A Letter To Preachers (Warning: Blatant Honesty May Offend You)

Writing

Dear preachers,

I’ve heard more of you preach than I can count in my lifetime, so I would say I’m a rather experienced listener.  I’ve come to the realization that, perhaps, you need some raw, honest feedback.  I suppose I ought to give you such instead of waiting for someone else to.  Please note, though, that this does not apply to all or many of you, but to the ones it does — oh, we all know who you are.
First of all, can you do your congregations a favor and STOP WITH THE THEATRICS?  Seriously, we all have televisions or YouTube.  We don’t come to you for a show.  We come to be taught the holy Word of God.  I don’t really need to see you jump around stage or walk up and down the aisle slapping hands or strutting about.  You don’t have to stand still or anything, but remember you aren’t an actor up there.  You are a teacher appointed by God Almighty to tell people about His Word so that they may draw nearer to Him — act appropriately.
Next, I have a little news for you: we can hear just fine.  If you want to scream then please for the sake of our ears turn the microphone off!  My grandfather is in his 70s and you are even too loud for his ears.  Unnecessary, sir!  I don’t think a single person comes to church with the mindset of “I sure hope the preacher verbally assaults my ears again this week!”  So just calm down on all that yelling.  (Your bulging neck veins and tomato red face will probably appreciate it, too.)
Thirdly, we can keep up.  I’m sure you do those dramatic ten second pauses in the middle of your words and sentences (especially at the end of the sermon) to make sure we can keep up with you.  How considerate!  I must tell you though, it’s more annoying than helpful.  We can keep up with you at a steady pace.  All those pauses just make me think I’m listening to Obama give a speech.
Also, you don’t have to wear that suit jacket.  Listen, I am a gal who loves a man in suit and tie.  Truly, I do.  However, if you are going to be sweating through the whole service – ditch the jacket.  I appreciate your style and effort to look nice, but the streams of sweat down your face make it hard to concentrate on then content what you are yelling.  You’d look a lot better and feel a lot cooler if you simply dressed for function rather than style.  Your congregation will not mind, or at least it shouldn’t.
Lastly, what is with the whole drawn out altar call?  I understand wanting people to come forward if the Lord is leading them to.  I get it.  I want that too!  But, after three invitation songs and a few more yelling fits of yours about hell and damnation, it sounds more like a threat than an invitation.  Last time I checked, God didn’t ask us to manipulate others by inciting fear to make them come to Him.  Nor did He say, “harp on and on until you make your congregation bored or annoyed so much that they will kneel just to make you shut up.”  Let’s be a little more on point, please?
Just one more tip for good measure: you should never make your congregation leave feeling like crap.  Don’t confuse this with me being against stepping on toes.  Step on toes.  Dance on them.  Lay the Word of God on our hearts so that we feel the Holy Spirit stirring.  Welcome conviction on your congregation.  But NEVER let us leave without giving us the hope, the redemption, the message of love.  God didn’t end with condemnation, but rather grace.  Mirror that.
I’m not trying to tell you how to do your job.  These are merely suggestions.  A little constructive feedback, if you will.
I would just like to end this in saying that I am thankful that God has called so many passionate, fired up Christians to teach His Word.  It is an honor to be called to be a preacher.  I respect you all a great deal, so please do not take this as a rude or disrespectful article.  It is neither.  Any good preacher will always want to improve.  I am merely trying to help you do so.

Sincerely,
Preached At

My Red Wolf Experience: Howling ‘Til I Die

Oh, so I graduated earlier this month.   College days?  Officially in my past.
Whoooooa!   Suddenly, I’m feeling a lot older than 22 should feel.
Oh, but I just wanted to take a moment and tell you about my university experience…

In August 2009, I moved to Jonesboro, Arkansas to live in the Honors Living and Learning Community dorms on the campus of Arkansas State University.  It was the first time I lived upstairs, the first time I shared a bathroom with people I didn’t know, and the first time I shared a bedroom with someone.  As I look back, I can only be thankful that I was placed in the HLLC.  It was a wonderful experience to be surrounded by both upperclassmen and fellow freshmen who were Honors students and enjoyed a healthy blend of fun and studying just as much as I did.

