Two Tough Questions

On the eve of Conversations That Matter, I have dipped into a self-reflective state.

A bit of background first. Conversations that Matter (CTM) is something our team has adopted to, you guessed it, have conversations that matter. About truth. About life. About the tough stuff. It gives us a safe space to delve into topics that normally wouldn’t be breached in a classroom or brought up in normal conversation. It allows us to question what is often assumed.

It is also an instrumental part of my faith story.

CTM almost always starts with a question. And if I’ve taken anything away from my college experience, it is that asking good questions is absolutely essential to living a radical life, getting to know people on a deeper level, and discovering truth, whatever you might believe that to be.

In fact, that was the very first thing I heard on my very first day at Westmont College. A speaker at orientation told us wide-eyed freshmen that college was all about asking good questions, working to answer those questions, and then figuring out how to ask even better questions.

Who would’ve thought that something I learned on my first day would be something I’ve kept with me all these years? And it’s gotten me pretty dang far.

As an atheist, I was ALWAYS the one to ask the tricky, the uncomfortable, the slightly-pushy questions to challenge the Christian faith. I asked the questions that people would rather avoid, or the ones that hadn’t even crossed their minds. I took pride in absolutely owning that role at CTM. I was stubborn and strong-willed and determined to prove Christianity wrong. I wanted so desperately for my way of living to work…

Turns out that if you ask enough questions, the truth will catch up to you in the end. And it will be undeniable.

So… back to my self-reflective state.

I often wonder what I would tell my non-believing self this time last year? Would my atheist-self find my God-loving-self obnoxious and pretentious and full of sh*t?

Maybe. There is definitely a high possibility that my past-self would tell my present-self to shove it.

However, I actually don’t think I would tell myself anything. In typical Lauren fashion, I would ask two very important questions.

1)   Why do you believe that God exists?

2)   Why do you believe IN God?

I wouldn’t blame you if you said these questions seem oddly similar, because they do. But read between the lines, and like me, you’ll realize there’s a world of difference between the two.

Let me explain.

1)   I believe God exists because I have personally experienced His presence. No amount of logical reasoning could convince me of God’s existence – evident because even after four years of analyzing the Christian faith, I had come out an atheist and not a Christian. So there’s that. Instead, I had to be “won over” both intellectually and emotionally. (Well, technically I had to be defeated intellectually, but that’s another story for another time). Truth hit me square in the face, and boy did I feel it. Like I said, it was undeniable. But it took four years of nonstop questioning, engaging in tough conversations, and listening HARD to people who cared about me.

2)   But believing that God exists doesn’t necessitate that you believe IN Him. Sure, admitting His existence is no small feat, but choosing to let Him enter your life, and putting your faith in Him – that, my friends, is something else entirely. I believe IN God because, quite simply, I can’t freakin’ do it on my own. I just can’t. And so many times this year, when I’ve felt like I was at my breaking point (think on the edge of a metaphorical cliff people) I gave it all to God. Well, actually I kind of angrily threw it in His face, but you get the point. And He swooped in to cover my ass and pick up the pieces. I don’t know WHAT I would be without Him at this point.

Actually, I do.

I would be a prideful, broken, overly-analytical, cynical, self-deprecating perfectionist who believes wholeheartedly that love is conditional. I would be less than tolerable and have a pretty damn ugly personality. However, with God, I can still be broken, but I am also loved. And redeemed. And so much more capable of loving others UN-conditionally. I can wrestle with my imperfections and screw-ups with a much quieter judgmental voice in my head. I believe in God because I have to.

And so, I leave you with this. Ask questions. In all aspects of life. Be curious. In a world that would rather be divided and seems to relish alternative truths, asking good questions generates understanding, empathy and connection. Be willing to engage, and embrace, the tough stuff.

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Words to Live By

I’m not someone who is particularly good at making, much less following through with, New Year’s resolutions. I typically fail at them, and my overly competitive athlete mind would prefer not to look failure in the face.

