Some advice from a 2016 Bride.


Let’s be real, I started pinning wedding things on my Pinterest board way (way, way, way) before Rob and I were even engaged. It was quite a bit of fun too; sharing all your wedding plans and desires with friends and daydreaming about this magical time of pre-wedding bliss. Then. You actually get engaged and the reality hits that half the things you pinned are too expensive, some you just can’t seem to find in real life and the other things you realize that you (and your budget) can easily do without.

This year I got married, was lucky enough to be a Bridesmaid twice and attended 6 weddings overall this summer. So, even though I can’t boast years of wedding planning experience, I think I’ve seen and experienced enough to know some things.

One of the things I realized is that wedding planning is hard. Rob can attest to the fact that it brought us closer but that it also generated a lot of “discussions.” I am all about details and I love organizing, but a wedding is not just any other day. However, it is only the celebration of the marriage and therefore it’s not the grandest of weddings that give way to the grandest of marriages. Thank God! So one of the main things I learned was about not letting this day become the goal. Rob always reminded me of what was ultimately important; this covenant we were getting ready to make to God and each other. Being reminded of that helped me a lot and kept my perspective and anxiety in check.

I mentioned Pinterest earlier because I think that idea of having the “Pinterest perfect wedding” rings true for a lot of us. And if not Pinterest then there’s some other medium we look to for our wedding day #goals. I was on Pinterest looking up ideas for EVERYTHING. And no, this doesn’t end with how I was delivered from the bindings of Pinterest but I did learn to use it for what it was: inspiration. Instead of trying to have a wedding that looked like all the weddings on there. One of the things I noticed and enjoyed from all the weddings over the summer is that they were all different, but yet all such a beautiful reflection of the love between each couple. From a string quartet entrance, to the first dance outside under the West Texas sky, the sweet personal vows read in the sweet barn location, the very fun and upbeat father-daughter dance, the beautiful display of the Texan and German cultures coming together, to the very clever receiving/buffet line, ha! The point is, your wedding does not need to be just like everyone else’s. It should be a celebration and reflection of who you are as a couple. Don’t lose yourselves in the process!

As I talk about the wedding day, I’m reminded that Rob and I almost did not have a wedding. We seriously talked about simply going to the courthouse and doing the deed. That is also a viable option and not one to be put down. Couples choose this option for varying reasons and during wedding planning I was ready to take this route for all those reasons and more. I think there are two things that helped us to make the decision to have a wedding. The first was that although my Mom was ok with whatever we chose to do, she wanted to be here for it. It made sense that if she was going to come all the way to Texas, then we might as well have a celebration. The second thing was brought up by mentor and friend. It was the idea of regretting the decision to not have one. We ultimately decided on what was best for us and I think that’s what couples should do.

Be careful not to allow the stress of this time to permanently damage relationships with friends and family. There are so many decisions to be made and you will make one or two (or all) that may not sit right with someone. That is expected and that is ok. However, plan the day you and your future spouse wants and not do things just to make someone happy. Your friends and family mean well and want the best for your wedding day, so they’ll continue to be supportive when they see how happy you are.

I’m not necessarily traditional. But I’m also not not traditional, if that makes sense. If you google wedding traditions there’ll be thousands of hits talking about that something old, new, borrowed and blue you need to have. If all the traditional things are you then pursue that wholeheartedly, but if that’s not your cup of tea there is no need to force it. I guess I stuck with tradition by walking down the isle in a white dress but I also walked down the isle with my Mom, in a dress I ordered online from Dillard’s, so there’s that.

If you happen to be going through the wedding planning process, congrats and good luck! If you happen to have someone with whom you are close going through said process, good luck!

But seriously, go out and plan (or not plan) the wedding that is best suited for you and your spouse. Don’t allow the details to steal the joy from this truly joyful time. All the while keeping in mind that the celebration is for this beautiful union ordained by a beautiful God, that starts and not ends with your wedding day.

xoxo,

Shaneil.

P.S. It’s such a blessing to have friends and family help and support you through the wedding planning process. Rob and I were grateful to have had just that.

P.S.S. My Bridesmaids are rockstars.

Some thoughts from Cru at Sam Fall Retreat 2016

I was privileged to have spent this past weekend with my Cru at Sam Family. At first I thought, “I am out of college, what do I need to retreat from?” I soon realized how much I had missed this community and how grateful I was for the opportunity to fellowship with them for an entire weekend! This was my 5th Cru Fall Retreat and each of them has impacted me in different ways and I experienced God’s grace throughout the different seasons of life.