Freshman year was the year I met more people than I can remember fully.  Everyone and everything was new.  ASU did a great job of providing ample opportunities to enjoy the college experience.  I went to more sporting events I would’ve ever imagined enjoying.  I fell in love with the constant sense of having somewhere to be and someone to meet — all the time.

Jana, me, and Anna at a football game.

Jana, me, and Anna at a football game.

It was that Fall of 2009 that I met my “Freshman Family Group” at the Baptist Collegiate Ministries (BCM) and got really close, really connected to a small group of people.  As the years wore on, I only stayed close to a few of them, but oh what a blessing they are!  Anna and Jana — truly my college “sisters.”  Two beautiful, God-fearing, intelligent ladies who will change this world with their passion to love and help others.

Tom and I at my graduation.

Tom and I at my graduation.

It was that Fall of 2009 that I also met my Tom.  Truth be told, I never thought we’d become good friends.  He was more country and wild than I could ever even think about pretending to be.  Funny thing happened, though:   He became my best friend.  This upperclassman who lived down the hall from me with his blue eyes and Southern drawl, his big heart and affection for rowdiness became the truest friend I never knew I would have throughout the following 4 years.
It’s a funny thing who ends up being in your life and who ends up being a part of it.

CBC Bible Study group!

CBC Bible Study group!

Fall of 2009 was also when I started going to Central Baptist Church.  I went the first Sunday after I moved into my dorm room and consistently attended (shifting to the CBC Journey Campus eventually) all 4 years of college.  That church showed me what it’s like to fall in love with being a part of a church family.  Central grew my relationship with God more than I can aptly thank them for.  I encourage any and all persons who live in or around Jonesboro to get connected there if they are looking for a church home to grow in.  Those people are fueled by a love for God and His Will.  They will grab you by the hand and lift your heart up closer to God.  They will teach you His Word and equip you do teach others.  They will love you and give you the opportunity to show His love on others.  They will help change your life.

Fall of 2010 I had  changed my major at least three times until I found the one I stuck with: Economics with a Pre-law Emphasis.   I found a passion in law, and business isn’t bad either.  I found a professor who both loves the Lord and his students.  He just wants people to learn, and enjoy learning.  Dr. Lewis is the most fantastic professor I have ever had.  I would, actually, call him more of a mentor (if I ever had one).  I took Legal Environment of Business, Employment Law, and Criminal Law and the Constitution with him and never regretted a single class.  A good professor and interesting topics are all you need to enjoy learning.  Trust me.

Fall of 2010 I became part of a rather interesting group of friends.  Although I loved them (who am I kidding, I still love them despite everything), I will say:  we were probably the most dysfunctional group of “friends” that I have ever been a part of.  There were so many fights, awkward spats, crossed feelings; however, there was so many laughs, so many adventures, funny text messages, sweet celebrations, support, and despite everything — just so much love.  I’m not going to call them out by name, but if they read this:  just know, I still love you all.  Our group is in no way still together and we all barely and rarely speak, but I can still remember you by the smiles and good memories.  I don’t have time or the motivation to choose to remember the rest.

Arielle, me, and Sam -- Jr. Year Roomies.

Arielle, me, and Sam — Jr. Year Roomies.

Fall of 2011 came and I moved out of the HLLC and into the best apartments on campus: Red Wolf Den.  Our 3 bedroom-1 bathroom apartment consisted of myself, Arielle, and Sam.  I must say, that was probably the best living arrangement I ever had.  Arielle and I were best friends, so we had virtually the same schedule.  It’s just fun to live with your best friend in the room right next door.  Sam had been my suitemate the year before and she’s the perfect person to share a living space with: clean, quiet, easy to talk to, creative, and cooperative.  We were all very different in personality, but we were all friends and got along wonderfully.

