Monthly Archives: September 2017

The Lifter of My Head by Celeste Fiorillo

The Your Stories blogs are a place where women can bravely and authentically tell their story as it really is. We invite women to collide with Jesus and share how He is meeting them, transforming them and redeeming them. We hope this “your story” meets you in yours…

“But you, O LORD, are a shield around me, My glory, and the lifter of my head.” Psalm 3:3

Today I need a God who is the lifter of my head. Today would have been my dad’s birthday but he passed away two years ago. Today is hard because it’s both something and nothing at the same time. It’s a date that will always be significant but it’s no longer clear what I’m supposed to do with it. How do I celebrate someone’s birthday who isn’t here? Part of me wants the day to be nothing, to not exist, because then it can’t hurt me.

But sometimes I want today to be a big ol’ party, I want to celebrate my dad in person; to sing to him and have balloons and buy him a present. I don’t want to “toast” to my papa or do things in honor or memory of him. I just want to have a normal, anti-climactic birthday with him here being his Papa self. Papa was a lover of quality time together. It’s what he always wanted. We would go on long hikes or sit around a campfire telling funny stories and roasting marshmallows. Papa didn’t do much sitting though, because the fire always needed to be poked or prodded, or more kindling needed to be chopped, or “Hey! Wanna throw the frisbee?” That’s what I want today – a silly Papa who likes frisbee and campfires and sing-alongs and family time.

But that’s not what I have. I have a day, a month, a year, a life that is missing my Papa. My dad passed away 13 days after my wedding day which makes all of September complicated and full of highs and lows and complex emotions that don’t even have labels. How do I describe the feeling of walking down the aisle with my dad, but knowing he doesn’t have much longer to live? How do I explain the feeling of being fresh off my honeymoon and watching my father die as a newlywed? I can’t. Thankfully, I know a God who understands my emotion without me being able to explain it. I have a God that knows my heart, and who cares about my every tear.

He is a God that lifts my head. A God who has felt pain and heartache and joy and every other emotion mixed together. A God who doesn’t hide away from pain – He doesn’t tell me to buck up or to just get over it. He lifts my head. He lifts it slowly and gently and with so much love. God wants me to “not grieve as others do who have no hope” (1 Thes. 4:13). God does not dismiss my pain. Even Jesus, who surely knew the future of Lazarus and that He would raise him from the dead, still wept at his death. Whether I am feeling 100% or 10% in my faith, I can still rely on God meeting me where I am. He raises my head when I can’t. He raises my chin like a tender father, loving me as I mourn the loss of my earthly papa.

I’m sure you all have an area in your life where your head hangs low; where the grief, or shame, or loss, or disappointment is just too much. Are you letting God into that place? Because even our darkest, most complicated and messy moments aren’t too much for our God. Not only can He handle it, but He can relate and He cares about us in those places. God seeks to lift our heads, but we have to let Him in. Where do you need to let God in so He can lift your head?

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Back to School, Part 2 by Willow Weston

Jesus cuts through our manmade spiritual grading system and makes it clear that He invites students that are much different than who we might choose as we saw in the last post. How freeing is it to have a God who isn’t looking for only the straight A students and the Teacher’s pets?!

I love when Jesus collides with Simon and says “come and follow me”  in Luke 5.

This story starts out with Jesus being stalked by crowds of people gathering around Him. Jesus, the Rabbi, spoke with authority and His teachings were enthralling and met with miracles. His teaching changed lives, causing people to turn from one direction and go in an entirely opposite direction. Jesus the Teacher taught about the Divine in a way that made get around girls want to live chaste lives. His teaching made greedy men, who hoarded their wealth, want to throw their resources towards helping others. This Teacher allured blind men who couldn’t see Him but could sense His presence; they came begging for what He had for them.

