Crooked Roads and Doubting Faith

I worked in Montana for a summer at a camp in the mountains. My high school band director used to tell stories about his time working there and I was intrigued by his tales of camping and backpacking and working with students, so during my freshman year of college, I learned more about the camp, applied, and was accepted to work there that summer.

My struggles began on the drive out west. My brother and his best friend were my travel companions for the two day trek. I was scared and put great effort in trying not to cry during random hours in the car and in the hotel that first night because I didn’t want them to know I was struggling. I tried to rationalize my fears by reminding myself that I was going to work at a Christian camp and although I had every expectation of this community looking like the ones I had always been a part of, I couldn’t shake the impulse to cry at random moments.

That summer was hard. My initial feelings of fear and anxiety never let go of me as I entered into this unfamiliar space and culture. Although this camp was a Christian community, it operated differently than any place I had been a part of before. I was closely surrounded by people who viewed faith much differently than I did. They let themselves doubt and question and do things I didn’t think Christians were supposed to do. My 19-year-old self didn’t quite know how to handle this, so I spent a majority of my time arguing and fighting for what I had always known to be true about Christian faith and community. But, in the midst of my fight against unfamiliar practices, I found myself sitting and listening and wondering about the doubts and questions my co-workers expressed.

If you’ve grown up in the church, I’m sure you have one of these places. A place that made you redefine your faith, that made you question and doubt and wonder about what you grew up with. Is it stable? Can it be challenged? Are people who view faith and Jesus and doctrine differently than I do still Christians? Montana was my place of discovery and wonder, a place that has had me asking questions ever since the moment I left, even five years later.

I was brought back to my moments of difficulty and doubt and rediscovery as I dove into Andrea Lucado’s new book English Lessons: The Crooked Little Grace-Filled Path of Growing Up. Lucado reflects on her time studying for her Masters degree in English Literature at Oxford-Brookes where she encountered people who lived and viewed faith much differently than those she grew up with, most not believing in Jesus at all. She found herself envying their supposed free spirits, wondering how they could seem so at peace if they had never been touched by true grace, and asking important questions about people who had once experienced Jesus and later rejected him.

What I loved most about this book was Lucado’s raw honesty about her struggle living and interacting closely with people who did not share her same beliefs and consequently, her own struggle with faith. As a well-known pastor’s daughter and as someone who grew up in the arguably-sheltered American church, she realized how difficult and confusing it can be to learn that Christianity is much more resilient to doubts and questions than her upbringing led her to believe. And she also learned how freeing and beautiful it can be to live with this kind of faith- a faith that is strong enough for our questions and crooked paths and insecurities. Her honesty creates space for a needed kind of courage in the church today, the courage to wonder and ask and be open to receiving unexpected answers from the Lord. The courage to interact with people who look and act and believe differently than we do, to take risks and to learn over and over and over again what it looks like follow Jesus, especially in the midst of uncertainty.

Lucado’s ringing message to her reader is a beautiful reminder that when we inevitably encounter places of doubt and we allow ourselves to lean into our questions and into our searching, we find more of Jesus. We grow in Him, we allow our worlds and lives to be expanded by Him, and we experience His faithfulness. I needed a place like Montana to break the mold of what I always knew, to find a fuller Jesus, one who can be experienced through many denominations and cultures. I needed Montana to push me to ask questions, to search for truth, and to find it in His word and in unexpected places and paths.

I hope you read Lucado’s story too, allowing yourself to remember the place where you started to question and grow or to receive permission and grace to find that place to wonder and doubt and come to know Jesus more fully.

Becoming Wild and Free

“If Christ is in you, the wild nature of God is ready for you to access and practice and live out…This means, simply put, that you don’t live subject to any constraints or categories. You can defy expectation and throw off all assumptions because that is the nature of God in you.” Jess Connolly//Wild and Free

I am not much of a risk taker. I like to play it safe, to weigh all my options, and to plan out my days down to the hour. My planner has become one of my favorite personal objects and there’s a small part of me that is overly satisfied every time I get to write something in the little boxes.

But lately I’ve started to question and wonder why being organized and safe delights me as much as it does. With as much joy I put in this planned life, there is also extreme dissatisfaction when plans go awry. I’m not sure I’m ok with that kind of life.

Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan released a book today- Wild and Free– that, among many other things, confronts this struggle and more importantly, the joy found in living the kind of life Christ calls us to. I had the privilege of being on their launch team and I’ve spent the past month reading and processing and praying through the idea of being completely free in Christ. The more I soak in this idea, the more I realize that so much of my life is bound by my perceived expectations of those around me and the more I am growing in my desire to step outside the lines I put around myself and fully participate in a wild and free life with Christ.