Fall of 2011 – Spring of 2012 showed me a lot.  I saw a lot of heartbreak (not my own).  I saw betrayal.  I was lied to by some of the people I loved most.  I was pushed to some academic limits, which turns out were imaginary limits.  I figured out who was going to be forever friends vs. college friends — well, at least I thought I had.  That still changed the next year and probably is still changing.  I went to at least one of every athletic event (excluding bowling and track), including golf.

Our Economics Family: Dylan, myself, and TW.

Our Economics Family: Dylan, myself, and TW.

Fall of 2011 was when I really found my economics “family.”   We’re an odd family, two boys and a girl, but we work.  Dylan and TW and I ended up becoming great friends, both in and outside the classroom.  We had nearly every class together, ate lunch together every day, and I knew I could depend on them when I needed to.  I love those two men.  They are both wonderfully smart with big hearts and infectious smiles.  Seriously, if they can make me understand economics and cause me to smile within the same 10 minutes, you can be sure that they’re something special.  And now we are all headed to law school — go figure.  🙂

TW and I

TW and I

TW gets an extra mention for simply putting up with me for the past two years, constantly.  (Though I will say, he gets rather shady in the summers — *cough*cough*)  That man can make bad days better and better days good.  He’s undoubtedly one of the smartest people I have had the joy of knowing.  Something extra unique about him:  He’s humble.  Most smart people are not humble.  If you can’t think of anyone fitting that bill, just ask.  I can name plenty.   But TW, he’s mastered the art of humility.  I attribute that to his big heart.  He’s a true Southern gentleman who would do anything for anyone who asks.  He’s one of my best friends, no doubt about that.  I can’t imagine a world without TW.

Me and Jana: College Sisters

Me and Jana: College Sisters

Fall of 2012 – Spring of 2013:  Senior year.  I got to live with one of my college sisters, Jana!  However, we also lived with another girl who neither of us knew.  It was a bit odd sharing an apartment with someone you never really got to know well, but it was okay.  Jana was a joy to share an apartment with.  Did I mention she was wedding planning all year for her wedding this week?  It was so fun getting to hear all the wedding buzz and see her excitement as things continually fell into place for her and Tyler!  She’s definitely taken care of by the mighty hands of the Lord, whom I know hand-picked Tyler for her.  They are perfect examples of love in young adults.  I cannot aptly express the joy I have that those two will soon be saying “I do” to futures together.  They deserve it. 🙂

Friendship With Bear

Friendship With Bear

Okay, so back to Fall of 2012:  my prior best friend joined a sorority and our lives quickly went in different directions.  I went from being used to seeing her all the time to barely getting an hour of hangout time in a week.  I’m not saying that was her fault and I’m not saying it was my fault.  It’s the way life goes.  Anyway, the person who stepped up to fill her absence was Bear.  Now if you know me, you probably also know Bear.  From August to November we were usually together, either eating somewhere in Jonesboro, watching movies, going to football games, going to the fair, the park, church, etc.  I wouldn’t trade those 4 months for anything, despite the fact that he sort-of broke my heart a bit when he decided that once he had a girlfriend, I was no longer needed in his life.  Let me just clarify:  we were always ONLY friends.  Nothing more, nothing less.  But we were good friends, maybe even the best of — for a while.  But when he started dating someone I didn’t necessarily approve of (let’s face it, we’re more protective of the people we love) and I refused to give my blessing, he decided that she was more important to him than I was.  For all of the heartbreak that caused, I can now consider it a blessing.  I ran faster to God than I can remember running and hid there for a long time.  For all the tears God dried from eyes and all the questions He answered for me, there is no way I can deny how much of a growing period that was for me.  It may have took me a while, but I still wish Bear only the best in life.  He has the potential to be someone great, truly great.  I pray he lives out life to his full potential.  If he does, there is simply no limit to what he can do.

So when Bear left my life (visiting once in a while, but basically gone), I went a little people-shy.  It’s hard to want to trust someone again when you’re trust has been abused.  BUT, I love people way too much and college just isn’t any fun without people.  Plus, I just so happened to have wonderful people in my life who wouldn’t let me be less than my usual self, despite whatever the circumstances seemed to be.

