April 24, 2014

Where My Demons Hide

Have you ever felt like something was hopelessly wrong with you - like something about you was broken in a way that wasn't broken in everyone else - a brokenness so insurmountable that the shame involved in admitting it to anyone, even to yourself, seemed a fate worse than death? 

I have.

For most of my life, I've hated my body - hated myself - believing that I could never be thin enough. But even admitting that struggle felt shameful. It didn't fit with my ideal version of myself. I thought that I should be able to eat whatever I wanted and still have a perfect body. And if that didn't work, then I at least wanted everyone else to think I was confident in myself (even if I wasn't). My flaws and imperfections just felt too devastating to admit. They felt like things that needed to be hidden, ignored, covered up. 

It was as though my life sang my own personal version of Demons* by Imagine Dragons. "Don't get too close. It's dark inside. It's where my demons hide." 

And it just felt too scary to really and truly admit my internal battle. I felt like admitting my struggles would just make them more real - that they would take over my life and define me. But it turned out to be just the opposite. Hiding my struggles allowed them to define me, without me even realizing it. But when I chose to unveil them, I could be set free from their power!

This is exactly what the Bible tells us in 1 John 1:5-10:
"5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." (1 John 1:5-10).

Here's what I think John's getting at:
With God there is no sin and no hiding (v5). So if we say that we have a relationship with God while trying to hide our sins and struggles by keeping them in the dark, we perpetuate lies and actually train ourselves to believe them (v6). But if we admit these struggles to God and to each other, we can actually experience the goodness of those relationships, knowing that all of our sins have been washed away through Jesus' perfect blood, because He sacrificed His life in our place (v7). But if we try to pretend that we're not really that messed up, we just keep living a lie (v8). However, when we admit just how screwed up we really are, the Lord is eager to wipe away all the ugliness(v9). But if we claim to be ok on our own, we call God a liar and don't let His truth shape our lives (10).  

In other words, when we hide, we keep ourselves from the truths that could set us free (John 8:31-32).

Sadly, I've spent so much of my life hiding and pretending to be fine with myself that I didn't actually realize what it would take to get me there for real - what it would look like to be able to replace the lies I believed with God's truth so that I could be truly set free. So I let lies define me - lies that have told me I was fat, ugly, worthless, unlovable, and that there was no way out...and they kept me in the dark - in chains of hopelessness that didn't allow the light of the gospel to shine into this area of my life.**

Until now.

Now I'm finding that the truest freedom is in bringing my imperfections into the light. That way I don't have to be controlled by the fear of needing to hide them, because according to God's Word, they've already been covered by the blood of Jesus. And if that's the case, I have no reason to be afraid! I haven't been given a spirit of fear, but a Spirit of sonship, by which I can cry Abba Father, in the knowledge that I have been irrevocably adopted into God's family (Romans 8:15). And no flaw of mine could ever separate me from all of His Fatherly goodness and blessings to me through Christ (Romans 8:38).

So dear friends, I still feel like I have a long way to go in learning about these things, but I do want to exhort you - please don't hide. Hiding can never bring freedom. It only brings pain and death. But sharing your real self, demons and all, with the Lord and other trusted friends can bring peace and life, because you will experience the truth that Jesus' cleansing blood can cover over every flaw, every sin. And that truth will set you free. 

As Jesus' perfect blood covers our imperfections - Loving Him is Red!

*For the purposes of this post, I am choosing to use the definition of "demon" that seems to be implied in the song - an internal struggle or vice that plagues a person with trouble or unhappiness. The fallen angels that are referred to as demons in the Bible are not within the scope of this particular post. 

**If you are a female and can relate with my food and body image struggle, I would recommend the book "A Woman of Moderation" as a helpful resource. It has been a great encouragement to me in the midst of my struggle, and I would definitely suggest reading and discussing it with a trusted friend. 

February 13, 2014

Say Something, I'm Giving Up on Valentine's Day

I'm pretty sure I was destined to be a hopeless romantic. I was even supposed to be born on Valentine's Day. And it happens to be a holiday that I love. 

But it is a bit of a challenge for a hopeless romantic and recovering affirmation junkie to be ok with the fact that no man will be declaring his love for me on Valentine's Day, or any other day, for that matter. I just want someone to tell me I'm loved, that I'm beautiful, that I'm worth fighting for…  

I think that's why the song Say Something by A Great Big World* has recently resonated with me so deeply. The melancholy tone of the piano and string arrangement is perfectly paired with the devastating lyrical repetition of "say something, I'm giving up on you."  The song is truly a heartbreaking and beautifully humble plea for the singer's love to be returned. He just wants his lady to tell him that she loves him, to give him a reason to stay. The problem is…there's no answer, no declaration of love at the song's end. Just silence...

And that's the silence I often live in. I hear other men declaring their love for the ladies around me. But none do for me. And it makes me wonder. Is there something wrong with me? Am I too ugly? Am I not godly enough? Am I too much of something and too little of something else? What is wrong with me? Am I really and truly unloved?

In the midst of all this questioning, what I want is for some godly guy to just say something to stop me from this downward spiral, to tell me that I'm wrong and that I am loved by him. 

But it turns out I keep waiting for the wrong person to say something. I keep listening for the wrong voice. The Lord is the one who is constantly saying something to me. 

Here's what He said recently:

"You couldn't hear me over all the other voices, so I decided to quiet them. Are you listening?

