dear 25 year old self.

Dear Cassie,

As you continue to pursue wholehearted living, here are 10 truths I hope you hold onto…

#10 “Everything will be okay. You are far too young not to believe it will be okay.” –Craig Andersen

You can bounce back from this. You are young and fearless. Embrace resilience. Embrace change. Push into failure. I know the choices you make seem crucial right now, but please give yourself permission to experience life along the way. I promise the choices you make today aren’t as important as they might feel right now. And your past does not define you. Take risks, fall down, get back up and try again. Failure and disappointments are not your enemy. Mistakes, failures, and heartbreak are all proof that you are trying. And you will experience A LOT of pain and failure. Get used to it and accept it because such is life. And as you give yourself permission to make mistakes, embrace the pain and live through it, please be willing to admit when you are wrong along the way. Don’t blame others for your mistakes. Own them and then move on. You have places to go.

#9 You are imperfect and that’s ok.

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect you can be good.” –John Steinbeck

There is so much pressure to be perfect. You are good and that is enough. You don’t need to be perfect. You are exactly where you need to be for this moment. And in 7 years you will be exactly where you need to be, too. Please stop looking around and comparing yourself to others and where they are. Be kind to yourself. Comparison will kill your joy.

“Good for her! Not for me, that is the motto women should be constantly repeating over and over again -Amy Poehler

#8 It’s not forever.

Shit happens. Life will surprise you. Sometimes in the midst of everything going on in our lives it can feel like nothing will ever change.  Then one day everything is different. You look back and wonder how you got here. Sometimes it’s a good change, you want to hold onto forever, other times change is the worst, and you can’t wait for the circumstances to shift again. No matter which situation you find yourself in today, know it won’t be forever. “This too shall pass.” Remember this in both the good and bad times.Please do me a favor, try to stop more and take the time to enjoy it. Breathe it in. Live in the moment and find the good in it all.

“Shift happens.” -Robin Bell

#6 Enjoy the moment

“A purpose of life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” –Kurt Vonnegut

Love where you are right now. That’s all you have. Just let life happen sometimes and enjoy what’s in front of you. Maybe you wish you were in a different place or with different people? Choose to be around people that make you feel valued. Go to places that inspire you. Don’t be resentful. Just be present wherever life leads you and make the best of whatever situation you are in. Life is too damn short.

#5 Treat all people with respect

There is so much to learn from the world and the experiences aroundus. Don’t forget to live and see the world. Let others teach you along the way. Always be willing to learn from everyone you meet. Treat others with respect and as if they are the experts of their own lives and experiences.

Don’t shut people and ideas out. Listen to those that disagree with you. There is wisdom in hearing the vantage point of others. And you might discover you don’t disagree with them as much as you thought. Seek to understand others first and stop talking so much! Let your curiosity and excitement for new ideas open you up to the world around you.

#4 You have to Advocate for Yourself and Find You Own Voice

It is going to be difficult for you but learn to ask for what you need. Advocate for yourself in life. “You teach others how they can treat you, by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce. In your desire to meet the needs of others, you tend to neglect your own heart.Treat Yo Self! Don’t be afraid to love yourself and standup for yourself when you need to. You are worth it.  When you were younger you might have felt like you didn’t have a voice. But you do have a voice, so find it, accept it and use it!

#3 You are a survivor

“You’ll never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice…” –Bob Marley

Sometimes life beats you up. You might feel broken at times. And I can’t promise that the pain ever really goes away but we do learn to live with it. We live with our brokenness. And we survive. We make it through the pain. We overcome it. You aren’t alone. Find community and people that will let you be you. Don’t let the pain of the world keep you from living. Hold on, Hope is coming.

#2 Don’t Ever Stop Seeing the Light in People

“Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” –Matthew 5:16

God is inside each of us. Please don’t give up on people. See the world for all it is, beautifully flawed. Hold onto beauty, search for it, and add to it. Don’t close people out. You were meant to connect. Open yourself up to the world despite the darkness. May your eyes never grow dim to the beauty of this world.

#1 Always Put Love On Top

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” -1 Peter 4:8

May your love always be bigger than your fears and brokenness. Find Love and let it change you and transform you. Let Love enter in. You are loved so love others. Be willing to take risks. Be vulnerable. Be Brave. Dare Greatly. Love extravagantly. Give it all you’ve got!

