Category Archives: Personal Updates

On Ecclesia: How Jesus Brought Me Back to Church

It took twenty years of weekly church attendance and sinking to rock bottom for me to figure out what the point of church is, and what the Bible really means when it talks about the body of Christ. But I know that the Lord is a Redeemer, and He has redeemed my legalistic thinking about His church and showed me how the Gospel operates in my life—here and now.

It all started with the rock bottom. I welcomed New Year’s 2014 fighting a small legal battle against an ex-boyfriend—skipping class for meetings and phone calls with police officers, spending my evenings filling out paperwork for a restraining order and sinking into the pain of the end of an abusive relationship. It wasn’t how I’d planned for my senior year of college to go. This wasn’t really what I’d planned for my life at age 20. I was on an externally successful trajectory as I finished college and was accepted into grad school, but I was hurting and lost and alone; the relationship had caused me to lose most of my friends and fade from the religion I had grown up on.

I hadn’t “lost my faith,” necessarily. But my life didn’t reflect that I knew the Lord in an everyday sense. I did not trust in Him as “my Rock, my Fortress and my Deliverer” (Psalm 18:2) through my pain or in my new season of life. Even though He was always close to my broken heart, like he promised in Isaiah 43:2, and He never left my side, I’d pushed Him away. I wasn’t going to church, and hadn’t gone consistently or intentionally in several years. And suddenly, I looked up and noticed that I had no community—anywhere. I graduated college and enrolled in grad school, hoping for a fresh start.

That’s when I encountered Ecclesia Communities in the fall of 2014.

The first time I walked in the front door of the home where Ecclesia gathers, I came as an uncomfortable guest and left feeling … still rather uncomfortable. After months and years of keeping to myself — even within the pews of a church — I’d met an onslaught of new people in a very personal setting. It was the cozy, welcoming home of a family I’d never met. Believers of all ages filled their kitchen table with food, poured ourselves coffee, and ate breakfast together in their sunroom.

Table

I’d never seen “church” done like this. We shared a meal together, sang together, and opened the Word of God together, but it slowly dawned on my nervous soul that there was no schedule. There wasn’t even a bulletin or, at that point, a website. Instead, when the Lord impressed a verse or a praise on someone’s heart, that person spoke up for the benefit of the group. It followed the model in 1 Corinthians 14, in which “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” It was different.

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But I was intrigued, so I went back. The second Sunday morning, I was greeted by name when I walked in the door, and several people asked how my week went, how specific classes were going, how my roommates were doing. They remembered me. And I was welcomed into the family in a way that I had never experienced before.

 

John 13:35

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Ecclesia represents to me the body of Christ in motion. These are the people I turn to when I have a need, and I’m constantly aware of theirs. They’ve helped me move, and I’ve helped them move. They’ve fed me and provided for me, and I’ve fed and given to them. They’ve asked me tough questions, challenged me to think, and they’ve prayed for me, and I strive to do the same for them. The family of Ecclesia has taught me about Jesus—and how He would have acted if He were on the Earth today.

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I don’t remember making a conscious decision to keep attending Ecclesia, to integrate myself as part of this body, but with the passing weeks and years I am more and more convinced that this is the body of Christ in motion.

Call it what you may: house church, missional community, simple or organic church, or simply following the Old Testament model. But Sunday isn’t the point; it’s not the religious pinnacle of the week. Wherever I am with other believers is just as powerful for edification and growth as a Sunday morning gathering.  But the result of my participation in this body of intentional believers is that I began to view the Church as a part of my life, restoring my relationship to the Church as well as to the Lord.

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In praise of seasons.

Transitory. That’s how I’d describe the past few years of my life. I’ve moved between many homes, traveled cross-country, worked new jobs, and met new people. This summer is the first in four years that I haven’t moved living situations, but I have changed jobs after I completed my Master’s degree last month, and with that comes an onslaught of the new. With each change, the rhythms of my life adjust accordingly, but it seems that I am only just getting settled in before something shifts.

Of course, constant change can bring a sense of insecurity, if my sense of security is found in earthly things. But I’m learning that these changes force me to realign my gaze with the one constant in my life: who God is and who I know him to be.

