Upside Down, not Trickle-Down

I’m sitting in my local Starbucks as I type this reflection. I can hear “The Little Drummer Boy” over the grinding of coffee beans as I take a sip from my tall red cup covered in cartoon Christmas lights. It doesn’t say “Merry Christmas.” It doesn’t even say “Happy Holidays.” And we Christians are freaking out about this for the second year in a row. A holiday cup – much like the holiday tree – must be a sign of the end times.

And while we’re bickering over a cup, Syrian refugees suffer. Indigenous people protest against the pipeline threatening their water source. Children of color are taught to be extra cautious around police in order to avoid violent confrontation. Drug addiction doesn’t discriminate against any race, gender, or socioeconomic class.

There’s a hashtag floating around this holiday season to boycott Target because of their stance on bathrooms and gender identity. “It’s unsafe,” they say. “And where’s the line?” they ask. This must be a war on Christian values, so we’ll withhold our money.

Money is power, and those who have enough of it can control the direction of corporations and even our country, based on their financial decisions. It’s obvious why trickle-down economics is so popular among those who already have their more-than-fair share. Sadly, sometimes people of faith mix up “American” and “Christian” values.

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Read the rest at Voices at the Corner, the official blog of The Center for Social Empowerment, a hub for theological reflection, investigation, and education on social and racial justice in Ferguson, Missouri.

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Election 2016 – We can’t just suck out the poison.

Well, that happened.

Donald Trump was elected to be our next president. Some of my friends and family are celebrating, while others are resisting with all they’ve got. Some still don’t believe it, and others are terrified.

Twentysixteen was a weird one.

After taking a few days to process, listen, and pray, I’ve come to the conclusion that America was bitten by a snake. All of us. Both sides. Conservatives, liberals, and everything in between or further out.

Symptoms of a venomous snake bite:

  1. Puncture wounds.
  2. Swelling.
  3. Pain at the bite site.
  4. Difficulty breathing.
  5. Nausea.
  6. Blurred vision.
  7. Sweating and salivating.
  8. Numbness.

We’ve been struck so hard by real trauma and pain in our communities – racial injustice; economic inequity; sexism; the death of a particular way of life; fear of anyone different than ourselves; smugness; violent words and actions; distrust in our leaders and neighbors. The swell of social media and propaganda has inflamed and caused even more pain to the puncture – and we can’t seem to stop it. We hear people yelling, “I can’t breathe,” as we roll our eyes, ignoring the pain that our fellow Americans feel, and we become nauseated at the thought of having to engage with anyone we deem “deplorable.” We can’t see straight anymore. We don’t see the whole picture, only the parts we want to see, and we salivate at the thought of winning another argument, proving our side is right and the other side is crazy. We’ve become numb to violence. Numb to attacks. Numb to truth. Numb to people.

These actions don’t belong to one political party – this venom has spread throughout the country and into the Church, and poison does not discriminate.

We’ve been bitten by a snake, and now we’re panicking.

But 2016 wasn’t the year of the bite – it happened a long time ago, and the poison has manifested itself since the beginning of this country. The poison was already in us. But at least now we know it.

So what do we do now? Suck out the poison, right?

Wrong. It’s not that simple, and sucking out the poison from a snake bite isn’t even helpful. You’d have to cut open the wound, leaving it open for further infection, while wasting valuable time you could use to actually treat the bite.

Perhaps we should take some medical advice as we navigate post-election healing:

Get away from the snake.

Do we really want to keep getting bit? We’ve got to remove ourselves from the danger. For me, that means detoxing from angry social media. It means reading other perspectives than my own so that I don’t fall into the pit of confirmation bias. It means filling my time and my space with good things rather than snark and sarcasm at someone else’s expense. It means running from hate, anger, and complacency.

Lie down with the wound below the heart.

Heart on top. Got it. Sometimes, hurt people hurt people. When my words and actions come from my wounds rather than my heart, I become defensive and lash out. It’s not always easy, but if we can all just take a second and remember that every encounter should be heart-led rather than hurt-led, maybe we can break down some barriers?

Remain calm and still.

I mean, who wouldn’t benefit from some deep breathing and meditation these days?

Cover the wound.

People have been hurt. People are scared. People are angry. The wound is open, and it’s a big, oozing one. I don’t think one person can fix all of our problems. That’s too large of a  task. But what I know I can do, is cover those who are hurting around me. I can reach out to those who are fearful for their lives or their rights or their way of life, and I can offer hope. I can offer a safe place for them to process. I can offer encouragement. And I can offer to work together with them to create peaceful and transformative change. We, Church, can be the bandage that covers those who are hurting and suffering – that is, after all, what Christ did.

