Shaney Irene

On Faith, Life, and Being the Church

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Links for Learning, October 13th

One of my goals for this blog is to be a place where people, including me, can learn. Because of this blog, I am pushing myself to read books and articles, to learn more about issues affecting the church and the world. So once a week, I’m going to post links to blog articles that I’ve found thought-provoking, and I think my readers might as well.

A few disclaimers:
  • Just because I post a link doesn’t mean I agree with the article 100%. Just that I think it’s good food for thought.
  • I read a lot of good posts in any given week. There’s a lot of stuff that I find edifying or helpful that I don’t post here. This post is specifically for thought-provoking and educational links about issues I care about or I think my readers would be interested in.
  • In the future, I’ll limit myself to posts from the past week. Since today is my first go at this, I’m being a little looser with that.
  • Not really a disclaimer: Feel free to recommend links in the comments. 🙂

And now for the links!

And to wrap up, the most popular post on my blog this past week:

Which of these links to you find most helpful or thought-provoking?

What links would you recommend? 


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A Letter to Girls About Dating, Loneliness, and Sex Outside of Marriage

Dear Friend,

I may or may not know you. Even I do know you, we may not know each other well. Who am I to be giving you advice? Isn’t that a little presumptuous of me? Perhaps. But, please know I have no desire to preach at you. If I could, I would invite you to Starbucks and we would sit outside, me with my chai latte, and you with your mocha frappucino. Or maybe a pumpkin spice latte. We’d have this conversation face to face, going back and forth instead of just me talking to you. If we ever get the chance, take me up on this. I’d love to get to know you. But for now, this will have to do.

You probably go to church regularly, you may even attend Bible studies and volunteer. You’ve probably heard all the right messages: about how you’re supposed to wait until marriage for sex, how your virginity is precious, how you should only date Christians. Maybe it all seems simple to you. Or maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know.

Your leaders are realizing just how not simple this is. Recently, the National Association of Evangelicals made headlines for their willingness to accept money from an organization that promotes use of contraceptives by unmarried people. It’s sparked a debate within the evangelical community: would promoting contraceptive use among unmarried people mean promoting sin?

I have an opinion, but I don’t know the answer. Regardless, that’s not what I want to talk to you about. Church leaders, if they haven’t realized this already, are going to need to start asking why things have gotten to a point where it’s safer to assume that single Christians are sexually active than to assume they’re remaining chaste. You have a different question to ask yourself:

What would lead you to abandon your morals?

My vulnerable area is loneliness. I think for a lot of people, it’s loneliness. Not everyone struggles with this, but I think a lot of singles do, and that it’s worth talking about. God made us to be connected to each other, and for most of us, God gave us a desire to be deeply connected to another person for life. Yes, there are some to whom God has given the gift of singleness, but most of us do not have that gift. We want to be known, to be accepted completely, to share life. Sex is not just physical pleasure. It’s an act that requires two people to be incredibly vulnerable with each other. It’s relationship in one of its deepest form. That’s why the Hebrew word for sex is yada, which literally means “to know.” Yada is the word used to describe how deeply God knows us.

Some have suggested that churches need to do a better job demonstrating how beautiful marriage is, and that when you see how beautiful marriage and purity is, that you’ll have a reason to avoid sex outside of marriage. I could be wrong, but I suspect that you already know that marriage is good. I’d even venture to guess that you want to get married someday. But someday isn’t now. Seeing healthy marriages doesn’t really help when the desire is be known and accepted now.

You may not ever find yourself struggling with whether or not to have sex outside of marriage. But loneliness can make you do other funny things. Maybe it’s being willing to loosen your physical boundaries just a little bit. Maybe it’s being willing to stay with a guy that you know isn’t good for you. There have been times in my life that I’ve been so lonely that if the cute guy sitting next to me in class had asked me out for a drink, I probably would have said yes. If he had wanted to make out later, I probably wouldn’t have objected (I thank God that he did not ask me out for a drink!). That’s an embarrassing little confession to make, but I hope it illustrates the point: loneliness can really cloud our thinking.

I don’t know in what ways you will find yourself struggling as you live to please God in your relationships. I wish I could give you some sort of advice that will make it all easy. But I can’t. It doesn’t work that way.

But if you were here with me right now, I’d tell you it’s okay to struggle. I’d tell you it’s okay to be confused. And it’s okay to not know the answers.

I’d also tell you this: My door is always open to you. While I know that a friend is not the same as a boyfriend or a spouse, I will always be a friend to you. I’ll be here for movie nights, for Skype chats, and Starbucks outings. My shoulder is available for you to cry on when the loneliness gets overwhelming. And should you ever make a choice to not stick to your standards, I’ll still be here for you. Because I believe that God’s acceptance of you doesn’t depend on whether or not you make all the right choices. You are always valuable, no matter what choices you make.

I’d also encourage you to be that person for others. That you’d be a friend to the lonely, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear. Because navigating dating, relationships, and waiting for marriage isn’t easy. And while community isn’t going to make the loneliness go away, it’s certainly going to make living through it a lot easier.

In Christ,





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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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.