The Birthday Game

My mom loves anything you can attach a tradition to.  If there is a way to incorporate a tradition into an event, you better believe she will find a way to make it happen. One of my family’s longstanding traditions is The Birthday Game.  Every time a birthday comes around, after we sing and blow out candles, but before the cake is cut, we play “the game”, which is essentially going around the table and verbally expressing our favorite thing and what we love and appreciate about the birthday guy or gal.  We have done this for as long as I can remember, and I can think back to several birthdays and recall the things people said they loved about me (including the time James got put on the spot to go first and say what he liked most about me in front of all my family and friends after we had been dating 6 weeks, freezing up completely and saying NOTHING AT ALL, wondering what kind of wacko family this girl he was dating came from).

Growing up with The Birthday Game instilled in me the importance of giving verbal affirmation to others.  Sometimes I believe we genuinely think about how much we love and appreciate the people in our lives, but those kind thoughts never get from our heads to our lips because we don’t know how to say it out loud, likely because it can be uncomfortable and awkward.  

Recently, I received my bi-annual performance review at work, and I was nervous at best because performance reviews can always be slightly terrifying, but primarily because I could never gauge how my manager felt about me.  I knew I was doing well in my position, but I had never received positive feedback from her, so I had no idea if I was meeting her expectations.  As she delivered my review to me, I was literally shocked at the things she said. Apparently, she really liked me all this time, saying things like I “boosted the morale of the team”, that she “trusted me completely” and was one of the “best hires she ever made.” I cannot overemphasize the fact I was floored by this.  I was skeptical to the possibility that she might have even liked me, and apparently she thought I was an incredible employee! How did I miss that? Because she never made it a point to tell me.  

We have all seen mean, hurtful words tear people and lives apart, and we have also seen intentionally placed affirmation spring up life and confidence into people.  I really believe that we can the ability to transform and change the course of a life simply with the words we speak.  Sometimes we have to embrace the awkwardness of verbal affirmation and just go for it.  I guarantee you everyone could probably use a healthy dose of encouragement.  We are all secretly hoping for it.  

I think it’s easy and safe to send nice text messages or write sappy social media posts about our friends, but I believe it is much more powerful to look people directly in the eyes, without a glowing screen and fanfare of likes and comments, and tell them what you see in them: their gifts, their talents, their strengths, how you noticed what they did, how you believe in what they can do.  It may be more uncomfortable, but it is definitely more powerful.  Try it.  Instead of thinking about what a great mom/teacher/wife//employee/friend so and so is, actually tell them to their face that they are rocking it.  If someone has made a huge difference or influence in your life, don’t just tell others about how awesome they are, tell them too.  When someone shows kindness to you, lavish them with appreciation.  These are all small things, but the ripple effects have the possibility to be huge.  

I have become like my mother and now use The Birthday Game as a tradition for all of my friend’s birthdays.  I get teased about it, but I insist we play at every birthday party (assuming there’s less than 100 people ;)) because I believe it is important for people to hear why they are loved.  It is a silly game, but I can see the look in people’s eyes as they hear affirmation from their friends, and that makes it worth playing every time.  

Beyond birthdays, I hope to be a person who finds more things to appreciate than critique, who praises more than complains, and who uses words to build up.  

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.  

1 Thessalonians 5:11

Until next time,

Katie

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Isaiah 53

I have been reading through the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John the past couple of months, and even though I have known Jesus for several years, I am continually surprised, humbled, and awed at the life he lived here on this earth.  He counters everything that we think to be important, and calls his followers to a life of denial to self and suffering, promising no worldly comfort, success, or achievement, only guaranteeing his Spirit and eternal life.  

On Wednesday night at my community group, my friend Cora read the words from the prophet Isaiah as he was telling of the Messiah who would one day come, and those words from Isaiah, which have since been fulfilled, keep replaying over and over in my head.  I can’t get over Jesus and who He is.  

He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him

How much of our lives do we waste obsessing over our personal “majesty” and “beauty” when Jesus himself was described as having none?

He was despised and rejected by men

The very men created by a holy God, in His image, and the God-man who was sent as a redeemer to pay for the sin of those who despised him.  

A man of sorrows, acquainted with grief

Jesus knows grief deeper than we ever will.

…and we esteemed him not

The King of the world, who deserves all honor, worship, and glory, came and lived his life in complete humility.  

He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities

OURS. The sins WE commit.

Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace

He bore the price to bring us peace.  He IS peace.  He suffered to give us what we didn’t even know we needed: Himself.

With his stripes we are healed

His stripes.  The physical evidence of the torture he endured on our behalf showed the hope brought to us through our Healer.

