Humble Chef’s Humble Beginnings

“And now, the recipe calls for three cups of flour, stirring it in one cup at a time,” I said in my most ridiculous tone. I stood cooking in the kitchen, my roommate sitting on the other side of the counter, watching as I turned baking cookies into a cooking show.

I stirred the dough by hand, dumping in all three cups at once. “But we’re just going to dump it all in at once,” I said, coughing as the flour puffed into a cloud in my face.

I wanted to start a blog for a long time. I love to write, and someday I hope to write something meaningful. For the longest time, though, I had no idea what to write about. I didn’t want my blog to be an online diary. If I’m going to post online, I want it to be useful to other people. After taking my sweet time “strategizing” how to build a blog, I decided to write about the ups and downs of youth ministry. After more than two years as a high school leader, I know from experience the struggles are endless and real.

But then, in an unexpected change of plans, I took a step back from youth ministry. When I really look at the life Jesus calls me to live, I am convinced that “ministry” should be more than an extracurricular activity. It should be in every breath I take.

I decided to write about life.

So here we are. Me and Jesus – and I guess, now, you too. Embarking on this journey in a new city, new job, new life. I started out confident, excited about the idea of sharing Jesus in all areas of my new life. As that idea has turned into reality over the last few weeks, it’s already been harder than I expected. And I’m sure it will only get harder.

My hope is that, as I share the ups and downs and the lessons I’m learning, that the One who remains constant through the ups and downs will be brought to glory. May the words here point to Jesus.

Back in the kitchen, my roommate laughed and rolled her eyes at me as I warned my viewers to stir in the flour one cup at a time, as the recipe so wisely advises. She came to call our little game “Humble Chef.” I guess it stuck, in more ways than one!

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I’m a youth leader and I don’t want to go to youth group tonight

Satan is real. I know this because the bad days always seem to coincide with the big youth group events.

Soccer game? Oooh, had the longest day ever, running on empty, and internally processing a very personal devo. Wednesday night youth group? Nothing bad happened, specifically, but it was one of those days where you want to come home from work and search for a new job. And weekend long youth retreat? You have to choose between a wedding and the retreat and when you compromise and go late you find yourself at the wrong location, three hours away from the actual destination at 7 p.m.(True story, I’ll tell it in detail sometime).

It’s always a fight to get to youth group.

And as much as it sucks on days like this, the days where it feels like you are literally picking up your cross to follow Jesus, it’s my favorite reminder that I’m part of something bigger, something that matters for eternity. Because Satan is real and he’s putting up a fight to keep young people from getting to know Jesus. That’s why the hardest nights to get to youth group are also the ones I’m most hopeful, because Satan isn’t even trying to hide the fight from me. If even I know the battle is raging, then I know it’s a big one, and I also know that Jesus wins and God is in control. Then I can trust a major victory is close at hand.

Romans 8:31 says that “If God is for us, who can be against us?” Certainly not Satan. Satan, who, in the book of Job, had to get God’s permission to even touch Job in his suffering (Job 1 &2 ).

Satan, who doesn’t even have control of his own demons. Remember when Jesus healed the man with the legion of demons? The demons pleaded with Jesus to not banish them to the abyss. Jesus granted them permission to possess a large herd of pigs (Luke 8:26-37).

Who is Satan compared to GOD? God, who calms the waves with a word (Luke 8:22-25). God, who spoke the world into existence (Genesis 1). God, who knows the stars by name, who binds wounds and heals the brokenhearted. God, who causes rain to fall and grass to grow, who scatters frost like ashes and hailstones like breadcrumbs (Psalm 147).

So yes, Satan, I know you are real. I know you are fighting, and I am weak. But I will still choose to show up at youth group to fight with all that I have. Because this great God I mentioned? He is for me.

And if He is for me, who can be against me?

My friend Jonah

I’d like to tell you about my friend Jonah. He’s quite a bit older than me, but we really hit it off, probably because we’re very similar.

Jonah and I, we’re both runners. I like to run for sport but the kind of running Jonah and I do is different. We both run from God.

God told Jonah to go to Ninevah to warn the people there, to tell them about God and to give them a chance to turn from their evil ways and instead follow God. Ninevah was a fierce city full of evil, and Jonah grew up hating and fearing the people there.

Instead of going to Ninevah, Jonah ran from God and boarded a ship heading in the opposite direction. That’s when God sent a whale to swallow Jonah. While in the belly of the whale, Jonah repented and eventually did go to Ninevah, where the people listened to his message and turned to God!