So instead of resolutions, I’ve started picking out words that I find interesting or poignant or even slightly intimidating. Towards the end of my senior year of college, I became obsessed with the word “embrace.”

Why? I couldn’t tell you. But you bet I incorporated that word into everything: I doodled it on my class notes, painted it onto a canvas, made it into a necklace that I wore every day for the better part of a year. I even blogged about it.

It’s sort of how I started this blog actually. I was trying so hard to avoid what was right in front of me – uncertainty. And a lot of it. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a set plan. I didn’t know what the “next step” would be..

But then I realized this hurdle resembled many of the challenges I had faced on the court. Instead of avoiding and fearing things like games and practices and, God forbid, the conditioning test, I had to, quite simply, embrace them. Real life requires this same kind of mindset. There’s no running from the uncomfortable things in life. No matter how much you don’t want to, no matter how scary it may seem, we have to face them head-on. We have to confront our inner demons. Deal with our emotions, no matter how sh*tty they might seem. Embrace the suck in order to dare greatly.

Here is a list of things that I’ve had to embrace this year:

  1. Change: Post-grad life is all about change; and not just external circumstances. In the same way that college provides ample opportunities for transformative self-exploration, the “adult” world (and I use that term loosely) allows you to completely reinvent yourself – if you let it. Learning to embrace this season of change was more difficult, and so much more rewarding, than I ever could have dreamed.
  2. My prideful nature: Admitting that I am a prideful person was hard enough. Embracing it? Damn near impossible. But coming clean about one of my faults was surprisingly affirming rather than shaming. I have found that embracing my not so imperfect parts allows me to work on them.
  3. Losing friendships: Whew. To say that this was hard to embrace would be the understatement of the century. And if we’re being honest here, I’m not totally certain I have yet. But – slowly – I have come to understand that sometimes these things happen. And I’ve had to embrace the fact that losing these friendships is not a direct reflection of my worthiness.
  4. Vulnerability & sharing when it’s not ideal: Allowing people to see the “delicate parts of me” has been quite the unexpected experience. Thank you to those who were willing to listen and were patient enough to hear me out time and time again. You know who you are. I’ve also embraced being vulnerable with myself: it’s so easy to ignore the “ugly parts” of ourselves. I can lie to myself pretty well if I want to. Pretending to be perfect is a skilled I have honed over the years. But it’s been oh so refreshing, and more than freeing, to be able to say, hey, I kind of suck at this, let’s work on it.
  5. Living in the tension: Coaching has unexpectedly become a very tension-filled area in my life, and also one of the most challenging and humbling experiences to date. I thought that being a “good” captain would easily equate to being a “good” coach. I was honestly naïve enough to believe that I had it all together and that coaching would be a breeze. Yeah…definitely not. When dealing with 15 different personalities on any given day, how hard you work isn’t the determining factor that defines your success. You need to also factor in grace, understanding, empathy, a thick skin, trust, ethics and good communication skills. And then maybe, maybe, you’ll be good.
  6. Being ok with messing up – a lot: Ironically, my job at Santa Barbara Roasting Company has helped me the most with this. When you don’t know how to make a latte or ring up a “quad shot half-caf breve cappuccino” on the register, you need to be ok with messing up, admitting it, and asking for help. Basically, you have to embrace your lack of knowledge and have a plethora of grace for yourself and others. Another humbling experience for Lauren.

Clearly, the word “embrace” has taught me a thing or two the past couple of months.

So… my new word for 2017? Courage.

I originally picked this word because it’s confusing to me. I can’t pick out moments in my life where I think I’ve been “courageous.” When I think of courage I picture men lined up on the battlefield defending their country, the girl in the hospital bed fighting against cancer, the widow who’s lost her husband unexpectedly but who chooses joy every day.

I am none of these things.