 

God was the genius who thought up the idea of the world and all in it, so certainly he could have creatively come up with a less gruesome, more glamorous way to show his glory and redeem His people to Himself.  But He chose the cross.  Isaiah goes on to say “it was the will of the Lord to crush him.”  God didn’t stand by idly as Jesus hung helplessly on the cross; it was his will to do so.  That literally blows my mind.  

So who is this Jesus of the Bible?

He is God, who put on flesh, and lived the most humble, simple, selfless life imaginable.  Thirty three years after his birth in a manger, he was hung on a cross, where God in Heaven poured out His wrath toward sin on Jesus, who had never committed a sin.  He hung there on our behalf, because He loves us.  

That is who Jesus is.  He died, and later rose up straight from the dead, defeating sin, and offering Life for all who would believe in Him. That is Jesus.  The more I learn about Him, the more I am thoroughly convinced He is exactly who he claimed to be: God.  Who loved us enough to endure Hell to save his people.  I hope to never get over it.

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Until next time,

Katie

More than Morality

“Integrity” is a buzzy, trendy word that is often talked about in business or group settings: everyone wants to have people on their team that will display integrity.  The company I work for has six core values we interview and hire people based off of, and one of those is integrity.  In my position, I have interviewed several people, and one question I always ask the candidate is this: “how would you define integrity?”  I have received a wide range of answers to this question, anything from a fluffy, long winded, non-clarifying answer, or sometimes a really thoughtful, compelling response, or, my personal favorite, answers like “being responsible” or “being a likeable person.

I have discovered that while most of us are familiar with term, we struggle to define it. And with what we struggle to define, we have an even harder time putting into practice.

So what is integrity? We can all vaguely guess it has something to do with honesty or morality, but I would like to propose it goes a bit deeper than that. My definition to the word is this: “staying true to your values and convictions, even when you have something to lose.

Fortunately, there are plenty of options to put integrity into practice.

Integrity in the workplace

For many of us, we spend most of our waking hours at work, and as a Christian, having integrity is one of the best witnesses so that our character is not in question and we prove to be trustworthy and a good reflection of Christ.  If your boss asks you to tell a white lie on their behalf, do you agree out of fear, or do you push back and say no, even if that meant you could lose their approval? If you have an opportunity to exaggerate numbers on a report, do you do it, or do you tell the truth and risk missing out on a bonus? If you have access to company money or credit cards, do you sneak in some personal expenses, or do you choose to be upright and honest?  There are a multitude of ways integrity can be compromised in the workplace, and it takes a conscious effort and discipline to be faithful in integrity.

Integrity in your marriage

A good, healthy marriage will be the greatest tool for growth and sanctification in a believer’s life, and a toxic marriage will be the biggest source of pain and heartache.  Integrity contributes to cultivating a safe, vibrant marriage.  Do you have transparency with your spouse about your relationships with your co-workers and people of the opposite sex?  Does your spouse have reasonable access to your email and social media accounts, or are you hiding or deleting certain emails and texts? Are you wisely confessing sin to your spouse and others?  Do you lie to manipulate or control your spouse?  All marriages are far from perfect, but creating a SAFE (infinite emphasis on safe) and gracious place for your spouse to be honest with you, free from judgement and condemnation, will grow trust, intimacy, and ultimately integrity.

Integrity in your speech

We all know the people who tell great stories or have really ambitious ideas to share, but that is quickly dampened when the general response to this person is “take what they say with a grain of salt.”  Once people lose trust in what you have to say, it is near impossible to gain back.  Are you the boy who cried wolf one too many times?  Are you known to exaggerate the details to generate a better response? Do you twist and manipulate the facts? Do you use excessive flattery to gain approval? Are you flaky, promising something and rarely delivering? (which includes showing up and being on time)  Be a person who is honest and can be taken at their word.  You will gain enormous respect for all of those around you.  

Why does integrity matter?

We have probably all seen someone who lied on their taxes, yet received a massive refund from the IRS, or interacted inappropriately with co-workers and somehow stayed under the radar, or was promoted based off false information while we sat around feeling like the good guy who always finishes last.  So why does integrity even matter? Well, I will let the Bible speak for itself:

Proverbs 11:3

The integrity of the upright guides them,

   but the crookedness of the treacherous destroys them.

Proverbs 12:22

Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,

   but those who act faithfully are his delight.

Proverbs 28:6

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity

   than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.

Psalm 11:7

For the Lord is righteous;

he loves righteous deeds;

   the upright shall behold his face.

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Let’s be people who honor God with our thoughts, actions, and words, challenging each other to walk in integrity to bring Him glory.