-With Hope,

Cassie

 

 

why i hated the song Oceans by Hillsong. part 2

It was a good day. It was a Sunday during the lent session. I was on my way to church, running late but it didn’t matter, it was a church full of young adults with a casual, “come as you are” vibe. When I arrived, worship had already began. So I found an empty space in one of the side pews near the back and quietly took my place. I entered into the motion of worship with the rest of the congregation.

During lent, Park Church often changes things up. Often scripture and reflection is mingled with the songs. So we sat down and then stood back up in a cadence like fashion. There was rhythm and order to the service as we honored the liturgical pulse.

We rose from our seats, for what I thought was the last time, and began to sing Come Thou Fount. With my heart full, I sang.

And then in an instant, the song transitioned (it was a church equivalent to a mash-up?). I very well knew this song and was angry at the sudden transition.  I have been haunted by this song for months. In another entry, I wrote part I of why i hated the song Oceans by Hillsong. Yet, despite my lack of enthusiasm, Oceans was sung out with zeal in the service that morning with the hands of the congregation raised high.

I sat down.

As I rummaged through my purse and pulled out my journal, I began writing an entry of frustration to God, but instead, came across a few notes I had jotted down from my theology class earlier that week. I sat in silence as I read through the chicken scratch notes. They were about hope and how we hold onto hope in the midst of the pain and the struggles of life.

The lyrics of the hymn came back to me as I read the notes,

“Here I raise my Ebenezer
Here by Thy great help I’ve come”

I was reminded I needed an ebenezer. I needed to be reminded of God’s goodness in my own life. I needed to be reminded of the times I was in the desert before this and know this too shall pass because it has before.  I needed to be reminded of light in the midst of my own confusion and doubt. I needed to be reminded of God’s provision in my own life because God has already had a track record of coming through in my life, but I am so easy to forget who He is.

So I stood, again.

I’m not sure why that day was different from the rest, but for some reason, I started to believe in hope, again. I found God in the remembering. And as I joined in and sang again, sweet tears of hope and freedom rolled down like grace.

Currently, my story has not called me beyond economic borders, social borders, geographic borders, religious borders or even racial borders. In fact, sometimes I wish to be called to another country. Instead, I wrote this blog in the comfort of a nice chair, warm blanket and a hot cup of coffee, on a porch overlooking the mountains. And I still find myself walking on the water as I continue to discover what it means to live fully human in this broken and messy world. There are many reasons I want to clothe myself in shame and hide my insecurities from the world. There are many reasons I do not want to stand and walk. Yet to be alive is to be vulnerable. And when we walk upon the water, we face our fears and we step forth to the unknown because we know Christ is greater than our fears and failures. It is in this kind of intimate knowing, I can stand and begin to sing the song Oceans.

Some days I am still afraid, and some days I do not sing the words in church. They can often seem like too much to handle but God is still there and His grace abounds.

an ebenezer.

For those who do not know, I’ve been living in Colorado for the past two years. I’ve been working towards a masters in clinical mental health and I am finally finishing up my last year as I complete my internship, and study for a couple big tests. It’s been exciting and terrible at the same time. Yet, my all time favorite part about moving to Colorado has been the opportunities to hike when I am not in the library writing papers or studying for tests. I currently live in Arvada, CO. It is located as far northwest from Denver as you can possibly get without actually living in a mountain town. And it is at best, only a half hour away from gorgeous trails and great hiking.

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This June a few high school girls and I went hiking. We had talked about summiting a few mountains before the summer slipped away and we finally willed ourselves to wake up at 4:30 AM on a Saturday to hike Mt. Bierstadt. For the girls, it was their first 14er. As we went past the treeline the familiar rock monuments began marking the trail for us. Hikers call them cairns. Cairns are often used as markers in places in the trail where the direction is not obvious. Often times, hikers add their own stones to the pile as they pass by. It’s been a tradition for many years and it has also been helpful for those times the snow has covered the trail and made it impossible to find your way.

Yet, cairns aren’t a new, or modern way of helping people move forward on their journey. In the Bible, we see Samuel and others using cairns way before they were cool. They were like hipsters. Yet they did not call them cairns. They were Ebenezers. The word literally means, “Stone of Help” in Hebrew. When God’s people won battles or gained back their land they set up rock formations as a reminder of God’s Real, Holy Presence and Help.