But I refuse to believe that we can’t choose courage even if we aren’t faced with tremendous grief or hardship or pain. I think we can be courageous every day. I think we can find small moments where we are called to be courageous…

…voicing our opinions, even if they contradict the status quo. Admitting when we don’t know the answer. Attempting to understand someone who is perceived as different from us. Forgiving undeservedly. Making people feel like they belong. Loving each other when it’s not convenient for us. Loving ourselves in a world that tells us otherwise. Loving the struggle because we know it breeds perseverance. Sharing our stories even when every fiber in our body is screaming no! Trusting each other…

These are just a few ways that I feel like we can live courageously every day. Easy to say, hard to do. In short, I can’t wait to see what this word brings in the new year!

beautifully broken

She plays make believe on her dirty front porch

bare feet sway

to and fro.

Watches her drunk mother sway

in much the same way.

Surrounded by dust and filth

and grime and hopelessness

and despair.

She’s heard “dream big”

but what can she possibly dream up

in a place such as this.

Eyes that transcend boundaries,

a harbor for memories of unseen horrors.

She’s just a broken little girl.

 

She gets ready in the morning

and along with her makeup and outfit,

puts on her mask of perfection.

She lives and dies for the approval

of strangers and friends alike.

But no one would ever know.

She kills herself to be perfect

To fit in

To be loved.

She goes to church, gets the grades,

has the clothes, friends, personality,

but for what?

Because she too,

she’s just a broken little girl.

 

She’s a girl held prisoner by her past

who fills herself up with the

adoration of lovers.

Shackles the pain

just to live another day.

Faces suffering and death wholeheartedly,

but cannot see the light.

She loves others

more than she could ever love herself.

If only she could see

how worthy she is,

it would change everything.

She didn’t mean to break you,

she’s just a broken little girl.

 

She’s caught in a cycle

of uncertainty and regret.

She wants to be good, she wants to be great.

It’s so easy to see who she could be

but so hard to make her realize

the beauty the lies in her imperfections.

She hides behind laughter,

trying to fool the world

into thinking she’s ok.

Trying to fool herself

into believing the same thing.

Trying so hard to find her way,

But still,

she’s just a broken little girl.

 

She fears her dependency,

and is terrified she will repeat the past.

She knows what is right,

but oh, she is painfully aware of what she wants.

The tension is building,

and maintaining the balance seems impossible.

Frustrated by her silence,

impatient for change,

and begging to be seen.

She can so easily find the beauty in others

but cannot accept that

she

just like everyone else

is just a broken little girl.

 

We all try our best,

but it isn’t about the trying,

it’s about the breaking,

and the brokenness.

We’re all just broken little girls,

but will we face that brokenness,

and bring it to the light?

Will we support each other,

love each other,

f i g h t for each other

despite it a l l.

Because it is only when we break

that we can heal

that we can become new.

How a Hydroflask taught me about love and imperfections..

I’ve been thinking a lot about imperfections. Imperfect people. Imperfect love. Imperfect people loving imperfectly. And how, impossibly, sometimes that just seems to be enough in this crazy world.

—————

One of my freshmen girls so eloquently reminded me of this simple truth today. (I don’t think she even realized the profundity of what she said, or the impact that it had on me. That’s the beauty of innocence sometimes.)

As we were walking to my car, I dropped my Hydroflask on the pavement and dinged up one of its edges. I let out an exasperated sigh, as this was the second time this has happened. One ding was enough; I could hide that. But two dings? Now that’s just annoying. And so much harder to cover up.

After the initial clanging of the metal bottle hitting the pavement, my friend remarked, somewhat nonchalantly, “It’s still beautiful.”

It’s still beautiful…

I didn’t think much of it at first. Laughed it off and continued walking.

But then, not two minutes later, she caught me looking at my water bottle again, my irritation still evident. And again she says, “It’s still beautiful.”

And that’s when it hits me.

It’s still beautiful. Just like people.

Despite our imperfections, our bumps and dings and hurt, we are still beautiful. We are still worthy of love. In fact, it is because of those imperfections that we are beautiful. Honestly, we intuitively know that perfection is unattainable – but more importantly, perfection is freakin’ boring! It’s just not worth anyone’s time. I can now say that some of my “biggest screw-ups” in life have miraculously turned into my most beautiful learning experiences. And those were the times when I was nowhere near anyone’s definition of “perfect.”