Here in Luke (which by the way, we are going to center around at our next event for women), the Teacher spots two boats on the water’s edge and very intentionally hopped into Simon’s. Jesus who clearly had a direct line to the Big Man upstairs, Jesus who was supremely spiritual, all knowing, a professor of God, if you will, jumped into the boat of a spiritually unschooled man! This is how the religious people in the culture of that day would have graded Simon. And Simon most likely identified himself as a spiritual flunky in comparison to the kids on God’s honor roll.

It wasn’t that Simon wasn’t intelligent, more than that he was just not respected in his religious knowledge, experience and understanding of God. He didn’t have the inside scoop, nor all the answers and none of the cool stories. He was just an ordinary fisherman. So what would Jesus want with the likes of Simon?

Jesus asked him to put out from shore and then taught from the boat. We don’t know if there was a lecture or sermon, but we do know there was a lesson. When He was done speaking, Jesus said “put out into the deep water and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.” Simon is frustrated because he has done everything within his capabilities, expertise and knowledge to catch some fish and has come up short. The last thing a fisherman wants is a carpenter telling him how to do his job. This is like my husband telling me how to cook, an illiterate person telling you how to read faster, or a blind person teaching you how to drive.

Keep in mind, it is a known fact that fishing on this lake is better at night, and nets will do nothing for you in daylight because the fish go deep at daylight. This seems to be bad advice from a supposed Teacher. Simon most likely felt more like a teacher than a student in this area of fishing. He probably didn’t want some Jewish hippy with no job showing up telling him how to do his! I can only imagine this student who was too cool for school thinking, “Did I ask for your help?”  Yet Simon was doing what he knows to do best and his best wasn’t working.

Notice Jesus didn’t whisper, “You’re stupid.” No, those kind of still, small voices are not the voice of the Teacher, but some other nasty kid in class, an enemy who is trying to trip you up. The Teacher teaches and words of condemnation and negativity teach nothing. This Teacher whispered words of direction and guidance. Simon responds: “Because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. This was unreal!

It is clear this Teacher has lines to a place our cast doesn’t reach.

I don’t know about you but I need a Teacher right now whose line casts to a place mine doesn’t reach. Both boats began to sink because of all the fish! Instead of being stoked about all the fish, Simon fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” The God who made Simon was calling him to a purpose beyond what he could imagine for his own life. I often think recognizing the living God in our midst scares us more than having faith in a God who wants nothing to do with us.

Simon recognized that Jesus had done something that only God could do! If He is God, why would He take the time to hop into this guy’s dinghy? One thing is for sure, only Love would leave a throne and hop in a stinky fish-scaled boat to be with someone in their failure and unworthiness and call them toward something greater.

Could it be that God loves His kids that much? Simon goes from the student who is failing the subjects of Fishing and Religion, to the student who God chooses to use to do big, amazing things. Whaaaaat? I can imagine Simon saying: You’ve got the wrong guy. I suck at school. I can’t even catch a trout.

We are continually tempted to identify ourselves by the grades we or others give us, but that’s not how the Teacher sees His students. He sees beyond our capabilities, limitations, mistakes, and attempts at perfection. He sees past our own dreams and plans. He sees past our performance and what we can and can’t do. God takes our report cards, shreds them up and calls us beyond a letter grade. He wrote the alphabet; He doesn’t need our grades. He doesn’t need our names for ourselves either. He has his own names for us. He is Lord and He will tell us who we are because the last thing this Teacher wants to see are His kids holding themselves back from Him and the life they are made to live!

So He beckons us like He did Simon, Come. Simon would keep making mistakes and getting sad grades and yet Jesus continued to invite him unto Himself. Jesus hops in our boat, He steps into our break up, He walks into our bankruptcy, He runs into our shame, He enters our plans and very simply says, “Come… Just come.

