to wear my faith out loud.  (I believe this can be done with pants as well as skirts.)  So how does your dress affect your reputation?  Does your dress speak of Christ?

2. What attention are you looking for by the way you dress?  Sometimes we don't even think about how our dress is tied to the attention we receive, but it is!  The way we dress can gather 3 types of attention:
  • The world's artificial stamp of "you belong" 
  • Apparel that comes across as careless, making the Gospel itself unattractive
  • A balance between the two that communicates that appearing well-dressed is just as important as that reputation that speaks of Christ.
It is very tempting to want the world's attention and approval.  We want to fit in and be "cool."  But God doesn't tell us, "Go blend in as much as possible!"  His calling is to be different--to not be driven by all the world's fads.  (Romans 12:2, 1 John 2:15-17)  So I encourage you to take a look at yourself and ask, "Who's attention is most important to me?"
Skirts are not the only answer to dressing modestly!

As you consider the attention that you want to receive from the clothes you choose to wear, remember also that you are accountable to a holy God.  Would you feel comfortable in His presence?  It may seem that God will have bigger things to think about when you meet Him face to face, but I think even this area of life is important to be aware of because it can be closely connected to what your heart motives are.  God's presence is holy, and His calling for us is to walk in His holiness. (1 Peter 1:15, 16)

So I challenge you to think intentionally about the clothes you wear and how they relate to glorifying a worthy God.  And if you already consider your apparel modest, don't have a judgmental attitude toward those with different standards than you.  Follow God's calling in your own life and trust that He will work in each of His children as He sees fit.

"Don't shine so that others see you....shine so that through you, others see HIM."

(For other sources, I highly recommend Growing Up Duggar, which has a lot of great insights about modesty, parenting, and more from a helpful, conservative perspective.)

Monday, December 31, 2018

2018: Major Changes

Around this time in the year I usually pull out my journals and start flipping through very detailed accounts of nearly every day of the year, reading of little spontaneous happenings I had long forgotten and of big events that shaped the year.
But not this year.
During freshman year of college my journal's dates drifted farther apart, and I gradually walked away from my journal altogether after an almost daily streak of over 3 years.  It felt like both freedom and a loss.  Well, even without pages of history proving it to be so, 2018 has been blessed and land-marked with many changes.  And I guess I just want to take a minute to tell you the highlights of this year because God has worked in every part and shown me that He is incredibly faithful even when I start to doubt.

Last year's Christmas break came to an abrupt end when I returned to the SeaTac airport for my flight back to Bob Jones University.  To be honest, flying across the country to live 4 more months of life in a dorm wasn't really my ideal way to start out the year, but I didn't even know what my ideal did look like.  Walking back into my dorm on a rainy, dark January night for the first time in a month and receiving joyful greetings from so many sweet girls I'd learned to love and live alongside was just the beginning of learning that God had many wonderful surprises awaiting me in my return, though.
Within the first week I ran into a classmate from the previous semester, and we at last decided that God must have been crossing our paths so many times for a reason.  She became a life-saver in many ways from then on as we studied together, became accountability partners, ate breakfast together almost every morning, took walks downtown, ate pot pie in the dorm hall, and many other things.

I was also provided with a couple of other wonderful friends who started "Wednesday's with Sharon"--a weekly dinner together to vent on anything and laugh about everything.  These dinners of mandatory chocolate milk and anything other than salad were likely the most laugh-filled meals of all.  I think we spent more time talking about hypothetical post-graduation plans than anything else.

For spring break, God answered prayers in bringing my mom and Tirzah out to Greenville to spend much-needed time together.  At that time "our" house back home had just been put on the market, which meant that being together to process what that meant for us was really valuable. My cousins so graciously hosted us, and we had possibly the most relaxing, lazy week I have ever experienced as preparation for launching back into the final weeks of school before returning to Washington.

As an end-of-semester bang, my cousins treated me to a day out in Charleston, which was the first time the Atlantic Ocean and I had seen each other all year.  It was quite a day of touring with a look at the Angel Oak Tree, a ferry ride to Fort Sumter, an introduction to Rainbow Row, and more.  These family-turned-friends were a huge part of God pouring love into my life when I most needed it.

