Emily

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What an honor to have a friend write such a tribute to my family and I. My heart is just bursting.

The Adventures of Nicole Eclectic

Emily French is probably the first friend I made when my husband and I moved to Bartlesville, Oklahoma just over 5 years ago. I’m a very introverted and socially awkward person (although I am getting better!), and if it had been up to me by myself it may well have taken two or three years to make a good friend!

But if you know Emily, you know that she simply loves people, and she has a way of making you feel welcome and loved in her presence. She went out of her way to get to know me… why, I still don’t really know, ha! Maybe it was that my husband plays bass in the worship band she leads at church. Maybe it was that she found out I run a Knitting for Charity blog, and as she calls herself a “craftivist” (she loves to make jewelry and sell it…

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Is Everyone doing their best?

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It is an interesting question, one that at first glance you might respond to flippantly. Yet I propose that you stop for a moment and think with me.diving-board-lakeview-pool

I am a huge fan and avid follower of Dr. Bren’ Brown. I just finished her book “Rising Strong.”  Which I highly, highly recommend for anyone on the journey of learning to live better. There is a chapter in her book where she personally has to answer the question “Is everyone doing their best?”

I recently was with a group of people and we were having a very deep conversation about forgiveness. There was a shared experience among this group and each had hurt and pain that they shared with tears and anger. The question became how do we move forward in forgiveness. Yet the conversation would turn to statements like “well, she did this and she did that.” Or “how can she keep doing this to us over and over?” Or “It is her own fault.” I stopped the group and asked this question: “Do you believe we are all doing the best we know how to do?” The question was met with hesitation, and what probably most of our responses would be, well No! People are not doing the best they know how. Yet I would ask you to stop and reconsider.

It was the great Maya Angelou who said,

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

My oldest brother came to a stark realization when he hired a young man right out of college as a Construction Manager for his company, Joel Coggins Construction in Tulsa, Ok.   My brother tells me, “I could not believe the amount I did not know about my own field that I have been in for over 20 years.” He proceeded to say “You do not know, what you do not know.” 

What will stop hate and unforgiveness, what will allow compassion to flow and kindness to reign? What will allow you to experience the people around you instead of judge them? What will make grace abound in your heart richly and love for your brother to bind you together. What will create connection, which we all long for and break down walls?

When our view of people reflects this: “They are doing the best they KNOW, how to do.” I believe then our disposition will become one of love, grace, forgiveness and connection.

I recently was at a pool with my 5 year old son and he wanted to jump off the diving board. I told him he could. I was caught up in a conversation (if you know me, I love a good conversation.) I did not go over to the diving board with him. My son who is new to all this jumped off the board before the girl in front of him was safely to the side. He hit the girl when he jumped in. I did not see what happened and had to slowly piece together everything as the life guard blew his whistle and had everyone exit. An incident report was written, it became a whole big shebang. I was told/yelled at by 2 different ladies that my son “was not listening to the life guard and that the life guard had “got on to him” 2 times and he did not listen.” I have to admit, I wish dearly I had this moment back, as I became kind of momma bear-ish. Yet as I finally pieced together everything that happened, I apologized to the lady in charge and I was finally met with compassion from lady # 3. She said “He did not know any better, sometimes that is just how we learn.”

And this my friends is exactly right. What happened that day was my 5 year old son went off the diving board for the 2nd time in his life. Mom had not taught him yet about waiting till the person in front of him was to the side of the pool or watching the lifeguard to make sure it is okay to jump. My little Ky Ky, with the best heart in the world, told me “momma, I never heard the life guard say anything to me and that girl she was waaaaay under the water.”  He did not KNOW any better.  Yet he was met with severe judgment as if he defiantly jumped after the lifeguard told him not too.

How many times do we meet each other with this same severe judgement. Be it how another mom is parenting or how someone talks to us at the grocery store. Looking at our nation and the hate and turmoil that is taking place, I beg you, I pled with you…teach your children, examine your heart, share with those around you my friends because if we KNOW better, we will LIVE better.