But I was perfectly broken. And, somehow, that became enough.

Because when we have the ability to speak life and understanding into others by relating our “supposedly screwed up” stories, that is true beauty. When we can show them that they are not alone in their struggles or their insecurities or their mistakes, because we have been there, then we can be fully with them.

And yes, we are flawed and we will make mistakes when loving each other, but there is beauty and freedom in that too. And ironically, I only just realized this recently.

Today, while on the phone with Kristin Stockfisch (cool mentor lady I’ve spoken about in previous blog posts), she said something so simple, and yet so remarkable. (Context: she was helping me try to love people imperfectly.) She said this:

“Yes, I want to love you, but I will fail.”

How stinkin’ COOL is that?! Never in a million years would I think that I would ever say that. But still. As someone who completely believed, and lived out her life, according to the lie that love is conditional, this is a big deal. There is so much grace and freedom tied into this one sentence that I was left utterly speechless. I love it.

I have experienced love in so many different ways: the intentional love of friendship, the tough love that comes from being coached at an elite level, the gently-guiding love that has come from my parents, etc etc. But get this – all have been some sort of flawed.

Does that mean these forms of love were inherently bad? I don’t like to think so. At one point or another, they have left me broken, bruised, and a little bit dinged up, much like my Hydroflask. Some have been easier to reconcile than others – sometimes I have been able to hide my dings/hurt, other times I feel like I’ve just been smashed straight onto the pavement.

So, does that mean we quit loving each other? I answer with an emphatic NO. I learned something each time I was loved imperfectly. Eventually, grace came into the picture and overpowered the hurt. So I am certain that we must continue to recognize and embrace the imperfections in each other, and continue to love imperfectly. Otherwise, what really is the point?

Our imperfect love is nothing compared to the perfect love that comes from above, but it is what makes our experience here on earth truly meaningful. Imperfect people loving imperfectly. What a beautiful thing.

 

a year & a moment

If someone had told me a year ago that I would be getting a Bible verse tattooed on my wrist, I probably would have laughed in their face and called them crazy.

And yet, here I am, with my third tattoo. A Bible verse. Displayed for all to see.

Oh, the irony. God certainly has a sense of humor. What a punk.

The verse – 1 Chronicles 28:20 – “Be strong and courageous and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you.”

I was pretty uncertain about getting this tattoo, actually.  Yes, I know being uncertain about a tattoo is typically a recipe for disaster. But it’s not like that. I knew I wanted the tattoo; I was more concerned about what people would think of me getting it – something I’ve never experienced when getting a tattoo. Especially since this one isn’t as easily concealed as my other two. I was (and if we’re being honest here, I still am) afraid of the preconceived notions people will make about me. I’m afraid of the stereotypes. Of the judgment.

You see, I don’t want to be the “typical Christian,” if there even is such a thing. I want to seek meaningful conversations and relationships, dare to be real/vulnerable, make mistakes loving too hard, live radically … and then be completely, utterly, dependent on God’s grace to catch me when I fall.

I guess my own preconceived notion of Christians is that they play by the rules, live overly constructed lives, are blindly judgmental, and essentially put themselves in a box. And even though I know this is a lie (because I know and love some pretty dang awesome Christians that don’t fit this mold at all), I am worried that strangers will see me as a “typical Christian” because of this tattoo.

However, Stork assured me that getting a little-known verse from the Old Testament was BA. (And God knows I secretly aspire to being BA; hence, the tattoo trend). I also stand firmly in the belief that this verse is an integral part of my story. It isn’t my full story, but it is still important. It is mine, it is unique, and dear lord, it’s powerful.

Clearly, I embraced the uncertainty surrounding my tattoo. It happened. I’m “tatted” for the third time in the past four years. So, thank you to friends and family who accept my somewhat crazy decisions and allowed me the freedom to do so a clear conscience.

