You think I look bad… you should see the other guy.

I have recently been struggling to find balance in my life as you sometimes do. I’ve had too many plates spinning. I found myself struggling with everything, relationships, my body was hating me, my mind was cluttered and I was far more emotionally erratic then normal.  At some point I made God  into the vague CEO that I work for, never seeing or talking or engaging with him in any shape or form.

But when you love the job and you love the people you say yes to all sorts of things and carry on because God is good and he works through all things. Until you can’t, you run out of steam. I hate to admit it but with all my plates spinning I took my eyes off of God and who he is. It’s no surprise that it caught up with me.

So for the last week I have been throwing myself into routine that forces me to spend time in God’s word for me, not for a lesson plan or for a sermon, but for me and my relationship with him.  I have scheduled time where all technology just gets turned off and I sit (sometimes sit, for some reason I am like a 5 year old and I find this really challenging).  I call this the Psalm 46:10 challenge.  ” Be still and Know that I am God…”   I also found that I need to take better care of my person, my body.  So I am going to the gym. I have this odd love for the gym actually; everyone just goes to this horrible sweat box trying to better themselves and I think that is really cool.  I have given myself the challenge to do 5 hours at the gym a week; of course this rewarded with a glass of wine if accomplished.  But last evening I found myself facing a real fight at the gym.

My earbuds broke on the way and so I had to listen to my music only through the one which was really pants because it meant I could hear all the grunting, and locker room talk and gossip flowing. I could tune that out though. It wasn’t until 8 mins in on the bike that I could hear the disagreements starting…  the two parties continued to contradict each other to the point that I had to wonder if they were looking at the same thing.

You see in the “let’s help Chelsi focus on God plan” even my music is chosen to encourage me to think about Christ.  But with my other ear left to listen to the world around me I was hearing two completely different things. I was hearing what God says about me  and the world in one ear and the other ear heard disturbing things like, ” Bossed up and I changed the game (you see me?), Got all them girls shook (shook), My big fat ass got all them boys hooked (Hooked)” (Finesse by Bruno Mars)

I have never been so acutely aware of the difference in messages we hear every day.

“I’ve been changed from a ruin to treasure
I’ve been given a hope and a future
I’ve been blessed beyond all measure” (Counting every Blessing by Rend Collective)

Just hearing Christian messages on Sunday you totally leave yourself vulnerable to the constant worldly dialogue. It is so easy to listen to what the world says and believe it. I should strive to be thin, to be rich… to be loved by men but God has a different message.  A message that you are loved already. When we become aware of this we can easily see what the devil’s schemes are how he lies to us. You are already loved by God. He wants you to be the best version of yourself by looking to him and let him lead you beside the still waters. (Pslam 23:3) He wants to give you peace and the desires of your heart.

At minute 10, I was fully aware that what the devil cant destroy he distracts and I’ve been well distracted and  I will be damned if I let him take me away from my truth.  I had the best workout I have had in ages and I have the sore muscles today to prove it.  Praised God with every bead of sweat that ran off me for his love that he tells me… I am enough. I belong. I  am loved. I am powerful. I am beautiful. I have his spirit and that he is bigger than the giants I face. (1 John 4:4) I powered through knowing my perseverance and focus on Christ kicked the Devil’s butt hard.

I walked out of the gym last night like I just won a gold medal knowing that God reigns victorious and that he is the king of my heart. I may have looked like a sweaty, tomato faced woman but I felt empowered.  If we get distracted from that our lives go wayward. We start to lose our purpose and start looking for validation from people and we don’t need that; God says who we are. He really knows us and loves us anyway.

Be on guard. Be aware and choose to listen to what God says about you it is much kinder than the world.

How awesome is our God. How amazing is his grace.

Advertisements

Read it and Weep

I am an emotional being. I cry nearly as much as I laugh and I don’t find it that weird. It is my normal. If I am not between a 5 and a 7 on the sad to happy scale… my eyes are probably leaking. But that’s my okay. I actually quite like my crying. It feels healthy.

Today, I started crying because I finally got to spend sometime with a dear friend of mine; given it was just a 10 min car ride from Claverdon to Henley but as I got out and went to my flat I burst into tears. I became a puddle of happy and sad… a fountain of anger and lament… a waterfall of distress and peace and now I feel just fine.

