Thursday, July 25, 2013

Wedding Hashtag Success

It's going to take some time for us to receive our professional wedding photos, which is fine with me! Edit away, oh skilled photographer. But, I did get some instant photo gratification with Instagram, thanks to our friends and family members who took tons of pics!

Our exit, captured via Instagram by my cousin Jenae.
As I wrote previously, Nick and I decided to create a custom hashtag for use leading up to and on our wedding day. We started posting a few things on Twitter and Instagram, adding our #NickElise713 tag. I also started pulling these posts into a Storify list (see the slideshow below!). At the wedding, we included a plug for the hashtag on the back of our programs, asking guests who used social media to add it to their posts.

The result was 128 Instagram photos and videos and this slideshow! :) (Side note: The videos don't show up in the slideshow, for whatever reason. Click here to see the list format if you're really interested.)

I love the candid photos, group shots, and little moments from the point of view of our beloved friends and family. I'm so glad that they helped take up the job of documenting our day, and that we had a hashtag to help us collect the documentation into one place. I would absolutely recommend the creation and use of a hashtag for any wedding. (For more on this, see my previous post.)

Are you using a hashtag to help document your wedding? If you have used a hashtag to document an event, do you have any tips or tricks to share?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Post-Wedding Moment

I'm officially back in the "real world" after my whirlwind wedding/honeymoon week. I have so much to share (stories, tips, photos), but I wanted to jump on and share my initial post-wedding thoughts.

Our first dance, an Instagram pic captured by my cousin, Jenae.
First, I can officially say it is possible to have a lovely, memorable wedding for under $5,000. But, at the same time, it's hard to do without the help of amazing family members and friends! So I was very blessed. Many people commented on how beautiful everything was, how they loved the music (I stressed over it for a while, so that was nice to hear), how pretty the colors were, how they were surprised at what I did with the space I had, and many people commented on my dress (how beautiful it was and where I got it). It all turned me into a believer in the power of small-budget weddings (and my abilities as a decorator/event planner). So I will be sharing all my detailed tips and tricks as soon as I can!

Second, when people tell you that your wedding will be a blur, they're right. I remember trying to capture each little detail and soak up everything that was being said and done, but in the end, it was over so fast and I don't remember so many things less than two weeks later. I'm so excited to see our professional images and I'm really glad we asked my co-worker to film everything. So whatever you do, don't skip photos and a video!

Third, because everything goes by so fast, make the most of every opportunity you have with your guests. I remember feeling a little silly as I hugged people at the rehearsal dinner thinking to myself, "I can hug these people later." But as it turned out, in the rush to leave (we had our send-off at the end of the reception, so we left and didn't come back), I didn't get to say good-bye to anyone beyond my parents. Looking back, I was glad I hugged people when I had the chance, even though it did feel silly. So my advice to all brides and grooms--hug and hug often!

Fourth, if you're going on a honeymoon and it involves being in the water or doing water-related activities, invest in a water-proof camera. We went snorkeling and hiked up a waterfall and I wished so many times that we had invested in a water-resistant camera we had been looking at. It would've been perfect for capturing those moments when we couldn't take our regular camera and phones along. Thankfully we were able to purchase a photo of ourselves in the waterfall and take pics on the boat before snorkeling, but I'm a sucker for underwater photos.

Finally, like everyone will tell you, enjoy your day because at the end of it, you will be married! I was so ready to get married that by the time Thursday afternoon rolled around, I didn't care about any more details. People would ask me questions and I would tell them to do whatever they thought was best. I had done all I could do. So when Saturday came, I mentally prepared myself for the fact that something could go wrong and I told myself not to care. If anything did go wrong, I didn't know it. I was happily in bliss, swishing around in my Vera Wang gown and hanging out with my best friend who had just become my husband. From what I remember, it was the perfect day. :)

I promise more details are coming. In the mean time, please share something you learned on your big day or during your honeymoon or wedding week!

Monday, July 1, 2013

How 7 Words Should Shape Youth Ministry & the Church

I work with high schoolers at the church I currently attend, and have been working with them since I helped lead my youth group during my senior year of high school. I've always felt a pull to this age group since, as a high schooler, I felt like most church goers wanted nothing to do with us.

My high school youth group experience consisted of very few volunteers (usually grumpy parents), disconnected youth leaders, very broken kids, and confusing life situations (for me and my peers). High school was a season of life I hated. I was depressed, confused, hurt, scared and trying to help make myself into the person I wanted to be by fighting against the person I was. Besides dealing with the "normal" high school issues of hormones, acne and boys, I also had to deal with traumatic life situations that would be hard for adults to deal with, let alone kids.

Me, circa junior year, on a youth group outing.

So when I say I know--and vividly remember--what high school was like, it's because I do. You don't forget some of the hardest, biggest, most life-shaping experiences of your life. And when I say that high school is hard, it's not in the patronizing way that some adults say it, with air quotes and rolling eyes and, "You know teenagers." Yes, I know teenagers and life in high school and that sometimes you just need one person to really care.

You also need a solid foundation in your faith to get through some of the things that life throws at you. You need to know not only what you believe, but many times, why you believe it. You need to know why it's worth being different than your unchurched peers, why it matters how you act, dress and behave. You need to know that it's not just because Christianity is stodgy and boring and filled with rules. You need to know that your life isn't just about the here and now, but the eternal, the forever that exists beyond what you can see.

