Lately: I started nannying. Caitlyn Jenner overwhelmingly grabbed the media’s attention. I attended a leadership conference exclusively for members of my sorority. The Charleston church shooting devastated the African American community. I finally got the New Member Education curriculum for my sorority exactly the way I envisioned it. I decided to put on some serious big girl pants for the fall when I applied to be certified as a substitute teacher. Gay marriage was legalized in the United States.
With summer at its midpoint, those are the national and personal events (if only I could study abroad and become more worldly like so many of my friends and acquaintances are doing this summer) that stand out to me, rattling around in my brain. It’s time to put them all together.
I want to write more, and I should write more. To parallel that statement, I want to spend more time learning God’s word, and I should spend more time learning God’s word – on my own and in the Christian community.
It’s not at all a coincidence that I’ve found the words to post after attending yet another college/20-something ministry, Paradigm at Abundant Life in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. I had been once before, during the holidays last year when I was home from school, and I really liked it, but I am notoriously a ministry nomad. I go where the wind takes me… I haven’t quite committed spiritually anywhere besides my home church, which I’ve been attending since my age was still defined by months.
That’s a spiritual goal of mine for the short-term future: find a church and a ministry that I can really commit to.
Anyways, Paradigm. Tonight, a sermon series called “Lyrics & Lies” kicked off with the song “Monster” by Eminem and Rihanna, and the number one idea I took away was the importance and redemption of putting all of your monsters in the light. Many of us 20-somethings struggle with the same monsters.
Struggling with sexual desire? I’ve been there.
Struggling with alcohol? I’ve been there.
Struggling with drugs? I’ve been there.
Struggling with explicit and derogatory language? I’ve been there.
Struggling with body image? I’ve been there.
Struggling with lying? I’ve been there.
Struggling with stealing? I’ve been there.
Struggling with cheating? I’ve been there.
Struggling with excessive spending? I’ve been there.
Struggling with mental or physical self-harm? I’ve been there.
Struggling with idolatry? I’ve been there.
Struggling with addiction (A.K.A. any or all of the above)? I’ve been there.
The list goes on and on.
Putting your monsters in the light can be as courageous as admitting your deepest struggle to the person you trust the most or typing them into words like I have. I’ll admit I’ve summarized my struggles here in order to relate to my readers, but in my personal life, I’ve recently started having conversations that put my specific monsters in the light, and I’ve never felt more free or loved.
I am broken but I am saved. That’s the Gospel.
That part is easy to explain, and that’s the big takeaway. Everything else happened really fast in my mind tonight as I was worshipping, and it went something like this:
The three little girls I nanny are such a blessing. We do fun things every day like going to the pool or playing Apples to Apples, but the most encouraging and rewarding part about spending time with them comes when they ask, “Jessica, can you teach us more about God?” or when they simply say, “I’m glad you’re our nanny, Jessica.”
I don’t know what I did to deserve the chance to spend my days with these girls this summer, but I am so thankful for the opportunity. Even on the hardest days when I don’t understand the sinful world around me – Bruce Jenner’s struggle with his identity on earth and the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage – my girls are constant examples of God’s love for us all, a love I strive to portray just as His Son Jesus did when he died on the cross.
We are all sinners. We are all struggling with something. And we are looking for the answers here on earth. What can I have right now in this life that will make the voids I feel go away? Faith in God’s plan, faith in Jesus’s death for our sins and faith in the Holy Spirit living inside of me.
Romans 8:5-6 says this, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind of the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”
Among the multitude of information I learned about leadership and myself at Alpha Phi’s Emerging Leaders Institute (ELI), the leadership conference I attended, I discovered what my values are. After tonight, I realized what they mean for my life.
I value honesty, responsibility, loyalty and respect. And in relation to the controversial topics of today dividing groups of Gods children by the color of their skin or what they struggle with, I have this to say:
I honestly believe that God created you as you, a son or a daughter of our God the Father, not to be altered but to be embraced with faith in His guidance and plan. I have a responsibility to speak my beliefs using the gifts God has given me, just as I have the responsibility to admit my own struggles as I speak. I am not better than anyone. I am a sinner too. Admittedly, like so much of the world, especially in my age group, I struggle a lot with sexual desire, the same struggle our LGBTQ brothers and sisters are experiencing. Marriage isn’t the issue – we are all sinners in our marriages and we have all tainted it’s sacred commitment (look up Ephesians 5:22-33).
I am loyal to my faith, more than anything, even when it isn’t “cool” or “popular.” I am a Christian and I have never been more proud about it than right now, in the midst of our fallen world. As a Christian, I respect each and every one of God’s children especially when it comes to their struggles and beliefs, whatever those might be. I only desire to use integrity to share God’s love with everyone I can during my time on this earth.
When I go back to school in the fall, I have enormous opportunities waiting for me. I’m the Director of New Member Education for my sorority, which I believe is the best position, because I get to pour out into our new members as the first person they really get to know in Alpha Phi. Aside from the necessary and obvious curriculum about the sorority itself, I hope to have integrity as I reveal to these girls who I am. I’m lucky, truly. Greek Life is an amazing opportunity to share your faith in college.
I also get to substitute teach (hopefully, paperwork pending!), which is terrifying. I feel so young but so ready at the same time. I am still trying to fully wrap my mind around the idea that I get to be the sole leader in a classroom of ~20 kids, an opportunity I also hope to tackle with integrity.
I almost don’t believe that a year ago I was swallowed by a few of my own monsters, praying for a miracle. I am living proof of what a relationship with Jesus Christ can do for a sinner, who still sins, just no longer in the dark.
Romans 7:19 says, “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.”
I struggle still, and I’ll never stop struggling in this life. I am a lot of things, but “sinner” sums it up pretty nicely (seriously, there are worse labels I, like all of you, have been given). Our Father loves sinners like you and me immensely.
Just this week, I picked up the youngest girl I nanny to strap her into her car seat, and she so matter-of-factly said, “I love you, Jessica.” That was the first time someone so innocent, and so close to God (I believe children live and love the way God desires us all to), declared her love for me.
God also loves us matter-of-factly. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
Knowing that, we should love each other, too. If God loves us knowing all of our struggles and sins, how hard can it be to love each other simply because we’re living this life together, all children of the Lord?
That little girl proclaimed her love for me only knowing that I spend five days a week with her making her breakfast and lunch, getting her ready for the day, playing games with her and occasionally (we’re in that in-between stage) wiping her bottom. It’s time we all start simply taking care of each other instead of tearing each other down for each individual sin.
Finally, Romans 8:12-14 says this, “So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.”
Children of God, I love you, which is why I felt convicted to write this post, but the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all love you so much more and only want you to accept that love.
Love Has Won.