P.S., It’s Not About The Song 

When I was in ninth grade, my youth group and I took a trip to Kansas City for a youth conference, Acquire the Fire. On the way home, my friends and I were talking about the event-and complaining about the music. 

The band that lead worship was a talented group of people. But they chose the same songs for every worship session. And they repeated the same lines over. And over. And over again. We all agreed that the worship would have been better if we’d been able to sing different songs. Or maybe if we sang the chorus twice instead of twenty times. 

A dear friend and mentor heard the conversation, and fortunately stepped in. She challenged us to see worship in a different way. To see the Lord instead of the lyrics on the screen. To have a heart of worship regardless of how many times you’ve repeated the same phrase. She told us that worship is more about where our heart is than the quality of the music. 

That night, she began to teach me a lesson that I still haven’t learned. I still find myself criticizing worship leaders and aspects of the worship bands (which is ironic considering I can’t carry a tune to save my life.) I still find myself saying “if they could just play it the right way, it would be easier to worship.” 

This mentality takes the responsibility off of my shoulders. If I blame the band for my lack of worship because they were playing a song too fast, then I don’t have to confront my own failures in worship. I don’t have to admit that I was holding on to anger and that it was keeping me from worship. I don’t have to admit that I wasn’t willing to let go of my daydreams to focus on the Lord that has never stopped focusing on me. I don’t have to admit that I failed the one who would never fail me. 

But by blaming the band or the song choice, I’m also telling God that my ability to worship is based on external factors. It is based on the people I’m with and what they’ll think of me. There are times where I’m hesitant to raise my hand in praise because heaven forbid I do something unusual. How different a picture that is from King David, who danced before the Lord with complete disregard for anyone else’s opinions-including his wife’s. 

Since that conversation in Kansas City, I’ve come a long way with worship. I am more deliberate with where my heart is when I sing praises, and I understand that worship isn’t about the song. As I move forward in my relationship with the Lord, I want to deepen this intentionality so that my worship fills all my actions, not just the ones when I stand in the church pew. I was created to praise the Lord in all I do, and I’m not going to let a song put a damper on that. 

Smart Phones Suck, Get Rid of Yours. 

Every morning, I run past a house with chalk drawings scrawled across the sidewalk out front. While most of the doodles were images of creatures and people, one child had elected to write a simple message to passerby: ‘Smart phones suck. Get rid of yours.’ I meant to take a picture (with my smartphone, of course), but it was washed away by the rain before I did. 

I wondered how many times that child had noticed the epidemic plaguing society: a couple going for a walk after a day at work, both with eyes glued to their phones. A teen walking past, their phone an extension of their hand, not bothering to smile at the people they passed. The epidemic may very well have hit their own home, with parents missing stories from the day because they’re scrolling through Facebook, or an older sibling ignoring the pleas to play in favor of texting their friends.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a trend in my own habits. When my friend group is met with a lull in conversation or action, my phone is in my hands, either to check my social media (needlessly) or to play a couple rounds of a mindless game. Although I’m still aware of the conversations when I’m playing those addicting iPhone games, I seem disinterested. I seem uninvested. I seem like I’d rather be somewhere else. It gives the impression that the people I’m with aren’t good enough for my full attention. 

Smartphones are a fantastic asset; I can connect with my global friends instantly, I can keep tabs on what’s happening around the world, and I stay on top of events and appointments with ease. 

But smartphones can also be dangerous. We have a habit of devoting time and energy to the people in other towns, states, and countries, while neglecting the connections we could be making within our neighborhoods. We’re so focused on what’s happening in the world that we forget to ask what’s happening in our friends’ lives. We spend so much time thinking about future appointments that we forget to live in the moment and soak in experiences.

We were created for communion with God and with each other, and while phones can contribute to connections, they cannot compare to the power of going for coffee and doing life with people. 

I often find myself planning for the relationships I will develop in college. I daydream about building friendships within my dorm, my ROTC community, and my classmates. God is opening doors and I know He will provide deep, fulfilling communities for me while I’m in college. 

But I cannot let my eagerness for college pull me away from the opportunities and the experiences in front of me as I finish my last semester of high school, or get in the way of developing a solid, consistent relationship with God. 

I’m not going to do anything so drastic as to get rid of my smartphone (sorry, neighborhood kid!). But I am going to start paying more attention to how and when I use my phone. It will be an asset, not a hinderance, to the relationships I am in now and will develop in the future. 