Don’t drink alcohol.

Go home, 2016. You’re drunk.

This advice is great to treat some symptoms, but it still doesn’t get the poison out, does it? These are all just steps to take while waiting for medical help. That’s where the anti-venom comes in. Here’s what I think our antivenom looks like: self care and care for others. Laughter. Prayer. Scripture. Real community with people that look differently from you. Engaging conversation. Asking questions. Listening. Turning off social media for like, 10 minutes. Finding joy in the everyday and mundane parts of life because that’s what life is all about it. Kissing the ones you love. Naps. Working toward real change, not just talking about it. Reading good books. Dancing. The Holy Spirit.

We’ve been bitten, folks, and it’s time to start healing the right way.

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Rom-Coms are Perverting How We Think About Love

I have a confession. The other day, I watched porn. Or at least it felt that way.

But I’m a pastor, and my husband was home. Who does that? Or who admits it on the internet?

Pornography is the depiction of acts in a sensational manner meant to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction.

The endorphins were flooding my brain; the dopamine and oxytocin were formulating feelings of attachment with the actress. When I was done, I really felt better, more relaxed. It was a great pick-me-up after a rough day at work.

My porn of choice? ….
Read the rest of my article at RELEVANT Magazine.

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Divine Disruption

I’m not a preacher. I’m a writer through and through – I’d much rather write out a sermon and just publish it. Someone else can read it, but please don’t make me speak!

Which is why this past week, I attended the Young Preachers Festival at Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City. At one of the workshops, I introduced myself like this:

“Hi! I’m Melissa Gepford, and I’m here because I suck at preaching.”

But a tiny part of what I do is preach. I know I need to work on it, so I went to the Festival, ready to soak up all the awesomeness.

Janice Ian

One of the most productive parts of the festival was the opportunity to preach in front of our outgoing Bishop Scott Jones. While I almost threw up in my mouth a little when I saw he’d be critiquing me, I knew it was a good thing. After I preached, he offered me invaluable advice and encouragement – and it was actually a really affirming time. I actually didn’t hate preaching as much as I’d remembered. And I actually was pretty satisfied with speaking my written words.

The prompt for the festival was “Divine Disruption,” and we had to choose a scripture passage from an approved list. I chose to talk about my favorite Old Testament character – Esther. She’s a boss.

Check out my sermon below!

Transcript:

Christmas is always an interesting time for my family – my husband and I are both pastors, so Christmas Eve is always a late night, and if we’re lucky, we’ll wake up in time the next day to see Bill’s side of the family for dinner on Christmas. My family lives in East Texas, so we don’t get to see them until the following week. My birthday is exactly two weeks after Christmas day, so we split the difference and celebrate both occasions on the week of New Year’s Day.

And so this past December, Bill and I poured ourselves into the car right after Church and headed South to see my family. Now, we’ve made longer drives than this before, but 8 hours in the car after a long morning, driving through Texas Chainsaw Massacre territory doesn’t make you want to take the scenic route. We wanted to get there as fast as possible. Especially since the weather was getting pretty bad.

There was this huge arc of snow and ice storms heading south, exactly following our route.  The whole way we were watching the temperature gauge in the car and praying that we could outrun the freeze line; Hybrids don’t do well on ice.  Midway through Oklahoma, the rain just started dropping on us like buckets – luckily it wasn’t freezing, but the road was slick and visibility got cut in half.  By Texas, the flooding was getting bad.  The ditches on the side of the road were filling up higher and higher – and as we got further from the main cities, things just kept getting worse.

And then we hit it.  We came around a corner and there were these two big, East Texas Pickup Trucks with lift kits and tires as tall as our car.  These trucks were built for mudding and offroading – and they were just stopped in the middle of the road.  And then we looked past them – and we see why.  The road ahead dipped down, straight into this 100 foot wide puddle where the road should’ve been.  The trucks turned around, and if they couldn’t make it through, there was no way our little Hybrid was going to make it. So we turned back too.  The rain was still pouring down, we were exhausted and started to bicker a little bit, and we were stressed and just wanted to be done with this road.

We spent the next 2.5 hours winding through what should have been a 1 hour straight shot.  While Bill was driving, I was checking the weather on my phone to see what roads might be washed out – and spoiler alert – all of them. Then we got to a point deep in the heart of Texas where there was no more signal. We had to rely on the street signs and me saying, “I feel like it’s this way….”

An 8 hour drive turned into a 10 hour drive.

Aren’t the little disruptions in life annoying?

At the very least, they’re annoying – they set us back two hours on a road trip, delay our Southwest flights, or they derail our train of thought or force us to start over again. They mess up our workflow, disrupt the status quo, and interrupt our plans. I mean, people take PILLS these days to avoid disruption!

