Monday, February 26, 2018

Be The Light

     When everything is dark and hopeless, I want to be a light. I don't want to be a light that shines only when it's convenient or when I see other lights around me. I don't want to be a light only on the sidelines or in broad daylight. No- I want to be a light in the hard places. I want to be a light in the trenches; shine my light to people and situations that are depleted and empty. I want to shine my light when all that's known is darkness; when every other ounce of light has been swallowed up. I want to be a light when it's not popular, when it makes no sense, and when every other light has blown out.

Jesus said, “For a brief time still, the light is among you. Walk by the light you have so darkness doesn’t destroy you. If you walk in darkness, you don’t know where you’re going.As you have the light, believe in the light.Then the light will be within you, and shining through your lives. You’ll be children of light.”-John 12:35-36 (MSG)

~Then the light will be within you and shining through your lives~

     I want that light within me. I want that light shining through my life and spilling out onto others; spilling out onto the broken world. We don't have to argue about the fact that we are living in broken times. In fact, we shouldn't even be shocked at the hate and hopelessness we witness daily. Things will never be perfect on this earth. There will always be tragedy, there will always be darkness. Jesus did not come to earth to bring light to a world that already was filled with light- He came to bring light to world quite literally contaminated with darkness. And after He left earth, He appointed us to continue the cycle of spreading truth and light to every dark corner of the world. We can't fix everything in our lifetime, we can't stop all of the senseless crime or the unmerited hate- but we can do something. We can focus on what's important: spreading love and light exactly where God has placed us. We can stop pointing our finger at society and asking it to change. Instead, what if we were the change?

"We have missed our calling. We need to understand that even if we devoured every single moral issue on our plates, the people of this world would still be seeking meaning and purpose for their lives.....We can attempt legislation of morals until the end of time. But change comes from the inside (heart) out, rarely from the outside (rules) in."-Page 129, When Bad Christians Happen To Good People by Dave Burchett

     I often wonder why we get so caught up expecting broken people to adhere to a set of rules. Change happens in the heart. Change happens when light enters. Rules cannot transform a person's heart, but love and light can. God has given us certain loving guidelines to live by, but people who don't know God as a loving God first must learn about His nature. We are fighting the wrong fights and we have overcomplicated the mission that Jesus left us with.

“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want."
-John 5:39-40 (MSG)

     He has called a generation to rise up and Be The Light. That means not remaining silent and complacent. It means standing for the things he stands for: love, justice, righteousness, and making salvation available to every person to the ends of the earth. We should be a strong voice of hope and justice in the midst of the dark events playing out in our society. It's easy, however, to forget entirely that spreading love and light is the answer and instead become convinced that winning debates is the answer. Being the light has nothing to do with political party, joining a bandwagon of "christian beliefs", or highlighting the sinfulness of society, but instead it has everything to do with shedding light to people who only know darkness and letting love abound in a world that only knows hate. Be the light to your cashier, to the single mom on your street, the coworker who you don't normally talk to. Be the light to the drug addict, the girl who just got an abortion, the alcoholic. Let's use our light to take a stand for righteousness and speak out against racism and homophobia and sex slavery- let's be vocal about the injustices of homelessness and hunger and be active in speaking out against bigotry, pride, and selfishness.  Be the light where darkness and lies have taken root. Let's use our light to redefine who Jesus is and what He stands for.

"I've very rarely met someone who doesn't like Jesus, but they have been offended by those who claim to follow him." -Carl Lentz

"The opposite of love, I have found, is not hate, but indifference...even if I have not hated to such a degree, I have been indifferent. And the indifference of the church and of Christians is the hole in the fence that allows evil to crawl through unencumbered."
-When Bad Christians Happen To Good People by Dave Burchett     

I don't know about you, but I don't want to get to the end of my life and see indifference. I want to look back and know that I embraced every opportunity to stand for what Jesus stands for; that I hungered for situations to arise where I could shine my light. I don't want to look back and see an amalgamation of trying to push rules and regulations on people; I want to look back and see that everything I did pointed to the fact that Jesus came to abolish religious systems of the day and everything he stood for was extending grace and light to people that seemingly deserved none. We have an opportunity to repent of our silences, to rise up and take a stand against the spaces where we've allowed people to speak falsely and degradingly. We need to take a stand for the hope of the human species. We must stand for truth and righteousness. When we do and say things in the name of God we must ask ourselves: what God are we referring to? Are we referring to the God known fully in the teachings of Jesus? The God that embraces the foreigner? The God that loves and welcomes those who are hurting, broken, and different from us? Or are we referring to a God that fits in our box? A God that loves only certain people who do certain things and look a certain way?

We have a responsibility to confront the evils that are in power in this day and I want to be a part of that by shining my light. Let's shout about redemption on the rooftops and respond with grace in a graceless society. Let's be the light in the wake of disasters and unfathomable murders- let's respond with love and light rather than bitterness and confusion. In a self-serving, materialistic, judgmental, hopeless, depressing time- let's be the light that shines brighter.