As a result of this forced realignment, I’m growing with each new season. As I go, I learn, and I collect more wisdom and truth and practical skills, assembling it all into a collage of who I am. I hope to never go through an entire season of my life without leaving as a changed person, more in tune with who God is in each situation. Whenever friends see an old photo of me with long hair, they comment on how much I’ve changed physically. I hope that my soul is changing just as radically.

I think this process honors God by allowing Him to move and work in my life. The Bible uses the metaphor of a potter and his clay several times; God as the Potter must shape away pieces of my life that don’t align with the creation he’s transforming me into. If I trust that He is a good Potter–the most excellent–and is crafting something beautiful, then I will allow for even difficult moments of shaping. Oswald Chambers says it well: “Allow the Potter to put you on His wheel and whirl you around as He desires. Then as surely as God is God, and you are you, you will turn out as an exact likeness of the vision.” I hope to always submit to this process with humility and grace, knowing that even difficult changes shape me into who God wants me to be in order to best glorify Him.

Ultimately, the changes in seasons reminds us that everything around us is transient; this world is not our home. 1 Peter 2 calls us “sojourners and exiles.” The only permanent identity we have is in Christ: we’ve been called “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” In the midst of change and decay on this earth, God has promised that our souls can hope in Him who does not change. As we await eternity, may we be transformed into His likeness, leaning into the God who cannot be moved.

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A recommendation letter for dating me

To whom it may concern:

Should you choose to ask Carissa to go on a date with you, it is important that you are aware of some key benefits and hazards to dating her.

  • She will listen intently to your stories, anecdotes, and feelings. However, she is terrible at telling her own stories. Pretend to be interested anyway.
  • She will always reach for the check, but you will probably end up paying. Be careful how you handle this situation, as you do not want to risk setting off a feminist rant.
  • She will try very hard to refrain from talking during movies. She is still working on this habit, but she tries valiantly.
  • She will graciously allow you to win at any athletic activity you do on your date while playfully talking trash. Unless you take her to the batting cages, in which case she will kick your $#%!^&$ a$$.
  • She will only curse if she is very nervous. This will subside over time.

I wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.

Sincerely,

Her Previous Dates

P.S. Be careful of her dad. He’s a live wire.

 

 

2015 in Review

In a few hours, I’m heading out the door to a New Year’s Eve dance. And a few hours after that, the year 2015 will come to an end. At this time of the year, it’s fun to look back on the resolutions we’ve set for ourselves, but it can be discouraging to realize that once again, we aren’t the idealized versions of ourselves that we were so sure we’d be 365 days earlier. That’s one reason why I started a Reverse Bucket List last year and have been slowly filling it up.

This year was imperfect for everyone, myself included. But I was pleasantly surprised this year to find that, unknowingly, I had completed many of the resolutions I set for myself on December 31, 2014. Here are a few examples, not for the sake of bragging, but for the sake of giving myself, and maybe you, a little bit of a break:

Resolution: I’d like to give more meaningful gifts.

Gift-giving isn’t my love language. I’m not a good gift-giver, and I feel guilty when I receive gifts. But this year, I realized that gifts are a meaningful way to make someone feel special.

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I accomplished this goal by making many cards with my own calligraphy, and also giving my framed calligraphy as gifts.

Resolution: Be content, even if I’m single all damn year, and resolve my emotional dependence on boys. 

(That’s really how I wrote the resolution. My 2014 self apologizes.)

And I was single all damn year. I wasn’t always content being alone at the beginning of the year, but as the year has progressed, I’ve realized that I am absolutely capable of being single and thriving. Choosing to go to counseling really helped me work toward this goal and understand why I have always sought attention and gratification.

Resolution: I’d like to live more simply.

I didn’t realize how much simplicity and minimalism would impact my life this year. I read a book that changed everything: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker.

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Since reading this book, I have been driven to own only what I need. I especially accomplished this goal by cleaning out the closet full of junk that I had left in my parents’ house, and by bringing about 5 boxes and bags of items from my apartment to Goodwill.

Resolution: I’d like to not waste money… if I manage my money better, I can use it to help others more.