But at the very worst? They’re life altering. Disruptions throw a wrench into our reality. When we become disrupted, and we’re forced to see things differently or do things differently or think differently?….That’s when disruptions are the worst.

We can’t un-see them. We can’t un-experience them. And we can’t remain unchanged by them.

And when you think about it, the story of human history is just a series of disruptions, isn’t it? And the Bible, well that’s the story of a series of divine disruptions.

Ironically, one of my favorite stories about divine disruption is the only book in the entire Bible that doesn’t even mention God. The story of Esther.

To set the stage for you: It’s during the Persian Empire, and king Xerxes threw this huge party that lasted for weeks, and at the height of its…festivities….he commanded his wife Vashti to appear before the men he was partying with. When Vashti defied him publically, Xerxes made an example of her and had her banished from the kingdom and put out an “order” for all of the most beautiful virgins of the empire to be brought to him, where he would choose his next bride.

This wasn’t a Cinderella story, where Prince Charming invited all of the maidens to a ball and he chose “the one” for him. No. Xerxes sent out commissioners to find the most beautiful women and remove them from their homes. And once they arrived at the palace, they lived in a harem, where someone fixed them up before they were forced to spend the night with Xerxes.

These girls were victims of sex trafficking. And Esther was taken.

She was beautiful, young, and just what the king had ordered, so she lived among the other contestants in this sick beauty pageant, and she ended up winning.

She was chosen to be Queen Esther of the Persian Empire, but nobody knew she was Jewish. And that’s important.

Haman was the king’s right hand man, and when a Jewish man named Mordecai refused to bow to him, Haman became outraged. Surely he knew how to act. Surely he knew to respect authority. Surely not bowing down meant he was a menace to society – dangerous, a criminal. Surely Mordecai deserved what happened next.

Haman convinced the king to make a law that would systematically wipe out the Jewish race from the face of the earth.

Somehow, Mordecai found out about this. And he spread the word – Jews in every city gathered outside the gates and began to mourn, to protest, to wail about the injustice that was being done throughout the land.

Surely Jewish Lives Mattered?

Queen Esther heard about what was happening to her people and she was distressed. Even more than that, Mordecai was her cousin, her own flesh and blood who was right in the middle of it all. And even more than THAT – Mordecai had just begged her to talk the king out of killing the Jews.

Of course, Esther was terrified and very hesitant. She was a Jew herself, so she knew if she outed herself she could be killed on the spot. Xerxes also had a reputation of killing those who went before him without an invitation. But Mordecai continued to plead, and he said to her, “Perhaps you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this!”

After learning of this unjust and systematic oppression, she couldn’t unsee it. She couldn’t un-experience it. And she certainly couldn’t remain unchanged by it.

So she crafted a plan.

And she did what she did best–she did exactly what made her win the beauty pageant.

And just at the right time, she revealed to him that she was a Jew, and begged him not to follow through with Haman’s plan. When the king heard her story, when he realized what he had done, that Haman had tricked him and used his power to create unjust laws that targeted the Jewish people, he changed the law and set things right. Who would have ever thought that the Jewish child victim of sex-trafficking would prevent genocide–would single-handedly thwart a Holocaust? Esther surely didn’t expect it.

Esther could have stayed in the palace, safely, without anyone ever knowing she was a Jew. She could have saved her own skin and remained comfortable as the Persian Queen, not get involved in the mess. But she couldn’t unsee what she saw. She couldn’t un-experience what she had experienced. And she couldn’t go on remaining unchanged. She knew she was called for something more. This was Divine Disruption – and when the Divine disrupts our realities, it’s never just to make us feel warm and fuzzy inside. There’s always a commission.

God disrupts always with an assignment, an invitation to take part in the disruption of the world. To challenge power, ego, sexism, trafficking and racism, and injustice in all its forms. We see that once we are open to the divine disruption, we become part of God’s disruptive work on earth.

When God is at work, the disrupted becomes the disrupter.

Today we are at a crossroads. We look around, we see on TV, we see on our newsfeeds, and everywhere we turn – we witness injustice. We see racism and division. We see the violent reactions to protests, and we experience the turmoil that comes when a people rises up, mourning and wailing, demanding we recognize that their lives matter.

We can’t unsee it. We can’t un-experience it. And we can’t remain unchanged by it.

We can either roll our eyes at the disruption on our news and Twitter feeds, and the streets full of protests, and we can chalk it up to that – another disruptive interruption that we must bear until it passes. We can avoid taking a stand, and we can avoid getting our hands dirty and standing in the mess of injustice. Or we can see and embrace that disruption and become part of God’s divine work through that. This is a festival full of preachers – of speakers with platforms and podiums. In the next month, will you speak out against the injustices against our sisters and brothers of color?

