Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Risk of possibility.

Every college soccer season culminates with the NCAA Final Four. The 300+ division one teams are narrowed down to the four best in the country. To play in the National Championship is the ultimate goal of any college soccer player.

This season, I was following a team that happened to make it to the Final Four. They had an incredible season, the best in the program’s history. I went to watch them play in the semifinal game.

They lost. I watched them kneel down in tears as the clock wound down. Ninety minutes from their ultimate goal. These kids have been playing this game since they were 4 years old and it all came down to ninety minutes. They had sacrificed academically, physically, mentally, and socially for the last eleven months. And it all came down to ninety minutes. They put in hundreds of thousands of hours on the field, in the weight room, watching film, etc. And it all came down to ninety minutes.

Every athlete knows this feeling. I remember the feeling vividly, even as I sit here now. I wasn’t competing for a national championship, but it was a similarly crushing experience.

There was a HUGE chance for glory and success. Yet there was an equally HUGE chance for crushing heartache and loss. Along the way, you experience both.

Strangely parallel to our lives…

So this got me thinking about the people in our lives. Is it worth pouring everything we have into our friendships/relationships, with the risk of knowing that we may (and probably will) be let down, betrayed, and hurt? Is it worth letting people know us for who we really are, and getting to know others for who they really are?

I think one of the deepest longings of all human beings is to be known. The good and the bad…not to be known merely for what we do, but known for who we truly are, and to be loved anyway.

Unfortunately, most of us are hardened at a young age by the reality of life. The reality that it’s hard to trust people. People hurt you, and you hurt them. The easy thing to do is to put up walls and shut out all the hurt. The problem is that when we shut out all the hurt, we also shut out all the possibility for love. The walls we put up are not selectively permeable. If we shut out the “bad” we shut out the “good.” If we let in the “good” we let in the “bad.”

There is a HUGE risk in letting people know us as we get to know them. The possibility to be hurt is almost inevitable. But there is an equally HUGE possibility to be known and loved. The beauty and experience of being known and loved for who you truly are- I think- far outweighs the possibility of being hurt.

The gospel tells us that we  “all fall short” (Romans 3:23). This doesn’t just mean in some areas. It means in every area. Just as others will disappoint us, we too will let down and disappoint and betray others. Our “failures,” however, do not lead us to despair; they lead us to an experience of grace. To know that we fall short cuts at our pride…but to know that we may “receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16) is the most beautiful truth. Why? Because it allows us to not only see ourselves for who we really are, but it also allows us to see others as they truly are. First Corinthians 8:3 says, “But the man who loves God is known by God.” Wow…the greatest Love of all means to be known by the only One who sees everything about us. Though human love is conditional and falls short of this, it is the same in the sense that we long to be known like this. Something that can only be fully satisfied in God, but we can experience a taste of it through other people.

When we can see ourselves and others as we/they truly are, it frees us to LOVE. It frees us to trust others, knowing that I will let them down and they will let me down, but there is forgiveness and grace. This doesn’t weaken our friendships/relationships…it strengthens them. Grace is powerful. When you feel it from other people and when you give it to other people, it changes your life. To know that you can fail and still be loved- to me- that is freedom. As Janis Joplin sings, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” When our trust is in the One who can’t and won’t let us down, we have nothing to lose. We can pour our lives into those around us without fear.

So, this college soccer team…what if they hadn’t risked and sacrificed all this stuff? They wouldn’t have felt the heartbreak, right? Well, they also wouldn’t have experienced the journey it took to get to the Final Four, nor would they have experienced what it’s like to play in front of the biggest crowd they had ever seen in the biggest game of their lives. The 25 people on that team have formed a bond with one another that no one else in the world can ever understand. They have experienced pain and laughter and failure and success. The laughter didn’t come without pain, and the success didn’t come without failure.

Ninety minutes from their ultimate goal. But it’s time to get back out onto that field, because they are that much closer.