Let me explain. Because often emotion, especially the kind that moves us to tears meets the response of “Shhhhh” or “It’s okay” or (the crappiest response) “Don’t cry”. When inside my head I had a tribe of girlfriends chanting,”cry!”, “Let it out”, “Amen, sister!”

So my explanation…

I was emotionally set free by the kindness of my dear friend offering me a ride home out of her way, inconvenient and 10 mins past her own house. We spent the drive catching up on each other’s lives, sharing our genuine concern and basking in a friendship. I felt delighted to have a girlfriend and while we are separated by decades our lives seem to share meaning. It felt inspired to have our soul sister vibes finding rhythm again.  I didn’t know during the car journey but as soon as I stepped through my threshold I knew that this was actually an answer to prayer.

I have been feeling so many emotions lately that I abnormally haven’t been able to really cry my normal cry.; be my emotional roller coaster of a self.  So I just sat down on my stairs and cried.

Tonight at Claverdon’s Alpha course, where I was coming from, we talked about prayer, I decided to make this freedom of tears my prayer.  So I have been sitting on the stairs crying.  This is what came pouring out.

Praise.

Thank you GOD for being such an unstoppable force. An almighty heavenly ruler to look after us, care for us and never let us down. You are the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. The creator and the sustainer. You are love and goodness. You have already seized victory over evil and you protect us from darkness. You are gentle like a mother, firm like a father  and kind like a friend. I get to see bits of your face in your children, people I get to call friends. You are mysterious and wonderful.

Gratitude. 

Thank you for sending Jesus Christ to take the penalty for our sins, that through him we have the freedom and ability to be good enough to meet with you when ever we want. Thank you GOD for friends and family, that show us love and support in a very real way. Thank you for your earthly church, brothers and sisters in Christ that stand together as a band of instruments learning about you and praising all you do in our lives. Thank you for sending your holy spirit to wrap around us when we are all out of sorts, when we feel lost and when we feel empty. GOD, thank you for restoring us, making us resilient and loving people with each day that we seek you. Thank you GOD for a loving me when I am not lovable, for guiding me when I have turned the wrong way, for blessing me with opportunities to get to know you. I love you.

But GOD…

Lament.

I don’t understand you. Where are you in the pain? Where are you in the sickness and in the wickedness? Why does it sometimes feel like darkness is winning if you have already won? GOD, I seek your will in all of the news headlines and I just don’t get it.

When people of power make jokes about killing an already marginalized group. When horrible natural disasters crash and burn homes and peoples hope. When I have to see my friends and 500,000 human beings of the like post statuses of #MeToo in response to the epidemic of sexual assault. WHERE ARE YOU THEN? How many people have cried out to you in desperation?

When people consistently get away with rape and murder stealing peoples joy and replacing it with suffering. When racism is a blatant part of our society that it becomes a cultural norm. Where children don’t feel safe in their homes or in their schools. When there are children, human beings you created, suffering in all corners of the world from malnutrition, diseases, constant war, abuse and domestic violence. FATHER GOD, WHERE ARE YOU?

When good people, your people are dying from cancer and disease. When people are battling their inner demons, their personal darkness, their depression… GOD?

When people abuse the power they have. When things like terrorism, sex slavery and dirty corporate swindlers seem to be in charge of the spin of the world. When people abuse the elderly. When people turn to drugs because they cant find you and they need something to fill the void… GOD tell me where you are. I am desperate for you to assure me that there is something I am not seeing. GOD???

It scares me how easily, I can get angry at you, GOD. It makes me so sad that this is the reality we have fallen to. Can we ever be redeemed from this hell on earth?

I am sobbing at this point curled into a tiny ball, like a child. When tears stopped flooding down my cheeks, I sniffled that horrible sniffle where nothing moves because your nose has become a brick and your face is just numb. Sitting up. I somehow felt…

Peace.

I felt Jesus sat next to me crying too. I felt God directly behind us with his hand on our shoulders saying, “I know… it hurts. I didn’t want this for you. Go ahead, Cry. You can be angry, you can feel this way. I feel it too. Everyday. All the time…”

We were wrapped in some kind of blanket. It bound us tightly together and it took me a moment to realize that this was the spirit and it dawned on me that the number of times I have prayed for GOD to wrap me in love, in his holy spirit this must be what it is. A blanket of peace, love, even heaven. I have never felt so need-less or want-less, just peace.

I blinked my eyes a couple of times because they felt dry oddly enough and then they were all gone. I was just sat on my rug in the middle of my floor with a stuffy nose.