When we embrace divine disruption, we join in the divine disruption of the world, working toward justice and redemption, and peace and restoration – fighting back against oppression and racism, by speaking out – by disrupting the complacent and shaking up the status quo. By offering a new way forward in Christ.

Perhaps WE have found ourselves here for such a time as this.

Divine Disruption

Building Bridges, Instead of Walls

Building Bridges, Not Walls

 

At exactly 4 p.m., I sat down, my eyes fixed eastward. I watched silently as my new friends responded to the Islamic call to prayer, standing shoulder to shoulder then bowing low on the plush carpet.

Tears welled in my eyes as I witnessed such an intimate moment of devotion, thankful that they shared part of their faith with me.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, emphasized the necessity to love others. And to love others well we seek to understand them. Which is why our confirmation class went on a retreat to learn about other religions.

Humans tend to separate and classify ourselves, then define ourselves based on those differences. When we do this, we rank ourselves — and we’re always at the top, aren’t we? We see this in schools, on social media, and sadly, in national and global affairs.

Someone once asked Jesus what the most important commandment was. Jesus responded to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” Then he added that another was as equally important: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

“But who is my neighbor?” the man asked. Then Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan:

A Jewish man was walking along the road, when he was attacked by some robbers and left to die. Soon afterward a Jewish priest approached, but he continued on his journey without helping. It was not long until another Jewish leader approached, but he also passed the injured man untouched. After the second passed, a Samaritan approached.

The Samaritan took pity on the injured man and took care of him. Jesus asked, “Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And a man hearing the story replied, “The one who showed mercy toward him.”

He could not even say the word “Samaritan.” Samaritans were half-Jew, half-Gentile, and some people considered them unclean. They had different beliefs, customs, and likely a different appearance. Jews and Samaritans had a long history of hating one another, but in Jesus’ story, a Samaritan helped a Jew. The Samaritan was willing to get close to help someone who had once been an enemy.

I miss this key concept of radical and unconditional love too many times in my own life. This means reconciliation with those around me: those similar to me and those very different from me, no matter what.

We can love our enemies because all of the sudden, they’re not our enemies anymore. They are fellow human beings. The Kingdom of God turns enemies into neighbors. As Pope Francis said recently, we should be concerned with building bridges rather than building walls.

I used to work at a church daycare, and I had a class of 3-year-olds. I told them the story of the Good Samaritan one time, and I asked afterward who our neighbors are. One little girl blurted out, “Everyone, because we all live on the same Earth!”

From the mouths of babes.

This piece was originally published in the Kansas City Star, Faith Walk column.

10 Things More Dangerous than Target’s Gender Neutral Restrooms

10 Things More Dangerous than Gender Neutral Bathrooms at Target

Aw, heck. Target went and did it again.

There’s a lot of buzz going on right now about this “bathroom bill.”

I first heard about this whole deal on Facebook, and I have to be completely transparent here – I was not keeping up with state policy making. So as far as I knew, Target had made a statement out of the blue (or pink?) about bathrooms. I figured this was perhaps phase two of the gender neutralization of the toy aisle (which, for the record has changed nothing at any of the Targets I’ve been in since – and I go to Target often).

Then I read about HB2. In all seriousness, North Carolina politicians passed a bill stating that people must use the gender specific restroom that coincides with their birth certificate gender.

"I'm sorry ma'am - you can't come in without your birth certificate."
“I’m sorry ma’am – you can’t come in without your birth certificate and proof of original gender.”

This bill has caused a stir among both sides of the debate – particularly, fear of transgender women (born male) entering women’s bathrooms is at the heart of it all. Some are afraid for the safety of their children, as if a transgender person is automatically a pedophile.

Look – I get it. We’re all deeply concerned for the safety of all people, including children. While I can’t possibly understand that to the fullest extent because I don’t have children of my own, I can get with being protective. As a Kids’ Pastor, parents entrust their kids to me every week at my church. I care about safety, and I deeply care about protecting the most vulnerable and innocent in our society.

But can we take a step back for a second? Maybe detach our emotions from the situation and look at some data? I know how difficult that is to do – I’m the first person to admit I like it my way. BUT – out of the 18 states that have adopted nondiscrimination laws, none have seen a rise in sexual violence or public safety concerns. Yet, 26% of transgender people experience physical assault at least once due to anti-trans bias. Who is at risk here?

Statistically, a child is more likely to be attacked by a person of the same gender in a public restroom (because, well, there are more of the same gender in gendered restrooms) – and the percentage of attacks in a public bathroom is extremely low. And even more statistically accurate, a child is more likely to be abused or assaulted by someone he or she knows rather than a stranger in a more familiar setting.