Tom and I -- Always Smiling

Tom and I — Always Smiling

Tom, without knowing it, picked up those heartbroken pieces.  I can’t have an adventure with him without loving life.  I just can’t.  I can’t watch Tosh.0 with him and not find my laughter again.  I just can’t.  And I can’t be sad around him — he calls me out and makes me tell him what’s up, then makes it better.  Again I say, he’s my best friend.

December – January was full of holidays, applying to law schools, and birthday celebrations.  I will say, the ASU Pre-law advisors are always ready to help with law school applications, in addition to Dr. Lewis and Dr. Robertson from the College of Business.  We have enough J.D. recipients at ASU to merit an easier law school application process.  It’s not as scary when people tell you what to expect and how you should approach things.

February through April was just surviving the rest of classes to maintain my GPA (with all A’s, of course), enjoying my last weeks with my Journey Group girls (Bible Study), and trying to do all of the rest of my “lasts” at ASU — like, last ASU basketball game as a student, last TNT at BCM, last Pre-law meeting, etc.  To be honest, it was a bit sad.  Realizing you only have a few months left in your home of the past 4 years will cause a little sadness.  On the same token, those few months were full of a lot of thanksgiving.  I was blessed beyond measure at ASU.  I had a lot of praise to give God, and a lot of thanks to give my people blessings.

Senior Honors Banquet at ASU

Senior Honors Banquet at ASU

Early May put everything into perspective.  First week of May I completed my last Finals of undergrad at ASU.  I finished my degree.  I said goodbye to the very people who had captured pieces of my heart since August 2009.  I packed up my apartment and moved stuff over an hour away.  I said goodbye to my Journey Group, a group of ladies whose hearts for the Lord had taught my own so much over the past year.  I planned the last birthday dinner for Tom in Arkansas (he moves to FL for dental school this summer).  It was terribly sad for me.  It forced me to realize that he’s really moving, and so am I.  I still haven’t quite digested that fact.  One of the hardest things in May?  Leaving my job and my work family.

Only Part of My Work Family

Only Part of My Work Family

Yes, I said work FAMILY.  That’s exactly what we were, a family.  We were family first, co-workers and employers/employees second.  I had the absolute pleasure to work in the main office at the Arkansas Biosciences Institute all through my college career.  In fact, I even worked there the summer  before my senior year of high school, then came back when I started as a Freshman at ASU.  I loved those people.  They say it’s the people that make a place somewhere you call home.  Those people made ASU my home just as much as my classmates, roommates, and friends.

Linda and I

Linda and I

My direct boss, Linda, took care of me more than I could’ve ever imagined.  She was like my college Mom.  Linda is, perhaps, the sweetest, kindest soul I have ever had the pleasure to call friend.  In addition to taking care of me in the office, if I ever had a problem with classes or an apartment problem she was quick to offer help.  She also always looked out for my health.  For example, Junior year I was sick one day but when to class anyways (I hate missing class).  After being told to leave Spanish class by the professor because I was too sick to be there, I took my temperature and had over 103 F.   So, I called the office and told them I couldn’t come into work because I was sick and that I was really sorry.  To be honest, I was miserable.  It’s a wonder how I walked the mile back to my room.  Linda took off work that afternoon (not paid leave, mind you) to pick me up from my dorm and take me to the hospital.  She waited at the hospital (something NOONE likes doing) while I was poked and prodded by the doctor/nurses, and then took me to get my antibiotics before taking me back to my dorm with instructions to call or text if I needed anything or got hungry.  (Sidenote: I had the flu.)  How many bosses would do all that for their part-time worker?  Hardly any.  Linda is special.  She’s a blessing.

Anyway, saying goodbye to ABI was probably one of the saddest things I had to do in May.  I cried as I left on my last day.  Have you ever cried when you voluntarily left a job?  Probably not.  If you find a job that you love, one where you love the people so it never feels like work — that’s when you’ll be sad to leave.  I know I was.

Graduating.

Graduating.