You see the reality hasn’t changed at all. All of this horrible-ness, the evil lurking in this world is evident but its darkness and what combats darkness but light. I am a Christian human being and it is my responsibility as a human being and my privilege as a Christian to be a light. Shining and showing love, mercy, forgiveness, (insert what you may need here) into the lives of those around me.

John 8:12

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Matthew 5: 14-16

14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Mess and Bless

I lost my keys, in the great unknown

Call me please, cause I cant find my phone…

These are the opening lyrics to Francesca Battistelli’s Song This Is the Stuff . Pertinent and relatable. This summer I was home in North Dakota for a little over two months and while I was showered with the beautiful blessings of being with family and friends; I struggle to say it was a replenishing or relaxing holiday away from work.  The two months were filled simultaneously with joys of celebrations, games and a couple of beers as well as a mess of undesirable things like playing a waiting game for VISAs, selling nearly everything I own and everyday dramas like misplacing your keys and phone.

I seemed to find myself caught up in the mess instead of the bless which brings me to Francesca’s chorus…

This is the stuff that drives me crazy

this is the stuff that’s getting to me lately

In the middle of my little mess, I forget how big I am blessed…

I know I am certainly not alone when I say that it is so easy to get caught up. All summer long I found myself swimming in mess after mess, feeling the discontentment of nothing really going right and most definitely not in the timing that I desired.  I am not sure when during this summer I came to a moment of awaking but it was a lot later into my time home than I would care to admit.

To put it into perspective,  my summer was a lot about waiting. Waiting for paperwork from the UK to be submitted, waiting on calls back from friends to make plans, waiting on my own Visa submission… waiting…All of which wasn’t really in my control but spun me anyway into a tight little mess.  You know know as well as I do that all our lives are little messes, losing keys and playing waiting games are all just gentle annoying reminders that the time we do have isn’t really ours. We have this threatening desire to hold on to time as if it somehow is in harmony with our own wants. It isn’t. The only harmony between our desires and the happenings in time are God.

(certainly, you knew I would get to God eventually.)

I lost sight of God in each mess. I felt more sorry for myself in each mess. I didn’t think about talking to God about each mess. I just let the stuff , the struggle bus that I was riding just take me for a ride and then had the audacity to say, “uffda, I feel lukewarm. I cant seem to feel God lately. I feel distant from God.”

What a loser am I that I came to that place.  I wish I could say that this is the first and only time that this has happened to me but it is just such a part of our human-ness. Francesca concludes her chorus with this…

This is the stuff that gets under my skin

but I got to trust you know exactly what your doing

might not be what I would choose

but this is the stuff you use…

“But I got to trust you know exactly what your doing”… Oh how trust is so hard in any relationship let alone with a God that this is active, living and a complete mystery. So I decided that the only way I could resurrect my summer and give my relationship with God a good jolt was go to him. Confrontation.

I grabbed my notebook, my bible and sat in the quiet. I wrote page after page of prayers and when I couldnt find the words that my head needed to say I opened up to his. I sat there and slowly became immersed in his desire of time, his desire for me.

How silly to let little petty things and waiting get in the way of a relationship with Christ. I learned from James chapter 4 that there is literally no point in making plans if you dont invite God into them. Hold on to your plans loosely, trust in the fact that Gods plans will be better because they are bigger.

God has such love for us even in our human-ness. He understands the mess and he chooses to bless us through it if we let him. In Matthew chapter 7, Jesus says, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened to you.” God’s blessing in our lives only requires us to ask, seek or knock…

In the waiting game I was playing, I felt encouraged by Matthew as he wrote of Jesus saying, ” Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus frees of all our burdens whether they be the giants we face or the petty little stumbling blocks. An authentic relationship with God means we can seek him anytime, anywhere and he will arrive ready to help with the mess.

Most of all I learned once again that God needs to be my number one. He needs to be invited to all happenings or I get discouraged, tired and defeated. My mess seems to be bigger then the bless and that just isnt true, ever.

With Christ, flights can be canceled and what once would have been getting stuck in Amsterdam all of sudden felt like mini vacation in beautiful foreign city. Plans will change and that’s okay. God’s plan is so big and vast we cant comprehend whilst in it but trust that God wants what is good for you teaching you patience, resilience and love along the way.

What is your mess? Where is the bless? If you cant answer that, I suggest a bit of communication to work out your relationship.