In the same way that Jesus hands you more than a report card, He is more than a Teacher. He is God in the flesh. God with meat and bones and an adam’s apple. He is what God looks like. He is God who loves and weeps and touches the sick. This Jesus is brilliant and all-knowing. Yet His knowledge doesn’t keep Him from loving you, knowing your in’s and your out’s. He loves you despite mistakes, grades, and brown nosing. This Jesus is Healer, counselor, wise one. He is supreme, from on high, perfect, good, and able and capable to do more than all we could ask or imagine.

This Jesus, He is your Rescuer. He is your Savior. He is the sacrifice that you need so you don’t have to keep torturing yourself. He is your promise of freedom from the generational sin that follows you that has followed your parents and their parents and their parents. He is the Hope in your depression. He is the light in your darkness.

He is the Way when you have no way. He is the truth when you are surrounded by lies. He is the life, when you are giving up on yours. Jesus is the Alpha and the Omega. He was present in the beginning and even now, He is here. He is the only thing that never changes. He is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Jesus is the Gate. He is the way in and the way out. He is the Shepherd- the One who will guide you so you don’t get lost. He is the Bread that will fill you when you are hungry and nothing else satisfies. He is the water you can drink that will quench your thirst when everything else has left you parched. He is your friend, the one who can laugh and cry with and wear your holey sweatpants around. He is your Lord, the One in whom you belong to. He is your King and though He be royal, He leaves His throne and comes down to be with you, as small as you might feel.

Jesus is your Redeemer. He is the One who promises to make all things right. He makes all things new, Revelations says. God is in the business of making the things you have seen die, get old and sick be made brand spanking new. Jesus is all these things, and He too, is your teacher. And this Teacher knows you, and rather than handing you a report card, He hands you an invitation. Like most, this invitation requires a response.

Jesus invited Simon into something bigger, better, more powerful, more purposeful, yet something unseen, unimaginable, scary, risky and unknown. Simon could have stayed in that boat. He could kept fishing. The choice was up to Him as it is up to us whether it be with our whole lives or parts of our lives. Jesus hands us this invitation over and over again. Day in and day out. Moment by moment, decision by decision, in valleys and on top of mountains, in class and out. 

We can tell ourselves all the reasons why Jesus shouldn’t call us. We can call ourselves all the names we usually do. We can list off all the things we have tried and failed at like Simon did. We can fight the Teacher. We can tell Him with our attitude that we already get all that He has to offer. Or we can trust that He sees us in our weakness and our frailty, our disabilities and our failures, and the perfection in which we strive and fake, and yet He still says, come.

This I know: Jesus wants us to come after Him despite the grades we give ourselves. Let us say yes.

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Back to School, Part 1 by Willow Weston

When we hear the word ‘learn’, we are flooded with images that invoke strong memories and feelings. I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word ‘learn’ it invokes feelings of anxiety and dread and memories of tests, all nighters, Vivarin, binge studying, CliffNotes, group projects gone wrong, SAT’s and report cards. I think of scantron sheets where if I didn’t know the answer I would “scan” my answers and balance them out or if all else failed, answer ‘c’. That never worked.

I hear the word ‘learn’ and think of getting called into the principal’s office because I thought it was a great idea to leave elementary school and go hit the candy store. I still think that’s a good idea, but the principal with the paddle didn’t! I think of the school spelling bees and the time I had to write ‘I will not talk back to the teacher’ two hundred times because I was born sassy. When I hear the word ‘learn’ I think about hiding in the coat closet in kindergarten on St. Patrick’s day because I had no green on. I think of scoliosis checks, test anxiety, and burning a girls hair off with a bunsen burner in high school chemistry class.

The word ‘learn’ triggers in all of us different memories and emotions.

In Matthew 4 Jesus was walking the beach and He saw two brothers fishing. Most likely, they were making bets on who would catch the first, the biggest and the most fish. That’s what the men in my family do for bragging rights. So as these bros were casting their nets, Jesus walked up to them and said these four words: “Come and follow me.”  Jesus said these words to Peter, Andrew, James, John, Matthew and many others in the New Testament. This phrase literally means, Come after me and learn from me. This was Jesus calling his disciples. Many of you are familiar with this word ‘disciple’ and it actually means ‘learner’.