Like Jonah, I hear God calling me to the last place on earth where I want to go. It’s a place against which I have so much prejudice that I’m afraid to really explore my feelings about it. And what am I doing? I’m trying to run in the opposite direction, to get as far away from it as I possibly can.

I think I understand what it was like for Jonah. Not only do I dread being in this place, but I am scared. I fear I’ll fall prey to the ways of the culture and that, instead of helping God’s message be spread, I will fall into the sins and obsessions that I most despise about the place.

Although I haven’t had to spend time in the belly of a whale, God has prevented me from running. He’s even giving me another chance to obey him and go to my own personal Ninevah.

The kicker in this story is that when God spared the city of Ninevah after they turned back to him, Jonah got mad! He told God this was why he didn’t want to go to Ninevah in the first place. His hate for the city was so great he didn’t want to see God change them. God puts Jonah in his place by asking how God could not care about the city that was full of so many people who can’t tell their right hand from their left, and their animals.

Maybe you’ve been in a similar situation as Jonah and I. Maybe God has called you to go somewhere or do something that you do not want to. Although it can be hard at times, I pray that you (and I!) remember that God is good, and he works in ways that catch us off guard, bringing solutions that we never even considered as possible outcomes to our situations.

My prayer is that God will tune my heart to his, and that he might do the same for you!

TBD?

I’ve been feeling a suppression lately. Something has been holding me back from being…me. Unsure of the cause at first, I have come to believe it is a combination of fear and unbelief. Fear of what people will think, of not being who I want to be, and unbelief in God’s Word, that I am who God says I am.

Is it really shocking that I struggle to believe that I am righteous, precious and cherished? Forgive me for wanting so badly to be noticed and free. I want to live a life of adventure and yet I realize (in my most honest moments) that life will still leave me broken and wanting. Yet I still seek adventure as if that will make my life seem meaningful or impactful.

And in the same way, I know that finding deep and fulfilling relationships will not make me complete. I will (and do) continue to feel lonely and unseen when I expect them to meet my needs.

It’s not that my desires are bad. In fact, they, could even come from God. But if I look to them to be my everything then I will only find a desperate disappointment. I was made to worship one God.

I’ve been so hungry lately. It’s not a hunger that any amount of food can ease. Where my stomach should be is this deep cavern that can only be filled by the overwhelming truth of God’s love, power, and presence in my life. The truth is that I am part of His story and not the other way around.

And that’s good. A relief even.

Until I turn to God to make me whole, I will continue walking around with this big, suppressing, heavy blackhole in my inner being. Everywhere I go. But when I live in the truth that I am already complete, whether my life looks like my greatest dreams or my deepest fears come true, then and only then will EVERYTHING I do feel exciting, complete and full. And that’s because none of those things define me.

When Jesus called me to Him, He changed me. He gave me a new name and made me into a new creation. I am no longer the girl always holding back because of fear. I am now precious, beloved, righteous, and an heir of eternity. Instead of living in fear, I can live in a bold faithfulness, confident that with The Lord and Creator of the universe with me, I have nothing to fear.

Lord please remind me. Fight the battle for me, I cannot do it on my own.

Going on adventures when I feel alone

I have never quite felt like I belong.

Growing up I had friends but there were always groups of friends who would regularly hang out. I never seemed to get those invitations.

Even before I moved to this new city, away from the close-knit community that had become my norm, I was feeling lonely. As I look back on my life, I realize something.

I have always felt a sense of loneliness.

As I’m adjusting to life in a new city, I desperately want close friends. I want people in my life who care about the details, who will take me seriously when I am upset about something silly. People who know me well enough to know that my emotions run much deeper than I let on. People who in turn will also lean on me.

Now, I know a part of this is that I was created for eternity and my whole life will be spent longing for Heaven. But this has something more as well.

I want to go on adventures. To hike and play and laugh. To have people who are “my people”.

Today, the thought of spending another Saturday completely alone at home was crushing. All I wanted to do was go on some adventure. So I did.

I went for a hike I’d never been on, all alone.

Maybe it is being in nature or maybe it is spontaneity, but there is something about adventure that makes my soul come alive and sing. As I perused the trails of this newfound wilderness, suddenly being alone didn’t feel lonely. It actually felt exhilarating!

I could stop whenever I wanted to go climb around on the rocks. I could hike as slow or as fast as I want. I could take whichever trail at my whimsy.

A Bible verse that I’ve been fighting to believe in this stage of loneliness is “and surely I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mat. 28:20).