 

 

 

WOMAN power.

Dearest pinnacle woman,

You do not know the amount of blessing that you have brought to my life. Thank you for wanting more for me. Thank you for blessing my mom with the opportunity to be a parent. Thank you for making what I can only imagine to be the hardest decision. Thank you for being an example of bravery and love.

You are a phenomenal woman. A woman, who I can only imagine has the greatest of hearts.  A woman of God that must have a heart on fire similar to my own. My soul knows you because my soul knows God. Only a woman could do something so honorable and selfless as to give up her own flesh to another who wanted nothing more than to love me. You blessed my life with the first example of Godly love. Thank you for putting my life in God’s hands.

God blessed my life firstly with you.

Thank you for endowing me a life filled with fort-building, climbing trees, laughter … birthday parties, soccer games, water skiing, choir and band concerts, swim meets, pets, camping trips, learning to drive, going on my first date, going to my first college party, getting my nose pierced, traveling the world…

Thank you for delivering me to spectacular parents that love me and nourished me to be a free- thinking, confident, God- fearing resilient misfit of a woman.

Birth-mother, thank you for life. I am trying my best to bless others with it just as you were first to bring God’s blessing to me.

Peace,  Love and Fire,

Chelsifacebook-20150902-114024

This is the letter I wish I sent to my Birth mother. But perhaps even more than that its a reflection of the weird and wonderful ways that God has blessed my life through Maternal influences. Being adopted, I always felt a radical amount of love from my mom. She isn’t my biological mom but she is in every sense my MOM. I used to walk around as a small child telling the other little kids that my mom “chose” me. (Humble, I know.)

But my mom is spectacular, fabulous, awesome, intelligent, loving, compassionate, beautiful, wonderful, fantastic…. She expressed the deepest and wildest kind of love, I have ever known. I have come to three conclusions about her ability to do this… either A) I must be incredibly easy to love. B) Mom’s have super powers and not just the “i know when you are lying”, “didn’t put your clothes away”, and “Could have studied better for exams” kind of powers that we know they hold. Or the more plausible conclusion C) God is ‘super’ and women are a divine vessels God inherently planned to use for each of his children to have their best start. Which must mean that God resides at the core of each woman naturally.

It is my belief that mothers and to be quite honest all women, whether biological mothers or not are divine in their own right. In Psalm 139: 13-16, it says this,

For you (God) formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

God used women directly in the creation of each of our souls. He worked within them and with us to prepare our souls for our individual journeys. That is spectacularly divine. He doesn’t use men to do this he uses women. Women carry this intimate connection to other humans. What we may call being ‘maternal’.

I looked up the word “maternal’ to find it’s definition to be, of, pertaining to, having the qualities of, or befitting a mother: maternal instincts.

I then wondered what are these maternal instincts… Kind, protective, affectionate, gentle, comforter, caretaker, kind, devoted, watchful,sympathetic, sheltering.  Don’t these also sound like words we use to describe our God?? (Awesome coincidence?) I think not.

In 2nd Timothy 1:3-8, it says this,

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God.  For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” 

I am reminded of the women in my life that have brought me closer to God and reflected God. Now it is the time to fan the flame and live out faith wildly and boldly.

Women are special. Women are phenomenal vessels for God’s blessing to pour out of. I guess this is the post where I gush about the amazing women in my life and say thank you for being outstanding role-models, resilient warriors, encouraging pinnacle women and inspiring misfits. I love and admire you.

So, Thank you for pouring God’s blessing into my life whether you meant to or not, I guess it comes naturally…  Mom, birth-mom, Grandmas, God-Mothers, Moms of Friends, Friends who are moms, aunts and for my friends in England, Mums as well as ALL women.

Woman power.

It is an actual thing.

 

dsc01240

 

One heart pulled in two…

Not that I am any sort of fan of this particular series of nauseating romantic comedies but Bridget Jones Diary; very plainly makes us feel like it is not only possible but normal to be in love with two men at the same time. While, I find it vastly unsettling that she seems to drag along these poor blokes down what I can only assume is a rather bumpy and dramatic ride, I can’t help but feel like I understand her heart being split in two ridiculously opposite directions. She literally couldn’t pick between the most opposite of men.