To go through life without knowing and without being known is emptiness. This emptiness is filled with other things that will never suffice. In soccer and in life it is a scary thing, but without the risk, the possibility of joy and fullness of life will never be experienced.

We must not live our lives in the confines of fear. There is life to be had…

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Let's go THAT way.

I coach a team of 10 year olds. They are precious. They say some ridiculous things in their youthful innocence, but I never leave a practice or game without being amazed in some way. Amazed at the way they are so free.

A few weeks ago we were playing their favorite game, called "flyers." It's basically a really fast and intense game of 1v1. One of the girls was getting a little frustrated because she kept losing the ball. She came running over to me and I could tell she was upset. She sort of looked up at the sky and yelled, "Coach Kelsey....I want the ball! And I want to score goals!" It was sort of funny to me, but I knew it was very serious to her. At this moment, it was all that mattered to her.

On my drive home that night, I thought back to the comment she had made. I realized I was a little jealous. For two reasons.

She's confident in who she is.  When she's on the field, she is a soccer player. She isn't ashamed of this, nor is she worried about what other's think. She just "wants the ball!" because a soccer player (and in her case, a forward) needs the ball in order to do what they're supposed to do.

She knows which direction she's going. She "wants to score goals!" because that's the only way to win the game. She knows what needs to be done and nothing is going to stop her. Tunnel vision for her purpose.

Ironic that her name is Grace. She is unaware of the insecurities that will soon consume her life. On a very simple level, she's is free to be exactly who she is, without shame.

I forget who I am. I forget my purpose. Everyday.

I go all these different directions, worried about what all of "them" are saying. And I forget that I just need the ball, and I need to go towards my goal.

Unlike her, the unending grace that we have in the gospel never falters. It continues to remind us of who we are. We are not just forgiven, but we are SET FREE to become slaves to righteousness (Romans 6:18), because we are already loved. It also continues to remind us of our purpose. We are called to love others with that same love (1 John 4:19) and to speak this Truth and Hope into their lives (John 8:32, Romans 15:13).

Not just soccer players here to score goals.

Children, set free to be who we are and to love without shame.

Let us not lose sight. We have the ball. Keep running towards the goal. When we forget, grace is there.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Waking eyes and hearts to life.

I was listening to the song Lover of the Light by Mumford and sons, and I heard this line: "Flawed by pride, I miss my sanguine eyes..."

I cannot get sanguine eyes out of my mind. Then I looked up the word "sanguine" in the dictionary and thesaurus and I started to understand why. It has a different meaning in the noun and adjective forms, respectively. As a noun, it means blood-red, ruddy, and consisting of or relating to blood. As an adjective, it means hopeful, cheerfully optimistic, confident, and a mind free from doubt.

I thought this was a crazy and amazing contrast. I'm not quite sure what he means by it in the song, but here is my interpretation of the phrase. One of the first things I thought of while reading through the definitions was this verse in Mark 10:21: "Jesus looked at him and loved him." Dang! Jesus loved him just by looking at him. Eye contact is powerful...but how could Jesus love someone by looking at them?

"Blood-red"...Jesus' blood is what saves and purifies us. He is the crimson stain that makes us white as snow. John 19:34 says, "One of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side, bringing a sudden flow of blood."

"Cheerfully-optimistic, confident"...Hope. Jesus is the only answer and the only hope amidst this mess. Not a questionable hope, but an assured hope. Colossians 1:27 says, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." Titus 2:13 says, "As we wait for the blessed hope, the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." He is already in us, but he is coming back.

That verse in Mark 10 gives me the chills every time I read it. Why? Because Jesus looked at me and loved me. He does the same with all his children. Jesus is the one with sanguine eyes. Blood-red because his blood purified us, and he only sees beauty in us. Cheerful optimism because he is the hope that has already come and is yet to come.

