Learning To Dance In the In-Between

You can find prints of this new lovely on my Etsy storefront
You can find prints of this new lovely watercolor on my Etsy storefront.

Two months ago I sat down to write here more regularly.  Then life happened.  I gave up eating 95% of anything that was not plant-based for health reasons.  I discovered coconut milk coffee creamer.  My apartment/studio/office flooded for the 4th and 5th times with waste water. There was mold, rust and general environmental mayhem. My laptop became a wastewater casualty, along with whole grad school notebooks of notes that succumbed to mold and water damage… in the middle of semester finals no less.  I wound up with around 15 days to move out of my apartment.

I packed up my world up and moved it to storage. Not a small feat considering I can pack an apartment like I pack a suitcase. I encountered one of the worst moving companies on the planet who actually screamed profanities at me when I left an honest, even generous, review. I moved in with family for the summer as we figured out what was next. I updated some things around here (love the new banner) and on my design studio site because, well, they needed updating.  My business has been in a holding pattern.  My health has been hit hard.  It has been a battle.

13490688_10209889049289834_3950160464243038224_oBut… today, I BOUGHT A HOUSE!

There has been a lot of living in the in between these last few years since returning from Africa.  But, once again, God used a seriously bad situation to open an amazing door of opportunity.

I no longer will have to live in my office!  I will have a separate room with a door I can shut when the work day is over. If I could have sketched the floor plan of my ideal setup for this season, it would have wound up being the layout of this cottage style house.  Grateful is too small a word. It is my cozy bungalow.  A blank canvas I can make 100% my own.

When I asked Jesus to speak into my living situation, I felt led to look up the street number of this home in the book Psalms right after we initially viewed it.  My apartment had just flooded for the 5th time, I was sick and I was so frustrated with everything. The street number took me to Psalm 29 where it says the Lord sits enthroned at the flood. He did.  Sit enthroned. Five is the number of grace.  And there was.  Such extreme grace at every step. There is much more woven into this house’s story and how it marks a huge seasonal transition but, suffice it to say that it is not simply a commitment, it’s a calling.  Jesus  has such a sense of humor!

I’m stepping out into new mission field that is just as broken, hurting and desperate as any I have served in before.  The brokenness here just looks different.  I don’t know where the steps will lead in the days and months to come, but I know the One Who is leading the dance.  And that is all that matters.

 

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The Myth of Full-Time Ministry

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I’m just going to come right out and say it.  Full-time ministry is a myth.

I learned that on the hot dusty back roads of the world’s newest nation where, if ministry were simply a job description, I would have never lasted 7 minutes let alone 7 years.

You see, if there are full-time ministers that implies there are also part-time ministers.  And then there are other folks who are the “ministered to” who leave the ministry stuff up to the professionals.  You know the ones who have a degree and an office.

A few years back I was speaking at a regional meeting in Florida and I said to the packed conference room as I took the mic, “I’m just curious, how many of you are in fill-time ministry?”  A very tentative few hands went up at the front of the room, mostly from the organizers of the event.

So I asked again, “So how many of you are in full-time ministry?”  A few more hands raised at half-mast.  You know the level you can quickly scratch your ear if you want to retract your disclosure.  Finally I asked again, “Let me rephrase that question.  How many of you love Jesus?” Every hand in the place shot up.  Point made.

I’m feeling particularly bold about this today so here’s the deal.  There is no such thing as part-time or full-time ministry. This is a paradigm that is subversive to the Gospel itself.  And it isn’t just in the West.  It is prevalent in missions too.

Some of the greatest challenges I’ve encountered on the missions field came from mostly well-meaning missionaries who had a full-time ministry mentality.  In other words, when they were done for the day. They were usually done. The problem with that was they were still on the mission field and everyone around them still saw them as a missionary.

When I speak at churches about missions, many people tend to think of missions as their volunteer time, a trip they take, an event they plan, or for a few special saints {ahem}… a career path.

I am going to be blunt. We are never going to reach the nations, let alone our own, with that point of view.  There is a fundamental paradigm shift that has to happen.  Missions is not merely a job description or a program or an annual trip. 

Missions is a lifestyle and the calling of every believer.  Period.

Yes, some people are called to be vocational missionaries or ministers.  Meaning, being a missionary is their occupation and the church supports them to do that financially.  But that doesn’t mean that missions is relegated to something we read about in their monthly updates.

Beloved, if you love Jesus, you (yes, YOU) are a missionary.  If you love Jesus, you are in ministry.  The question isn’t if you are in ministry, it is where you are in ministry.

Jesus and I have been having some extra heart-to-hearts this week as I have been in bed sick for much of it.  In the middle of the retreat I was leading Saturday, I got hit with acute colitis and wound up in the hospital by Saturday night.  Allergic reactions to meds, a secondary infection, and a cold soon followed.  The enemy needs to learn attacking my health is a bad idea.  I just pray more.

