Shaney Irene

On Faith, Life, and Being the Church


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How Long Distance Has Been Good, Even When It’s Been Hard

I have a wonderful boyfriend. His name is Matthew. We went to Baylor together, were friends the whole time, and started dating in October of our senior year. We became a long-distance couple after graduation in May, when he moved back with his family in California for the summer before starting law school in Chicago. Long-distance has been hard, especially on me. I used to say that I was not the type of person who would ever do long-distance. Surprise, surprise! God had different plans. But as always, God’s plan has been really good. For those of you in long-distance relationships, hopefully this post encourages you. For everyone else, may this remind you that God’s plan is always good, no matter where it takes you.

1. It’s pushed me to work on my communication skills.

Communication is a very different animal when it comes to long-distance. Over Skype, it’s a lot easier to hide or miss the things that we would normally see in person–body language, interaction with environment, etc. It has meant that sometimes I need to ask questions that I wouldn’t normally think of asking, or to be more open and specific with how I’m feeling. When separated by distance, it’s easy to feel disconnected. Therefore, using communication to stay connected to each other has become even more important. It’s become close to impossible to substitute other forms of interaction for open and frequent communication. I know that should we get married, I’m getting a lot of practice for the type of open and honest communication required to keep a marriage strong.

2. It has helped me not to focus on me.

I usually pride myself on being able to hold a long conversation with anyone, no matter how well I know them or how much we have in common. But–surprise, surprise!–I’ve sometimes found myself running out of things to say when Skyping with Matthew! Conversation was certainly easier in college, when we shared more of our lives together. Now that we don’t share nearly as much of our lives together, I’ve had to focus on asking lots of questions and learning about his life, since I’m not there to experience it with him! When at Baylor, it was easier to focus on our shared experiences. It’s different, and good, to learn about his experiences that I’m not a part of.

3. It’s removed the distraction of physical tension.

My love language is physical touch. Every time I take a “love language” quiz or test, I always score 100% in that category. So this is definitely more of a distraction for me than for Matthew. Although we set high standards for ourselves and stuck to them, I could still find it distracting if I found myself wondering if now would be a good time to reach over and hold his hand, rather than focusing on what he was saying. And I’m sure that if we hadn’t become a long-distance couple, the distraction would have only become stronger for me over time. By removing the option, it’s helped me to stay focused on other aspects of our relationship, like improving communication. While it’s still hard (really, is it ever easy to be unable to express your primary love language?), it’s good for us in this stage of our relationship.

4. It’s taught me to be more intentional

Between Matthew being in law school and me having a full-time job, we don’t always get a lot of time to talk. Often, if I want to talk to him about something, I have to plan ahead about when I’m going to do it and what I’m going to say. When we were at Baylor, communication wasn’t something I ever really planned. It just happened. Now, I know I’m learning to use time wisely and set priorities when there are many distractions, whether those distractions are school, career, kids, etc.

5. It’s opened opportunities to explore other aspects of our relationship and learn more about each other

Matthew has a wonderful, almost poetic writing style. He can make the most simple thing seem incredibly profound, just by the words he chooses to use (you can see an example of his writing here). I often find myself reading his letters and e-mails over and over again. Sometimes, something that he struggles to put into words when we’re talking will just click when he writes it out. I tend toward the opposite–I find it easier to give a good speech than to choose the right words when writing. Being apart has meant that we have written more e-mails than we probably would have otherwise. It has given me the opportunity to experience how beautiful his writing is, as well as the opportunity to improve my communication in the written form. This is an aspect of our relationship that I don’t think we would have explored very much had we not become a long-distance couple.

Have you ever been in a long-distance relationship? How has it been beneficial? What is something you’ve done that you never thought you’d do, but turned out to be very good?

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Thoughts on Youth Ministry, Letting Teens Ask Questions, and “That Kid”

What if I told you God intends to use him to change the world?

That kid?

Yup. That kid.

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If you are in youth ministry, you know who I’m talking about.

That kid.

The one who doesn’t seem focused. Who derails the discussion with a seemingly off-topic question just when the discussion seems to be flowing well. The one who should know the answers, but doesn’t. It feels like they don’t listen. Oftentimes, it seems like their head is in the clouds. That kid can be incredibly frustrating.

They often don’t listen to the rules. They’re more of a free spirit.

Now, I’m not talking about the kid who is honestly rebellious. There are some kids who genuinely can’t seem to think about anyone but themselves. Everything they do is for them. I’m not talking about him. I’m talking about the kid who also breaks rules, but the leaders generally agree has a “good heart.” He’s often described as having a lot of “potential,” he just needs to (fill in the blank here…get his act together, focus his energy, etc.). Once that happens, the Lord can use him to do great and mighty things for the kingdom.

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Youth Ministries are not geared toward “that kid.” Youth ministry is geared toward the kid I was in high school: a rule follower, who did the prep work beforehand, knew most of the answers off the top of my head, and knew how to look up the ones I didn’t. I excelled in multiple ways, from being a frequent “quality” contributor in group discussions to winning Bible quiz competitions.