Turning The Page

The last days of 2016 were filled with reflection. Thoughts of the previous year, and hopes and fears for the new year, filled my mind as I went through the motions of Christmas break. New Years Eve held not only the transition from one year to another, but also from one stage of life to another. 2017 will be a year of change, of trust, and of growth.

I’m overwhelmed by thoughts of AP exams, scholarships, and other stressful events. I obsess over whether I should have done something different, or better, or not at all. I wonder if I’m good enough.

With my senior year drawing to a close, I find myself looking into what feels like the vast unknown of my first semester of college. Several paths branch out before me, forking off in different directions and bending out of view. I’m standing before them all, trying to see as far as I can to decide which path to take.

Throughout the past few months, I went through the process of applying for an ROTC scholarship. I spent hours rereading essays and double and triple checking questions. I got up an hour early most mornings to run a few miles in preparation for the physical assessment. I’ve made myself sick from the stress of wondering if I’ll get the scholarship and questioning whether or not I did enough.

I grew up hearing and repeating the phrase “hurry up and wait.” But for the first time, I feel its meaning personally. I worked hard to get everything in on time for the scholarship. And now all I can do is wait and see what God does with it. As I head into this year of change, it seems appropriate to make a few resolutions.

I’ve always thought New Year’s resolutions were pointless. The celebration of the day in general has always seemed the same way. When you wake up on January 1, nothing from the previous year will have changed except the number on the calendar. There’s no magic reset button at 11:59 p.m. on December 31st. Why wait till the beginning of next year to make a change? Start today (whatever day “today” happens to be).

1) With all of the question marks looming before me, I resolve to lean on the Lord and trust in Him. If ROTC is a part of His plan for me, then those doors will be opened-regardless of my mile time, my interview, or my ACT score.

2) As I go through this year of change and uncertainty, I will look to God for my identity and my purpose. I will not place my identity in other people or in my success; I will focus on who I am in Christ and who He is creating me to be and what he is preparing me for. I will ground myself in His word and allow Him to take the reins.

3) Every once in a while, I will remember to stop and smell the roses. This year is a big year, and it will be a stressful year. But it will also be a year of growth and learning, and I will give myself room to be still and soak in the lessons the Lord has for me.

Instead of heading into 2017 with unease, I move forward armed with the truth that He goes before me to prepare my way, that He will provide for me, and that I am beloved by Him.

“Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:3.

Picket Signs and Protests: The Fight for Life

Roughly 422,782 abortions have taken place in the United States this year, a number that is growing rapidly.

I don’t support abortion.

But I understand.

I understand the teenage girl who tries so hard to set herself up for a good future, and gets pregnant unexpectedly. I understand the woman in poverty who feels that an abortion would be better than bringing a child into the life she lives. I understand.

I am pro-life. But I am tired of the pro-life movement.

I am tired of picket signs and protests outside of Planned Parenthood. I am tired of pro-lifers speaking up only when the unborn child is brought into the equation. I am tired of a movement that is pro-birth, rather than pro-life.

So often I hear pro-life activists say women should keep their babies because there are couples that want to adopt those children. But with 135,000 children adopted within the United States each year, a majority of the children born to teen mothers alone will end up in the foster system their entire child and adolescent years.

So often I hear pro-life activists say women should keep their baby because life in poverty is better than no life at all. There’s always the off chance that they’ll eventually escape poverty, right?

Rarely do I hear pro-lifers speak up on anything other than abortion. I haven’t seen pro-lifers fighting poverty in the depleted areas of the country. I haven’t seen pro-lifers making movements in prison reform, suicide prevention, or other areas where lives are threatened. And those that do are drowned out by the voice of the masses who preach life only for unborn children.

What about the homeless? The hungry? The hurting? Don’t they deserve life as much as the unborn child?

There are people who are living in situations of poverty and despair, but the pro-lifers are notably silent on the issue. There are people hanging by a thread to keep themselves and their children alive, and they don’t see pro-lifers marching to save the day.

Instead of telling a woman her child deserves the off chance, give both her and her child a good chance.

Instead of simply banning a practice, make the other options better.

Instead of fighting abortion only, fight for life everywhere.

Sister Joan Chittister summed it up better than anyone else could: “Your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth.”