Until next time,
Katie

 

Simplified Discipleship

This weekend we are coming off the 4th annual IF:Gathering, and the central topic was one of my favorites…discipleship.  About 8 months ago, a small group of women with a shared burden met in a living room to discuss how to create a culture of discipleship in our church. Ever since that first meeting, we have seen God work to form and grow discipleship relationships in women at Wells Branch Community Church, and it is so cool to watch.  At IF this weekend, Jennie Allen gave the charge to keep our calling simple and small by loving Jesus and making disciples.  (Also saying that we don’t need to write blogs, so I’m obviously ignoring her advice as I sit here and type up this post. :))

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In response to her charge, I have had several conversations (as well as eavesdropping on others), and heard three “themes” or questions emerge: who, how, and what? I am by no means a disciple making expert (I have failed at this much more often than I have succeeded), but I have picked up on the wisdom of others and hope to help answer these important questions on how to make a disciple of Jesus.

Who do I disciple?

There is no formal matchmaking process for this.  Rather, I would ask yourself a series of questions like this: Who is in my community group? Who do I serve in ministry with? Who is a step behind me in my faith? Who do I desire to see grow in their love and obedience for Jesus? Prayerfully ask yourself those questions, and see who God brings to mind.  

How do I initiate the relationship?

Embrace the awkwardness of it all.  There’s really not a super eloquent way to do it, so I would just skip the small talk and get straight to the point – “Hey I think you’re awesome and would like to spend time discipling you.  Would you be up for that?” Hopefully they say yes, and from there, together decide a time, place, and frequency to meet. 

What material do we cover?

Healthy discipleship relationships should include the key elements of prayer, confession, accountability, Bible reading, and application.  As far as a book goes, here are a few suggestions:

Bottom line – keep it simple, and just go for it.  It will be messy along the way, but I promise it will be worth it.  There is no better way to spend our lives than investing in others and the eternal kingdom of Jesus.  I believe in us!

Until next time,

Katie

 

P.S. – For a general overview on the theology of disciple making, I strongly recommend Discipling: How to Help Others Follow Jesus by Mark Dever.  This is a quick, easy read that help clear up disciple making for me.

When your Dad gets cancer

We did not invite cancer to join our family, but it showed up anyway.  

This Christmas break was mostly spent in the hospital while my Dad had a cancerous tumor in his colon removed.  What we didn’t anticipate, which hit like a ton of bricks while talking to the surgeon in that suffocating room, is that the cancer had aggressively spread throughout his body.  What we thought would be a simple surgery led us down a dark, long, unknown road called Life With Cancer.

We all handle these things in our own ways.  As the news settled in, we don’t have time to creatively decide how to best handle this.  We defaulted to what we know.  Mom cared for Dad’s every need.  Cody cleaned and organized the entire house.  Courtney made inspirational posters.  James researched and read every imaginable article on colon cancer, wanting hard facts and data.  Me? I made a spreadsheet. That’s right, a spreadsheet. Color coded and everything.  Every detail of my Dad’s life, insurance information, and medical history is now locked away in a secure spreadsheet so I can take care of his next steps.  As the first born child, I have always been bossy, so I have no problem taking charge, calling cancer centers, requesting appointments, transferring records, making sure that Dad would get the best care without Mom having to lift a finger.  That’s how I handle it.

So where are we now? We are still in the unknown, facing a grim diagnosis, carefully stepping into new territories of chemotherapy, but trusting that God is big enough, powerful enough, and sovereign enough to do what He pleases.  And that trust has to be enough for now.

I made a promise to myself that I will not avoid the pain of this situation.  It is easy to run, to distract, to ignore reality, to sugarcoat.  But we are in the trenches right now, and guess what? God resides deep in the trenches, so it seems as though He is right there with us.  I am choosing to be present, to embrace and experience it all, to not avoid what is hard, but to walk straight into every bit of it.

You know what’s more encouraging than anything? The family of God who rallies around like a champ.  I am literally blown away everyday by the extreme acts of intentional kindness and generosity shown to our family, whether it be a huge handmade card signed by the entire Corsicana football team, or the neighbor we hardly know calling to say she’s bringing over shrimp gumbo for dinner. Maybe it’s deep roots in a small town, or maybe it’s my Dad’s favorable reputation, but people have come out of the woodworks and shown up in powerful ways to serve and love our family.  

The most common question I (and all people facing tough situations) get is this:

“What can I do to help?”

