Dear 18-year-old self...
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I was only halfway listening when she asked me her question again.  I looked up from scrolling through Instagram, closed my eyes, and tried to fully concentrate on her words this time.  

"Mommy, what about you?  If you could go back to any time in your life, what age would you choose?" Now this was an intriguing question.  I thought for about a minute and then said with confident resolve: "I would choose to be 18 again.  Right before graduation, with my whole life ahead of me. BUT, I would absolutely want to take my current 39-year-old brain back with me."  

After putting my girls to bed later that evening, I took a few minutes to really consider what I would tell my younger self.  What exactly would I want that sweet and fairly naïve, 18-year-old, good ole Southern-Baptist girl to know?  

This required me to think back to the way I saw myself, the world and God.  At eighteen, I had it together on the outside.  I could check all the external boxes of “goodness.”  I made excellent grades.  I went to church at least twice each week.  I didn’t cheat on school assignments/tests.  I didn’t use foul language, smoke, drink alcohol or use drugs.  I obeyed my parents, and never even once snuck out of their house.  I worked and tithed exactly 10% on my earnings.  I was responsible, dutiful, and so on…

I played by the rules and thought everyone else should as well.  So, I was constantly comparing my goodness to the goodness of others.  How many boxes did THEY have checked?  What were THEY doing that was sinful?  Much like the account of James and John found in Luke 9, I would not have hesitated a hot minute to ask Jesus to call down fire on those who got out of line with my very narrow interpretation of Christianity, which incidentally, looked a whole lot like a morality-based religion.

You see, I believed IN Jesus, but somewhere along the way, I began to think that I could live in a way where I didn’t really NEED Jesus.  

I viewed God singularly through the lens of the Old Testament – all judgment, fire, and brimstone, constantly upset and disappointed with me.  As a believer, I was under a new covenant, but for some crazy reason, I was living by the rules of the old one.  

In the quiet moments the night after my daughter had asked me that question, I began to think about my journey of the last 21 years.  I began to bubble over with some poignantly-won spiritual truths.  I know we could all probably write a book on this subject, filled with advice and wisdom for our younger selves, but I’ve chosen to focus on some deeper-set beliefs - those heart values that guided not only my behaviors, but my daily thought-life.

Dear 18-year-old self,

1.    You ARE already loved.  Stop trying to measure up, struggling to earn God’s love and approval by being good.  You can never be good enough.  The Good News of Jesus Christ is NOT about YOUR goodness.  There was only one perfect human being – Jesus Christ.  It is about HIS goodness.  It all hinges on Him.  This is not an excuse to sin, but it is a reason to stop trying so dang hard to be perfectly right all the time.  

2.    You’ve got the Holy Spirit.  You’ve also got an inner critic.  They are NOT the same.  Learn to distinguish between them.  The voice of your inner critic is relentless.  It heaps doubt, shame, guilt, and condemnation on you. This is NOT the voice of God. If you listen to this voice, you will be imprisoned in anxiety, fear, depression, accusation and guilt.  

When the Holy Spirit speaks, He is kind.  He doesn’t wound or accuse.  His voice pierces the darkness, bringing hope.  He moves and speaks in loves and in peace.  He occasionally asks questions that divide the motives of your heart.  Listen for this voice. Get to know this voice. Cultivate a relationship with this voice.  This voice will bring wisdom, understanding, and life.  

3.    Amazing Grace wasn’t just a one-time event for you.  This life-giving grace is available every single moment of every single day.  Ask for it when you wake up in the morning.  Use it when you drive to work and school.  Walk in it.  Refuse to do life without it.  Stay in a place with God where you can receive it continually.  You’re going to make messes.  Grace is where Jesus meets you in the middle of your mess.

4.    Stop feeling like you need to know everything and speak it.  Cultivate the humility to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers.  You don’t need to have a fixed opinion on everything.  You are not a politician or a theologian.  Relax, you will never have all the answers.  But God does, and the Holy Spirit will reveal what you need when you need it.  