This was the year that I established a budgeting system and stuck to it! After trying my hand at spreadsheets (and being really bad at it), I started using Mint.com to keep track of my accounts, and I have finished all of the past six months I’ve used the site under budget. Just gimme an envelope and call me Dave Ramsey!

And as a result of knowing exactly where my money went and budgeting space to give, I have been able to give generously to my church and those around me who were in need out of my meager little abundance. As I raised support for my trip to Las Vegas, I also saw the Lord provide through others and was truly blessed by them. (Thank you again.)

Resolution: Dance a whole lot.

And I did! I rang in the New Year 2015 with a dance event, and I’ll do the same this year. I danced in DC, Virginia, and Salt Lake this year; I learned from John Lindo, I danced with Markus Smith, and I taught regular lessons! I think this resolution will be a recurring one… 🙂

I am truly proud of many of my successes this year. I encourage you to think about how you achieved your resolutions, or to list the things you did this year that you’re proud of before you kick yourself for all your messes this year.

Above all, to God be the glory. He provided the finances, the contentment and peace, the physical health, and so many blessings this year.

For the next year, I have two resolutions:

Resolution 1: Pray hard. I learned a lot about the power of prayer this year on a ministry trip to Las Vegas, evangelizing in Manti, UT, and preparing and leading a trip to Pittsburgh. This year, I want to put it in action. Prayer changes things, and I want to join the battle.

 

Resolution 2: Host well. In the past year, I have experienced the blessings of being a good host, as well as the connections forged when others host. I want to cook a lot for other people (hm, or order takeout) and develop deeper relationships in the comfort of home.

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Happy New Year, my friends. It’s been a good (and sometimes messy) year.

This is a preface.

I haven’t had time to sit down and write a blog post in months and months. Writing grad school papers and grading students’ papers and reading books and other word-related obligations have kept me from any time spent writing that didn’t make me money or good grades. But now that it’s summer, I think we need to spend some time catching up. I haven’t exercised the practice of writing in quite a while.

This is a preface. I have a journal recording what I’ve been thinking this year so far, and I’m going to be translating some of those entries into blog posts. I also have new thoughts to put to words, and I want to write them down this summer. I hope a fraction of them are worthwhile.

Thanks for reading. You’ll be hearing from me again soon.

Reverse Bucket List

Bucket lists are depressing and difficult. To attempt to list every exciting, life-changing task I would like to complete between now and the conclusion of my life seems overwhelming! So instead, I’m starting a new list of awesome things that belong on a bucket list that I have already completed.

I’ve had a lot of unique, beautiful adventures, and I want to make sure I document all of them. I love seeing that the most important moments I’ve documented are just that–moments. Experiences. Not stuff. This project helps me see all the excitement and abundance that is to be had, even without a bucket list or the budget to go skydiving.

Continue reading Reverse Bucket List

It’s all part of the ride.

Alternately titled: Oh right, I still have a blog.

I got an email from the domain host saying, “Hey, you still want your blog name, right?” And that’s when I realized I haven’t written on my blog for 6 months. My apologies to the thousands of you who check daily to see what fascinating new content I’ve posted here. (If that’s you, I say this with love: get a life.)

Anyway, since I last wrote a blog post, I completed a semester of graduate school. It was fantastic, and very challenging. I pulled a lot of all-nighters… those come with the package.

Other things that have happened since I last wrote a blog post: I turned twenty-one, traveled to Atlanta on a mission trip, won a swing dancing competition (it wasn’t as big of a deal as it sounds), listened to a lot of mind-rotting pop music, went to a Broadway play, had a boyfriend, broke up with aforementioned boyfriend, bought a Crock Pot, read a lot of books, and dressed up like a Christmas elf at least 5 times. Oh, and 40 students called me Miss Johnson this semester.

This life is an adventure, y’all. (Oh, and I say “y’all” now.) Learning is exciting (most especially when you’re learning about subjects you care about), people are fascinating, and stuff gets challenging. You mess up, you receive grace, you show grace, and you keep on loving people.  It’s all a part of the ride.

So, that’s where I’m at. Holding on for dear life, pretending I’m having a blast at all times (and actually having a blast most of the time). My blog is still here (though I can’t promise any more frequent posts), and I’m still having adventures. Onward and upward.

Love from Carissa.