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.” -1 Sam 7:12

We continued to climb and as we reached higher elevation the air grew thinner and our lungs screamed for relief. I was positive mine had fallen out of my chest and shriveled up and died. It is during moments like this, I am not exactly sure why I find any of this exhilarating, but we kept hiking at a slower than snail’s pace. We passed cairns along the way a constant reminder others had made the trip before us. Coaching some of the girls up the path, I encouraged them not to stop until we made it to the next marker. It made it easier to keep moving forward when we had a small goal to reach. Then I treated them to a piece of chocolate as a way to celebrate the small victories we had already overcome. We would grab a drink of water, catch our breath, eat our chocolate and then look down at all we had already covered. I think this is an important step in hiking. Sure we can look ahead and prepare for all that is still yet to come, but we should never stop looking back. Bask in the moment, enjoy the view and remember where you came from.

This year I have been wrestling to hold onto hope. When you have hope you never seem to question where it came from but it is during those moments where you feel like all hope is lost that you need to know how to find it again. I entered this summer in this place. I’m not really sure why. Maybe there were small signs along the way indicating I was nearing the place of hopelessness. Maybe I was burnt out on everything. Maybe I needed more sun. Or maybe I am just forgetful? Whatever the reason, I was in this place again and I needed to find my way back.  Now, I don’t have all the answers and I am not about to drop a thesis on the subject anytime soon, but I have learned a few things in the past few months.

Just like climbing, hope requires us to look back during the difficult times so we can continue to move forward. As we stop and look at what God has done in us and the lives of others we are pulled into the hope of the future. We don’t have to set up a physical structure of stones to remember what God has done for us. You can journal, talk to a friend, or look at old pictures.  An Ebenezer is anything that reminds us of God’s presence. Yet sometimes we just need to get out there and hike. We need to be just another person placing our stone on top of the pile. And to be reminded of those who walked before us, and to point those after us towards the end too.

 

why i hated the song Oceans by Hillsong. part 1.

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Standing in a crowd of junior high students, I closed my eyes and tried to engage in worship. Distracted by the side conversation near me, a faintly familiar song began filling the room. It was like a distant memory. I knew parts of the song and could sing along but it was a newer song, one I had not spent enough time with. One that had not been connected to an event, feeling, or time in my life. It was void of meaning for me, personally. But the sweet words “I am Yours and You are mine” were sung and I found comfort in the lyrics. Leaving home for the weekend, I packed my bags for a youth retreat only to leave the uncertainty of life behind me. There was nothing I could do for the next few days about my current life situations. I was in the mountains, with spotty cell service, massive amounts of preteens, and a constant need for a stream of caffeine running through my veins. I wrestled to find contentment and peace during that weekend, but it had nothing to do with the loads of coffee I was drinking…well maybe just a little. But I began to concentrate on the words, I remember thinking this would be a great song for youth group, while I continued to search for a harmony. I started to  believe I had stumbled upon a favorite worship song too.

The song continued to build.

Then the bridge began:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

I stood dead in my tracks.

Frozen and immobilized by the words sprawled across the screen.

I stopped singing.

I had FINALLY figured out what my problem was…or at least one of them.

I had inflicted this pain. I DID THIS TO MYSELF!!!

There was no one but myself to blame.

It finally dawned on me.

Since I was in junior high, I had been full of excitement and desire to burn with passion for God. I prayed big prayers, and sang the songs from youth group with all of my heart. I had asked God to “break my heart for what breaks His” and I found myself in a constant frenzy of tears after taking a social justice class in college. I sang “give me faith to trust what you say,” and then God put me in places where I needed to actually have faith. I closed my eyes and believed in the soft piano ballad as I sang “give me Jesus.” Peace filled my soul as I sang, and I truly believed in that moment everything could be taken away and I would be okay. Then the things of this world, the things I didn’t even know were that important to me, started to take arms for my heart. It was then I had to learn the cost of those statements.

I looked out at the ocean of students building in energy and excitement, and I stood in the crowd, in silence, and with a good amount of cynicism seeping from eyes. I hoped they could read my mind and save themselves while they were still young. They did not know what they were getting themselves into. I took pity on them, because for some reason, God appears to be in the business of taking the cries of our youth and allowing those purest prayers to become the transformation of growth and love for our lives later on. It is in those times, we are the most vulnerable and most willing to take risks. When we are young, we are unaware of the cost of our passion, so we dream big. Perhaps this is why Jesus says we must have faith like children?

But I could not see the beauty in their song that day, instead I vowed to never sing songs I didn’t mean ever again, and I decided I would start that day. Instead, like Peter, I looked down at the water and was afraid. I was afraid I might fall and God might not be able to pick me up. Maybe I worried about the logistics. Most of all, I was stubborn and even though I had countless journal entries of God coming through in my own life, it just was not enough to sing the song. It was as if my candle of hope had been burnt out awhile ago and I had no idea how I could ignite that flame again. I was lost in the middle of my own storm and I could not see beyond it.

