Throwback Thursday: A Reality Check about Vanity

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Earlier this week, I was sitting in my living room enjoying the company of my mom and my sister. Riley was napping, and my 3 year old niece was playing on the floor with our 5 year old neighbor, a beautiful, sweet hearted little girl.

All was well, until I had a reality check that smacked me in the face. I’m talking about the kind of reality check that makes you realize that you (meaning me here) are still pretty messed up and do stupid things.

My mom, sister, and I started talking about diet and exercise. It started with a comment about my weight (a positive one), then progressed to the areas of our bodies that we wish to change. I led the way in this conversation: “Well I know that I weigh less than my pre-baby weight and I’ve toned up, BUT I still really want to get rid of this remaining little baby pooch, so I’ve cut dairy out of my diet because I read that works quickly for weight loss.” And thus started the downward spiral of each of us pointing out things about our bodies that aren’t “good enough” and need to change.

And then it hit me. I realized that this sweet little 5 year old was staring at us, soaking up this conversation like a sponge.

And I’ve wanted to cry every time I think about it since then.

I think of this sweet little girl, full of life and joy, whose ears just heard what may make her start to question herself. I had just contributed to spreading the very message that I hate that our culture spreads so rampantly. That women are as valuable as their bodies. That bodies should look a certain way, and should be fixed if they don’t. That food is an enemy or a tool for accomplishing this mission of looking like Hollywood.

And it sobered me.

Yesterday, it brought me to my knees in repentance before The Lord. I was forced to face my own vanity.

I once heard vanity described as being like an annual sandcastle building competition. Every year (I forget what beach, but I’m sure there are several that do it), people come from all over the state to compete in a huge sandcastle building competition. And these people are serious about it. They build unbelievable structures, paying attention to the tiniest details. Across the shore, viewers will see exquisite castles, buildings, even things like a veterinary clinic with little sand animals and parking lots with cars made out of sand. And yet we all know where this story ends. Before the end of the day, the tide moves up the shore, eventually diminishing all of these impressive sand designs.

And that is vanity. Whenever we put all of our stock into something that is simply going to be washed away, and very soon.

And yet, these people still come out every year to build these sandcastles, even knowing this. But I think the knowing this is what allows them to enjoy it for what it is. Because it is ok to enjoy the process of building the sandcastles! As long as the participants don’t start banking on the longevity and security of their work, they are able to have fun with it and celebrate, not being shaken to their core when it gets washed away.

So I’ve been thinking about that in terms of image this week. It is ok to enjoy the process of caring for our bodies and decorating them. So long as we remember that “beauty is fleeting” (Proverbs 31:30) and we accept the fact that no matter how much we pay attention to detail, it is going to be wiped away from the tide before we know it.

While it’s ok to enjoy and celebrate the process in a healthy and God-glorifying way, it cannot be where we put our stock, unless we want to go bankrupt.

Because there is only one investment that is going to pay off in the end.

“For
‘All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of The Lord remains forever.’
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.”
-1 Peter 1:24-25

And that is what I would tell my little 5 year old neighbor, should I have the opportunity to talk to her about what she overheard. That our bodies are a gift from God, and they are beautiful because they are created in His image. I would tell her that actually, our bodies do much greater things than look good! Healthy bodies can help take care of other people around us. I would tell her that it is ok to want to take good care of our bodies, and we should, but that it was wrong for me to speak so negatively about my body and treat it like it is what I live for and what makes me important. I would tell her that the most important thing is that we know that we are loved, no matter what we look like! We are loved by the One who designed us, and sent His son to die for us on the cross and rise from the dead in order that we can have a relationship with Him. That relationship with God is really what makes us important, and it is the only thing that will truly satisfy us. Getting rid of a little pooch on my stomach is not going to give me anything deeper or more fulfilling in my life. But knowing Jesus more will give me more joy than I could ever imagine! I would ask her to forgive me for setting a bad example for her, and tell her that I want so much more for her in life than worrying about what she looks like. Life is shorter than we realize. But joy in Christ outlasts time and will carry you through eternity!