We had an awesome speaker, Roderick Barnes, whose delivery of truth was captivating, convicting and full of grace at the same time. The majority of these notes are directly from his talks and others from my own processing of what was shared. The overall theme of his talks was the blessedness of brokenness, and I was a bit skeptical because of how many talks I have heard on this topic. My skepticism soon gave way to intrigue and a desire to delve into these scriptures myself. A speaker who leaves you eager to sit at the feet of Jesus and hear what he says in his Word for yourself? I mean it should not be shocking, but it should be the goal, right? Hashtag goals.

We read Luke 10, verses 38-42 and discussed Martha busy preparing for Jesus and Mary’s choice to simply sit a Jesus’ feet. I mean they were both doing “spiritual things,” what was so wrong about Martha’s actions and why is it we need to strive to be more like Mary? Well, the speaker talked about the idea that Martha welcomed Jesus into her home (which is not inherently a bad thing), but Mary welcomed Jesus in her heart. This can look differently in our own lives but we are essentially missing the same thing. I could spend all my time reading books and commentary, attending and serving in church and different ministries but miss out on the one thing that is necessary: spending time with Jesus. Taking the time to sit at Jesus’ feet and allowing our souls to be filled. This is not easy to do in a world with distractions that compete for our time. Perhaps it means we have to take time from doing things we love, albeit good things, to experience the real joy of who Jesus is.

During our group discussion we looked at Nehemiah 1:1-4, the story of Nehemiah as he wept not only for the physical brokenness of Israel (the wall of Jerusalem coming down), but for their spiritual brokenness (rebellion against God and being in exile). As we looked at Nehemiah’s response to all of this we saw that his heart was broken for Israel, as he prayed, confessed and pleaded to God. As a precursor to my next thought; group discussions are remarkable in the way they allow for us to learn from others. As we talked what brokenness is, Bill used the illustration of a machine that is broken and therefore not functioning as it should. Similarly, in our brokenness we do not operate in light of what we were created for: God’s glory. Wow!

I saw so much of what the blessedness of brokenness means this weekend. Through the speaker’s story and from what I experienced at Women’s time (and what I imagine the guys experienced during their Men’s time). I’ll share only a few thoughts on this as these times were sacred. God does his best work through broken men and women. For the times I thought that having separate Men’s and Women’s time was just for girls to talk about boys and boys to talk about girls, I can admit my lack of wisdom on this. I have come to recognize this time as a beautiful depiction what it means to exist in an authentic community where we get to see and love each others’ heart. Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near the brokenhearted; He saves those crushed in spirit.”

Perhaps the illustration that stood out the most to me, was when Roderick shared about teaching his sons to ride a bike. He likened walking in the power of the Holy Spirit to riding a bike downhill. This illustration stuck with me because it shows how God has equipped us for that which he has called us, similar to how the bike is equipped with brakes for when its purpose is to stop. So we need not be fearful. For by grace he has empowered us with his Holy Spirit to be equipped for good works.

There are many more thoughts I could share from this fall retreat, but I’ll just leave you  with an encouragement to make an effort to be a part of a community of believers. We are not meant to live out this Christian life alone. Fellowship is just another way God shows his care for us, by blessing us with people to love, encourage, comfort and even lovingly and truthfully correct us when we need it.

 

 

 

 

 

Diagnosis

messy hair, coffee, and joy

I have to be honest, I started writing this on Thursday evening on a flight to Charlotte, NC, and while I did pray and ask God to let His words pour out of my fingers and speak through me, I still kind of had it in my head that this would be how I finally “come out” about some health stuff to everyone in my circle. I had a wonderful (and kind of unexpected) conversation with God this weekend, so I definitely have a fresher perspective, and instead of continuing where I left off, I took it in a new direction. I feel moved to leave the first half pretty close to how I originally wrote it. Either way, I pray God’s words speak to your heart.