Missions is not an invasion mentality, it is an incarnational reality.  It is where we carry the very life of Jesus out with us wherever we go.

So go knowing, YOU dear reader ARE a missionary.  If anyone asks, “Sooooo how many full-time ministers do we have in the house tonight?”  Hold your hand high.

Because you are not just in full-time ministry, you are in 24/7/365 (24 hours day, seven days a week, 365 days a year) ministry.  Because missions isn’t just a job description, it is a lifestyle.


Monday I have a super special announcement coming.  Be on the lookout.  😉

Taking Time to Listen {& an Invitation to a Special Saturday Retreat}

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Some days it feels like we are ever rushing to get to our next appointment, our next meeting, our next errand and flailing as we go. Markets are flailing with us and we wonder if the world will ever be put back right.

Everything around us fights against stillness. Our phones chirp and beep to the point of harassment. We find we are now instantly accessible to everyone everywhere and fully present to no one at all.  Not even ourselves.  And worst yet, not even God.

This has become our normal. But it doesn’t have to stay our normal. This rush-rush, run all day long, nursing our electronics into the night and waking to their chatter. Is it any wonder hearing God in the middle of the din so often eludes us?

I had no idea how blessed I was to live for 7 years with no electricity but that of a sporadic generator, no running water and no regular internet connectivity.  I woke to birds chirping instead of phones. I greeted the day with coffee and prayer under a mango tree surrounded by giggling children, not demanding technology.

Now back in the USA, I am equally grateful for every technical tool (and running water) I have at my disposal in this season of my life.  But I have had to learn to steward them carefully. To build boundaries around my availability online.  To learn to use the off button. {I probably need to use it more.}

In a world that enthrones the rushed life and calls it success, it is imperative we intentionally slow our pace down enough to listen to His whisper every day. Every day.  To find the still space in our own souls where He speaks His promises and we share with Him heart to heart.

It would be my joy to help you learn more about how to do just that. theriverhouse-1wm copy

I am really excited to announce the first Deeper in God event I will be facilitating in Jacksonville, FL. Dear friends of mine have opened up a beautiful historic home, tucked away right on the banks of the St. John’s River. It is the perfect spot to host this Saturday retreat where we will practice learning to be still and coming aside in order to listen to Jesus.

I will be teaching in the morning about hearing God’s voice. Learn about what God says about hearing Him in the Scripture, about the different ways He speaks and how we can practically position ourselves to hear Him every single day. Then in the afternoon we will apply what we learned in the morning to explore creative prayer journaling. Because of the space constraints we only have 24 spots. The entire day {not including lunch} is $40. That is like getting two workshops and more for less than you’d pay for one elsewhere.

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Find out more details and register on my website here.  This is the very first event live on MichelePerry.net and I’d sure love to have you a part of it!  If you live in the north Florida area and have any friends who might be interested please help me get the word out to them.  Thank you and I hope to see you there!

Are We To Be Missionaries or Mountaineers?

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I’m sitting here tonight wondering if I should really tell the whole wide virally-prone internet what I think on this subject.  I might step on toes.  I might offend some of you.  I really don’t like doing either.  So let me just preface this post with saying some of you may completely disagree with me.  And that is OK.

There is a teaching popular in certain streams about “seven mountains of cultural influence.”  These mountains refer to different social spheres like business, education, family, the arts, etc.  Because I am a missionary at heart, engaging culture, or more accurately the people who are a part of it, is something near and dear to my heart.  So I was pretty excited about the whole cultural mountain shebang when I first heard some of the basics quite a few years ago.

I totally resonate with the idea of God calling us out of the meeting place to minister in market place… that is completely Biblical. Here I am, send me Jesus!

But what I am talking about here is not that at all.

I am talking about an insidious, sneaky, tangential teaching that can easily mimic the heart and nature of true missions. Ok, here we go.

I recently heard teaching on the seven mountains of culture that stated the following {and yes this is a direct quote}: “Those 7 mountains of influence are so powerful that he who occupies the top of those mountains can literally shape the agenda that forms nations.”

I replayed the segment a few times to make sure I had heard correctly.

Basically the thinking goes something like this: Say you are called to education. Well in order to be influential in that “mountain” you need to work super hard to get to the top so you can be in charge and set the agenda that will bring God’s Kingdom in the mountain of education.

Does God care about education, about what children are learning?  Of course He does. Because He cares about children and parents and teachers and administrators. Does He call folks to go serve in the mission field of education to demonstrate His character and love and power right where they are at? Absolutely.