 

Naked and Unashamed

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“So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.” 2 Corinthians 3:18antique-vintage-handmade-lace-veil-wax-bud-scalloped-tiara1

The last few years I have been on a journey of self-discovery. This year I feel has been one of the most impactful years of my life. You know the words to the beloved song, “Was blind but now I see,” this is how I feel.

I have been on a journey to find wholeness, actually I believe we are all searching for it, and I believe, “The Way” is the One that leads us to becoming WHOLE. Love is shed abroad in our hearts and the dark places become illuminated.

The climax of my journey started 2 years ago when my husband said “You should watch this TED Talk by Dr. Brene’ Brown called “The Power of Vulnerability” it is life changing.” I do not know about you, but those words do not come out of my husbands month very often, so I was very curious. The 1st time I watched it I cried and I do not think I will ever be the same. Watch NOW

I have now read 3 of Dr. Brene` Brown’s books “The Gifts of Imperfection”, “Daring Greatly” and “Rising Strong.” I would highly recommend all 3.

This is what I have learned, the “shame” experience is universal, no one wants to be shamed or to feel shame. Recognizing and understanding our habits and what we “DO” when we are feeling ashamed is vitally important for growth. If our eyes are not opened to how we deal with shame, we will do what every human being since Adam has done we will hide, we will cover, we will be run, even from the ONE. “Shame needs 3 things to grow out of control in our lives, secrecy, silence and judgment” Brene’ Brown. You may be thinking I do not have issues with shame, I would have said the same thing. But my eyes have been opened, big time.

Shame is the voice that says “You are NOT Enough!”  Shame says “You are bad!” As opposed to what guilt would say, which is “I did something bad.” Let me give you an everyday example how it plays out in me .  I coordinate a program for middle school girls called Mutual Gold, I have a wonderful, competent staff. One day I show up to work and I am not super organized that day and it is kind of a big day for us we have a lot going on. I sensed some minor frustration or irritation from my staff. Do you know the 1st place my mind goes?? “They think I am a bad leader, they think they could run this program better than me, I let them down…blah, blah, blah.”  Do you know what everyone of those statements is saying? “I am not enough, I am not enough, I am not enough.” Yet this is NOT how my staff feels, they do believe in me, they appreciate my leadership and this one isolated incident does NOT define ALL of who I am and ALL of my leadership to the program. But this is Shame and I believe we all deal with these moments. The journey to becoming whole involves becoming “Shame Resilient.” Where in the face of that moment with my staff I could say to myself “I should have been more organized today, I will do better tomorrow.” And maybe even simply say to my staff “I am sorry I am not more organized today.” (No excuses or explaniation). This statement says “I am enough. I am perfectly flawed like every other human being. I can improve with humility. ”

This journey towards “shame resilience” is the most rewarding and courageous journey you will ever face. Why courageous, you might ask? Because it means you have to be Naked and Unashamed. How many of us desire to be naked in front of strangers, co-workers, friends, or family? Nakedness is our most vulnerable state. In the biblical story of Adam and Eve, they started out naked in the garden of Eden. Have you ever considered why? What does this nakedness represent? Let’s consider the story…

Adam and Eve are in the garden, they are naked and have everything they need. This could maybe be compared to human development. We start out as small children where we will dance, sing and all with very little self-awareness or self-concern. We spin with pure joy and delight. As we grow older we start to realize we are naked, someone might even say “You have chicken legs” or “your ears are so big.” And slowly we start to become very aware of our self and all our flaws. We become self-conscious.  In the bible story Adam and Eve make a mistake and immediately their response was to hide, blame and defend.

How do you respond when you make a mistake? Is your first instinct to hide? To withdraw to pull away, to quit? “Oh I am not good enough for this, what was I thinking? I don’t know what I am doing.” Or do you blame? “Well John was rude to me first and I was just responding back in the same tone.” Do you defend? “I would have got it done, but I managing way more than anyone else in my group. I am completely overwhelmed and my boss doesn’t even care.”