Is boycotting Target going to fix that?

Some extreme opponents of non-gendered restrooms are arguing that it becomes “legal” for indecent exposure with the removal of gender specific bathrooms. First of all – no it doesn’t. It also doesn’t legalize assault or rape. Second of all – if a transgender woman walks into a women’s restroom, no urinal exists in there. She will do her business in a stall like the rest of us. No indecent exposure there. It’s not like it’s the norm for women to undress openly in a restroom, so why would a transgender woman do that?

I’m also aware of this thing called the “Family Restroom” at Target (and lots of other places). It has one stall. Take your child there. And if you don’t want to go in there with him or her, tell your child to lock the door. Safety 101.

So in light of defending Target yet again, I present to you:

Ten Things More Dangerous than Target’s Gender Neutral Restrooms:

  1. Choking on the popcorn at Target.
  2. Paying too much for gendered Nerf Guns at Target.
  3. Contracting something from a non-vaccinated kid. At Target.
  4. Being in a car wreck in the parking lot at Target.
  5. Getting lost in Target (trust me – this happened to me all the time).
  6. Having your credit card declined at Target.
  7. Bumping into someone protesting with a gun at Target.
  8. Getting stuck in a shirt you thought was the right size – but not quite – at Target.
  9. Falling victim to the hilarious and naive belief that you can legitimately purchase that one thing – and that one thing only – you came into Target for (see #6).
  10. Forgetting that all people are made in God’s image.

We don’t all have to agree on this issue. But we Christians have a higher calling to identify and preserve the dignity and sacred worth in every single human being, regardless of their specific reproductive body parts. The first thing we learn about humans in scripture is that God created us in God’s image – and that’s very good. Somewhere along the way, we forgot that. So in order to make it as clear as possible, God took on human flesh to show us. During his time on earth, Jesus loved those on the fringes of society – the ones that couldn’t enter the the city gates (or perhaps a specific bathroom), the ones whom others feared for no reason, the misunderstood. This kind of radical Love is the very essence of who God is. And we’re all invited to participate in Love.

Let’s continue to have this conversation. But let’s do it with a holy perspective – refusing to name-call, striving for the safety and dignity of all people involved, and resisting the urge to equate difference with danger.

CrossFit Open: Not the best, not the worst

This is the last post on my CrossFit Open experience this year. Five whole weeks of brutal workouts, new movements, surprises, and a fun and fairly friendly competition between my husband and me. It was our first Open at Cobra Command CrossFit, and the community and coaches have been amazing!

16.1 shocked me. 16.2 annoyed me. 16.3 humbled me. 16.4 singled me out. And 16.5 retested me.

After the past few weeks, we just knew there was going to be a max lift. Everything else seemed to be fairly light and more body weight movements, so it made sense. AND there were two blanks for TWO scores on the score sheets for 16.5. I was already resigned to losing the Open to Bill, since lifting is his thing. I’m not too bad at lifting either, but there’s no way I’m going to beat a 540 lb. deadlift. Even pound for pound strength, Bill wins.

So you can imagine my reaction to this text conversation as Bill is watching the announcement of 16.5:

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Not to humble brag or anything, but burpees aren’t that terrible for me. I’m short enough to the ground that I can literally flop throw my body down without any pain, so I get down there a lot quicker than most. Getting up isn’t too bad for me either, since my legs are five inches long.

That doesn’t mean I liked 16.5. I actually swore I’d never do that God-forsaken WOD again back in 2014. Like, Bill and I skipped class one day when we saw that we were retesting 14.5.

Before I tell you about this year, let me take you back a couple years to the very last week of my very first Open…

…It was the end of March in 2014. I had just gotten my double unders, PR’d my Chest to Bar Pull-ups with three whole reps a couple weeks prior, and learned that a 65 lb. overhead squat was heavy for me. The Open was killing me.

I knew I was good at burpees, and I had done Fran before – in like, 12 minutes – so I knew I could do 65 lb. thrusters. I wasn’t worried about 14.5 at all. I thought I had this one in the bag.

But the day our gym did the WOD together, Bill and I were in Texas at my cousin’s wedding. We got up at the crack of dawn to make the 18 hour drive back home to west Kansas – where CrossFit Colby was having a BBQ/WOD night. We got there as they were about to finish up, and because Bill had to be on the road again the next day, he had to do 14.5 right then.

He did a quick warm up, then the clock started. Eighteen hours of sitting on our butts, drinking tons of coffee, and eating crap food all day long, and Bill attempted 14.5. Thirty-eight minutes and a few dry heaves later, Bill was sprawled out on the floor, having just finished his third and last bar facing burpee.