Yet the beauty of God’s grace is He did not shame me into singing the words to this popular song that day, or even in the months to come. He did not ask me to make a good appearance, or “pretend to have it all together” for the students behind me. Instead, He has sat with me during those silences, allowing me to sit and grapple with my own battle.

But I promise, the journey continues….

Resolving to Resolve

The reasons I believe New Years Resolutions don’t really work and why I am not making a list this year.

Every year it happens, we set aside time and reflect on the year passing and decide to be proactive and take steps to build better habits, and break bad life patterns while we are at it. Yet many of us fail before the month of January even begins. Why?

Don’t get me wrong, reflecting on the past, learning from it and setting goals are necessary for change. But I think the concept of New Years Resolutions often set us for failure for two reasons: (well maybe more, but 2 important ones)

1. It’s a Delay Tactic Every year around Thanksgiving I already start resolving to eat better. After entering a food coma,  I am convinced that something needs to change, but life continues to happen and I promise myself that I will eat better in January. This is a joke, because if I can’t stop in the moment there is no way I’m stopping in January.

The belief that there is an ideal time to stop is a lie. We believe working out and eating better will come easier in January, but instead our brain has new mind tricks to keep us indulging in our unwanted activities.

In the end we find ourselves finally surrendering, but not to God, rather we surrender to our bad habits and addictions. We believe there is no hope in change and apathy soon sets in. We might even create strategies and excuses to live with our unmet resolutions. Yet we are left with more guilt, more shame and mo’ problems.

2. Built on Self-Assurance Yet the truth is,  even if we were able to resolve for a short time we are only fooling ourselves. We gain an “I can do it myself “ mentality. Believing we possess the willpower to control our urges and desires we begin to pat ourselves on the back. Soon we convince ourselves that we are beyond our bad habits. Our own self assurance sets us up for failure. Our pride tells us that we are out of the red zone. Now that we have it under control, it wouldn’t hurt to have one drink, or eat one sweet roll. And slowly we move closer to the habits we promised to resolve.

Our patterns and lack of discipline are more than just bad habits. It’s purposeful because they tell us about ourselves. These patterns are coping mechanism, defense mechanisms and survival tactics that we have ingeniously created to deal with life. But it’s a never ending cycle if we believe these lies. And we are damned either way we turn.

We cannot change on our own! It’s a false sense of control to believe we can. It was because of our control that we are using these habits in the first place. In AA and other recovery programs, these groups are founded on the belief that one cannot control his or her addiction or compulsion and recognizing it is only a higher power that can give us strength.

“I will change later” and “I can do it on my own” are both lies that resolutions are often founded on.  These lies both leave out the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives to convict us at the right time and to rely on His strength instead our own.Please journal and reflect this year. Please grow and change. But don’t wait until next year to kick bad habits or start good ones. Know it’s okay to fall and get back up and don’t forget to lay your resolutions down at the foot of the cross.

the morning after.

One of the perks of working at a church is that you get to start looking at material for Easter months before Easter. I love everything about Easter. It ushers in spring and proclaims the fullness of new life. Bright colors, flowers, candy and new dresses all shout the arrival of warmer days and new hope.

Easter is all about what happened on the cross but that’s not the end of it. The festivities shouldn’t stop there. Most Christians give up things during the lent session and then we end the 40 day fast with one day of celebration.

Yet what happens on Monday morning? Does everything go back to normal? We all wake up the next day in our sugar induced comas and get back to the grind. We vow to cut back on the candy again and start up our diets.

In N.T. Wright’s book Surprised by Hope he talks about the “biggest problem starting on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy day…and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration…”

“…Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don’t throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don’t do it exuberantly. Is it any wonder the world doesn’t take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom?”

Easter is so much more than a happily ever after in the afterlife. It is the crux of the Christian faith now. And it’s the cornerstone of the New Testament and without the Resurrection we lose a lot more than just a few books of the Bible.

This year the youth group went through a sermon series on the need for a hero as Easter approached. The message reminded us that Jesus is not just a hero that we need when we die to get us into Heaven. Jesus comes and ushers in the Kingdom of God now. The world infested with sin is flipped on it’s head and heaven and earth are now finally coming together. Sin no longer can separate us from God. Once again we have the ability to sit near God and hear His voice. No longer do we need to live in guilt and shame. It has been paid for and we are now free to live and walk in the light.