In Genesis 16:13, a girl who has been shunned and demeaned by everyone else knows that she is loved by the Lord and says, "I have now seen the One who sees me." And I don't think it's 'random' that in Hebrews 12:2 we are told to "fix our eyes on Jesus..." When he makes eye contact with you he changes your life because, for the first time ever, you know who you are in the eyes of the only One who knows you.

Eyes that have looked down from the cross. Eyes that look through me. Eyes that took the punishment, yet bring the freedom. Eyes that are soft but relentless. Eyes that see me.

Blood. Hope. Sanguine eyes.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Melt my life, that it would drip the gospel.

Transition isn't fun. The last 4 weeks of my life have been just that. A lot of change. New city, new job, new people. Not easy...but exciting and necessary.

Amidst all of this transition, I have recently been reminded that I must continually ask myself this one question, about whatever it is that I am doing: "is this what you are called to do?"

Now, first let me make a note about the word "called." I know this word gets thrown around a lot and I don't even always like it, nor am I even sure what is always meant by it. I don't think that I have one specific place that I'm supposed to be or one specific thing that I'm supposed to be doing. I do think, however, that God gives each of us specific passions and specific gifts. There are probably a wide range of things that we can do with these to bring Him glory. So, by the word "called," I mean the ways in which we use our specific, unique gifts and passions in a way that brings God glory and ourselves joy, as we seek to bring our lives in line with the gospel, daily. Still vague, I know. Sorry. :(

So, in this time of transition, it's been easy to say "yes" to everything and try to get involved everywhere and to help everyone. But the reality is, there is need everywhere. I could go to a lot of different places and do a lot of different things. But, "is this (whatever it might be) what I am called to do?"

The answer to this question is life-altering. There are two things that I need to continue to keep clear, as I seek to answer the above question. What/who has my heart been burdened for? The world is a lonely, desperate place. My heart is broken the most when I look into the eyes of high school and college aged young women. Why? Probably because it is a time of soul-searching and really struggling to figure out who they are (identity) and why they are here (purpose). You see it happen over and over again. The innocence of youth is exchanged for the craving for love and approval, in hundreds of different ways. The other question is, what am I passionate about? Jesus: The one who saved me and the only one who can save. People: As I look into the eyes of the world, I see hopelessness. All I want to do is love people and show them the only true Hope. Coaching/teaching/mentoring: Being out on a soccer field teaching kids how to play the game that I love; Sitting across a table from someone, having real, open honest conversation, and speaking the Truth of the gospel into their lives.

I have been called to coach soccer. Not just coach soccer, but coach it in a way that is different. In a way that that brings the Light of life to a lot of lonely lives that may never set foot inside a church building. Through soccer and coaching, my life will intersect thousands of other lives. If I'm not living and speaking the gospel to them, then my work is in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58).

This is how I know that I have been called to do these things:
"If I don't do this (i.e. coach soccer, love people, and share the gospel), something in me might die." THAT is passion and purpose. THAT is calling.

What are you passionate about? Who/what are you burdened for? How are you going to use your gifts? What makes you come alive?

Places change. Hearts are fickle. Truth is unwavering.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Empty bleachers...full of spectators.

Last night I was sitting at dinner with some friends. We had been eating and talking for quite a while, when the restaurant manager came over to our table. He was pouring more water for us and then he asked us, "So what's the topic of the night?" He wanted to know what we had been talking about and we were all caught a little off guard and stared at him for a few seconds. I finally answered him, "divorce and re-marriage." We all chuckled a little because it's not exactly a light, fun, table conversation. He replied, "Oh ok. I was just wondering, because I saw you all pray before you ate and then I walked by a few times and over heard parts of your conversation. My eavesdropping can probably get me into trouble sometimes, but I was just curious as to what you were talking about."

He watched us pray and then he listened to our conversation and watched the way we interacted.