I waited until the next day to do the WOD. I rested up, ate well, drank lots of water, and mentally prepared to smash it.

I came out hot. A set of 11 thrusters, then a set of 10, and I was on to the burpees. By round two, the exhaustion set in, and I wanted to quit. Sure, I could do Fran, but that’s a 21-15-9 rep scheme. This was 21-18-15-12-9-6-3 rep scheme – that’s 39 more thrusters! About seventeen minutes into the WOD, I heard my judge yelling for me to get up – apparently I blacked out fell asleep mid-burpee. I finished with a time of 18:40 – and while I was disappointed with my time, I knew I wasn’t going to retest that beast.

So flash forward two years. On the way to the gym, I asked Bill what his goal time was for 16.5. He had a lot of margin for improvement, so his goal was to cut at least 10 minutes off his time – actually, he improved by almost 20 minutes! #pastorbill

I wasn’t sure about my margin. Could I have improved enough to get a 15 minute time? I thought that was a pretty audacious goal, but I said it out loud anyway.

I decided to break my reps up differently this time. I remembered how terrible the thrusters became after just the first round, so my rep scheme went like this:

For 21 Thrusters – 3 sets of 7
For 18 Thrusters – 2 sets of 9
For 15 Thrusters – a set of 8 and a set of 7
For 12 Thrusters – 2 sets of 6 (I think…)
For 9 Thrusters – all of em at once
For 6 Thrusters – all of em at once
For 3 Thrusters – all of em at once

Because I broke them up early, I had way more gas in the tank. I kept moving the whole time. Again, my judge was fantastic (same judge every week, except one) – he counted down to pick up the bar, reminded me when to break, and pushed me when I needed it. It still was terrible. I still wanted to quit during round two. I didn’t fall asleep mid-burpee, though.

I finished in 13:20.

Thirteen minutes and twenty seconds. I’m freaking proud of that, y’all.

Yesterday, this gem showed up on my Facebook Memories:

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I remember I was so proud of my worldwide finish two years ago. I don’t remember how many women competed, but 22,340th was MY number. MY place. And while I wasn’t the best, I wasn’t the worst.

And this year, again, I’m proud of my worldwide and regional finish. It’s MY number. MY place:

06F475D6-76A4-40E5-B218-3D9A5862A753
14,998th.

A lot has changed in two years. I’m still not the best, and I’m still not the worst. But I’ve improved. There are days that kill me and days that excite me – just like two years ago – but my lifts have gone up, my posture has improved, I am comfortable being upside down, and 65 lb. overhead squat isn’t heavy for me anymore. I’ve grown – my muscles, my mental game, and my confidence – by continuing to work. In two years, I’ve participated in two competitions other than the Open, and I even placed fifth in one of them. I’ve hit new PRs, accomplished goals, and continue to set new ones.

The proof’s in the pudding. Here’s the difference that work can make:

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You may not see much of a difference, but I do. I don’t have some inspirational story about losing a ton of weight or overcoming the odds with a disability – but I do have a story of consistent growth. Before CrossFit, I never thought I’d ever be able to do a pull-up. I remember the first time I hung on the bar, defeated. I remember my first banded pull-up (and you can bet it was the thickest one they had). I remember my friend and coach Heather forcing me to do a WOD with the thinnest band they had, and I remember my friend and coach Sherri working with me after class until I got three pull-ups in a row. I posted that video all over social media. I remember my first chest-to-bar pull-up, and I remember just two weeks ago attempting (and failing) muscle-ups. I’ve come a long way, and I have a long way to go.

Before CrossFit, I thought women’s lifting consisted of high reps and low weights – like, 10 lb. dumbbells.  I remember the first time I tried to clean 95 lbs, and the bar didn’t move. But then I also remember the first time I did a WOD Rx’d – with a 95 lb clean. I remember the first time I put 95 lbs over my head, and now that’s my warm up weight. Things have changed. I have grown – with the help of my coaches and friends, the community, my husband, and my drive to get better. I’ve come a long way, and I have a long way to go.

But isn’t that life? We were born unable to walk, talk, reason, or wipe our butts. Five years later, we’re doing all of those things (hopefully). Twenty years later, we’re working, building relationships, paying taxes, and teaching other little people to do the same things we once couldn’t do. We’ve got some mileage behind us, and we’ve got some mileage ahead of us. I sure hope I’m a better person next year than I am today, and I BETTER be a better person ten years down the road! We talk about growth and learning as if we stop doing it whenever we’re done with school, but I’m of the belief that the day we stop growing is the day we start dying.