Join the movement of light with me.

"You can believe all the right things and still be in bondage; you can know the right answers and still be miserable and unchanged. It is possible to know a lot about Jesus, but not really know Him. My fear is that lurking behind our American understanding of belief is the false Jesus of Suburbia- the Jesus who requires Christians only to agree with the truth, but is not so bold as to require us to live it. Not the real Jesus. This is one of the reasons the church is so ineffective in engaging and redeeming culture: we think people are the enemy. So we fight people and try to hurt them in the process. It's the pornographers or the abortionists or the courts that are at fault. We think the problem is out there-in the culture- when in reality the enemy lurks right in our midst."
The Jesus of Suburbia by Mike Erre

Saturday, February 17, 2018

What Did I Sign Up For?

My outlook on marriage has been a patchwork of feelings and opinions that have shifted over time. First of all, I never thought I would be married right now-at 21 years old. I thought maybe I would be married somewhere far, far down the line at 35 or something. And most of the time, trying to conceptualize the thought of marriage at all seemed like a stretch. 

"Why would I limit myself?" I used to think. 

"Why put my hope in another human being who will break my heart into a million little pieces?" 

"I'm young, I have a life to live, things to accomplish, and a husband will just drag me down," I told myself.

I used to view marriage as a prison cell- locking you in with confinement, disappointment, and less opportunity.

One October day, at 17 years old, I sped off in my car in the pouring rain, not knowing my life was about to change. You see, I was about to get into a very dangerous car accident and everything I once knew would be completely turned upside-down. This was one of the darkest seasons of my life; I hated God, I hated love, and quite honestly- I hated myself. I had turned to self-destruction and I was completely unstable, lacking any fragment of purpose or direction. My heart was hollow and closed off. I was out of breath and exhausted from running away from God. Honestly, I was petrified of Him and I wanted absolutely no part of the "love" that I had seen coming out of some "christians". My view of love was seemingly flawed beyond repair. Love was the last thing on my mind in that season- love with God, love with a man- I wanted no part of it.

Through the splashes of rain, as I saw another car's headlights in my lane, there was no time to react. In that moment, I realized how close death was. I couldn't run anymore; it was coming straight for me. I didn't realize how much I truly did yearn for life and love until pain and death were a few feet away. I sharply turned the wheel at the last possible second and I cried out to the God whom I wasn't even certain I believed in. 

"I'm not ready to die yet. I want to live for you. I still desire to meet my husband and have a family someday."

My car spun around uncontrollably, eventually ending up in the ditch on the other side of the road after hitting a telephone pole. The telephone pole fell on top of my car, causing the front end to catch on fire just as I stepped out of it.

God saved my life that day. Plain and simple. From that point on, He began reshaping and capturing my heart, breaking down all of the lies I had built a foundation on. Over time, He began to reveal purpose to me, breathing life into everything that had been lifeless. And He opened my heart to love.

Two days after the accident, I met and started talking to Simon, who is now my husband. Two weeks later, I knew that he was the man I was going to marry. This is the girl who was broken and shattered and hated the idea of marriage, especially despising the idea of getting married young. Simon loved God and wanted to pursue a life of serving Him. He was patient with me as I started to understand what that meant; I had no prior understanding and it was a process (still is and will always be) to shed all of gruesome layers of my flesh. In the beginning of our relationship, we learned what love was together. We learned how to love each other and love God together. We grew from teenagers to adults together.

I will never be able to wrap my head around the weight of what God did that year of my life. I was in a downward spiral and He caught me, gave me a second chance, and literally carried me to the man who was going to be my future husband- a man that loved Him. And He used twitter to do this. I'm not kidding. Simon and I met on twitter. That's how big of a God we serve- He meets you right where you are- and at 17 years old, that's where I was.

So naturally, during our dating and engaged years- my view of marriage changed into a sea of prince charming and white horses. Looking toward marriage, I thought of a fairytale- endless happiness, no arguing, constant fun, holding hands in the sunset, candle-lit dinners, romantic getaways........

After being married for 2 years, though, God is chiseling my understanding yet again. God did not create marriage so that we could be happy or get all of our needs met or fill a void in our heart. He didn't even create marriage so that we could have a lifelong partner to have deep conversations with or go on lavish dates with- though there's nothing wrong with those things and they are actually a by-product of a healthy marriage. Marriage should reflect Christ. There's a war going on in today's society; there are broken, empty, and confused people everywhere. God's design for marriage is for a husband and wife to come together in unity to accomplish His mission- to share the gospel as a team, to share the same vision for how to love others together and win over souls for Jesus. Yes, marriage is supporting one another's dreams. Yes, it is carving out intentional date nights. Yes, it is dying to one-self and choosing to serve your spouse over your own desires and needs. But at core, it is chasing after the same vision together. There is only one vision to chase. The vision is the same for every couple that He brings together: to make disciples and love others alongside one another. The way this takes form is different for every couple depending on gifts and timing. It is so easy for this to get diluted and over-complicated. 