When I was a sophomore in high school, the recruiting process for college soccer began. I felt a lot of pressure because it seemed as though every game and every tournament carried extreme weight in determining whether or not I would play soccer in college. Because it did and, as someone once said to me, "someone is always watching." What she meant was that I couldn't slack in any game I played, even if it seemed 'meaningless,' there was probably some coach from some college watching. The way I performed (whether good or bad) in that particular game could change the course of my life. Now, I know that's going to the extreme. The point is that my performance was constantly being watched and critiqued and evaluated to see if I met the standards, to see if I really could step up to the next level, to see if I really was the player they saw on paper. What they saw in a forty-minute half of a soccer game was their glimpse into the type of player I was. I had forty minutes (if that) to show what I had been training for, for the previous twelve years.

Jesus said that people will know us by the way we love one another (John 13: 34, 35). Paul, likening us to an aroma, says that God spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Himself through us (2 Corinthians 2:14). Paul also says, in Colossians 1:27, that God has chosen to make His mystery known through Christ, who is in us, and we are the hope of His glory.

Someone is always watching. During the college recruiting process, it's more evident. In life, it's not always so. The man at the restaurant saw us pray. That's it. We hadn't said a word to him but he made a note of it, assuming we were Christians, and then he watched the way we acted. What if we had been arguing with each other and making rude comments to our waitress? What type of message would that be communicating?

I'm not saying that we have to be perfect. We will fail in loving each other well. That's the whole point: we aren't good enough, but Christ is. We confess and apologize for the ways that we fall short. And then we keep on loving.

We are the hope because Christ is in us. That has huge implications when you think about how God wants to use you to draw other people into His Kingdom. During my soccer games, I had less than 40 minutes to show them what type of player I was. Sometimes we may get only a few minutes, or a few hours, or a few days to interact with someone. Sometimes, we won't even get to use words, they will be watching from a distance.

Someone is always watching. What do they see?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Static Guard.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Holiness flows from the conviction that God is our highest good and our greatest joy, so that we seek to get rid of everything and anything in the way. We must HATE our sin. Sin does not want to be small. Sin wants to be big and it will not give up without a fight. Sin will deceive and convince us that it's "not that bad," while it rips apart our lives. 

This verse refers to "weights." These weights aren't necessarily sins, but they are things that are drawing you further away from, rather than closer to, the God that wants to free you from them. It's like trying to run a marathon with a weight vest on. Have you ever worn a weight vest? The race won't be impossible, but it's going to be a heck of a lot harder. Jesus is not a weight vest...he is Gatorade. The perfect mix of vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes to keep you hydrated for the entire race.

The verse also refers to "sin which clings so closely." Have you ever had static cling? Your shorts/shirt are literally stuck to your body. The more you try to peel it off, the more it sticks in other places. So can't function normally because it's such a distraction. That's how sin is. It literally sticks to you. It will not stay small. It will suffocate the Spirit within you and it will eventually kill you. 

Unfortunately, sin is a "static" that comes back daily and it must be dealt with daily. Jesus is the Static Guard to our sin. do we "fight" our sin? By "looking to Jesus," or, in a different version: "let us fix our eyes on Jesus." Mmmmm, I love this word picture. Eye on the prize. This isn't about US. It's about JESUS. He cares about our hearts and our hurts and our struggles...BUT, it's only by seeing beyond these and to the Truth that all of these things are about HIS glory, that we can find freedom from them. He saves me from myself. If I'm fixing my eyes on Him, I can't fix my eyes on me. So, not only do I begin to hate my sin (because I see his beauty) and I begin to "lay aside the weights/sins," but He also sees ME. He sees into my hurts and struggles (he knows them better than I do) and he brings truth and freedom from them. The more I look at him, the more I understand the gospel and the more it changes my life. 

As we gaze upon our glorious Savior, we trade in weight vests for Gatorade, and our static-filled clothes begin to loosen. Then we can run the race freely. And we can say, as Eric Liddell, in the movie Chariots of Fire says, "When I run, I feel [God's] pleasure."

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The recognition of folly.