This was apparently the God of the Universe, the One who made poodles and silly kids and belly laughter, komodo dragons, peaches and the Big Dipper- it was Him who showed up on people’s scenes and called them to watch, listen, and experience, so to learn from Him. And for some crazy reason, people did.  People left their people, their homes, their careers, their dreams and their plans and followed Jesus.

The word follow means ‘to take the same road as another does.’ Jesus actually wants more than for us to agree with His opinions, say yes once and check in on Sundays. Jesus desires for us to learn along the way, as that is how God teaches, along the way. 

I think some of us have been grading ourselves spiritually. It is like we have a spiritual report card as if God is the Principal handing those out on the regular. We have assumed we’ve failed, or maybe we have assumed straight A’s.  How we identify or “grade” ourselves spiritually,  may actually be our greatest obstacle in our spirituality.

If you were to fill out your report card, what subjects are you grading yourself on and what grades are you giving yourself? A few years back, I asked our Collide ministry team if and how they were grading themselves spiritually and the report was astounding. It became clear that though the subjects we grade might be diverse, as women, we all struggle with grading our “spiritual” life. 

We observed that we grade ourselves spiritually based on how much we pray, read the Bible or attend church. The grades we gave ourselves were based on the amount of faith to take risks we display, how anxious we get, or how annoyed and nasty we are to those around us. We grade ourselves based on the standards of others. We grade ourselves based on the assessment of the rules we think we have to follow versus the ones we break. We grade ourselves based on the tests we think we were handed by life. We grade ourselves on the subjects we believe God cares about and I don’t even know where we get half the subjects we grade ourselves on. 

All this spiritual grading matters, because these grades are messing with our relationship with our Teacher! I want to take some time here to recognize how we are identifying ourselves as spiritual learners so that we can fully say yes to to coming after Jesus rather than assuming we are failing as students of God.

Some of us have identified ourselves as:

STUDENTS WITH SPIRITUAL LEARNING DISABILITIES

Some of us are so distracted by our spiritual ADHD that we can’t seem to hold onto God for more than a minute. We have dyslexia and when we attempt to grow in our understanding of God, He just boggles our mind. Some of us feel like we have a spiritual speech impediment; we just can’t talk like other people of faith and this leaves us needing special education. Others among us have short term memory issues and we can’t seem to remember to do the very thing we know we ought to. We feel like we have spiritual learning disabilities.

SPIRITUALLY TIRED STUDENTS

We are tired of expectations, standards, accountability, disciplines, and church. It all feels like work. When we hear “Come and follow me…”, all we want to do is plop ourselves right down in a Lazy Boy with a bag of Cheetos and watch The Bachelorette. We have heard Jesus’ yoke is easy and His burden light and yet we have understood it as quite the opposite. So if Jesus wants to chill with us, that’s cool, otherwise He can go on ahead.

STUDENTS WHO CAN NEVER QUITE PLEASE THE TEACHER

A girl in my son’s 3rd grade class used to whisper in his ear all day long “You’rrrrrre ssssssstupid”. In the same way we hear laggy mean voices that say: “You’re a hypocrite. You won’t stick with it. You are a mess.” It just never quite feels like we can please the Teacher no matter how hard we try. We never pray or go to church enough. We say sorry and then we turn around and do that god awful thing the very next day. Our assumption is that this Teacher must have written our name on the whiteboard a jillion times. This is our warning that we are on the verge of getting sent to the Principal’s office. So we keep avoiding the Teacher and the demerits He might hand us, or we live just trying to win His approval. And winning that feels impossible.

STUDENTS WHO WANT TO BE THE TEACHER

Some of us, we say we follow Jesus. In fact we have said that for years. But you and I both know that there are parts of us that don’t follow Him. We drag him where we are going. We drag Him to accomplish our dreams and plans. We are Jesus draggers, not Jesus followers. And yet, this Jesus invites us to be His student, not His teacher.