In light of all this uncertainty, there is one thing I am certain of, and it is this: I would not be the person I am today without God. Yeah, it sounds cliche, and I abhor cliche, but it’s true. I have experienced more change, adversity, and uncertainty in the last year than I ever thought imaginable. Initially, I dug my heels in, and in true stubborn-Lauren fashion, refused to change.

Well apparently God is even more stubborn than I am.

Thankfully, my ability to come out of this transformational period better, not broken, didn’t depend on anything I did. It wasn’t up to me. Because if it were up to me, I would be the same wounded, isolated, pridefully independent person I was a year ago. I would still be loving conditionally.

But God is a smart man. He knows how to get at my head and my heart. He sent people into my life who generated conversations that left me whirling and questioning and wandering. Until I wandered into Him.

I was loved (and forgiven) when I didn’t deserve it. By my people and by my god.

And because of this, I will willingly have the tough conversations with people so that they may experience the same hope and love and transformative power that I have received.

It began a year ago, and all changed in a moment.

Connection.

It began so simply.

So much trust wrapped up into

one

simple

gesture…

It hurts to remember.

 

Radiating electricity. Aching longing.

Not yet touching.

Suspended in time

limitless, never-ending, yet transient.

Paralyzed by fear

entranced by curiosity.

 

The light burned from within

like a fire beckoning to the night.

Hard to stay, impossible to leave.

 

Connection:

It was everywhere.

Not cliché fireworks

Softer, somehow

sweeter.

It felt like finally.

It felt like home.

A craving satisfied in an instant,

then lost forever.

 

It was just a kiss, really. One small connection.

 

It was nothing.

It was everything.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

Ok so it’s no secret that this Christianity thing is new to me. Really, does acknowledging God’s existence for a grand total of six months even constitute me as a Christian? Probably not. But then again, where’s the value in labels anyways?

There’s this verse that really threw me for a loop. 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 says, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Can we just acknowledge how idealistic this verse is please? Like, yeah, sure God, this sounds great and all, but who really BOASTS about their weaknesses. I certainly don’t. I am much more inclined to hide my weaknesses; I bury them deep in my subconscious, making it nearly impossible for me to recognize them, and I hope and pray other people don’t notice them either. I consider it impressive if I can even name what I suck at – so very rarely would I even dream of boasting about my imperfections.

As a realist and self-proclaimed cynic, I was distrustful of this verse. Which made me doubtful, which then made me insecure. If I was (already) so unsure of one of the first Bible verses I was exposed to, what did this say about the strength of my new-found “faith”?

If there is one thing I’m good at, it’s asking questions. So I asked every knowledgeable Christian I knew what they thought of the verse. It wasn’t until weeks later that I finally had a light bulb moment. And ironically, I answered my own question.

My freshman year of college was a whirlwind. My head coach had just lost her husband unexpectedly to post-surgery complications a short 3 months before season began. Battling grief and looming depression on a daily basis, she was without a doubt at her weakest. And without her guidance, we were also at our weakest, even if I didn’t realize it at the time.

Fast forward past two 30-point losses on our home court, multiple tear-filled pre-game devotions, and a devastating loss to our rival in the GSAC championship game, we found ourselves at the National Tournament. In order to become national champions, you have to win a grueling 5 games in 6 days – not even the studs of NCAA experience this kind of feat.

Somehow, we scraped and clawed and fought relentlessly to win our first four games. Which meant we were playing for the national title. Whoa. How did this happen?

Of all days, Coach decided to be completely and unabashedly vulnerable about losing her husband. Because of her brutal honesty, we were all using our jerseys to wipe our tears five minutes before the game started. She knowingly made herself weak in front of all of us. And I think God rewarded her vulnerability – because by making herself weak, Coach provided God an opportunity to give us all His strength. In her weakness, in our weakness, we became strong.

Because you know what happened? I bet you can guess. We won that championship game and become National Champions for the first time in school history.

HIS power was made perfect in weakness.

It appears that God is in the habit of hitting me upside the head with amazingly simple, yet awe-inspiring, answers.