And that's why I work with high schoolers, and why I think the Church needs solid Christian youth leaders now more than ever. Because the lines of Christianity are getting more and more muddled, by those claiming to be Christ-followers, and those not. As progressivism is pushed in the Church, often times for the wrong reasons, what we need are teens who know the Bible first and foremost, who understand it, and allow its truths--not the pressures of social acceptability--to govern their lives.

The point isn't to raise up a self-righteous generation of goody-goodies. The point is to bring this young generation back to the Bible. To educate them in the love of Christ, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the justice of God.

All too often I see churches turning to an attitude of mere acceptance of "socially acceptable" worldliness and unhealthy behaviors, instead of following a biblical model for handling such situations. Or churches swing the exact opposite direction and choose to shame and cast out those who make mistakes.

Let's take teen sex and pregnancy as an example, since for the longest time, that has been held up as one of the worst sins. I love looking at Jesus' example for handling such situations.

John 8:1-11 tells the story of a woman who was caught in adultery (having sex with someone she wasn't married to). The religious folk of that time--including leaders and teachers--had gathered and were prepared to stone her. Jesus was present, so they asked him what they should do, and I love his answer. He doesn't say any of the things we'd expect, like, "She's a sinner, cast her out," or "Get on with it," or even, "It's hard to abstain," or "Everyone's doing it, so why can't she?" He says, "Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her."

One by one, each person leaves until the only person without sin is left--Jesus. And amazingly, the only person in that situation who could throw a stone, doesn't. But he doesn't leave without doing something. He doesn't lecture, he doesn't condone. He simply says, "Then neither do I condemn you. Go and leave your life of sin."

Wait, what? Doesn't that go against everything both "sides" of the Christian spectrum are fighting for? It goes against condemnation, self-righteousness and the general practice of shaming. It simultaneously goes against acceptance, turning a blind eye, or saying "Get a condom, prevent unwanted pregnancy."

I see two things in this passage: love and encouragement to right living. And really neither look like what we'd expect. In today's society, we think loving people looks like merely accepting them for who they are and what they do, regardless of what that is. Jesus demonstrates that loving involves more than just accepting. It includes encouragement to right living. "Go and leave your life of sin."

As Christ-followers, how are we handling the prospect and occurrence of teen pregnancy? Are we jumping on the bandwagon that says, "Teens are having sex, it's happening, so let's be sure to teach them about contraceptives"? The problem is this view is ultimately toxic as it treats the symptoms and not the problem. It may stop pregnancy, but it doesn't stop a destructive (yes, destructive) behavior of teen sex.

But, neither does condemnation stop teen sex. It just pushes teens out of the Church, which should be the one place they can find help. Because as a body of people claiming to follow Christ, we should be governed by his loving example. We should take up his words of "Go and leave your life of sin," using it to teach teens the following:

1. Mistakes happen. You aren't perfect and never will be. We've all made mistakes and don't pretend to be perfect. We don't expect you to be perfect and we won't kick you out or look down on you or love you any less for making mistakes. (Like the religious leaders in John 8, we aren't in a place to throw stones.)

2. Your mistakes don't have to become habits, they don't define you. Just because you make a mistake, doesn't mean the behavior has to or should continue. Poor choices and mistakes that are allowed to continue will eventually become habits, and these are not habits you want to form.

3. The Bible outlines the ways in which God wants us to live, not out of compulsion or a desire to be "good enough" for God, but because he wants the best for us. And, if we have a relationship with Jesus, our understanding of his sacrifice fuels our desire to devote our lives to him. We will educate you on this, and we'll have open dialogue about issues like teen sex, pregnancy, etc., because nothing is off-limits for discussion. We don't believe in remaining silent.

4. There is so much more beyond the here and now, and we want to help you fix your eyes on what is waiting after. We believe that knowing life doesn't end here, changes your perspective on the here and now. Sure, things feel great here, but it's all temporary, it all fades. Life in Christ lasts forever.

5. We want to help you, encourage you, equip you and motivate you to live your life for Jesus. We want to help you wrestle with the tough questions. We want to support you in whatever you are dealing with. We will provide a safe place for you to talk through whatever is on your mind or going on in your life, without judgement or condemnation. We are, after all, a family.

Can you imagine how churches would be changed if people stepped outside of their preconceived notions of church and how they think it should be and got back to just the Bible? In times of question, when the Church is wrestling with where it should stand on important issues, the only place it should turn is the Bible. We shouldn't look to the political climate, the actions of others, social pressures, or a demand for progressivism. In the end, those aren't the things we'll be answering to; we'll be answering to God alone, and I think he wants us to listen to him.

Oh, and what happens when one of your youth group attendees ends up pregnant? Is she out the door, or told to get an abortion before anyone knows she was having sex? Do you think Jesus would encourage either one of those responses? I don't. I think it takes love, grace and a group of people who will offer help and support because there are now two lives that need Jesus, and none that need condemnation.

I hope in the end I will have helped some teens not only survive high school, but become stronger in their faith, more sure of their beliefs and more equipped to know and understand the Bible and the truth it contains. And I pray for love like Jesus, for me and for the Church.
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