While the answer is probably that we really don’t need anything, I have learned to let people help, serve, and love.  It is a blessing to both us and them.  While there is no exact way to go about this, and certainly no two people are alike, here is what I have found to be most encouraging:

  • Food – I know it’s the easiest and most used in the Handbook of Helping People.  But seriously, who doesn’t love good food?
  • Praying – actual prayer.  Like the laying-hands-pleading-with-God type. It’s so empowering.
  • Victory stories – please save it for another time to tell me how your Great Aunt’s best friend’s brother’s neighbor just died from the exact same cancer! No. Not allowed.  We want to hear victory stories of how people made it through and are living cancer-free on the other side.  
  • Keep things normal – it’s okay to talk about work or church sometimes too.  It’s refreshing to have a change of topic.
  • “I’m with you” – those words resonate deep.  You wish you could fix it but you can’t, so instead you’ve decided to come along for the ride.  That means so much.  
  • Showing love in the way that makes most sense to you – whether it’s giving a gift card to P Terry’s or Flix Brewhouse, or writing a beautiful card, or inviting us over for steaks, or showing up to the hospital with Sonic drinks, or setting up meal trains, or texting for updates on the small things; do what you know how to do best.  I promise it’s appreciated.  

And if all else fails, just bring a party straight to the hospital.

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Dad, we love you.  You know God and trust Him and that gives me so much hope.  Who else shares the gospel with all their nurses? I know you will fight this cancer with everything you’ve got.

Until next time,

Katie

2016: A Year in Review

James and I try to intentionally reflect on our lives as much as we can; every night, we talk about 3 highlights of our day, every Thursday on date night we talk about a highlight of the previous week, every month we pick a word or theme we want to focus on, and every year we look back and identify high and low points, and pray for vision for the next year.  Why do we do this? Two reasons: 1) to cultivate gratitude and perspective and 2) to live intentionally.  Reflecting back on 2016, I identified 7 things or events that were high points for me (in no particular order or rank of course :))

Women’s Discipleship

It’s funny how this all happened, because it wasn’t really on purpose, but God brought together me, Leah, Ranae, and Megan with a shared burden, passion, and vision to develop a culture of women’s discipleship in our church. Then He plopped Julie in our lives, who, without knowing any of us previously, jumped in head first to labor with us for this vision.  We have discussed, prayed, and met with people for countless hours over the past several months to make this vision a reality.  There’s so much work left to do, but we have seen some incredible progress made.  I love these ladies with everything in me; their wisdom, wit, intelligence, compassion, leadership, everything. It’s amazing how intimately connected you become to people when you are working together toward something so much bigger than yourself.

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Tuesday nights

In the spirit of discipleship, Tuesday nights have arguably become my favorite night of the week, because I get to disciple one of my favorite people, Kristin.  It is an honor and I feel completely inadequate about 95% of the time, but it has been such a fruitful relationship for both of us.  Also, I accidentally promised her I would make dinner every time, so now my cooking skills have been challenged greatly as I’m forced to come up with something new to cook every week so I am not feeding her leftover spaghetti.  We eat together, study God’s Word through the book The Four Priorities, then head off to The Well to worship God with our young adult community.  Every Tuesday night, I fall asleep with so much gratitude and my heart completely full.

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Accruent

After nearly three years on staff at my wonderful church, I decided it was time for a change, and got a job as an Executive Assistant at a software company called Accruent.  I love it for many reasons: it has challenged me professionally, great company culture, everyone that works there is extremely intelligent and driven (I’m still trying to figure out how I snuck in), open PTO policy (for real), the opportunity to work from home several days a month, and mostly, I get to work every day with one of my best friends! I tell James at least once a day how thankful I am for this job, and I’m excited for future career opportunities there.

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FORGE

I got pooped on by my unnamed favorite person (she’s 3 so I’ll forgive her) and was sick for 4 days after, but that was all completely worth it for FORGE 2016.  I loved everything about this young adult weekend; the preaching and worship, my group (#fearthedeer), sleeping on a squeaky bunk bed with a sketchy looking mattress, laying on the dock looking at stars, being outside all day, the deep conversations, losing all the games we played, and just the comradery of it all. FORGE is special and magical and I love being apart of it.  I’m already looking forward to 2017.

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Froomie Weekend

I have a group text with my college roommates that runs almost every day, and we are still so connected in each other’s lives even though we all live in different cities doing different things.  I love those 5 girls with my heart and soul, and I am committed to those relationships for life.  We got together for a weekend in November, and it was just about perfect in every way.  The best kind of friendships are those where you pick up right where you left off, and that’s exactly what we did.  Our weekend consisted of eating, talking, more eating, dancing, more eating, talking, little sleeping, and starting the show This Is Us. We have already planned out our reunion locations for the next 6 years and you bet I will be at every one.