In an address given to ministers and workers after his 90th birthday, George Mueller said this of himself:

“I was converted in November, 1825, but I only came into the full surrender of the heart four years later, in July 1829. The love of money was gone, the love of place was gone, the love of position was gone, the love of worldly pleasures and engagements was gone. God, God alone became my portion. I found my all in Him; I wanted nothing else. And by the grace of God this has remained, and has made me a happy man, an exceedingly happy man, and it led me to care only about the things of God. I ask affectionately, my beloved brethren, have you fully surrendered the heart to God, or is there this thing or that thing which you are taken up irrespective of God?”

I pray that at the end of my life, I am able to say the same thing of myself. That I did not chase after vanity, spending my life building sandcastles that only got swept away, but that I found such a deep love for God that nothing else mattered to me in comparison.

I also pray that for my Christian sisters today, for my daughter, and for future generations of women.

KM.

Sweet Days, Bottled Up

Last night when Jordan got home and asked about my day, a huge smile spread across my face. I pictured our daughter, earlier that day, with her Minnie Mouse backpack on her shoulders, a balloon in her right hand (a constant, daily companion for this Little One) as she held my hand and we walked to the playground. “These days with Riley are so sweet,” I told Jordan, “I wish that I could just bottle them up, and take them back out whenever I want to in the future!”

It was a great day, and most of my days with Riley lately have been. At 20 months old, this is by far the best and most fun age yet. I can’t even wipe the smile off my face right now as I think about it.

So this blog post is my best attempt at bottling it up! It is the only way that I can, in the future, look back and re-live these days.

Here are some things I want to remember about Riley at this age and about our days together:

1. She is a little introvert. Like both of her parents. She loves to play by herself. She enjoys being around other kids and observing them, but for the most part she just likes to play quietly in her own little corner doing her own little thing :). It makes my days pretty easy, because she just occupies herself. I love it about her. I love how she is so content and happy and imaginative and pensive. At one point yesterday when we went outside, a group of little neighborhood kids came over to her excitedly. You could tell she was delighted by the company, but she also looked overwhelmed so she just sat down on a little step by herself and looked up at them with a very thoughtful expression while they talked to her.

2. She is a thinker, like her Daddy! She rarely enjoys something until she has a little bit of time to warm up, get acquainted to it, and understand it. If we go to a new place or give her a new toy or activity, she will try really hard to figure it out first. Once she figures it out, she has a great time! But she likes to know how things work. As a matter of fact, she is often trying to figure out how things go together, open, close, move, turn on/off, etc. And if she can’t figure something out on her own, she gets frustrated with herself (also like her daddy). I can already tell that she loves learning. When we show her something or explain something to her, you can tell that she is really focused on understanding it and you can see the little wheels turning in her head.

3. She is girly, like her momma! She recently picked out her own new pair of shoes: bright, sparkly pink jellies with hearts on them! She loves to wear bows and clips in her hair, and will often bring them to me, point to her hair and say, “Hep!” (help). She loves to play in my jewelry, wear necklaces, wears any bag she finds like a purse, and asks if I can put lip gloss on her.

4. But even though she’s girly, let me tell you: girlfriend is NOT afraid to get dirty! As a matter of fact, we have started calling her our Hippie Earth Child (thanks Melissa for pointing it out and starting the Nickname) :). Her favorite place is Weaver Street Market, where she gets to be “free” outside. She just comes to life there. She will take her shoes off, roll around in the dirt, pour dirt on her head, dance and sing loudly for everyone to hear, lay in the long grass and cover herself with it, lay in nooks of the trees, and chase pigeons. It is the cutest thing to watch! We take her to Weaver Street on Fridays where we meet friends for Happy Hour, and I like to take her there during the week for picnics and outdoor play time.