Even when I feel utterly alone, I know this is true. God will never leave me. And His plan for my life is so much better than I could ever imagine! When I look back at the times in my life where I was on a very different page than God about what was best for my life, I can now say that I am so grateful things went God’s way instead of my own way.

Today served as a good reminder for me that God is always with me, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Jesus said he came so that we can have life, and life in abundance (John 10:10).

Instead of sitting in my aloneness feeling lonely, I’m going to take that aloneness and go live life to the full! I will go on the adventures I want, alone with my God, and I now see it will be thrilling!

I don’t know where the adventures will take me, but there is only one way to find out!

This is NOT what I expected

Have you ever started something new filled with excitement, only to realize this was not what you expected and become disheartened?

Convinced God was going to use me to make His name known in some big way, I recently moved to a new city with this excitement and big expectations.

The excitement soon faded, though. As reality set in, I realized I was still fighting with my same sins, fears, and heartaches. Same old battles, just under the surface of a new setting.

That is also how I felt about this sermon I heard on the book of Jonah. Jonah is like my Bible soul-brother. I feel like he gets me. I’ve related to Jonah at many times on many levels. So when I learned this sermon was going to be on Jonah I was all ears, expecting my life to be changed.

My excitement quickly faded as I realized this sermon was about grace. Same basic message I’ve heard for years, new setting.

I have to admit that I was a little annoyed that the message was so basic: God sent His son, Jesus, to die (and rise from the dead) in my place so I can be forgiven for my wretched sinfulness. That is grace. It is not something I can earn, achieve or find or do. It is given, undeservedly, by God. It’s great and I’m thankful for grace, but it’s not what I wanted to hear that day.

Funny how God doesn’t always give us what we want, but He always gives us exactly what we need.

As I was processing this sermon, I started to feel alone. I started to brood on my sinfulness. My lost dreams, my shortcomings, my weaknesses and my sins flooded my mind. Of course I should be alone. How could a God so perfect ever want to be around a disappointment of such disastrous proportions as me?

Then it hit me.

Maybe that’s what grace is. God coming in and saving me. Even though I don’t deserve it, can never do anything to deserve it. Instead of me going to God, as I so often think is the case, it is Him who comes to me.

When I was completely lost and broken and human and messy, God came and met me. He didn’t ask me to pick myself up, to pull myself together, before I could come to Him. No, He came to me right in the thick of my mess and He joined me.

And by His grace, He washed me and made me clean. Pure. His.

That sermon didn’t turn out to be what I expected or wanted. It turned out to be exactly what I needed. When I first moved here, I thought God was calling me here to do some great work for Him, to make Him known somehow. I was expecting to do big things. Instead, I’ve seen God do big things in me. He’s taught me and brought me healing in places I didn’t even know were broken.

Funny how it took me so long to realize I don’t understand grace.

I often forget that my life is not my own. It is God’s story. When I take a moment to look at it, however, He is clearly all over it. And that fills me with a peace that no matter how off base my expectations may be, God’s version is exactly what I need.

I’m starting to get what people mean when they say we can spend the rest of our lives learning to understand grace without ever fully understanding it.

Now that’s something to be excited about.

I can’t climb that mountain…

This summer I was so excited when my brother-in-law invited me to join him and my sister to hike the Crestone Needle. After spending the last three summers as a backpacking guide, I had heard of the Needle. In my mind, it was epic, the hardest and highest honor to peak. This class three peak rose above 14,000 feet. Sitting near the Great Sand Dunes surrounded by mountains, the view is sure to make your heart skip a beat.

So when they invited me to join them, I couldn’t stop talking about it. But if I was really honest with myself, my chatter came from a place of fear rather than excitement about the pending hike. I’ve been a backpacking guide for the past three summers, so my family has the impression that I’m an expert and know everything there is to know about the outdoors. In reality, though, when I take out trips, we barely do any hiking in a day. We’re much more about the content than the miles.

As we were getting ready to drive out to the base of the Needle, I opened up about my fears to my mom. We ended up talking about how everything in life is a fight right now, from climbing this mountain all the way down to getting out of bed in the morning. I’m currently climbing my own personal mountain and in that moment it felt like not only was the peak covered by a thick cloud but there was no trail to even reach the cloud-covered peak.

As much as I wanted to stay home and hide that weekend, I knew I had to climb that mountain, God had something at the top. Something big.