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Three Years of Marriage

On our 3rd wedding anniversary, we didn’t celebrate with a fancy dinner or trip; instead, we spent the night on the living room floor in sweatpants worshiping God, reading His Word, and praying with our community group.  When James and I got married, we said we want our lives together to be solely about God and people.  Sitting on the floor the night of our anniversary surrounded by our community that we have worked to build, all worshiping God together, was the best possible way I could imagine celebrating three years of marriage. Afterwards, James and I went out to get ice cream, and were surprised by some of our friends who snuck in to pay for our food. 🙂

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Community Group

Speaking of community group…we truly believe that the gospel and kingdom of God spreads most through multiplication of disciples, communities, and churches. We always have multiplication on our minds as we lead our group, and had been praying for several months on who would lead the next group to multiply out of ours, when Ryan & Catie approached us with the call & desire to do so. I feel excited/sad about this all the time, but I am so excited for them to step out in obedience to what God has called them to. James and I have been in their lives pre-Jesus (for Catie), in their single days, as a dating/engaged couple, and now married and starting to shepherd their own group of people.  It is so rewarding to watch and be a part of.

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2016 was quite alright.  2017, I’m ready for you!

Until next time,

Katie

Judgment as Justification

I have always considered myself to be a confident person.  I have never been the type to obsess in front of the mirror or count calories.  I’ve been on exactly zero diets in my life and have never missed a meal.  “Getting ready” is a loose term used to make sure I have on adequate clothing to leave the house.  

In high school, I noticed an interesting trend about myself.  As long as I could find an area where I was better than someone else, I wouldn’t feel inferior to them.  I will give you some insight into my teenaged head and how I rationalized my so called “confidence”:

There’s a girl in my class who is prettier than me? Well, at least I make better grades than her.

That girl who is much smarter than me? Well, at least I have more friends.  

The girl who has way more friends than me? Well, at least I am skinnier than her.

And on and on and on.  As long as I could find an area in which I was “better”, my inferiority vanished, and confidence flourished.   I felt justified in who I was.  Or so I thought.

The core of this kind of thinking is rooted in comparison; but deeper than that, it is really found in judgment.  I looked to my left and right, judged the characteristics of those around, and sought superiority and identity in any place I could exceed their weaknesses. I used judgment to find justification.  

Why do we judge?

My friend Dietrich Bonhoeffer says it the best: “If when we judged others, our real motive was to destroy evil, we should look for evil where it I certain to be found, and that is in our own hearts.  But if we are on the look-out for evil in others, our real motive is obviously to justify ourselves, for we are seeking to escape punishment for our own sins by passing judgment on others, and are assuming by implication that the Word of God applies to ourselves in one way, and to others in another.”

We judge seeking justification.  Casting judgment comes easy when we don’t believe God at His Word.  

Paul tells us in Romans that “in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (2:1)

Yikes. Here we are walking around condemning our self in the very act of trying to justify ourselves.

The solution for judgment

The gospel of Jesus, as it is for all problems of humanity, is the answer for judgment.  There’s no need to over complicate it, Jesus is tried and true and somehow, for all of time, keeps on being the answer we are all looking for.  The closer and more intimate we get with Jesus, the more we see our depravity.  We are humbled by our sinfulness.  We are broken by the deceit in our hearts.  And that is the best place to be, because we are leveled and see ourselves as we should; broken and messy, but so radically loved by God. We realize that the evil in others is the exact same evil that lives within ourselves.  There is no justification apart from Jesus and the cross. None.  Not being skinnier, prettier, or smarter.  Nothing.  Only Jesus can justify.  He is our only hope.  Love for God and judgment of others cannot co-exist.  They are enemies of each other.  The more we see God, the more we understand our depravity, and Jesus’ completed work on the cross gets bigger.  And the only response to that is for our love toward God and others to grow.  

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A few nights ago, I was sitting around with a few friends discussing this very idea, and the question asked was “what do you judge people for?”  In my blindness, I answered, “you know, I’m really not a judgmental person at all. I don’t really care what other people do.”  Later that night when I was driving home, God brought me back to my high school self, the Katie who found her validation and identity in the judgment of others.  Humbled by that, I realized I am still not that far from who I was then.  I use judgment in hopes of combating insecurity.  I judge other people’s marriages to validate my own.  I judge the work ethic of my peers to feel good about what a hard worker I am.  I judge people’s relational issues to validate my friendships.  I judge people’s theology to feel like I have a better knowledge of God.  

Thank God for sanctification.  I hold tight to the promise that He is making me new, that He is daily transforming my heart to be more like His.  I pray as I mature in Christ, I would deeply find my security in the justification that was obtained for me on the cross.

“Judge not.” – Jesus

Until next time,

Katie