5.    The world is NOT black and white.  There is plenty of gray.  Please give yourself and those around you the freedom to be in the gray. Let the Holy Spirit lead you through the gray.  He is enough, and you don’t have anything to prove.

6.    About your career path.  It’s not about the money you’ll make.  It’s about what makes your heart sing.  What is the one thing that you would wake up every morning to do, even if you never got paid for doing it?  Figure that out now, before you have obligations, before you have people who rely on you.  Choose something that you can’t possibly accomplish by yourself.  Choose something that only God can do.  Go big.  Go all in.  What is that dream God has placed in your heart?  Do that thing.

And I saved the MOST important one for last.  Seriously.  ;-)

7.    Please don’t wear jean overalls.  Listen to me on this.  I know your freshman year of college, you will think it’s cute and trendy, but do yourself a favor and just say no.  You will not ever regret sitting out this fashion crime, err I mean, trend. 

It’s with a tinge of sorrow that I look back on my younger self that had so little grace for others and even less for herself.  So I share these words with a fervent prayer that no matter your age, they will encourage, enlighten, and possibly shorten your journey toward an abiding kindness for yourself and for others.  I know I’m not alone when I say, “Thank God, I’m not who I once was.”  All glory to the Father who is never satisfied to leave us in our current state.  May you say yes to Him as He calls you into a deeper relationship with Himself. 

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Jennifer Greene is passionate about inspiring and empowering believers through the study and application of God's Word.  She and her husband Jordan have two daughters and have been members of The River since 2012.  One of the many hats she currently wears is that of Discipleship & Assimilation Intern here at the River.  You can find out more about her at www.jennifergreene.org.

Watching at the Front Door
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I can still see her, watching intently through the front door as my husband and I packed the car in preparation for our long trip home. This had been a good visit to see Mom, aunts and uncles, and cousins, but now it was time for me to begin that long journey home to Phoenix, Arizona. The drive to Nashville and the 4-hour flight home would be filled with memories of our week with family and the beautiful scenery of the rolling hills of Tennessee. The distance between us limited our visits, and it would be months before we would return. Saying good-bye was never easy, especially when, at each visit, we saw Mom becoming increasingly frail and losing more of her independence. So, as we loaded our suitcases with her watching at the front door - I can still see the sadness on her face as we pulled away from her home one more time.

My relationship with my mom has never been ideal, and I attribute much of our difficulty to the era and circumstances of her upbringing. My mother was the second born and oldest girl in a family of ten children in the Rocky Point area of Putnam County.  At that time, women had just won the right to vote and in rural TN, the Great Depression made even basic food a luxury.  Segregation was accepted in the Deep South and those attitudes of white superiority were rarely challenged. Working in the fields to raise crops to consume and sell was a necessity in order to feed the family.  

Education was not a priority, and by the time she was in the sixth grade her help was needed at home in caring for her younger siblings. In her community and culture, a woman’s greatest purpose was to marry and give birth to children. High school was an option after you worked a full-time job. College was unthinkable and useless for a woman. She had married my father when she was 16, and by the time I was 16, she was looking for a husband for me. 

After marrying, my parents had followed the ‘hillbilly trail’ to Chicago - where jobs were plentiful in the factories. My father became an alcoholic and the abuse would leave life-long marks on all five children. My reaction was to put as much distance as possible between me and my family.

The Lord has since shown me that my mother’s life circumstances have shaped her values. She still believes women should marry young and have babies—lots of them. During her childhood and adolescence, church was the only option for entertainment and friendship, therefore she wanted church to play an important role in her children’s lives. Despite her love for church, it wasn’t until adulthood that she accepted the Lord’s gift of a personal relationship with him through Jesus. Since then, there has been no doubt to anyone that she knows the Lord. Despite our differences, I credit my mom for having taught me the satisfaction of working hard, of needlework, of gardening—and even canning.