Finals week was a rush of events, including packing up my room, studying, and saying goodbyes.  Tirzah flew out to join me in the drive home; and as I crossed state lines out of South Carolina, the goodbyes felt very real.  It was clear that God had planted so many wonderful people in my Bob Jones life, right down to my hall RA.  A lot of growing had happened in my first year as a college student, and driving away from it told me that I would miss the people and environment of the university I had learned to be proud of.

The four-day drive across the country felt astonishingly short...I think I have done this drive too many times.  Tirzah and I got to surprise a friend for her college graduation along the way as well as reconnect with a few family friends who very generously hosted us each night.  Thankfully the drive was relatively uneventful and God answered many, many prayers for safety.  Arriving home on May 8th was probably the most emotional day I could have chosen, but I think visiting my dad's grave would've been a top priority no matter the date.

The first month of being home was rather hectic as we packed up our home and moved yet again with the incredible help of many friends and neighbors. This move definitely confirmed that God has surrounded our lives with wonderful, giving people whom we can never adequately repay.  God has been using these past few months following the move to continue stretching our faith (and patience) as we wait on Him for answers concerning more permanent housing, but we are so, so thankful for the sacrifices made by such giving friends in our current living situation.

The fall months were crazy ones (yes, probably even more so than moving month) with several different events colliding in a short amount of time.  Keren's September wedding was closely followed by the arrival of another niece and 2 nephews into the family!  Being an aunt 3 times in a row and welcoming twins into the family has been a very happy experience to say the least.

Hannah got to fly in for our first sight of each other in over a year as part of our recovery program from all the other events of the month. 😉 Amidst all of the other busy events that took us away from home for much of September, it felt great to have an excuse to stay home and enjoy one of my favorite people.  10 blissful days together passed all too quickly, but our time together was a wonderful re-connection that goes deeper than letters and texts. 

Tirzah and I have also had the opportunity to spend concentrated time on a few different occasions with 3 of my other favorite people in the past few months.  Between kayaking on the canal, wandering Costco, and playing games at home, the 5 of us become a wild squad when we are together.  I am so blessed to have them close enough to enjoy multiple days and events together throughout the year.  These are each people that God has used to add happiness and depth to my life and to teach me how to be a real friend.

The housekeeping business that Tirzah and I began almost 4 years ago is going stronger than ever as we add more clients and enjoy the many rewards of our jobs.  We also included tutoring a home-school family to our weekly work schedule, which has been a wonderful and challenging experience for both of us.  I think I am learning more than my "students" as I discover how to teach effectively.

When it comes to college, "major changes" becomes very literal.  A series of encounters between last December and this summer prompted me to very seriously reconsider pursuing elementary education.  While my original degree choice felt "safe," a lot of prayer and research revealed that speech therapy felt like more of a passion.  As scary as it feels sometimes, I am now actively pursuing a degree in speech therapy online.  I have loved seeing how God has planted people and situations in my life to help make this decision, and I believe He has something incredible in mind in my future career path.

If I looked at this past year strictly through my own lens, I would see a combination of great stuff and of hard changes ("bad" stuff) that I wouldn't have chosen.  But if I choose to use God's lens, I can see a year packed with adventures and opportunities to hand Him control.  I guess this is what makes this year so good: God filled me up with opportunities to trust that every big and little event ties in to creating a life He wants to be perfectly right for me. 
In what events of 2018 have you seen God write your story and provide for your needs?
I wonder what kinds of things next year will hold, but "tomorrow (or next year) is always fresh with no mistakes in it...yet"  (Anne of Green Gables).  So here comes a whole year with 365 days of new adventures, and I hope you experience some of the best.  🎉🎉 

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Going the extra mile: writing a younger generation

I was a horrific letter-writer with miserable handwriting and pathetic writing skills.  My questions were almost entirely limited to "what is your favorite _____?" and I highly doubt that my writing style was enjoyable to read in a cozy armchair with a cup of tea in hand.  The childhood me had no idea how to appropriately entertain and inform in a letter.  Yet my cringe-worthy letters kept producing an impressive result of letters in reply that were humorous and newsy.  What was I doing right?
It wasn't what I was doing at all.