What the Adam and Eve story shows me is that human nature, is human nature, is human nature! From the beginning of time we have been wrestling with how to live at peace with ourselves and the world around us. What is so fascinating, is when God comes to Adam and Eve, the question that is posed is, “Who told you, you where naked?” Or in other words…Who told you to hide? Who told you to be self-conscious? Who told you, that you are not enough? Who told you to defend yourself? Who told you to be ashamed of yourself?

This question is still ringing out. Our creator looks down on us and says, “My child, there is NO condemnation in me. My perfect love cast out all fear. In me I call you enough, in me I call you worthy, in me I call you adored. Show thyself. Do not run, do not hide. Be all of who you are, with your whole heart! Be Naked and Unashamed.”

Learning to live courageously or with all your heart can be a scary vulnerable place. It means boudries, hard conversations, speaking up when you would prefer to be silent, it means not being afraid to mess up or make mistakes and when you do, you can say to yourself, “I am enough and I will try again.”

 

 

Continued: Make my way Broad Beneath Me

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I felt like I needed to get this story down more for me than pathanything. As I mentioned in part one, sometimes we do not stop to show gratitude to the Author of our Life. I needed to do just that.

With my heart still wondering how God was going to bring all the pieces together,  11 days after having my first son I started my Master Degree in Human Relations at OU of Tulsa, January 2011. (One of the best decisions of my life, Loved every minute of it.) I was now home with my 17 month old and newborn, working for East Cross one day a week leading the music on Wednesday nights and working on my Masters. I had so much joy, I started my blog during that time and started working to support the non-profit my parents direct The HELPS Organization. I was at a place were I was getting to use my gifts and artistic abilities daily and I felt alive.

My Master Degree was nothing less than the last step I needed to go through to fully prepare for my “purpose.” 5 years previous the Lord had impressed on me what my life was going to be about “Keeping young women Pure, free from contamination” I started dreaming up going into schools and having a girls club at lunch time  or developing a girls club to deal with all the issues they face.

Upon starting my Masters I found out I was going to have to do an internship, immediately I thought I should go to MUTUAL and see if I could work with them for my internship. I called MUTUAL and set up a time to come meet with the NEW director (the one that got the job, I was looking at when I was 9 months pregnant). This was March of 2011, I went and met the Director, we connected instantly and found a kindred spirit.  I told them I would be in contact about working with them as my internship approached. I continued on in my program and that first summer I did a project to receive 3 hours of Masters Credit. I read and researched “girl’s clubs and programs” and developed my own curriculum for a Girl’s Club. My dream in my heart was so real I could taste it.

I was completely accepted and Loved at East Cross and finally had a place that just loved me and my style. Before I had mentioned everything felt hard or like a struggle, this was so different it felt liberating, I felt free. I walked around this building at East Cross and saw the amazing facility and that it was a block away from the Mid-High and Middle School. This facility has a gym, an amazing activity room (pool, ping-pong, videos games, etc) a MOVIE Theatre, a computer lab, (what church has a computer lab?) as I walked around this church I remember as clear as day the impression “My girl’s club is going to be right here!”  This was a different thought for me, because up until this point I had envisioned going into schools, but was very open to this idea of course.

I was faithfully serving on Wednesday nights and doing the best I could with what was given to me. I was invited to come do a special song for the Traditional Service one Sunday morning (at this point my husband and I were still attending another church and I just lead at East Cross on Wednesdays.) I was standing in this service and all the sudden felt “Get ready to Move.” Immediately I started fighting that thought, “no way we are not attending EC, us and all these White folks, I do not think so.” That Wednesday night the Pastor came to me and said “Would you be willing to lead Sunday’s for us too?” I started laughing and said “Yes!”