Most of the time I am blissfully unaware of how weird I am. I love Jesus and I'm trying to live a life that glorifies him and it is completely counter-cultural. This, apparently, is really weird. In college, before the grace of God got a hold of me, I remember thinking that I did NOT want to be weird and how I never wanted to be one of those "extreme" Christians, where everything is about Jesus all the time.


I remember the day that I clearly made this decision. I had been living on the fence and I had two ways to go. I am pretty passionate about whatever it is that I'm doing so I knew that I was going to "go big" in whatever direction I chose. One option was to go back to my old life. The one filled with selfishness, hopelessness, loneliness, and borderline depression. OR I could go the other way and be sold out for this whole "Christian thing." I couldn't take being half-hearted in either direction was tearing me apart. So I decided that if I choose this I will be weird...I will be different. 'Ok, Kelsey...are you prepared to stop caring about what these people think of you for the rest of your life? Is this worth it?' At that moment, finally, my answer was "yes." 'Ok, Jesus, I'm ready for this. Well, actually, I'm not ready but I'm too afraid to go back to that old life and I'm trusting that, with you, life has meaning and that I will finally be alive.'

These  days, I am occasionally reminded of my weirdness. Not often, however, because I have been blessed with other weirdos around me who are living passionate lives to glorify Jesus. My reminder usually comes when talking to a student on campus who has no filter from their brain to their mouth. The comment passes through my ears and I'm only bothered by it for a few minutes, during which a mild paranoia overtakes me. But then I realize I'm talking to a confused college athlete, and I am reminded of how thankful I am that Jesus saved me from my own selfish confusion.

However, I have been acutely aware of my weirdness. This truth has become more real to me than ever: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (1 Corinthians 1:18). The way that I live is literal foolishness to those who don't know. It is power but at the same time is absurdity.

Unfortunately my reminders have not been coming from atheists or Buddhists or any other non-believers...but from Christians. A lot of "Christians" are trying to be the "fencers." They don't want to go too far in either direction..."everything in moderation"...not too spiritual but not too disobedient. My question is, does that type of Christian even exist? If you really know Jesus can you possibly only want him in small doses?

I was listening to a Counting Crows song a few weeks ago and one of the lines is: "I don't want know damn religion because I'm not prepared to die." At least he's being honest, right? He isn't trying to live on the fence. He is straight-up admitting that he wants to be his own god. Jesus tells that we must deny ourselves and that we must literally lose our lives in order to save our lives (Mark 8: 34-37). This is not a some side comment that Jesus made in passing. It is a command and a requirement that he tells his disciples (and us) just before he is hung on a freaking cross to take your sin and my sin upon himself so that we can experience the overwhelming love of a Savior.

But this attitude is all too common among "Christians." This is not ok. Complacency makes me sick. It's too easy to blend in and not rock the boat. Jesus flipped the boat and, as his hands and feet we are called to do the same. "Living in moderation" is not only killing us but it's also crucifying Jesus all over again. What if only part of him would have died on the cross? Or only part of him resurrected from the dead? Well...none of us would be saved. Yikes.

Being foolish to the world is scary because of how much we crave the approval of others. We carry inside of us the power of the living God. We have what every single other person around us wants, even if they won't admit it. Being foolish doesn't mean people don't like you (well, maybe it does sometimes). If anything, it means they love and respect you for being who you really are, and it demands more realness from the people around you. More importantly, it will draw more people to The Life.

Though I get discouraged at times, never ever ever have I regretted making that decision to be a reckless follower. I have more passion for life now than I could have ever created out of my own will. Whether I'm in Winston-Salem or in South Africa, people are empty. I am NOT. I am FULL and I have within me the grace and truth that CHANGES LIVES. I don't ever want to hinder that. And if that means that I am going to be weird, then I'm ok with that.

Living foolishly for Jesus is more LIFE-GIVING than any wisdom from this world.

I want Jesus to set me on fire. A fire that will never die.

"You've become my song of passion that comes from a heart that starves for You..."