Category Archives: Life

Bus Station Theology

Some of you know I traveled by a Greyhound bus a few days ago. The plan was for me to ride to Birmingham from Nashville. I ended up being met at the halfway mark by a friend, which was a good thing considering the tornado touch downs in the area.

When I booked the ticket a month ago it seemed like a good option for saving money, not having to drive in unfamiliar territory and using the commute to read and write. Plus, I didn’t need a car once I got to Birmingham. Had I seen a Greyhound station before I probably would’ve been convinced extra money spent on a car worth it. And besides, I learned to drive on the freeways of Houston!

But God wanted me at the station, as uncomforable as it was.

The first thing I saw when my friend and I pulled up in her white suburban were homeless people congregated outside the building and the police at the corner talking to someone.

For the first time, I started to get nervous.

We decided my friend would wait in the car with my luggage while I went inside to check-in… or check-it out rather. I walked in and immediately felt all eyes on me. Yes, my skin color was different than most, but what really separated me were my clothes. Clearly, I was not the typical bus rider.

But I got in line next to a lady with missing teeth. It was her first time too and neither of knew the procedure. When it was my turn at the counter I learned it would not be at all like what I’m accustomed to at the airport. Having arrived unnecessarily an hour early, I went back out to my friend and we decided to go use the restroom and get coffee at the Omni – only 1 mile from the station but worlds apart.

When we pulled into the hotel valet area we actually asked about the cost of an Uber to Birmingham.  Just to see. Another option we considered was driving over to the airpot so I could rent a car, which would get me to Birmingham even an hour sooner without the stops the bus was going to make. But despite my apprehension I wasn’t convinced I shouldn’t just stick to my plan.

When we returned to the station the two of us walked in together this time.  Again, I felt keenly aware of our differences. Every seat in the waiting area was taken and I didn’t know where to even stand. Thankfully there is power in numbers so with my friend’s lead we made our way past staring eyes to the far side of the room where we found a mother-daughter duo (who looked most closely like me). They were enroute from Michigan to Florida and had already been at it for 24 hours! So eye-opening – strange – to me. But, chatting with them calmed my spirit, and gave me people to sit by on the bus.

That is when my friend knew she could safely leave me. But soon after she left it was announced the bus was indefinitely delayed. Of course, that sent me into a new round of questioning whether this bus-thing was the right thing to do. Something interesting happened though; people all around me started chatting with one another–  bonding over the bus being behind. I had been struck by the fact that unlike me, taking the bus was truly their only transportation option, but now just like me they too were antsy to get to their destination. We could identify. Only most of them had way further to go.

When the older-looking lady with lots of piercings (her circumstances likely the culprit of aging beyond her years) saw me looking for an outlet for my phone charger she scooted her luggage over and let me take seat. As we started talking she shared her concern for a family member who needed knee surgery. Well, I have that exact concern thanks to a rider on my husband’s knee. She and I, we could identify. Only I’m not fearful of a possible leg amputation as she is because of several family members’ experiences due to infection and the lack of proper medical attention.

As different as I looked from everyone seated around me, I couldn’t help thinking they too are wonderfully, beautifully created in the same likeness of God as me. Imago Dei. Made in his image.  

We miss this though. Or, I do. In so many ways I live worlds apart from the woman I was sitting next to, but stripped of our external clothes and conditions, our hearts are the same.

We all fear, worry, lose our patience, grow tired, get hungry. We sin. We judge. We dismiss others with distain. We fill with pride, and shrink back in insecurity. We all want to be loved and affirmed; accepted. We look for those things in false places. And we all need the redeeming blood of a Savior.

Waiting in the station and riding the bus was good for me. It opened my eyes, made me uncomfortable and filled me with compassion all at the same time. When I began to look beyond the outer shell of others, I didn’t feel so afraid anymore. I got off the bus a little later thankful God doesn’t look at me the way I so often look at others. Imago Dei. Made in his image. 

What if we looked at others as image bearers? Can we see it’s true? Only by his grace, but let’s pray he would help us see – really see – all people, especially those who look nothing like us.

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Sounding the Siren on the Teen Suicide and Mental Health Crisis

Last Saturday night my nephew went to his prom, as high school seniors all over the country are doing this month and have been looking forward to.  But for he and his group of friends to get dressed to go have fun at prom was no easy thing. In fact, there had been discussion about whether they should – or even could – make themselves go. The reason: just days before the unimaginable changed everything for their tight-knit small town community.

One of my nephew’s best friends, who should’ve been with them at prom, committed suicide. Today my nephew will be serving as a pall bearer.

When my brother-in-law called my husband with the tragic news, it was the second suicide within two days for us hear about. The day before a friend of mine in another city had shared with me about her son’s friend doing the same.

Teen suicide is on the rise.

Research shows from 1986 to 2014 suicide rates steadily declined, but in just the last three years it has jumped back up by a quarter. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the rise is occuring within every age group under 75, and with both men and women. But the percent increase among young people is highest, especially girls between the ages of 10-14 (www.npr.org). Also noted: 90% of those who commit suicide had an underlying mental health issue.

As an author and speaker on teen topics, and a parent of one who has struggled with an eating disorder and depression, mental health issues and their far-reaching effects is something I’ve become more keenly aware of in the last few years. All mental health issues have been on the rise.

Many factors are at play, but I think the connection to the increase of social media during this same time period plays a huge part. Behind the scenes (and screens) teens are consumed by comparison and struggling under enormous pressure. Pressure to be seen as perfect -to be perfect- in every realm.  Failure to measure up, whether by self-imposed or external standards, leads to great insecurity, self-hatred and shame that can quickly spiral downward.  Without meaning to oversimplify or negate other causes, the fact more teens and college students than ever before are struggling with depression and anxiety goes hand in hand.