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(^ on one of our little Weaver Street picnics. Note how she chose Stripes the tiger to join us , who was actually Jordan’s childhood stuffed animal. And he is wearing one of her t-shirts.)

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(^ Hippie Earth Child, being one with the tree)

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(^ and one with the grass)

5. Riley is quite the little rules follower (again, like her Daddy. She certainly didn’t get that from me!) She loves rules. She is pretty obedient (for awhile she would ask for a round of applause whenever she obeyed), but I think it is in part because she loves rules and order. When we go to the pool, she leads us to walk around to all of the rule signs, she points to them, and we read them out loud (“No diving” “No running,” etc.) She loves it. At Weaver Street, even Hippie Earth Child loves to go over to the sign with rules and point to them (“No smoking,” “keep pets on leash,” etc). When things are supposed to be a certain way, she wants them to be that certain way! Yesterday she got upset when I put a stack of DVDs on top of the entertainment center, because they are supposed to go in the cabinet, and she wants things to be exactly how they are supposed to be. I have a feeling this trait of hers is going to be real fun for her future siblings… 😉

6. Little.miss.independent. Riley is very independent. As mentioned above, she likes to do her own thing, likes to figure things out on her own, and she is also very determined. Basically, she is just a little female, miniature version of her father :). Recently, I’ve started letting her have her own little grocery cart at Trader Joes and let her put the groceries in it. She LOVES it. And so do any/all elderly women shopping that day.

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Riley, if you are reading this one day, I want you to know how much I love being your mom. Each day that we spend together is so sweet to me. I count it one of the greatest gifts in the world that I have the opportunity to stay home with you and enter into your little world with you each day. I love when you hold my hand, sing with me, dance, fall asleep in my arms when I rock you, bring a balloon and/or stuffed animal with you everywhere you go, want me to read to you, share our snacks with each other, and crack up laughing at whatever little things you find hilarious (a recent example: laying in bed, pulling the covers up to your neck, say “night night” but then pretend to roll over onto me). I love how you walk around pointing to our family pictures in frames saying, “Momma (which sounds more like Mema), Daddy, Riweey!” These days with you are precious. I would never trade them for anything. ❤

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KM.

The (Perhaps Surprising) Life of a Local Missionary

I’m pretty sure that I’ve mentioned a few times on my internet space here that I was a College Campus Minister for a little while (4 years) at UNC-Chapel Hill. That is actually how I met my husband, he was also on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, but at Wake Forest University (at the time). Once we got married, he moved to Chapel Hill and became the Staff Team Leader for IV here at UNC. This school year will be the start of his 8th year on staff. Although I am no longer technically employed by InterVarsity, I still do staff work alongside Jordan, and we like to view this as our family’s ministry that we do, rather than just what he does. From behind the scenes (and also sometimes on the front lines) there are many ways in which Riley and I are a part of this work too.

In simple terms, a missionary is one who is sent to an area (globally or locally) to spread the good news of Jesus and make disciples there (essentially teaching people how to live and grow in a relationship with Jesus). Many missionaries (including us) must raise all of the funds to do this work, usually through churches and fellow Christians who believe in the work you are doing.

So, we are missionaries that have been sent to the college campus for this purpose. College students are some of the most influential people in the world. They are the world’s (and church’s) future leaders, so we believe that giving them solid, biblical teaching and training is crucial and we feel very honored to devote ourselves to this task.

In our time doing this, we have seen God do really awesome things! We’ve also seen hard days, our ministry shrink, students walk away from the faith, and the campus (or groups on campus) oppose us. We’ve experienced exciting days where we see students come to Christ and impact the campus in really cool ways! We’ve also seen many monotonous, dull, frustrating days.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some of the misconceptions that people (including me, before I became one) have about missionaries, and the things that might surprise people to know about this life.