Ministry is about serving in love and keeping our eyes on the King, not controlling the show.  Does God set people in high places of leadership? For sure He does.  But not because they were trying to climb a mountain to be an influencer and become king of the cultural hill.

God’s Kingdom is not about dominating as monarchs, it is about infiltrating as missionaries.

Let’s look at this from a missions point of view.  If I had gone in to South Sudan mandating people just do as I say and follow my protocols because I knew better and those ideas were “kingdom”, none of what I saw happen would have. I would have wound up building my own kingdom not God’s.

I didn’t go to South Sudan to be in charge. I went in to love like Jesus, be faithful and do prayerfully only what I saw my Father doing. Was culture transformed? Heavens yes. Education, government, economy, social justice all were impacted.  Not by me being an influencer making policy decisions on the top of the mountain range. But by our family keeping our eyes on Jesus and His Kingdom.

Making more policy doesn’t change people’s hearts.  Only a love encounter with Jesus can do that. Trying to manipulate, “influence” and even legislate what we believe to be God’s will on the earth, squeezing fatally flawed man-made structures into a religious mold comes perilously close to witchcraft (spiritual manipulation even in Jesus name that is rooted in our own strength and understanding rather than what God is actually doing).

God’s Kingdom is not a subculture. We are a counter culture where low is high and the highest place of all is the lowest place of service.  They tried to make Jesus a king and He ran the other direction to hide.  Satan offered Jesus the mountain top kingdoms of this world and Jesus rebuked him.  If kingdom influence is determined by cultural power and esteem, Jesus was an epic failure.  His own culture crucified Him.  His greatest platform was realized in a death sentence on the cross.

Jesus Himself said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation {careful scrutiny and visual evidence}; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within, among and inside you.”

So maybe, just maybe, His Kingdom needs more missionaries and fewer mountaineers.

The Art of Finding Yourself

Sometimes we look in all the wrong places trying to find who we really are.

I know I have.

I’ve spent the better part of my 38 years trying to squeeze myself into a form or shape I was never created to be.  I bet some of you might relate at least a little. It’s a bit like trying to be an identity contortionist. We might learn a lot in the process but we’ll ultimately wind up all tied up in knots.

(And yes that is my real age. Every single year has been a hard won victory and a gift of grace, so I’m not shy about celebrating ALL 38 of them!)

I have tried to make myself over to fulfill other people’s expectations, trying to filter who I am to better fit organizational narratives, desperately wanting to find the place I fit in. The group that can be a home. The place where I belong. Where I can settle in and say, “I’m with them” or “I’m a part of that”.

There is only one problem with all that squishing and squeezing and shaving off the edges of my identity.  I was never created to fit in like that. Neither were you.

God made each of us an original. To try and become otherwise just to find a place to belong would be to downgrade what Jesus paid for.

I will never find who I most fully am by looking at the world or the people around me. Neither will you. We aren’t supposed to. But unfortunately there are few places that nurture you to be you in Jesus. Prayerfully, that will change.

Finding who we really are in Who He is is an art form and a life journey. We truly find ourselves only when we are willing to lose who we think we are supposed to be.

When I had to relocate to the USA in 2013 leaving behind my family in South Sudan, it was the profound death of a dream on so many levels.  It has been 2+ years walking out of the valley of it’s shadow. In the process of losing most everything I held dear, I also lost all the externals I defined myself by. 

And that was a beautiful, terrifying, gut-wrenching, amazing gift in very distressing disguise.

Relationships. Affiliations. Roles. Job descriptions. Location. Expectations. Organizational narratives. Success. Future vision. Plans. All gone.  Some for a season, some period.  I had no idea so many of those things informed and shaped who I believed myself to be.

What I didn’t know when I was eyeball deep in searing loss was what I would find when the flood waters receded: Freedom.

Freedom just to be me in Jesus.  Not defined by a ministry role or an organizational affiliation or spiritual score card. Just me. In Him. Grateful for the tribe of friends He brings along for each stage of the journey.  Knowing I can’t look for a model to follow other than Jesus because it doesn’t exist.

All the changes that you have watched unfold here in this little corner of cyberspace have really been a travelogue of me finding myself in deeper ways. From the Unpaved Road transitioned into Bravely You {because becoming who we really are in Him might be the bravest journey of all} which grew into Illustrated Grace.

It is my hope and prayer that me embracing my journey will give you courage to say yes again to your own.

Jesus created each of 100% original. To settle for being an imitation is to live so far below what He desires to give us. We find who we most fully are when we are free to most fully abandon ourselves to His heart.

You DO belong beloved.  Right in the center of His embrace. If you have been frustrated with never quite fitting in, perhaps it is because you were trying to fit in to the wrong places, like I was. We DO fit. Every one of us. Perfectly shaped to fit into His heart. Everything else will follow.