Before your brains explode and your hearts go to mashed potato; my heart is in fact being pulled in two enormously different directions. One string pulled by a long time relationship, the history looks more or less like a roller coaster, however, there is comfort, stability, no- real surprises or risk. The other string pulled by something fairly new, exciting, frustrating, refreshing, spontaneous and honestly raises more questions than anything else.  Both, however, respect me, shower me with blessing and encourage me towards God and envelop me with love.

I have come to the conclusion that I don’t need to make a decision about either and in fact I don’t want to.

When I left North Dakota this second time; I left parts of my heart there with friends and family, in my childhood home, playing with my dog and basking in the wide open skies that are NoDak. Coming back to England, the village I have grown to love and also call home holds parts of my heart as well. Doing a job I feel called to do, finding community among all ages and enjoying the conversational banter and lovely chaos that ensues my host family day in and day out.

These are the strings pulling at my heart.

I have one heart and two almost completely different lives in which I am immersed in. In love with both and yet I don’t really feel like I belong in either. This summer I felt as though I had out grown and overstayed Fargo but I never really feel like I belong here in England either. I don’t sound the same and my American brash-ness makes me stand out like a sore thumb.

So maybe, I can be in love with two places at the same time. In fact I feel as though if I don’t leave bits of my heart scattered around how will I ever be able to find my way back to the beginning where it all started. Where I found God knocking on my door, begging me to pack my bags and trust in him. It is okay that my heart is both here and there and hopefully many places in between because God is everywhere.

Much love, all the joy and Godspeed,

Chels

 

The Prodigal Daughter returns

I am home, back to my roots and the Fargo stomping ground. It is exciting to be back and to surround myself with fantastic friends and family. I have truly missed all of you phenomenal people. YAGM marketed itself as IMG_5638a “transformative experience”; it most certainly has been. My year in England has been challenging, beautiful,
lonely, inspired and completely life changing to say the least. I dont think I truly grasped how much I changed until I returned to the loving arms of my family.

As I reflect, I realize I did an exceptionally poor job of communicating my experience with all of you. Even now, being home and in the presence of family and friends. I find it difficult to communicate my experience in a way that encompasses what this year has been for me. My pictures only speak to where I was and what I saw. Unfortunately, if you follow my Facebook, my year looks a little like I frolicked my way across the UK and parts of Europe hanging out with new friends and exploring pubs and countrysides. I did in fact enjoy building new beautiful relationships with folks that will be lifelong friends and I most definitely enjoyed local beers and lost myself in adventure of new experiences. However, the moments that I feel depict my year more accurately cant be found in my Facebook album but in my own witness to God’s grace. Stories of God moments that rocked me and shook me to the core.

I feel as though not only do I owe it to all of you to share these experiences properly but now I can do it in a place of reflection and growth.

 

Uffda, a Depressed Christian

Uffda, Things go pear-shaped.  Life isn’t always fair. Sometimes, I work really hard and it doesn’t go to plan.  People may break my heart,  let me down and disappoint me. Every once in a while, I  even fall on my face. This tends to be life.

But I am resilient. I know and accept that I am a child of God. Before anything and after everything else; I am his. He created me, sustains me and loves me so I can keep going. I can push forward. He is there when I fail, he teaches in those moments. When I stumble and fall, he picks me up and carries me.  When I am weak, he is my strength. I can do anything and everything through my God when I know and accept I am his child; I just have try, try again and again. Trust in him to be the light of my life.

Unfortunately, the darkness comes uninvited, unannounced and without much warning. Sometimes my depression is the buzzing annoyance of a fly and other times it’s a shadow of Godzilla terrorizing me. The monster taunts me with the venom of insecurities and lies. It gratifies in its ability to so easily take me down by planting doubts.

I have learned a couple of things in my darkness.  I must avoid mirrors. It waits there for my reflection to insult me. It pulls at my body and suffocates any confidence that dares to flicker. I avoid the sunshine, also. Although, it looks pleasant I know it will use the light against me to  burn holes in my brain only to  fill them with the darkest of thoughts; intoxicating me with anxiety and despair.

So in the pitch black of my darkness,  I cling to my bed. I play dead only to realize that this is also the monster’s lair. Fortunately, I am not scared of the monster or the dark. I am scared of the comfort I feel being held hostage by my own brain. That I can’t break down the invisible chains restraining me nor do I really desire to.

I have no recollection of the time passing  while I curl up with the companionship of my pillows and duvet. I exhaust myself entertaining my undesired company. Defeated and in a desperate state of yearning for the weight to simply diminish, I wait for my uninvited guests to hit the road. So, I can get back to, “normal”.