November of that year I was pregnant AGAIN! I was moving ahead with doing my internship with MUTUAL and as we started looking at the dates we realized that my due date would fall in a place that would not work with the Summer program I was going to  participate in. I was disappointed, yet God just opened up another opportunity immediately that worked perfectly with my stage of life. The Director and I saw each other occasionally and I kept MUTUAL tucked in my heart.

I birthed my youngest son in July of 2012 and went through the hard transition of 2 to 3 boys all under 4 years old!!!! I kept trying to figure out how to work with young women yet nothing ever seemed to work. Before the start of the new year, the Director of MUTUAL approached me and asked if my husband and I would come and teach sex-ed 1 day a week, to the high-schoolers at MUTUAL in the Spring? I talked to the hubby and we both decided it was something we should do. FINALLY Spring of 2013 I am working with young women! It has been 8 years since I felt so strongly that this is what I was supposed to be doing.  I remember leaving those sessions and calling my girlfriend and telling her how I felt completely alive and like I was doing what I was created for, after leaving my time with the girls.

The Director asked me to continue working with her Middle School girls that Summer. I came 1 day a week and just did something age appropriate with them. They loved it and soon it became “When is Ms. Emily coming?”

By the Summer of 2013 the Director and I were standing outside the Club and I asked her the loaded question. “What is in your heart for this place? What do you want to see happen here?” After an hour of discussion she says to me “I know you are working on your Masters, I am not sure what your next step is, but I would love for you to create and Direct a program for our Middle School Girls.” I was actually pretty level-headed at that moment and said “well my 1st step is I have to complete my Masters.” which I was entering into my last semester. She continued and said “well first we need to start with a research project to see the need in our community for something like this, what if MUTUAL hired you to do the community assessment?” Take a guess what my last 2 classes for my degree were? Research and Current Problems. I knew that somehow this was going to end up being homework. One of these 2 classes was going to require me to do a project and I knew I was going to be able to make my project MUTUAL.

That Fall I took Research 1st and yep my end of class project was to do an Annotated Biography which pretty much mean get a bunch of Academic Research Articles and organize them and make a table of contents. Okay so what did I research??? You better believe it, “Girls Clubs, Jr. High Issues, Issues among girls, etc.” My next class was Current Problems and I find out in the 1st class session that my final project was  an Advocacy Plan. We needed a REAL life non-profit Organization with a Problem and we had to come up with the PLAN for the Organization to solve the problem. We had to have timelines and budgets and every detail worked out for the PLAN.  I had a team of 5 women to complete this Research Project with me, I had all the research I had brought together in my Research class, I had the curriculum and plan I had created the Summer of 2010 and I am getting paid for this??? Really!

February of 2014  I presented my research and plan to the MUTUAL Board. Part of my plan was that East Cross my church, the church I walked around saying “My club is going to be right here,” would house the Middle School Program. The church approved the use of the facility with excitement and enthusiasm. MUTUAL hired me April 2014 as the Director of MUTUAL Gold.

That Summer I presented to the church the plan and program of MUTUAL Gold. After my presentation one of the leaders in our church came to me and said “Years ago when we fought to build the gym we envisioned kids from the middle school and mid-high coming over to use the gym, nothing ever happened with it and I realized as you were presenting, that you were the piece we were missing, we needed You.”

The Director of MUTUAL was at my presentation to the church and I share with them a very abbreviated version of this story I have pined here. I mentioned in my presentation seeing the Director position online for MUTUAL back in 2010 when I was 9 months pregnant. After my presentation the Director of MUTUAL came and told me that she was also looking at the East Cross Worship position! At the same time in space, her and I were looking at the same 2 jobs and she was placed at one, I was placed at the other only for our lives to collide in a magnificent way.

August 18, 2014 was the 1st day of MUTUAL Gold. I hired a staff, Mutual billboardcreated a program, have the tremendous support of my church and community and right now I have the beautiful problem of having more volunteers that want to be involved then I know what to do with.

We are entering into our 2nd semester and I have so much more in my heart for this program, let’s just say we are only getting started! We have been invited to come in May to the Bartlesville elementary schools in the area and do a MUTUAL Gold day with all their 5th grade girls. They are giving me all their 5 grade girls for 2 hours. I am going into the SCHOOLS! My original dream!