Some of you have been Facebook friends with me for a while, so you may recall some of the more significant events in…

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Return again

 

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Photo by Craig Schlewitz on Flickr

 

I sat down to write a blog today (January 26, 2016) and realized that I don’t have much to write about. I do enjoy reading and writing a lot, so this saddens me. It is somewhat of a wake up call for me though. I do not have a lot to offer because of how little I have been feeding myself. Although I am thrilled to be (finally) out of college, the transition from the community I had there has been hard. I benefited greatly from being surrounded by my family in Christ and from living in a house where ministry events were almost always happening. I also benefitted from serving and teaching, as it forced me to be in the Word. It is almost as if I had training wheels on the whole time preparing me for when I would no longer have that constant community.

Now it’s a little different, for several reasons. And it’s harder to consistently be in God’s Word, for those same reasons. But it is also good for my relationship with God, because although community is important and necessary, I also have to pour into my own salvation and sanctification.

Paul writes, in his letter to the Philippians, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”2:12-13

Working out my salvation does mean to work for it, it is a free gift of grace. But evidence of not mere acknowledgement, but the working of this grace in my life must be present.

There is a quote from Anton Chekhov that I’ve always liked, it says “any idiot can face a crisis-it’s day to day living that wears you out.” In a lot of ways, that’s how I feel about my walk with Christ. He calls us to daily obedience and that is where I fail the most. I mean, think about it, as a Christian your biggest struggle may not be taking a person’s life or adultery, which for the sake of this example could be considered crises. Instead, it could more commonly be spending time in God’s word or passivity to the things God has called us for, that are our main weaknesses. Hence, not the crisis but the day to day living.

I wish I was articulate enough to express these thoughts better, but just know that all hope is not lost. God is still good and is Word is still living, active and transformative. It’s never too late to return again to the feet of God and receive His never ending Grace.

The Illusion of Freedom

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Have you ever seen those invisible fences that people have in their yards that prevent their dogs from running out into the street? If not, it might be because they are invisible, ha! What they are meant to do though is allow the dogs the freedom of being in the yard, while keeping them contained. Because, as the name suggests, the fence is not visible but is run underground and controlled by a radio signal, the dog thinks its free until it ventures too close to the fence and is offered a mild shock of electricity. Whether or not you agree with this device, it is a good example of what an illusion of freedom looks like. You think you are free until you realize that your actions are not merely under your control.

At church one Sunday the pastor mentioned that a popular reason non-believers find it difficult to follow Christ is their reluctance to give up those things they are free to do. I could picture myself saying those same words as I battled with following Christ years ago and still oftentimes today. It is only now that I have experienced the freedom of a life committed to Christ and only now that my soul rejoices because I am free from my self-inflicted slavery.

There is this illusion that we live a life of sin freely, when in fact it is the very sin we enjoy that enslaves us. We can avoid digging deep for examples of this as our society is plagued with shallow enticements that force us to work out until we are sick and spend money that we don’t have and filter our lives into pure bliss. Ok, so of course working out, spending money and using filters are not inherently the cause of this self bondage. It is this overwhelming sense of anxiety we experience when we fail to function as society dictates. The danger comes when we  do not realize that this freedom is an illusion, and we all know the danger of an illusion: a dress that is blue and black looks white and gold and the social media world goes into unrest.

Seriously though, the consequences of living in bondage to the desires of our flesh, society and so on, has far greater consequences. If we fail to see our own enslavement we fail to see the need for a Savior that offers complete freedom in Him. When we go about our lives fulfilling the desires of the flesh we do not realize our bondage until we attempt to refrain from these things by our own will. Why is that?. Perhaps because we get to wander around in our sin so much that the temporary satisfactions begin to look like eternal fulfillment or even worse, we become unaware of, unfazed by and comfortable in that state.

Romans chapter 6 presents an overview of this new life than we have in Christ. In goes in depth to illustrate our change from slaves of sin to slaves of God. At this point we recognize that the “freedom” of sin is nothing but an invisible fence; giving a taste of freedom but not offering the real thing. The sobering truth is offered up in verse 16, where it states “Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey – either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness? Thankfully, there is more and Paul writes in verses 22 and 23, “But now, since you have been liberated from sin and have become enslaved to God, you have your fruit, which results in sanctification – and the end is eternal life! For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Just like the mechanism behind the invisible fence, our sins offer us the illusion of freedom to wander around in. However,  we quickly realize that our fleshly desires control us and prevent us from experiencing freedom from sin. Believers and non-believers experience this in different degrees. The Christian, although set free from sin, oftentimes returns to serve their old master and the non-Christian does not recognize their need to be free.