My mom is now 96 and lives in a long-term care facility where her frail body struggles to navigate just a few steps with the help of a walker. Many of her memories have faded, but she still recognizes her family and can’t get enough of their visits. Above her bed, a frame holds baby pictures of all five of her children. Her favorite memories are of them as babies, totally dependent on her for food, security and comfort. As those babies grew into adults, with families of their own, she struggled to find purpose and contentment. It’s their visits, no matter how brief, that bring back memories and reassurance of their love. And when they leave, the memories are once again her primary source of contentment.

Visits to her now are not the same. We participate in her care as much as possible, but there is also the growing reality that soon, she will be gone. We anticipate with mixed emotions her departure. Her pain will be over, and she will have that new body - without arthritis and all the other parts that don’t work. Most of all, she’ll be with Jesus and the loved ones who’ve gone on before her. The sorrow for us will be there, and we anticipate the sadness that we will feel.

However, the Lord gave me a comforting vision not long ago. Once again, I could see that front door from which she would watch us preparing to leave. But, wait - I saw myself as the one standing inside the door.  My mom was the one preparing to leave - for Home! My sadness is expected, but it’s only temporary. Soon there will be a reunion with Mom at the front door of our home in Heaven and there will be no more departures. We will all be home to stay!

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,“Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them and they will be his people, and God Himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4

Perhaps my story has stirred some memories - good or bad - of your own mother.  Understanding how the events of her past have shaped her values helped me greatly. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I can honor and love her well despite our differences. Our remaining time together is short, and it will soon be over, and with it - the disagreements and the conflict.  

My prayer is that God will give you understanding about your own mother.  May that insight repair, and/or deepen, your relationship with her. Ask him to give you the words to say and for little gifts of kindness that will make her feel special this week. 

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Carol Nahm and husband Chris, a local OBGYN, relocated to Cookeville from Phoenix in search of four seasons and a slower pace of life.  They've been at the River since 2009.  Carol serves as a lay-counselor at The River where she started the Stephen Ministry and now leads Mending the Soul, a ministry for victims of sexual and domestic abuse.

 

Easter Morning.
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Is there any better time to celebrate our faith!  I love Easter, but up until the age of 17 it had nothing to do with Jesus and everything to do with the Easter Bunny and going to my Grandmother's house.  My family did NOT believe in Jesus or the resurrection. Easter was NOT a spiritual day for me, but it was a great family day.  After starting to follow Jesus I went to church on Easter for the very first time and I was probably the most excited person in the room that day.  Celebrating the forgiveness that Jesus had given me with others, singing songs of praise to Him and hearing afresh the message of my savior was invigorating.

Matthew 28:1-9 tells us the story of the very FIRST Easter morning and the excitement that followed:

"Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint. Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.” The women ran quickly from the tomb. They were very frightened but also filled with great joy, and they rushed to give the disciples the angel’s message. And as they went, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they ran to him, grasped his feet, and worshiped him."

Can you imagine? Can you even comprehend the excitement running through these ladies that morning!?! My prayer is that you will carry this same excitement into your Easter celebrations and your whole life this week and year. My prayer is that we can ALL know how to celebrate His resurrection.  I genuinely hope that you will spend time this Easter worshiping and remembering our Savior with those you love.  THIS is what Easter is about - it is about the Gospel; the good news of a triumphant Savior. 

I also hope that you will enjoy the gift of family -  whatever that looks like for you. Whether it be the family that lives in your same home, that extended family that is a car ride or phone call away, or even your small group of Christian brothers and sisters - share life with others this season basking in God’s love and forgiveness. THIS is what Easter is about - LIFE. The Life that Jesus reclaimed for all of us. We are so blessed, let’s live that way!

Prayer: Did God - thank you for triumphing over the grave for me! Thank you for saving me when I had no other hope! Help me this week to live out this life you gave me in such a way that communicates your love and your goodness.

- Steve Tiebout

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Steve is the Lead, and founding, Pastor of the River Community Church in Cookeville TN. When he isn't running around the city sharing the love of Christ with everyone he meets, you can find Steve at home with his wife (Melissa) and their kids or tinkering around with a classic car. 

River Community Church