My dad has a few quotes that I have heard a zillion times growing up, yet I live by them. “Be faithful with what you have and God will give you much.” And “What do you have in your hands?” I serve the Master Architect of the Universe and he is making me!

Make my way Broad Beneath me

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path“When we adopted my oldest son, his birth mom was 15 going on 16. We met her father one day, we introduced ourselves and the visit was only a moment and he left. A few moments later he ran back to the door and said to us “I feel like this moment is just like in an Olympic race, were the runners cross the finish line and they do not even know they won, they have to look up and see, “I just won.” He said I was about to drive off and I realized, You all are exactly what we wanted for her, you were standing right in front of me and I almost didn’t realize it.   He told us more about the struggle of his daughter getting pregnant and how this (adoption) was exactly what he wanted for her.  “I just wanted to say Thank you.”

How many moments do we have like that in life? Moments when we need to pause and realize gratitude is in order. Where all the sudden what you have been praying for, waiting for, working for, happens. I want to share my story of a dream that was placed in my heart and the journey that brought me to my “finish line moment.”

In 2005 I graduated with my Degree in Church Music from Oklahoma Wesleyan University, I had married December of my Junior year and now my husband had been offered an administrator position at a Christian School in Brush, Colorado. I left my family and friends here in Oklahoma and we moved to Colorado. Up until this point, music had been my life. There is nothing like reality hitting you in the face as a young graduate with degree in hand, and no job for you, or at least not in your degree area. I knew this point would come, but I did not want to go through it. I knew at some point music would be put on the shelf and God would have some work to do on my formation, but like any other educated, young 21 year old, I entered into this season kicking and screaming. This time in Colorado became a pivotal moment in my journey and I believe it uncovered my purpose.

While in Colorado I got a job with the city of Fort Morgan as the “Arts and Crafts Coordinator” of an after-school program for 5th -6th graders. I also ended up getting to coach soccer for the high school. Brush, Co had 3,500 people and its little neighboring town of Fort Morgan had 11,000. In this little tiny town I witnesses one of my 6th grade girls get pregnant and listened to my soccer players talk about what they were calling the “baby barn.” The high school was building a nursery for all the girls that were getting pregnant, so they could stay in school. It was during a quiet moment by myself in Fort Morgan, Co that I felt strongly impressed that this is why I am here. I felt that the mission for my life was impressed on me: “Help keep young women “pure.” (Pure-meaning free from contamination.)

Our time in Colorado was short and we came back to Oklahoma where I had a job waiting for me in the Student Life Department at our alma mater. I was excited to be back and I had doors open up to where I was going to get to work with young women from the college in many different venues. I ended up having many different opportunities and many struggles. I was young yet trying to be an adult, and there were many growing pains. I ended up working 5 years there. The last 2 years where increasingly difficult as I found myself so far away from the passion and the calling I felt was impressed on my heart. I felt forgotten. I struggled with the questions of “Did I miss God’s voice?” “Did I disobey?” “Has the trajectory of my life changed.?” “If I never sang in front of people again would I be okay?” “Maybe I was wrong about my mission, maybe I will never work with young women?”

During this time the Lord gave me my oldest son, that is a whole other story of God’s amazing grace and plans. During this season he also gave me new songs about trusting in him and laying down my life and he taught me many lessons. I grew professionally in so many ways and developed so many practical skills. Yet I was miserable, I had so much inside me I felt was being squelched. I was looking for jobs all the time and one night I came across the posting for The Director of MUTUAL Girls Club. I knew nothing about it and had never heard of it. I called my sister and told her about it and said “I am going to apply for this job!!” she said “You should go for it!” Then I looked down and saw my belly perturbing with a 9 month baby inside and said, “What am I thinking, this is not going to work, I am 9 months pregnant!”  In 2010 I gave birth to my first son.