The plan: hike in 4.5 miles to a high elevation lake where we camp for the night before climbing the last 2.5 miles to the peak the next morning. As we approached and started the initial ascent, I was in inner turmoil. My fear was screaming at me, my nerves begging me to turn around, to back out. My body felt weak, slow, and heavy before we even hit the trail. As we ran into one disaster after another, my dread built up and tied my stomach in knots.

I prayed for snow that night.

But as morning came, the sky was cloudless and the air was warm. The perfect day for a 14er, much to my dismay. Left with no realistic options, I found myself climbing up the mountain in the early dawn with my climbing party. Not 20 minutes in, my dad asked me how I was doing. Startled out of my inner ranting, I blurted out my thoughts, “I’m feeling weak.” I couldn’t tell you the conversation we had as we climbed – I was lost in the conversation in my head. “I am so tired” led to “I don’t know how I’m ever going to make it up this massive mountain” and then “I can’t do this on my own” made me jump tracks and I realized my inner monologue was true of the mountain but even more painfully true of my life. I can’t do it on my own.

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So instead of talking to myself, I talked to God. I simply told him I can’t do it on my own. I asked him to get me there, to be my strength. And you know what? Somehow we got up that mountain. And it was breathtaking, this beautiful, glorious feeling of triumph! It was hard, but every time I started to get tired or discouraged I took it back to God. I asked him to get me there, just a few more steps.

The strength to get up that mountain did not come from me. God carried me up the mountain that day.

He does in real life, too. I’m getting better at remembering that. I’m still climbing that mountain covered in clouds. I’ve reached a false summit, not sure how many more there may be, but I’ll keep going.

Life is full of hard climbs to peaks. As I take little steps, I ache to summit the final peak, to step into eternity with my maker. It comforts me to think that I was made for more, to be with God, my friend, my sustainer, and the lover of my soul. Along the way, I will marvel at the trail, and rejoice that I don’t have to take a single step in my own strength.

What do I tell students when I feel far from God?

It’s yet another night of youth group where I’m tempted to ditch. It’s supposed to be a special night, a party of sorts. There’s no true program and so instead of getting to hide behind the games, the announcements and the talk, I have to go be social ALL NIGHT.

That’s a lot to ask an introvert after a full day of work. It almost causes physical pain. It’s not that I don’t love the students, but it’s just that I’m awful at small talk. The thought of coming up with interesting conversation while not being awkward exhausts me.

I can’t do this on my own.

And maybe that’s my problem. I’m trying to do it on my own. Work, roommates, ministry. And it’s wearing me down. I get through my day but all I can think is how I’m not where I want to be and I don’t see myself getting there anytime soon.

It’s a case of the-grass-is-always-greener’s and it’s quite serious. Work has no joy in it. I don’t have time for my friends. My roommates have opposite schedules from mine. The weather isn’t what I want. I feel emotionally disconnected from the world and myself. The list goes on and on.

And where is God in all this? He should be in the center, holding me together, the one I reach out to with each thought. Yet, once again, I look around and see I’m the one on the pedestal right now.

The places I want to go are just not options right now. It’s this giant game of wait-and-see. Wait-and-see if I get the job, if the trip pans out, if my role in ministry will change next year, how God will lead me next. And I’m sick of it. I want some action!

And in the midst of all this personal struggle I’m supposed to go to youth group and lead students??? Yeah, right. What a great example I’m setting for them.

But maybe I’m not alone. Maybe sharing with them how hard things are will set an example for them.

1 Timothy 6:6 “Godliness with contentment is great gain,” flashes through my mind and when I excuse it as irrelevant a whisper sneaks in, “Maybe this is exactly what you need.”

Okay, yes. The Bible tells us to give thanks in all circumstances. So I should stop complaining and give thanks and be content. Easier said than done. I don’t think I’ll have that checked off my list before church Sunday and definitely not before youth group tonight.

So what am I supposed to tell my students I’m going through this week?

Even before I finish the question, I know the answer. Tell them the truth. Part of living in Biblical community is to be honest with each other, to encourage each other and share when we’re struggling. And it’ll probably feel weird (dare I say embarrassing??) to tell a bunch of teenagers who look up to me that I’m just struggling to look to Jesus.

Maybe instead of trying to set an example of being perfectly calm and collected on the outside, I can show my students how to struggle in Jesus. I can set an example of persevering when all I want to do is give up, of being honest – with myself and others – when ignoring the hurt and emotion seems easier, of opening myself to the possibility of being rejected, and being honest when I fail to do that.

So tonight I will go to youth group. I will be real and honest. I will probably spend time on the edge of the room, but I will trust that God in his goodness will use my messiness. After all, his “power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9b)