I know I am still a child of God even in this sad state of being. My God can’t vanquish my monsters, he can only walk through the darkness with me. I never know how long my visitors will stay, depression is rude like that. I pray for light to come as I get sick  of a darkness without the moon or stars.  During my darkness, I always cry out to God, “Save me from myself! I am yours! I need you. I trust in you!” God always has a strange way of meeting me in these moments.

He answers often by using others.  So, I am slowly released from the confines of my mind by my brothers and sisters in Christ. Their ability to answer my unequivocal silence is God working through them. With affirmations of loDSC00378ve and grace, they penetrate my darkness breaking me free. I  don’t question when the light will come anymore because i know God is on my case. He sends my friends and family as an army of light to scatter my darkness.

I don’t lose my identity in the darkness. I become confident in my identity that I am continually saved.

When the darkness leaves me, I feel my own light re-ignite.  I can live outward what my brain has trapped inside me. My resilience is what inspires me to live out my faith exuberantly. Boldly living my life as a resilient, misfit, child of God. Before anything and after everything I am a child of God. This is my true identity. Depression has no say in it.

God created us for relationship. To live pious lives among each other, to support and look after each other as family. We need others, friends, family, community to live life fully for Christ and be an army of light defending each other.

Brothers and Sisters, Thank you for being constant soldiers of love and light in my life.

I would like to re-assure you all that I am safe, happy and healthy.

I was diagnosed with Clinical Depression in 2013. I should have gotten help years before hand but was ashamed of my mental illness. After trying counseling, medicine and various other types of treatments nothing has helped more than re-giving my life to Christ and relying on him in everything.

More people suffer than we think and we are not alone in this. If you feel like something isn’t right, go to a Doctor, talk to a friend/ family member and ask for prayer. 

Godspeed.

 

 

So this is Christmas…

A Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year it was. Being away from home, friends and family wasn’t the easiest of course but instead it felt very Christ filled. I am pretty sure the holy spirit recognized my new comfort level and decided to flip me on my head and spin me making it very clear that Christmas was more about Christ than anything. So after doing a sermon on a Christ centered Christmas and how that perhaps may look. I became very much aware of my own flaws in celebrating Christmas. I even started to feel a little guilty of my own consumerism and sentimentality.

So now, that Christmas has come and gone, where am I?  Well, I feel I am still left standing at the manger, oogling at this wonder of pure and perfect love in human-ness and questioning everything.

Something, I often forget about Jesus’ arrival was that it was messy, it was not ideal and it was a imperfect world; “we” (a sum of Christians culturally) have romanticized it by taking out all the suffering. Their was a greedy empire, a war, people were selfish and righteous and the world is just as messy now as it was then. Jesus came into the world when it was suffering; He grew up in it and understood the broken-ness. The world needed Jesus, so God gave us Jesus. My head is whirling about Jesus and trying desperately to write a paper on Discipleship but yet my heart is still left intoxicated by my festivities this holiday season. I’ll leave that rant for another post.

This holiday season filled me with clarity and the kind of joy that makes your heart hurt.  I found myself feeling moments of sadness of missing cooking with my mom, playing games with my brother and convincing my dad to make homemade ice-cream. But these sad moments never lasted too long because well, these people (my friends, host family and fellow volunteers) showed me so much kindness. Christmas day, sitting at the front of a church with the choir in a thick, hot, wool robe I found clarity among my leaky eyes. (literally cried the entire service.) These people are family. They have blessed my life with laughter and thoughtfulness. I have many mom-like figures; that looked at me a little wonky when I came home with a nose piercing. I have many dad- like figures that give me thoughtful criticism and advise. I have many brothers and sisters that encourage me and comfort me. Christ has made it very clear that we were all created for each other. I am so thankful for all of the family here and there.

My heart grew in size (like a Grinch heart) this Christmas in absolute gratitude. God bless Everyone.

 

Blue Christmas lessons.

I didn’t predict that being away during the holidays would be so hard. I always said that Thanksgiving was never about the turkey or pumpkin pie and Christmas was never about the presents or fuss that we put into it. Turns out, I was right. It isn’t about the presents or feasts. By being disconnected from everything, I have been able to realize what is most important, what I miss most and how maybe the differences in celebration here in England have affected my heart.