Seven days after he was born, I was online again and I saw a job posting for a Wednesday night worship service at East Cross UMC. I called immediately and the Pastor told me “We are having interviews tonight can you come in?” When I walked in the doors of East Cross immediately to my right was a bulletin board and the first thing I saw was a brochure for The M.U.T.U.A.L. Girls Club. I quickly learned that MUTUAL stood for Methodist United to Use Applied Love.  As I read this I literally felt like my heart stopped. In that moment before I ever walked into my interview, I felt so strongly “that this place was going to connect me with my Destiny.” I interviewed and led one evening for them and waited to hear the verdict.  I still had some decisions to make. It was less money and no benefits, do I quit my other job? I had just been promoted, I was leading my department and I was really good at what I did.  For the 9 months previous I was in so much turmoil over what I should do. Do I keep working, do I stay home? Would I be unhappy at home? What if we lose our insurance? What about nursing? You know all the stuff you cannot know the answers too? I got the call, they wanted to hire me for the leader position at East Cross.

Soon after, I went to have a meeting with my VP and we discussed several things about my job and I remember walking out and thinking “it is time to leave.” I was in complete peace. It was as clear as day, this is what I needed to do. I now cling to that experience to remind myself that I can worry and try to figure out all the plans, yet when it is time, it is time, when God say now, it is clear. My mom always says “Follow Peace.”

Not long after I made the decision to quit, I went to a staff meeting with my new bundle and one of my coworkers said to me “Wow, I have never seen you look so peaceful, you look so happy.” That was exactly how I felt. February of 2010 I started leading at East Cross and this is only the BEGINING of the amazing story God is weaving.

This is already super long and I really am only getting started, so I am going to break these up. I hope you are inspired. To be Continued….

 

Transform me…Part 3 “Stop Acting”

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wwjd picRemember these? The “What Would Jesus Do” bracelets.  I think they were popular when I was in about 9th grade around 1998. It was a nice idea and I am sure whoever created them made a few dollars off many youth groups and church folk like myself. It was another way for us to look at others and say, “Now is that what Jesus would do???”

In Part 1 and 2 of this bloging adventure, I talked about how religion has pushed on many the idea of “Acting”  like a Christian verses being a follower of Jesus. I also talked about how this movement has created a group of people that do things or act a certain way and think that makes them righteous or good Christians. And reject the power or the Spirit of God that came to able us to be fearless followers of Christ.

The bible teaches that when the Spirit of Christ intersects, collides, fills, touches a human spirit, it is renewed or made new again as if you were reborn. It also teaches us that the “old things are gone and behold EVERYthing has been made NEW.” In other places we are taught that Christ is like a vine or a life source and we are the branches. If we will stay attached, stay connected, stay grafted into the vine, we will be changed and people will see we are changed by our “Fruit.”

I think we get this process backwards sometimes. I think “Acting” or following rules is much more tangible, black and white, right or wrong. And sometimes, I think we teach act first, connect with the Spirit of Jesus, connect with the LIFE or breathe of life second. And if we would connect first, abide first, live in him first, stay close to him first, look to him first, then we would be transformed!

This is what I am after, I did the trying to be good and perfect for waaaaayyyyy to long. Now I want to do the follow Jesus the best way I know how and allow him to transform me, shape me and create me into the person he wants me to be. And on this journey, there is forgiveness that causes growth, there is failure that pushes us forward, there is hurt that allows for his healing, there is pain that refines. It is a pushing, pounding, fiery processes that makes pure gold.

I believe Christ asked us to follow him, he did not say “believe in me and then follow”, he did not say “once you stop doing this then follow me”, he said  “follow me.”  His followers in biblical times walked with him daily and after 3 years some of them still did not believe he was the Messiah. Doubt, questions, fears, concerns are welcome on this road of follower-ship. The road or the journey is why we are here, follow close to the ONE and allow him to completely transform you by the power of his Spirit that collides with your earthly vessel and behold all things are made NEW.