Graduation day was May 11th.  I sat between my two favorite classmates — TW and Dylan as speakers told us congratulations, to do something wonderful with our lives, and that we had done it, we were really graduates.  I followed Dylan in getting my diploma with TW right behind me.  It wasn’t at all sad.  It was a good day.   We are DONE with economics!

Mom and Stepdad With Their Graduate

Mom and Stepdad With Their Graduate

My family was all smiles, proud of their youngest (youngest grandchild, youngest child, youngest sibling).  There was a lot of clapping and photo-taking and hugging.  (I’m a hugger, for sure.)

Rachel, Myself, and Shana: Sisters Photo After Graduation

Rachel, Myself, and Shana: Sisters Photo After Graduation

Graduation ended around 4:30, I think.  After photos, finding one another, and braving busy streets, my family, Tom, and I made our way to a conference room just a few minutes before the catering arrived.  It was a nice meal with the people I love most:  my family and my best friend.  Then the family all left and I went back to my apartment.  It was over.

The following morning I checked out of my apartment in Red Wolf Den, and simultaneously said goodbye to my university home.  My experience as a Red Wolf isn’t over, though.  I’ll be howling ’til I die.  I’m a Red Wolf at heart, no matter what.

As you can see, my college experience isn’t remembered by economics graphs, Supreme Court cases, market predictions, papers, tests, or really even classes.  Don’t get me wrong, I remember all of those.  Trust me, it’s imprinted in my brain.  But I remember my college experience by the people — they’re the ones who made it home.  It’s always the people who make a place.  Always.  ASU has/had some extraordinary people.

Howl yes, I’ve been blessed!

Safe Place Intrusion

Safe Place Emergency

Safe Place Emergency

 

This may offend some, and if you are one who takes offense — please accept my dearest apologies.

First I will make completely clear:  I LOVE when we have more people come to church.  I LOVE when new people come, old people come back, and seeing the regulars worshipping and learning alongside me.  It’s beautiful, truly it is.

However…
Ever have that ONE person that you try to forget you ever invest so much as a minute in?  That ONE person that you feel stupid for trusting because they turned out to be exactly what they said they stand against?   That ONE person who betrayed you in a way you didn’t expect and really couldn’t handle?

Now imagine that person invades your personal space, your SAFE PLACE.  I don’t know where your safe place is — be it a park, your garden, the gym, a basketball court, the football field, your bedroom, your favorite tree, etc.  For me, my safe place is in the arms of my Creator.  For me, my church is like the sidewalk leading up to my safe place.  It shows me the way, guides me to safety.

Okay, so tonight that person who I just wanted to avoid and forget I ever invested any of my time in invaded the avenue to my safe place.  There I was, worshipping my Creator amidst a group of my peers when I look over see him.  Sitting there.  Right there blocking my safe place.

Imagine how awkward.  Could I focus?  Pfft!  Not at all.  I know there was something about being bold and being different and being proud of acceptance in Christ.  I heard that from the message, but the details are fuzzy.  I was occupied with willing myself to:  a) not freak out, and b) try to ignore this intruder.

Out of the dozens of churches in this city, of course he would choose mine.  Of course.  That’s just how life goes.  But really?   I know there is noone that can separate me from God — noone has that power.  It just doesn’t help focus to have someone blocking my path to Him, especially in His own house.  I know I should want him to be there at my church (because I know how awesome it is), but I wanted him anywhere but there.

If you’re like me and your safe place (or what leads to it) has been invaded, attacked, or taken over, just take heart in fact that God never changes and is always your safety.  It’s Him or nothing.  When something or someone tries to block your path to Him, run faster, fight harder, and don’t succumb to seemingly overwhelming or uncomfortable circumstances.  God is able and He is willing.  Seek Him earnestly and you will never be without a safe place.

On an ending note, know that I said a prayer for that person.  I pray that he is blessed in life.  I pray that things go well for him.  I pray that he learns to live by his words and treat people rightly.   But I also pray for DISCIPLINE for him in the most holy of forms.  Prayer is power, after all.