We’re always on a trajectory, whether we like it or not. The question is, what trajectory? What’s the goal?

For Christians, it’s this big fancy word – sanctification. Sanctification simply means being made holy – it’s the process of growing in grace and love. It’s a life-long process that each Christian signs up for when we give our lives to God, whether we like it – or know it – or not.

It’s common for a person to hear things like: “Give your life to Christ, and you will be saved.” People automatically think “being saved” means escaping Hell, but what if we’re “saved” for something more? For holy living, for growth, for being changed and transformed by the love of God to do something great on earth? It’s not like if you say a magic prayer, you’ve arrived.

Being saved is just the beginning. Then comes the journey.

I mean, if you go to one CrossFit class, does that get you to the Games?

I’ve been on a 27 year journey, growing in God’s grace and love. Sometimes the journey shocks me. Sometimes it annoys me. Sometimes it humbles me. Sometimes it singles me out. And sometimes it retests me.

But the whole time, I’m growing. I’m not the best, but I’m not the worst. I’ve come a long way, and I have a long way to go.

Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” – 1 Peter 2:2-3

Oh, and by the way, I totally beat Bill in the Open. Muahaha.

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CrossFit Open - Not the Best, Not the Worst

CrossFit Open: One is the Loneliest Number

Alright – I’ll go ahead and get it out of the way. Bill’s beating me by one point in the CrossFit Open. ONE POINT. He got two more Handstand Pushups than I did. We were tied for awhile, but someone else swooped in and beat me, and trust me – I will find you.

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16.4 was the WOD I was waiting for. A chipper – my cardio is way better than Bill’s – with medium weight deadlift and high reps:

Complete as many rounds and reps as possible in 13 minutes of:
55 deadlifts (225 lb for guys/155 lb for ladies)
55 wall-ball shots (20 lb to a 10 ft target for guys/14 lb to a 9 ft target – thank God – for ladies)
55-calorie row
55 handstand push-ups

Woof.

Here’s how the Open goes down at my gym, C3: We get together on Friday nights (we call it Friday Night Lights), sign up for heats, and cheer each other on. For 16.1, we had a potluck afterwards and celebrated the end of our nutrition challenge. For 16.2, we had another gym throw down with us, and for 16.3, that same gym hosted us. 16.4 has been my favorite night so far – EIGHTIES NIGHT! I can’t stress to you how much I love themed parties. If every day of the world was a different theme and we wore costumes as regular clothes, my life would be complete.

Bee tee dubs – Bill and I joked about showing up dressed as babies because we were born in the late 80s. #90skid

So last Friday, instead of stretching and warming up like a sane person, I spent most of my time taking pictures and laughing with friends – way worth it.

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Sweatbands for the win
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Can’t do 80s night without a leotard
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“Hey! All the girls get in a circle and lay down!”

Because I wasted all my time at the beginning AND because I had just eaten dinner, I signed up for the last heat. I needed to digest a little bit, so why not go last, right? When 7:30 p.m. rolled around, I realized I was literally the only one setting up for 16.4.

*cue power ballad*
*cue power ballad*

So I did 16.5 alone, with everyone watching me. Every single rep was verified by my judge AND at least 20 other people. So no need to worry, HQ, my score is legit – because I know it matters when you’re 18,484th in the world.

I was really glad I decided to break up the deadlifts into sets of 7. Because by the end of it, I was doing sets of 5. While 155 pounds isn’t a whole lot, lifting it FIFTY-FIVE TIMES IS. I moved fairly quickly through those – that was definitely my strength in this WOD.

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I moved to the wall balls, and honestly, I don’t remember what I did. I probably started off with 10 reps, then moved fairly quickly to 5 reps. Wall balls are Lucifer incarnate.  About halfway through the row, I literally stopped rowing. For a good two seconds. I just….stopped. Then all 20 of my judges yelled at me to keep going, so I did. The row was just a slow death.

I finished the row with about a minute and a half left, but nothing left in the tank. I attempted probably 10 handstand pushups, but only two of them counted, so there’s that.

Can you just hear my people? It was like that the whole time!

And here’s what I looked like afterwards:

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That hurt.

As much as my people cheered me on, as much as I was encouraged by them – I still did all 167 of those reps on my own. It was my pace, my responsibility, my WOD. Certainly, I wouldn’t have done as well without them, but I had to put in the work myself. And in order to get those two HSPUs (even though my greedy goal was to get 10), I put in a lot of work beforehand to get to where I am now. We all do. That’s the beauty of CrossFit – we work our butts off for improvement, for endurance, and to look good in an 80s leotard.

So it is with faith. Not the leotard part. But the individual’s work part. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how important community is – that iron sharpens iron and we’re better together. And I believe that with all my guts.