Let me tell you about a few people who lit up my life when I was a kid.  Somehow I was fortunate enough to have 4 or 5 young adults as pen-pals when I was going through my awkward letter writing phase (it was a long phase).   These girls kept up with me for many years, sent me pictures, consistently wrote me lengthy letters, and mailed packages or called on my birthday.  Many of these people lived out of state and rarely saw me; a couple of them had never actually met me personally, but they knew my family.  I adored them.  Now that I am an adult, I realize that they were actually giving me a gift every single time they wrote.  They certainly didn't keep up this streak because my letters were equally enjoyable to them!
I lost contact with most of these pen-pals when they each entered new phases of life, but they all remain a special memory from my childhood.  Why?  Because they made an insignificant kid feel like someone super special over and over again.

These past pen-pals are my inspiration.  As a young adult with an opportunity to pass on this gift to a younger generation, it's really an honor to be a "second generation mailbox delight."  The simple act of an occasional letter to someone who needs an adult's attention turns into an opportunity to be a mentor, a friend, and a role model.

However, there is no doubt that it's so much harder to write a letter when there is a large age span between you and the recipient.  This is something that I still struggle with because there is a gentle balance between writing at their level and not making them feel that you are dumbing-down language and concepts.  If you ever feel inspired to write a letter to someone younger, you might want to try out some of these tips:

1. Show interest in their lives.  Ask them questions, and be as specific as possible.  If you know anything about their recent life, ask questions like "what was your favorite thing about _____?"  If you don't know anything about the latest happenings, try to pick something seasonal to ask about, such as "what is your favorite Thanksgiving dish?" or "what did your family do for Thanksgiving?"  I find that these kinds of questions are easier than "what have you been up to?" for a younger audience because it helps direct their mental flow of thought.

2. Practice writing colorfully.  Children are a wonderful outlet for practicing writing with humor and intense interest.  One particular adult pen-pal of mine was extremely colorful and hilarious in her writing.  I loved her letters because they inspired me to be a better writer and to think from a new perspective, and I find myself still attempting to write the way she did.  She probably has no idea that the thought of her letters still makes me smile and they continue to inspire me many years later just because she put a lot of personality into her writing.

3. Pick unique topics from your own life to write about.  Just like a letter to a person of your own age, you want to include some newsy things about your life so that the recipient can get to know you.  This is a little more difficult for a young person, though, because more "exciting" events will be of particular interest.  If there isn't anything of recent or upcoming news that is childishly exciting in my life, then I get to make something routine sound exciting.  Or recall a small anecdote that brightened an otherwise dull routine.  This is a great opportunity to turn the every day into a colorful experience so that it will draw their young minds in to the action and fun...even when it seems like there isn't any.

4. For a Christian writing to a younger Christian, letters to younger people also provide a great opportunity to be a spiritual mentor.  While your audience will not share your level of maturity, discussing something you are learning or memorizing will encourage them in their spiritual journey.  In the event that you have created a solid relationship of trust and friendship through letters, sharing the spiritual side of life will communicate that being spiritually minded is "cool."  Just like I have always wanted to write with personality like my past pen-pal, young people tend to want to be like the adult mentor/friend that they have; including pieces of the spiritual could motivate them to be more active in pursuing their faith.

It is really humbling and exciting to think that simply keeping up letter communication with a young, eager friend could actually make a lifetime difference, even if it does demand some extra time and effort from my schedule.  It is so worth it in order to make their lives a more wonderful experience.
With Christmas fast approaching, I would really encourage you to consider giving the gift of going an extra mile of reaching out and choosing at least one younger person with whom to correspond.  Think of it as an investment of the best kind.  Try it.  You might find out that it encourages you in return.