Here are some of the things that I’d love to share:

1. We are not extraordinary.
We are actually extremely ordinary. We are normal people with normal problems. We don’t have it all together. We aren’t “super spiritual” as if we were created of some sort of different material than everyone else. We sin. We mess up. We get frustrated. We doubt God. We don’t always feel close to God. Like Moses, we tell God that we can’t do what He is calling us to do. Like David, we give into our sinful desires sometimes and can make a royal mess out of things. Like Jonah, we sometimes want to (or do) flee from the people that God is calling us to reach out to. Like the prophets, we often have to bring unpopular messages and are disliked, disapproved of, and ignored. Like Peter, we doubt God. On a bad day, we might even deny Him like Peter did. Like Paul, we are the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). But also like Paul, we have still been called to the work of the gospel as our full time job.

2. It can be a pretty lonely and isolating job.
I think it is really easy (and understandable) for people to think that we must just be surrounded by community. That we must be doing well for ourselves spiritually and have mentors and help, and camaraderie in our staff communities. But this is not always true. Almost every person that I know who is doing or has done missionary work has said that they have really struggled with loneliness. I think part of this is related to point #1 above ^. That people around us or in our churches are hesitant to pursue friendships with us, because they either are intimidated by the wrong assumption that we have it all together spiritually, or they think we won’t be able to relate to their “normal” lives. Additionally, most people don’t really understand what we do, so they don’t ask questions about it. The only thing lonelier than doing missionary work alone is feeling unknown in what you do, as you do it. Leading and counseling the people God has entrusted you with is not the same thing as community. The missionary life involves a lot of pouring out of your life, with not much being poured into your own life.
This is part of why fundraising is actually such a big gift. It’s not just about the money. It invites people to participate in what we are doing and, ideally, care and check in with us. Sensing the emotional commitment and spiritual support of our work from our supporters is just as valuable (if not more so) than the money that makes this whole thing possible. It solidifies the sense that we are not in this alone. We may be on the “front lines” but we have a whole military of people praying and caring and invested in it with us.

3. Our work is for the church.
As missionaries, we are doing the work of the church, for the church, and with the church. We are not individuals going out and doing our own thing. We love the church, we are a part of the church, and we need to be sent from the church. The church is doing this work. Kind of like our family. Yes, Jordan is the one who is spending full days on campus and preaching and teaching the Word of God (and so so so much more than that). But it is our family doing the work together, because we are one unit. Riley and I do what we need to to help Jordan do what he needs to on the campus. In the same way, we are a part of the family of God, the Church. Therefore the church sending us out is the church furthering the Kingdom of God at UNC.

4. We do not have all the answers. And sometimes, we don’t even have good solutions.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve walked away from a meeting with someone who wanted to talk to me about something, and have seen a look of deep disappointment on their face. I can tell that they were hoping for more from me. They were hoping I held some hidden key that would unlock the mystery of their questions about God or some big realization about what they should do about their hurting roommate or a new dating situation. On the one hand, we have received a lot of training in Scripture and in counseling, and sometimes that means God works through us to offer great wisdom and insight that might really help. But on the other hand, sometimes our most faithful and honest answer is, “I don’t know.” And sometimes we are just as confused as you are.

5. We feel a lot of pressure to perform.
Going along with #4 above ^, because I have had that experience, I often feel a lot of pressure to have the right thing to say and to be able to pour wisdom and insight over you. This means that I struggle with feelings of failure often. It also means that sometimes I speak when I should just be silent, because I am afraid of not being of any help and letting people down.
When you are a missionary, you know that people are constantly watching you. And it feels like there is a lot at stake if you let them down. You don’t want them to walk away from the ministry (or worse, from Jesus!), you don’t want someone to doubt the ministry you’re doing or the organization.