But that doesn’t mean I don’t have to do the work. I’m not going to become better simply by osmosis. I have to put in the hard work – and I have to put my money where my mouth is. Prayer. Study. Intentional community. The workout regimen, so to speak, of the Christian life. And here’s a big one: God is a loving God, so I better love people even if I don’t like them. That’s hard work. But it’s my training regimen. And no one can do my work for me.

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5

*photo creds: Kelley Chance – check out her website!*

 

 

One is the Loneliest Number

CrossFit Open – Down a peg or two in 16.3

 

I knew it was coming. The week that I have to talk about humility.

But before I do, check this bad boy out:

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MUAHAHAHA

If this means nothing to you, check out my previous blogs on the Open – “16.1” and “16.2” It’ll all make sense.

But seriously, how in the world am I beating him? I’ll tell you how.

16.3 was a 7 minute as many reps as possible of:
10 Snatches (75 lb for guys, 55 lb for girls)
3 Bar Muscle Ups

My Box – Cobra Command CrossFit (or C3) has some athletes. And I’m not talking “yeah, I do CrossFit” athletes…I’m talking “yeah, I placed 10th in the Games last year” athletes. We’ve got some games and regional level studs in our gym, and a couple others besides Bill that can do muscle ups.

Look back up at that picture. Out of all the ones in the Muscle Up club, Bill got the fewest reps in 16.3, so he placed 8th in the gym. See how I placed 9th in the gym? So did everyone else that attempted RX. We all tied. The rest of us got 10 reps flat. We all tried super hard to get that elusive muscle up, but to no avail. So even though Bill got 54 reps more than I did, he only got one ranking higher. And that’s hilarious to me.

So, back to humility.

I’ve been trying on and off for about a year to get this dad gum muscle up. I knew it was going to show up in the Open, and I had plans of being ready for it. I even practiced for an hour the day before Castro announced 16.3!

I did this WOD three times.

The first time I did it, I actually scaled. I figured I’d go ahead and get a higher score doing scaled because the snatch was so dang light, and if I can do chest to bar pullups, then I can easily do jumping chest to bar pullups.

Except I didn’t get as far as I expected. Because jumping chest to bar pullups.

Let me just say that I totally get the need to create standards by saying that the bar needed to be six inches above the athlete’s head. But let me ALSO just say that if you’re 5’1, your arms aren’t long enough to get any kind bend in the knees to make that jump. Holding onto the bar, my arms were literally locked out just standing there.

"Can we just...lower it...a little bit? K Thanks"
“Can we just…lower it…a little bit? K Thanks”

First round went great. I finished in like 25 seconds or something like that. Second round was fine too, but that third round. For the record, my judge was one of those elite athletes, so it hurt my soul a little bit when I heard him counting my chest to bars: “One – good job Melissa. Two – this is easy. Three – Oh….”

No rep.

If you’ve ever watched cheerleaders prep for a stunt, there’s always this little double jump thing at the beginning. I had to do that if I had any chance of getting another rep. So double jump I did. The rest of the time.

A couple days later, I decided to try RX. I had been working on my muscle ups and waiting for a rip to heal up, and Monday was my day. I went in early and got to work.

Ten snatches. Six and a half minutes of failed attempts at a muscle up. Every single one was a right-armed chicken wing.

After the 7 minute buzzer, I tried again. Same thing.

Two things here: I’m thankful for the scaled division so that I got an actual workout in. I wasn’t quite there with my muscle ups, but I was able to fully participate in the Open – just at a different level. I’m also thankful for an RX division that’s tough – that pushes me beyond what I can do and shows me ways to get there (three cheers for Muscle Up Tutorials).

Just like there are lots of different people that participate in CrossFit, there are lots of different people that do this whole Christianity thing. A lot of different commitment levels,  various “spiritual levels,” so to speak, and a number of different situations. On the outside, it may look like we’ve got your elites – the “yeah, I place in the top” guys. And we’ve got our “yeah I go to church occasionally” guys too. But what if the Church offered ways to get everyone involved? That everyone could feel fully included, regardless of what “level” they were at? And what if we had “scaled divisions” of faith, with the goal to progress and grow deeper?

Don’t know how to pray? Why would we expect you to pray out loud without first teaching the basics?
Don’t have a Bible? Why would we ask you to do a daily devotional without first giving you a Bible?
Not quite sure if this Jesus thing is for you? Why would we expect you to come to church, tithe, and serve the poor?

Jesus met all people where they were. CrossFit meets people where they are. I believe that the Church can meet people where they are too.

What do you think about Scaled Christianity?

 

CrossFit Open - Competition, Down a Peg, 16.1 Experience