No doubt, I miss my family and friends. I miss the time we spend together at the holidays; most of the time it was in preparation for guests or going overboard with decoration and spending frivolously on gifts. But the best part is that we did it together as a family. Within all the chaos, we had each other. Here, I am surrounded by colorful people that are truly blessing my life but We seem to lack the same kind of togetherness I long for during Christmas.

Lesson 1: Slow down and make time for each other. Time with friends and family is the most valuable gift to give.

Everything in my community seems to be simpler. There are very few elaborately decorated houses and the fuss of making it “look” like Christmas is not really a thing. One string of lights here, some tinsel there, an advent wreath, a Christmas tree and displayed Christmas cards is enough to recognize the season and  not rely on mass amount of stuff that has pulled us away from the reason for the season.

Lesson 2: Simple is almost always better. No need to re-decorate the house and clutter an already magnificent holiday. It isn’t about the number of strings of lights or presents under the tree. Less is often more.

Early in December the women’s bible group I participate in held a wreath making day. It was a fantastic event, brought a bunch of women together from the village to kick off the season with some crafting and fun  consuming biscuits, mince pies and mulled wine. Everyone brought loads of greenery from their gardens (everyone has beautiful gardens) and we made advent wreaths for our tables. To say I was horrible at it may be slight understatement but with bits of, evergreen, sage, holly, roses, pine cones and the generous (and much needed) helping hands of some awesome women, my wreath didn’t turn out half bad.

Lesson 3: Make things. Use your hands and what ever creative spirit you can muster to create. I am so proud of my awkward little wreath. Use your gifts and talents to celebrate creation.

The Dowson family is made up of some really great cooks. (My tummy is very thankful.) But with calendars disjointed and the busyness of life making itself known often, the only “real”time we have to together is during meals. I especially enjoy our Sunday evenings. Recently Sunday evening mean we light our advent candle wreath, read a section of scripture, pray and then are together for a meal. We make a good effort to all be together for dinners and we take turns cooking and doing dishes. I often realize in these moments how greatly I am blessed by this family. Meals together begin with thoughtful prayer, contain witty banter and discussion and end with a very happy tummy.

Lesson 4: Cook. Connect. Clean. Take turns serving each other in simple ways. Be present with each other and share the food, your day, your thoughts. (See lesson 1)

I have gone to so many Christmas carol services and  Candlelit Advent services. All in various churches, different denominations but all so wonderful. I went to a quiet, candlelit mass at Coventry Cathedral.  I attended a carol service in a theatre with the most soul filled choir. I worshiped at a small country church and  been messy and covered in glitter for a Messy Church/ Christingle service in Claverdon. My point here is no matter where I have worshiped with my Christian brothers and sisters, i am reaffirmed of the reason for the season. God is present in every place, helping me get excited and preparing my heart for his son’s arrival. Each service I have attended made the nativity star that much brighter in my heart. Jesus is coming and that is the reason to celebrate.

Lesson 5: Attend church. Make sure that during the chaos, that is often this season, you guard you heart to stay focused on love, hope, joy and Jesus… Keep yourself spiritually fed so you are capable to celebrate with the utmost exuberance.

During this advent season, I have been leading many sessions on the meaning of advent and the reason for the season. I come home realizing I do a really poor job of practicing what I preach. I tell my youth be the lights in the darkness. You know what Jesus has done for you, live for him. See a need, fill it. Witness darkness, bring light to it. It is so easy to say rise above it, take the high road, be the good guy. But am I? Lately I have been basking in my “blue” Christmas with out family, friends, no snow  and Christmas candies… uffda. My selfishness is showing. The world around us tells us via adverts that we need new products, great smelling perfume and romance to truly enjoy Christmas. I personally retreat into a burrito like state with my Netflix and overindulge in sappy Christmas movies. Normally, I get an alligator tear, or a good laugh out of the comical romance of Hallmark Christmas movies. But this year, even watching White Christmas (my favorite film) I was left feeling unsatisfied. I kept thinking that isn’t love, they just met!! In Love Actually, I got angry at how flippant and surface level love was referred. Then I came to this conclusion. The reason I can not handle love stories any longer is because for over the past month I have been talking to people about the greatest love story. The greatest love story to ever come into the lives of human beings is the love of selfless-ness. the indulgence of hope and exuberance of Joy when you know grace and peace are coming. Jesus coming into the world and his life is the greatest love story.

It is love that is patient, kind, generous, it has no expectations or motives. It is love that is absolute acceptance and freedom.