There were several of “those kids.” They bugged the heck out of me.

Now on the other side of college, having gone through some faith deconstructing and re-constructing, I wonder if I’ve inadvertently become one of those kids. I find myself wanting to look at everything upside-down and backwards before coming to any conclusions. I find myself constantly asking questions. I’m still not truly a free-spirit. My inner rule-follower is still alive.

But I’m fascinated by the free-spirited teens I meet as I am blessed to be involved in youth ministry.

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What if God plans to use that kid–without him getting his act together, without him learning to focus, without him doing whatever it is that you would say needs to happen before God can use him?

What if God plans to use the exact traits in this kid that bug you so to further the kingdom?

What if his free spirit, his constant need to ask questions, his way of thinking that makes his head seem like its up in the clouds–what if those are what God uses? What if his questions actually lead people to see the glory of God? What if his free spirit allows him to see God outside the proverbial box?

Of course he will mature, just like any other teen. But maybe, just maybe, it won’t be in the way you think.

How would that thought change the way you do ministry with this kid? What if you saw his questions as opportunities to discover God together, and not as a distraction from your outline? What if you were open and honest about your confusion? What if you gave the kid a chance and said, “I’m not sure how you got to that question from where we were in the discussion. Would you mind explaining your thought process?” Maybe they were distracted, and will quickly realize that. But maybe they will have seen something that you didn’t.

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I will admit that I have a difficult time with pride when it comes to youth ministry work. After four years, it’s easy to think that I’ve got it figured out and that everyone else is doing it wrong. It’s easy to cringe when I see another question stifled instead of engaged. It’s easy to say that others can’t see what I see in that kid.

I have to constantly remind myself that even though I don’t agree with some people’s approach to youth ministry, that maybe, just maybe, God intends to use them.

And not after they start asking more questions, or develop more of a free spirit.

Perhaps it is their contentment with the simple answers and their ability to be easily edified that God will use, even when I would see it as a hindrance instead of an asset.

God will use them now, not after they become more like I want them to be.

Just like God is going to use that kid.


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When It’s Not Just Their Story

I need to write something. But, to put it simply, I don’t know what to write. This is already the fourth time I’ve tried to start this blog post. I feel like I should have some goal, some purpose to writing this post. But I’m not sure I do. Maybe someone will find something to connect to here, but I’m mostly writing this for myself.

Some people have stories that are full of pain. God redeems these stories, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are painful. My friend Beka lived, and in some ways is still living, one of these painful stories. Today, she did an incredibly brave thing and wrote about her struggles on her blog. I’m so proud of her, and I’m honored to be able to stand by her side as she shares her story, so that others may be helped.

My story is not like Beka’s story. My story has its own shortcomings, but it’s simply not as painful. But reading Beka’s post today, I experienced several different emotions at once.

On one hand, I was (and am) incredibly proud of her. I am thankful that she is coming to a place where she can talk openly about her struggles. I praise God for bringing her to this point. But the post also made me feel things that are difficult to feel. You see, I consider Beka a sister. So when she was talking about her child–to me, she wasn’t just talking about her child.

To me, she was talking about my niece. 

Today, I learned the name of the niece I would never get to meet this side of heaven.

Hope.

Just hearing her name brought feelings of grief. I’m not talking about grief for Beka’s sake (though I’ve certainly felt that too), but grief for my own loss.  This is not the first time I’ve felt these feelings. The first time that Beka told me that she had been pregnant, and lost the baby, I felt these same feelings. But then, the baby was more of a concept. I didn’t even know the gender. Now, I know the gender, and I have a name.

A part of me feels selfish for feeling this way. After all, isn’t this Beka’s story, not mine?

Here’s the thing, though: nobody lives out their story in isolation. One of the amazing things about the church is that it’s quite impossible to ever really live in isolation. Truly living out God’s commands to live in harmony should result in our stories affecting one another. Not just theoretically, but in real, tangible ways.

Maybe, when God said to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn, He didn’t mean in a symbolic, “I am sad because you are sad,” kind of way. Maybe God meant for us to love each other so much that when we see each other in pain, we can’t help but feel pain as well. Perhaps our stories won’t intersect as clearly as my story is intersecting with Beka’s, but I think the concept still makes sense.

Is it strange to feel grief over someone you never knew?

If you are reading this, I don’t know what you are supposed to get out of this. All I can say is this: I challenge you to live in such a way that really embraces living our stories together. It’s tough, and it means being vulnerable. But even through my grief, I can see the beauty in living my life in such a way that I am affected by my friend’s stories. Many times, we limit our ability to have these connections because we’re afraid. We don’t know what to say, or how to best support our friends going through difficult times. Please don’t let those fears hold you back from loving with everything you have.

Dear Hope, I look forward to meeting you one day.