6. A lot of the work we do is not very sexy.
I used to think the work of a missionary was so spiritually glamorous (before I became one)! Of course, I knew it meant you would never be rich and live the American Dream. But surely it meant that you would be constantly seeing God work in incredible ways. People coming to Christ! Freed from addictions! Making new disciples! Bringing water and resources to places in need! Healing! Such happy things.
But the reality is that, while those things do happen, they can be very few and far between.
A lot of the work of the missionary is tilling soil and planting seeds. It is day in and day out building a relationship with someone who is questioning Jesus, but you may never actually see them come to faith. A lot of it is putting out fires. Conflicts among teams you are leading. New campus rules that restrict what you are doing. Someone getting upset with what you said in your last large group talk. A lot of it is answering emails, and responding to phone calls, and filling out forms, and studying what scripture says about different things, and fundraising, and delegating tasks, and ordering t-shirts, and making trips to Costco to make sure you have enough lemonade for the cookout.
I went into Greek ministry (fraternity and sorority students) thinking that I was going to see all these men and women come to faith in Jesus and leading “seeker friendly” outreach bible studies in their fraternities and sororities, resulting in more people coming to faith! Instead, I saw more students walk away than come to faith. I had more students disagree with me than take my words to heart. I had more flopped events than gospel-spreading bible studies in the Greek houses. I had declining numbers, and constant tests of faithfulness and perseverance. I had more hard conversations than inspiring ones.

7. But we don’t usually feel freedom to let people know this ^
As our culture knows, sexy is what sells. So letting it be known how monotonous and un-thrilling this work can be sometimes, is not going to be the way we raise funds for this work. Not that we lie or want to be deceitful in our newsletters or our presentations, but we definitely try hard to pull out the most exciting stories that we can. Because that is what people want to hear and want to fund. They want to hear the story of the young man who was addicted to drugs and alcohol, almost kicked out of school for bad grades who then came to Christ, kicked his addiction, graduated with a 4.0, then went on to get a Masters in Divinity AND in micro finance so he could move to Africa, start a church, train up local pastors, train them in building a sustainable economy, and lead 500 of them to Christ while doing it!!!! Now that is the kind of missionary work people want to hear about! That is what raises money.
No one is catching their breath and wiping away tears when you tell them that you spent an entire semester investing in a relationship with someone who, in the end, decided they wanted nothing to do with you or Jesus.
And this can make our work all the more lonely and isolating.

8. We do not always live in poverty, but are sometimes expected to.
I’ve had people drop off my financial support team because they thought we raised too much money, even though I couldn’t pay all of my bills and had no money to save. I’ve had someone tell me (before I got married) that they think I shouldn’t be able to rent a place with roommates, but should have to live in a room in someone else’s house, because of what I do. When purchasing a clearance item at Target once, I had someone ask me if I knew I was spending “someone else’s money” to buy it, since I was a missionary. Even though our salary is included in what we raise, there is sometimes an expectation that all of our own personal finances should be put back into the ministry as well. I’m not saying that we do not have the responsibility to be wise stewards with the money God entrusts to us (that goes for all Christians), but it is painful to be treated like we shouldn’t be able to provide for ourselves or our family.

9. It is not always fun.
This point is probably not surprising, given what I’ve already said above. I have had people say to me when I still a campus staff, “Wow, you just get to hang out with college students all day?! That sounds like such a fun job!”
Sometimes it was fun. More often than not, it wasn’t. Nor was it simply “hanging out with college students all day.”
There are definitely some incredible perks! I’m not going to lie. It can be really awesome.
But it is also exhausting. And heartbreaking. And hard. And… well, you get it.

I’m sure that is not an exhaustive list, and any of my other missionary friends, please feel free to add more in the comments section!

In summary, missionary work is a huge honor and can be really rewarding. But it is also hard and not always what it appears to be. We are just your average sinners called by a Holy God to do this specific task. It is not more important than other vocations, and we are not more holy for doing it.

If you are a missionary reading this, I hope this encourages you today and you know that you are not alone! If you know someone who is a missionary, I hope this maybe helps give you a clearer glimpse into their world, and I hope that you will encourage them today :).

KM.

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