There are influences from the world saying that marriage is all about pleasure and happiness and perfection. There are even toxic influences in christ-centered communities slowly trickling into our minds in conniving ways. These messages are more subtle and they are wrapped in appealing packages- these messages can make us forget about the vision of the gospel and instead focus only on bettering ourselves and strengthening our own home. Faith in Jesus was meant to be shared beyond our walls. Marriage is more than an amalgamation of cooking meals together and cuddling on the couch- those things are a blast, but they can't be the only purpose in your marriage. I think often in faith-based communities, messages about marriage mean well. We hear about respecting and honoring our spouse and spending enough time together. We see step-by-step processes of how to have a constructive argument and how to have beneficial communication. These things are all good; they aren't bad. But what are you and your spouse doing to together to further the kingdom of Jesus? Everything needs to be built around that. God has provided a vessel in marriage for this to happen; a unique way for His message to be carried. God's love for us is not based on performance or service, so please don't hear that, but a thriving marriage will be a deep well overflowing with love to pour out on others. It does not mean every couple will be overseas missionaries, but it means that God calls us all to be missionaries right where we are. He placed you and your spouse in a specific location and time period for a reason and brought you together for a reason- To love and enjoy one another, yes- but also to extend that love to others around you as a team.

Don't misunderstand- marriage is meant to pleasurable and delightful and beautiful- but these things come from flourishing together in your calling. There are some days filled with tickle fights and board games and adventures and movie nights. I believe God wants us to enjoy marriage, too. And also understand this: there will always be challenging days. Stop and think about the austerity involved with combining two people and two lives together. Woah. There is going to be friction. There will be harsh words exchanged and bad choices made. You will hurt each other often. We are flesh and selfishness rules through our whole being. Trying to mix two broken people together is difficult, but worthwhile. The vision is bigger. The vision for God's kingdom is bigger than socks left on the floor or your husband forgetting to ask how your day went. Some days it might be hard to forgive or extend grace, but remember the vision. When you remember the vision, and you truly understand what you signed up for, dissatisfaction can't reign. When you get married, don't sign up for perfection, don't sign up for bouquets of flowers and loves notes (although those are a sweet surprise sometimes), don't sign up for a white picket fence and the perfect little family, don't sign up for Instagram photo shoots, don't sign up for only pursuing your own dreams, don't sign up for no conflict, and don't sign up for building your own kingdom.

Sign up for unity. Sign up for embracing imperfections. Sign up for constant forgiveness and grace. And definitely sign up for striving together after God's vision to share the gospel together. Sign up for forever.

I am more in love with my husband, Simon, now than I ever have been. It is breathtaking to pursue God's calling together and the most attractive thing in the world to see him desire God.  We laugh together and cry together and there is no one else on this planet I would rather have by my side. We are still learning how to pursue this common vision together, though, and I believe we always will be growing in this. We still argue while driving sometimes, things get chaotic and we say hurtful words, and at times, we altogether forget the unity God has called us to. But God always reminds us again of the miracle of love He has given us and His purpose in that.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Dirty Dishes & Grace

     Today I am thankful for sky-high piles of dirty dishes. I'm thankful for overflowing laundry bins and unfinished projects. I'm oh-so thankful that life is never boring. I don't always know what's going to be next and let's face it: no matter how hard I try my life will never be polished and perfect. There are days when everything in me wants to crumble; when I am literally falling apart. At times, my mind is a war zone, my emotions are an endless spin cycle, and anxiety is my best friend. I become addicted to worrying, I snap at my husband, there's crumbs all over the floor, I'm running late again, I can't find socks that match, the casserole burned, I let toxic lies takeover, I don't like how my thighs look, I compare myself to others, my patience is paper thin, I overthink the conversation I just had, I feel overwhelmed, not capable, and completely drained. And that's just the beginning. But if it weren't for dirty dishes and ugly anxiety, I wouldn't realize my complete and total need for God. I want desperately to drink deeply of his grace. I desperately want to be a woman that yearns to be in His presence; a woman who doesn't assess her worth based on performance or even service, but draws her strength and peace from God's eternal well that never runs dry. His grace runs deep; it covers my deepest failures and dark spaces in my heart. I want to be a woman marked by my pursuit of Jesus and His reckless pursuit of me, never looking back to count what I've lost.

     Most of the time I can't fathom how wide and how deep God's grace is. I am not marked by my anxiety or fear. I am not defined by the lies I tell myself. His grace covers my guilt and shame- all of the hideous things I've done and said. I'm thankful for the dirty dishes  because they are a reminder of His faithfulness. They remind me of His grace, because His grace shines through especially in the messy and cluttered moments. His grace is a sweet reminder when I feel insufficient and exhausted. His grace is there as I navigate new seasons, learn how to be a wife and a friend. God shows me grace as I grow more in Him and part with my old ways and let go of the addictions and sweet lies I so desperately try to cling to.

Ponder on this today: It is never too late. You are never too far gone. God's grace and love extends to you. He wants to transform your heart.

~Out of His fullness we have all received grace upon grace~ John 1:16