The do-what-you-want, when-you-want freedom of this world is not true freedom but a mere illusion. True freedom is found in God’s grace to do what we should because we want to.

 

Christians who love to hate

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“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:35

There was a point in my life that I had to consider whether or not people could tell that I am a follower of Christ by the way I loved those around me. The resounding answer was no, and that stung. Even though during this period I was trying to handle a breakup in the most “Christian way” possible. Ultimately, I found that the solution to all the less than Christ-like feelings I had, was simply to love the way God commanded me to.

Loving those who love us is easy. Loving when things are peachy is easy. But, when the smiles turn into frowns and the giddy laughter is replaced by shouting voices of anger, that’s when loving becomes hard. That is also when genuine love shines through. And I believe that’s the beauty of love and it’s power. Love is  powerful because it represents the precise character of God and it is so against the ways of the world. This world does not teach us to love those that hurt and wrong us, and even those who disagree with us (take a peek in the comment section of anything controversial.) Instead, we choose to retaliate with our words, actions and even our lifestyles.

Unfortunately the church has been looking a lot like those comment sections too. Surprising? Not really. There is this desire to be heard and most of all to be right. Unfortunately, that also accompanies strong emotions that tend to get the better of us and spew out into the world of social media. At the same time, there is this misconception that disagreement is synonymous with hatred. We have gotten to the point where for a Christian to be seen as loving, then they must be in agreement with a particular group or lifestyle; or even change their FB profile picture to the rainbow. And yet, reacting in anger and engaging in unfruitful debates does not seem like the way to go either. I have friends who have had to block a fellow believer because their posts were so riddled with pride, negativity and selfishness. There is a saying that my Grandma would recite in a situation such as this one; she would say (pardon the language if this is offensive) “you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t!” The idea I believe she was trying to convey is that neither of the options available will be well received.

So what do we do? We can glean from Jesus’ interactions with sinners; and those whose lifestyles were not grounded in His truth. And that’s exactly what Jesus did He interacted with sinners. He did not turn a blind eye to their sin neither did He approve of it. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is Jesus’ encounter with Samaritan woman in John 4. It’s the perfect example, it’s like Jesus is God or something! But seriously, Jesus engaged her and He confronted her sin! Engaging with non-believers is always an opportunity to introduce them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is imperative that we do not allow fear to prevent us from taking up those opportunities when they present themselves. Being Christians who love to hate is not the way to introduce people to the saving, loving Grace to be found only in Christ.

Thank you God for this life.

It’s funny that it took a Tropical Storm coupled with a power outage and the inability to do anything else on my computer but write, for me to update my blog.

So many life changes have happened since my last entry and God has been working on me through it all. With all the money, time and resources spent, it took about 10 seconds to walk across the stage. I didn’t feel any different after I graduated but I was not expecting to anyway.

As the saying goes “the more things change the more they remain the same.” This has been really evident in my life recently. Yes, I have reached this milestone that I yearned for and dreamt of for years, but I am not happier than I was before that 10 second walk. I still find myself hoping and praying for greater things beyond this period in my life. I am still not satisfied.

Surprising? Not at all. However, knowledge of this impending state does not make the reality any less painful. I have cried and pleaded and begged God for more things than I am willing to admit. This constant state of yearning and wanting is a reminder that nothing in this world will satisfy and that happiness is not a state the Christian is promised. Happiness can be seen as a state of emotions based on what is happening, and we know how regularly that changes. We are, however, promised joy. When I think about a person who is joyful I do not visualize someone who has no troubles or goes through life with everything they want being handed to them. What I do see is someone whose attitude is one of joy that can only be found in Christ, in spite and despite of the difficulties they face. Someone who counts it as joy (James 1:2).

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I have been learning and relearning where my joy comes from; a not-fun process but one that has strengthened my intimacy with God. I mean, of course you’ll become more intimate with someone you’ve cried with and who has seen you in your deepest moments of anguish!

Here are some things God has been showing me:
The things that I currently have were once among the things that I prayed for
• Relying on anything outside of Christ for my satisfaction will always leave me dissatisfied
• A reminder of God’s past faithfulness is comforting to an impatient heart
• Why worry when you serve the God of the universe (this one gets me every time)
Enjoy the now and embrace the different seasons of life

As I am in this period of wait and transition I rejoice in the knowledge that God loves me deeply and that I am His child and He works things out for good, even when I fail to see the good.

Thank you God for this life.