STUDENTS WHO HATE JESUS’ HOMEWORK AND HIS CLASSES

I think a lot of us make following God out to be about only reading the Bible. And when we don’t read it, or we read it and we don’t like what it says and we don’t get what people sacrificing animals and killing people with tent pegs has to do with our life, we are left hating God’s homework. This has found us skipping school altogether because we feel we are failing in this one class. What if God knows the kind of learner we are? What if God can teach us along the way? What if our spirituality can be summed up by more than only reading the Bible? And what if reading the Bible can actually be more captivating than Harry Potter and 50 Shades of Gray, put together?

CHRISTIAN CHEATERS

Some of us have been going through the motions so long spiritually that we feel like a fake, a fraud. We say all the right things, but we don’t actually mean them. We are apathetic about the things we know we should have passion for. We act like we care about the “lost”, but we care about what we have found. We act like we care about kids in Africa, but we really just care about our own. We act like we care about recycling, but we secretly despise the inconvenience of taking care of God’s green earth. We talk more about God than to Him. We look the part, but on the inside we know we are cheating. We’re trying to get all the right answers so we can pass the test without doing any of the real, intensive, inner-transformative work. Instead we peer over and give our neighbor’s answer without thinking for ourselves so we look like a good little student.

TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL

Some of us have built up walls against God. We’re hanging with the cool kids and kind of forgot about this Teacher who wants us to hang out with Him. We have gotten too cool for school and maybe it’s time to drop the cool and go to this school. ‘Cool’ will only get you so far and it is empty, ever-changing and shallow.

GOD DROPOUTS

We have struggled with feeling like we just don’t cut it as a Christian because we don’t have what it takes. We don’t have the self control, desire, lifestyle or faith. We have too many things in the way of being God’s good student.  We are getting an F in religion class and are dropping out of Jesus’ school with no plans of re-enrolling. We feel we are just too far gone, our records are tainted, they won’t let us back in. Or so we think.

STUDENTS WHO HAVE IT NAILED

We have to be real here. I have to call ‘em like I see ‘em. If given the chance some would grade themselves spiritually with straight A’s. Some of us can in seasons of our lives think: I go to church, I pray, I read my Bible, I smile at strangers, I memorize scripture, I have answers for most problems. I have this thing nailed down. So we show up to school to tell all the other students how much we know and try to impress the Teacher with the tests we’ve aced. We don’t come to engage in His presence and teaching as much as we come to be the teacher’s pet. Yet, Jesus isn’t looking for pets! He yearns for our pursuit and engagement. He wants to share the journey more than He wants all our right answers.

When we grade ourselves or others spiritually it starts to look like we are grading God too. Like, God can’t handle our inconsistencies, our mess, our failure, our doubt and apathy. I know it’s hard to believe, but Jesus chose His students and they were not the kind of students you and I would have chosen.

If I were Jesus, I would pick the smart ones, the really spiritual ones, the ones who would make class easy. Not so with Jesus. When He came across teacher’s pets who thought they had this whole coming-after-God-thing down, He usually gave an advanced lecture on what they misunderstood about this God they thought they aced. Jesus didn’t call people who only studied. Jesus chose the class clowns, the irreligious, the nitwits and the dropouts to be His students. He picks kids that have outbursts in class and pick their noses and wipe their boogers on their desks. He picks kids that are flunking out when it comes to God and He says “come after me.”  

If that’s you today, if you feel like you are flunking out in this whole God thing, it’s right there that Jesus meets you and whispers “Come, follow me.” If today you have been judging some of your peer students, you might want to pause and reflect on who it is our Teacher calls. Come back in a few days and see what amazing things Jesus does in the life of some real dropouts. In the meantime, be encouraged God’s students are not just the ones who butter up to the Big Guy upstairs and win Bible trivia.

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