Up until recently, wild and free were simply not words in my vocabulary. In college, I found myself bound by the expectations of my Christian community: wear the Chacos, go to Chapel, work at camp, and create the pretty Instagrams by the brick wall. Find the boy, and if not, then be content in singleness because hey, Paul was single and he was pretty great. Create the façade of wild and free, but stay confined by the trends and expectations even though it’s impossible to perfectly create the picture as aesthetically pleasing as that person over there.

For my first three years of college, I crumbled under this pressure when my experience looked differently than I thought it would, finding myself in zero on-campus leadership positions, in an unhealthy, stagnant relationship, and severely insecure in my major all because I couldn’t match the perceived expectations I thought others were holding me to. My world felt small and it was hard to experience God working in the midst of all of this disappointment and failure.

Throughout these past two years of finishing college and my first year post-grad, I’ve started to loosen the ropes tying me to the expectations of my communities by believing and living in the reality that the Lord offers something better. Through this process, I have experienced more freedom than I thought possible and have made some wild choices that have led to some of the most life-giving experiences and relationships I couldn’t have imagined on my own. I’m just beginning this wild and free journey, just getting a taste of the goodness the Lord offers by slowly scrapping my life of meticulous plans and living fully for his glory- wild and free in this beautiful, unpredictable, get-to life with Christ.

Friend, if you find yourself living a small life constrained by the expectations of the culture around you and are craving something more, I urge you to pick up a copy of Jess and Hayley’s book Wild and Free (you can order it here). This book is rooted in Scripture and breathes Gospel. It consistently points to God’s glory and proclaims truth with every word. It has pushed me to places of reflection and wild dreams, of prayer and gratitude and grace. This book is an invitation to the wild and free life, a beautiful place that is fully ours without having to meet any standard or expectation. So, friend, I invite you through Hayley and Jess’ words to come join in this life, to join the women discovering that we don’t have to live such constrained, small lives, that we can truly live freely in Christ.

Feature Picture: Hayley Morgan and Jess Connolly

“The Lipstick Gospel” and the Power of Story

Today I want to introduce you to a writer that has encouraged me the past several months. From my experience in reading her words, Stephanie May Wilson is an encourager, a lover of celebrations and life, and a follower of Jesus. I stumbled upon her blog this past summer and spent several nights staying up way too late reading through her posts while consistently thinking, “I’ve felt that way too!”

She shares her story authentically and offers wise advice, especially in regards to relationships and living in Jesus well. I’ve followed her since I discovered her words and today I am so, so excited to share her new ebook, “The Lipstick Gospel”!

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“The Lipstick Gospel” is simply a story of how she found Jesus in the unexpected while traveling Europe with friends after a difficult break-up. This story resonated with me, not necessarily because I have the same story, but because through her story I was reminded of God’s incredible faithfulness, grace, and redemption.

I’ve been thinking about stories recently, about how vital they are to our well-being and in our relationships and how we are so inherently drawn to learning about other’s stories. I’m reminded how learning about each other’s stories creates a compassion in us for others and, recently, for me, has been a reminder of how good and faithful our God is.

Stephanie’s story is no exception. Through her honest confessions of discovery and escaping and traveling and learning and healing I was reminded of a simple aspect of the Gospel—how God’s love drives everything. Of how He desires to reconcile with His people and how He can meet us where we are, no matter how far away we think we are from him. This has been an incredibly refreshing truth to dwell in recently as I’ve been wrestling to remember His love and His faithfulness and His ability to fulfill His promises to His people.

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“The Lipstick Gospel” chronicles Stephanie’s journey towards this truth as well, not holding back her struggles along the way. I cheered her on as she discovered the goodness of Jesus and in the process, was reminded that the truth of salvation she discovered in the Sistine Chapel is the same truth we need to be reminded of every day, no matter where we are in our faith journey. The honesty of her past validated the need to expose ours in order to let go of it, that sometimes we just need to get away, and that no matter what, the Lord will always meet us where we’re at.

I’m thankful for Stephanie’s story and I hope you will download the book (for FREE!), curl up on the sofa as the temperatures drop this week, and get lost in someone else’s story for a while. Remember that our circumstances are never too much for Jesus and that a life in Jesus, along with hardship and questioning, is also meant to be one of joy and laughter and the celebration of living in true freedom.

Download Stephanie’s book here and check out her website here. I’m so excited to be sharing her with you all and hope you find her words encouraging.