 

Future lessons from past me.

Whether you believe in New Year’s resolutions or not, there is something about a fresh new year that makes you look back at the year that was. With that in mind here are just a few things that 2014 taught me that will probably impact my life forever:

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1. Patience. This one seems to be a reoccurring lesson from year to year. I also have a feeling that I will be learning this one again in 2015. Patience with God and His timing is difficult because one of the hardest things for me (and a lot of us) to do is wait. But then God always work things out the way they ought to and the timing is always better than what we envisioned. Learning to wait on God also prepares us to be more patient with ourselves and others.

2. I have also learned to be more open about the struggles I face and not let my pride prevent me from “being real” with the people around me. I know that I cannot be perfect and that I will never have it all together and I know that I cannot fool others into thinking that I do. Nevertheless, a part of me wants to try. This makes me afraid to say that I am not ok and reluctant to say when I need help. 2014 had its fair share of financial, emotional and spiritual battles. With that came opportunities for me to reach out to others when I felt as though all I was bottling up inside was about to explode.

3. Balance. Making time to do the things I need to, want to and should do is not always easy. I have a tendency to want to volunteer myself to do a lot of things at a time. Although the desire to be involved is not a bad thing, it is so important to make time for yourself to do the things you enjoy. Being actively involved in ministry is great but God’s work should never burn us out. We need to take the time to do things that energize and refresh our mind, body and soul so that we can better return to those duties that await us.

4. I have experienced God’s Grace in my life in such real ways this past year. Yes, I know what Grace is but it is something else to really and truly experience it. I have allowed my soul to starve from the Word of God and I have strayed from the Presence of God. I have realized that there is so much sin and evil in my heart but yet still after every hiatus God welcomes me back; without punishment, without judgment. Oh what Grace is this?! Earthly relationships teach us to forgive but not forget, to have to “rebuild” trust after you have been wronged and work on getting back to a certain level in a relationship before the lack of faithfulness. Yet, God, the maker of the Universe and everything in it welcomes back this poor sinner as His own each time, without question. Oh what Grace this is!!!

Needless to say these are just a few of the lessons I’ve learnt in the past 365 day “dot” of my life. Lessons that I’ll probably continue to learn. That were not just part of a year isolated from the rest of my life but that continue to grow and mature me in my faith and in many other areas of my life today.

As for this year, I look forward to what God has in store for me. I know there will be a lot of changes, some that I am prepared for, others that will take my faith off guard. One thing I can be sure of is that just as God was faithful in the past so He will continue to be.

Delayed Gratification: A Culture of the here and now

It’s crazy how impatient I can be; with myself, with others, with God. How can you blame me though? Food is fast, videos stream instantly and the instantness (my word ) of media like instagram allows us to share and peek into the lives of our friends in real life time. No wonder we expect God to work this way.

If there is one thing that God has been teaching me from the day I surrendered my life to Him until now is patience. You would think that by now I would be fully convinced that God does not work on my time. I have realized though, that my issue is not that I do not believe that God will provide, I just dislike the idea of waiting for it.

But it is during this waiting period that my faith and trust in God is strengthened. It is during this time of “in-betweenesss” that God wants us to give all our cares and anxieties to Him and rest in his love and faithfulness.

Resting when there are financial and other needs to be met seems absurd! But waiting on God is not synonymous with being lazy or inactive, it is when we are truly called to trust Him.

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If we are in a season of waiting, we are in good company:

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, yet it was not until he was 100 and Sarah was 90 that they bore a son. “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.” Heb 6:13-15

Job was wealthy and God took away everything from him; even his children. Although Job was distraught, he never cursed God. He knew that God had a plan for his life and he was willing to patiently wait for God to restore him. “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job, when he had prayed for his friends. And the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” Job 42:10

There are lots more accounts in the Bible of people trusting God in faith, with endurance. Our culture of the here and now does not readily embrace the idea of waiting, but as believers we know that this “waiting period” is almost inevitable. Perhaps if God gave me everything I wanted on my own time I would not be as thankful for his blessings and my faith in him would not be strengthened as I wait.

In the hindsight perspective of the circumstance of my life, I am thankful God does not work on my time. Waiting is not very popular in our culture, but then the God of the universe does need to operate within the confines of our society!

Even now we continue to wait for the return of Jesus as He brings full restoration to the Kingdom of God. And I can hardly wait.