The Resurrection deserves more than just a few songs of praise, our Easter best and some beautiful tulips to remind us of the greatest truth in history. What would it look like to live an Easter centered life? Would we celebrate more? Would we play our flutes? Would we walk in boldness as children of God? Why is it that there are more messages preached on carrying our cross, and denying our flesh than celebrating the sacrifice of Christ and what it enables us to be?

In Luke 7:32-34 we are reminded that:

Jesus’ ministry is an invitation to dance.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven…A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” Ecclesiastes 3

As we wait for the return of Jesus there will still be times of weeping and mourning, but may we never forget the invitation that Jesus gives us today to enjoy life. It’s an invitation to take up new habits. Take on the fruits of the Spirit. And it’s an opportunity to dance amidst the storms.

Dear TSwift,

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“Love is so short, forgetting is so long.” -Neruda

I listened to your new CD, Red, over Christmas. My best friend and I were heading back to Minneapolis after experiencing the Midwest winter. Car packed and we were ready to hit the road. Of course, a trip with two awesome, 20-something girls would not be complete without the sweet love ballads and angry break-up songs off your albums. We entered Minnesota singing at the top of our lungs, We are never, ever ever, ever, ever getting back together. The flat plains and drudgery of the gray winter air heightened my awareness of my slowly growing vigor and endearment to your lyrics.

There has always been something about your music that compels me to sing your songs with reckless abandonment. It was half way through one of the songs, that it hit me. Your emotions of anger, frustration, pain and sadness resignate because those feelings are so real to all of us. No matter how much we all just wish these “negative” emotions would just go away, and come another day, to another person. Yet, we have to face the pain. It is a dangerous place to love another human being in this world. To know that one day that love could die faster than it started. Yet we all hope to fall in love and grow old with someone who loves us despite our flaws.

The truth, that I think we all know, is that love was never meant to fail or be so short. It was designed to last forever. True love “shines golden like starlight and does not fade or spontaneously combust.” I think that’s why marriage is still idolized by little girls dreaming of a prince to sweep them off their feet. It is why I think weddings are dramatized and taken over the top. It’s the reason Pinterest boards are filled with gowns, flowers, cakes and rings. It’s the most sung about topic and it is the influence of many great pieces of art. We all hope in a love that takes away all of our fears and lasts through the fieriest storms of life.

Yet something went terribly wrong and now we see but a poor reflection of this love in the world around us. And let’s be honest, some of these reflections are a better picture of this true love than others. It is the reason most of us watch the Bachelor every Monday night and get frustrated that Sean cannot see the girls for who they really are. We are all cheering for him to live happily ever after and at the same time everything inside of us is stilling telling us that a man openly dating 25 other women at the same time is not right.

More often than not we all have had a relationship or two that fizzles out and then we spend so long trying to forget it ever happened. The sad reality is that often we have an elephant’s memory (supposedly elephants never forget) and we can’t seem to get our failed attempts off our mind. How is that we can hold onto these memories so tightly, yet I can’t remember where I put my keys a few hours ago or the answers to the test I stayed up all night studying for?

I think something deep down inside of us longs for that happy ending and that’s why it is so hard to let go of the memories of failed attempts. We all want to believe that love conquers all. It’s why chick flicks make so much money and we all keep coming back for more, even though we know the plot of the story long before entering the movie theater. We all want a love that is patient and kind. We hope that it would not be self-seeking and would not keep a record of right and wrong but none of us know what that looks like because we believe that it exists exclusively for a romantic relationship. None of our other relationships are required to demonstrate this kind of love, but we are expected to understand how it works once we get married or date.

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The temptation is not jumping in head first without looking. We find it difficult because the rush of love makes us feel so alive. We often believe that it will fulfill some desire within ourselves. It will complete us. Maybe that’s why it can’t sustain itself? Maybe we are expecting it to fulfill something it was never designed to fulfill.

At it’s worst, love leaves us empty and searching for something far more. It makes us crazy and addicted to it’s illusion. At it’s best, the promise of romance is a place of hope for us all. It reminds us of the beauty and mystery of the world. It points each of us to something greater, something outside of ourselves.

I hope that someday you produce a CD called Gold. I am cheering for you and hope that you find true love someday.

Sincerely,

                      Cassie

(Inspired by the frustrated love of Taylor Swift, a group of junior highers and a youth group sermon series)