Lesson 6: The reason for the season. Love. God loved us so much he gave the world his son, to walk with us and teach us in his human-ness to be an example of God’s grace and light.

Merry Christmas everyone!

“Life with God is not immunity from difficulties but peace in difficulties.” – CS Lewis.

A few weeks ago, I had the extreme pleasure to go back to College for a week and take a course in Christian Discipleship at Cliff College in Derbyshire with my fellow UK YAGMs. Firstly, It was so incredibly wonderful to see my friends from YAGM. I hadn’t seen them since we left each other at Orientation in August; So you can imagine the amount of energy circling the space. And secondly, Cliff College is located in the peak district; it was magnificent. Although it rained almost all day everyday during the week I was there; we had a serendipity moment when the rain quit, the sun shone as it was setting and we made friends with sheep and horses on our hike up a cliff. Thirdly, College… How was I supposed to focus when I was finally reunited with my friends from home. But after a catch up night at the local pub with my crew of 12 friends, it was time to start learning.

Before coming to Cliff College, I had few thoughts about discipleship mostly about Jesus’s disciples and how that could be a verb attainable by someone as clumsy, questioning and distracted as myself.

My only knowledge of Disciple- was that it came from the Latin word “discipulus” which means learner or student. Thank you Mr. Volk. I never expected to have my world rocked.

After the first day of lectures and presentations, I had a pretty good idea that I was in for a good shake up. God knows when I start to feel like I have more answers than questions and am getting comfortable because that’s when he rocks my world with something challenging… like re-evaluating my identity as a Christian.

That is a common trend in my life now. Re-evaluating myself. Do I really like easy mac or did I just eat it because it was available and my stomach was grumbling?? Turns out, I don’t like easy mac anymore. I think it tastes like play-doh. How many other things in my life have I done or do currently that I just do out of convenience and availability? What is really important? What makes me happy? What are my values? Direction? Goals? …

Every person I have met that has done YAGM says how transformative it is. But really how much can a person “really” change? I understand now. I feel and see a change in myself already and I have only been in England for three months.

Our first day at Cliff, we talked about vocation and accepting the call from God to serve. My head went bonkers with self admiration, “Boom”, feeling awesome! I did that! I answered the call to serve, I discerned like a champ, I am awesome. YAY YAY YAY!”

Sure, I took the leap of faith to get here but that’s not my calling or vocation. I have a continuous call to be more like Christ each day. Every morning, I wake up and am encouraged by God to live bigger, deeper, wider than the day before. My vocation is to walk alongside people as a faith filled person.

That’s ideal isn’t it? To be mindful everyday, to be thoughtful and God-loving in every action we make and every word we say?

I have been nourishing my faith with devotion, fellowship and loads upon loads of prayer. Still, living up to this particular call is beyond difficult. I fail at this everyday. But God never calls for perfection. (That is my motivation.)

If I put all my energy into God; my life is completely and amazingly fulfilled. I have felt my heart change, I don’t get easily angered, jealousy has left the building and patience is less of a virtue and more of a habit. I have also felt my mind change, I don’t glorify or desire things the way I used to. Going out on the town for a night out has lost its luster and the need for material things has gone awry.

My vocation is as much about being as it is about doing. So when I had a meeting with my dear friend, Phil, the Vicor of Claverdon Church and he said, “Chelsi, Don’t underestimate the power of just being.” I realized that my whole life I have been intoxicated by service, that it isn’t just a hobby but a way of life. I love people. I have many gifts and a wide variety of skills that I can apply to people through service. I have done so many jobs from nanny-ing, to building houses for Habitat, to Marketing, to Nursing, to Sales lady… they all have serving people in common. None of these jobs were ever to build me up and they were surely never about money.

I think I just realized what A) Aristotle means when he wrote, “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, their lies your vocation.” and B) How beneficial it is to listen and move, consistently taking leaps, jumps, hops in your faith.

So I am reaping many rewards in my life right now to living more like a disciple than a “Chelsi”. I no longer deal with debilitating depression.  I only drink alcohol in celebration. If I see a need, I don’t hesitate to volunteer or try to be a support and for the first time in quite a long time I love myself. I haven’t been able to say that in quite some time. But I give God, a high five for creating such awesome people in his image. I have so much gratitude in my heart for everyone in my community, my host family, my family in NoDak, YAGM, TFG and every friend, mentor and family member that has supported me in this experience.