This heartbreaking reality should serve as a big red flag to the church, parents of teens, and those who work with teens. While I do not presume to know or speak to the reasons behind the aformentioned suicides, “events that produce feelings of failure or loss, such as getting in trouble, having an argument, breaking up with a partner, or receiving a bad grade on a test” are reasons listed on healthychildren.org that lead teens to make the rash decision to take their own life. And I would add that looking at life through a selfie grid is what blinds them – and all the rest of us – to the hope of the One who looks upon us with compassion, showers us with forgiveness and grace, and promises to make all things new.

As the church and as parents, we can do alot of prevention simply by helping our kids look outside of self and pointing them to the One who measured up perfectly for them*.  Christ did everything necessary to achieve God’s perfect standard for us. And he gave us this identity when he went to the cross bearing our sin and failures in exchange for his perfect performance. So when our kids mess up they need the grid of the gospel to see who Jesus is for them. When our kids feel hopeless or less than, they need the grid of the gospel to see the One who promises hope and a future in a life centered on him – not self.

I know this is easier said than believed. Only God can open eyes and hearts to accept his goodness and grace. But he tells us in his word that in the gospel is the power for salvation and to transform lives. It is the healing balm our souls need to hear, over and over again. So when we talk to our teens and walk alongside those in our circles, let’s not be okay with just keeping conversation on the surface. Let’s dig deeper so we know how to apply the gospel truth to specific areas of their lives. Let’s also help them see we “get” it because we too forget who Jesus is for us and we too need the gospel to penetrate our hearts. And above all, let’s pray for a generation of young people who desperately need to see the glories of who Jesus is for them and to know he is with them.

Suicide and mental health struggles do not have the final word. At the cross Christ triumphed once and for all over sin and Satan to set us free. This is our great hope as we persevere in this life, looking to him as the author and the finisher of our faith.

* Additional article on talking to your teens, click here.                  Suicide resource book for the church: here.

Face Time comes out May 29th. You can preorder it now: here. To learn more about the coming book launch team please sign up for the newsletter.

What Does Living Loved Even Look Like?

“Lived like you’re loved” was the title and theme of my last post (taken from the title track of Hawk Nelson’s album, Diamonds). This new-ish  song has given me a new name for what really has been my manta the last couple years. “And the Soul Felt Its Worth” is how I have written and thought about it.

The idea of feeling our worth, knowing our value, finding a secure identity and living loved started for me early on in my daughter’s treatment for an eating disorder and depression. As I began to understand more of her underlying struggle, I knew it was not a struggle unique to her. We all know what it is like to long to know we are accepted, loved and approved. But it was her experience that put me on a path to discovering what life is like when we don’t live loved and don’t feel our worth. It’s the concept that birthed my coming book, Face Time: Your Identity in a Selfie World.

Lysa TerKeurst in her book Uninvited (which I’m reading alongside other women this semester) writes of her “live loved quest… a one woman experiment in whether or not it is actually possible to live from a place of being loved.”  In other words, if we lived loved (if we knew our worth) would it change how we see ourselves and interpret our circumstances? Would it enable us to see others with eyes of compassion instead of comparison and envy? Would it alter our self-talk?

My small group has taken this challenge to live loved.  And even though I have already been thinking, writing and speaking about it, my awareness of how often we subconsciously chose to live loved or not has increased over these past few weeks. But here’s the deal, the way to living loved or being filled in Christ has to come through knowing who Jesus is for us – his worth and work – otherwise it will remain just an elusive concept.

It was Jesus’s perfect performance – his sinless life – given to us upon salvation that makes us right. And in being made right Christ secured for all time God’s love for us. His favor. His smile. For those who have been redeemed,  there is nothing we could do that would change his opinion of us. We are declared perfect; sealed in his love.  This is what gospel self-talk is. And I  I had amble opportunity to preach it to myself this past week. To live loved we have to.

This is what it has looked like for me…

  1. Realizing I used the word “YOUR” instead of the correct “YOU’RE” in my last blog title and Instagram post. Not the end of the world by any stretch, but as a writer I thought how stupid I must look because seriously that’s something you learn in grade school! Others must be questioning my credibility as a writer or secretly laughing. What other mistakes have people noticed that I never did?  As trivial as this is, you see where our self-talk can so quickly go if we aren’t filled in Christ.
  2. Feeling forgotten and dismissed after not receiving a response I was hoping for. As I conjured up reasons why, it included believing that I was uncared for and less-than. How easily then I could let my disappointment create false realities. No wonder friendships fracture and masks are worn, but gospel self-talk changes how we feel about ourselves and others. Grace can run free when we are free of self and full in Christ.
  3. Receiving a phone call from another mom about something one of my kids did. Isn’t our tendency in a situation like this to say, “My kid would never…”? Well, don’t ever say that! Thankfully when I had the aforementioned conversation I was living loved which sparred me from going down the path of stressing over what the other mom thought about me or my kid. But you can see how different it might have gone if I needed her acceptance or my child’s obedience to feel my worth instead of resting in Christ’s acceptance for me, no matter what.

Being full in Christ is being filled by the reality of the unchanging, irrevoakable love of the Father.  When we know our identity is tied up in his, there is no need to try to fill the soul hole with anything else.  We feel our worth and can stand secure even when daily things, as small as the examples shared, threaten to knock us off our feet. Day by day, hour by hour, filling our minds with the truth of who he is is what living loved looks like.

Some of the ladies from my church gathered for the “Live Loved” luncheon, where we got to tap into our creative side with a watercolor & brush calligraphy lesson.

Face Time comes out May 29th. You can preorder it now: here. To learn more about the coming book launch team please sign up for the newsletter.