I think that you are the most lovely and beautiful of all women (Song of Solomon 1:8). I love you. I created you. There is no one like you, and I am glad to call you my own (Isaiah 43:1). Don't ever forget it. Don't let the other voices drown me out. Because they will come, and they will scream loudly, but what I have spoken is the truth (John 17:17).  Don't forget it. Put away your jealousy, your pride, your anger, your bitterness (Ephesians 4:31). They have no place for a woman who fears me. But if you humble yourself, I will exalt you (James 4:10). I promise you this, and that means I will surely do it. 

I love you (Isaiah 43:4). More than you know. I died to rescue you, to get you, and I'm not giving up on you now. I will never give you up (Hosea 11:8). Come to me and I will give you the words of eternal life to restore your weary soul (John 6:68, Psalm 19:7). Don't let them go. Keep them in your heart always (Psalm 119:11, Deuteronomy 11:18). I love you. Nothing can change that. Not height nor depth, not angels nor demons, not life not death or anything else in all creation will be able to separate you from the love I have for you that's found in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing. So don't be afraid. 

You are loved. Always. Nothing can change that. Nothing. So don't run away. What you're looking for is here, with me. Come to me, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). Don't run. Just stay. I love you. More than words. So let your words be few, and keep listening (Ecclesiastes 5:2). I'm always ready to speak, to lavish my love on you (1 John 3:1, Ephesians 1:4-8). You're the one who hasn't been listening. But listen now (Hebrews 12:25). I am ready to show you love you've never known, love you could only even dream of (Ephesians 3:19). It's here. It's with me. Stay with me. Abide in me (John 15). Life is found here. You find your life when you lose it (Matt 10:39). So let it go. Give it up. Don't try to hold onto it. Pour out your life like a drink offering to me (Philippians 2:17, 2 Timothy 4:6). I will honor it, I promise (John 12:26). You will not be put to shame (Isaiah 54:4). Anything you give up, I will give back to you one hundred times as much (Mark 10:29-30). 

Don't worry. I will take care of you. I am watching over your life. You don't have to be afraid with me (Matthew 6:25-34). Just trust. You can trust me. I will never leave you or forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6). I have given you everything you need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). You have it. Use it. Pursue it. Pursue me like I have pursued you. Never let me go. Stay with me til I have blessed you. Wrestle with me (Genesis 32:24-26). Just stay with me. Don't run away. I love you. Always. Nothing can change that. Nothing. Nothing can change who you are. Your identity is wrapped up in me. Embrace it. Savor it. This is my heart poured out for you. This is my body broken for you. This is my blood spilled for you (Luke 22:19-20). This is my love. 

In this is love, not that you loved me, but that I loved you and gave up my life, gave up my son for you (1 John 4:10). There is no greater love than this that someone lay down his life for his friends. You're my friend. Keep my commands (John 15:13-14). That's how I know you love me (John 14:15). So stay. Stay in my love. Don't run. Don't leave. Stay. I want to show you real love. I have it. It's here. It's for you. It's real. It can never be broken. Take a chance and don't ever look back. Don't go back to your old life (Ephesians 4:17-24). Don't long for those other adoring voices to sing your praises. They mean nothing. They can't give you life. They can't give you hope. So stop fighting me. I have what's best for you. I promise. And it's here. Love is here." 

So if you're like me, and you just want someone to tell you you're loved this Valentine's Day, listen for the voice that's always speaking. Store up God's Word in your heart. If you ask Him to say something to you, He will. He won't remain silent. That's why He has given us His Word and has ultimately spoken to us through His Son (Hebrews 1:2).

Because of Jesus, God wants to tell you that you're loved more than you could ever imagine. 

Will you listen?

On Valentine's Day and every day, Loving Him is Red!

* You may have heard the version of Say Something that features Christina Aguilera. I happen to be partial to the version I posted above, which doesn't feature any female vocals. I find that when I listen to the Christina version, I'm more apt to focus on the harmonies, but the original version allows me to focus more on the words and to feel the emotion of the song more poignantly. 

February 10, 2014

Confessions of an Affirmation Junkie

I have a confession to make. I'm a recovering affirmation junkie. Alright, well maybe you already figured it out. It's true…I often live for the applause - the glory that comes from man, rather than the glory that comes from God (John 12:43). But I didn't always know it was a problem. It was actually about 10 years ago to the day that God started to shake up my life in a major way to help reveal the fact that my need for the spotlight was actually deadly to myself and to my relationship with Him.

So let's go back into time.

The beginning of my high school career treated me better than I expected it to. Before high school, I never imagined that I would suddenly get attention from guys. I never anticipated that I would successfully audition to become one of the best singers in the school. And I certainly didn't expect to so quickly be given the chance to compete as one of my dance company's top dancers. But that's what happened. And I loved it. For the first time, I finally felt like people were seeing me how I wanted to be seen. So that's what I built my life around - boys and being the best.

So when I wanted to advance in my dance company, I worked harder than I ever had before. I exercised multiple times a day, ate the same things all the time, worked on strengthening my ankles, improving my balance, did crunches constantly, you name it…if my dance teachers suggested it, I did it. I gave up other activities I was interested in, because dancing was more important to me. It became part of my identity. It made me feel like I was something special. Like I was a star.

Then, during the fall of my junior year, tragedy struck. I unknowingly tore my ACL during a dance convention. It all happened so fast. Another dancer accidentally kicked me as we both jumped, and when I landed, the pain was so intense, I could hardly move. I basically had to crawl offstage. Though I had some trouble walking at first, I decided to simply proceed with the rest of the weekend as planned. I just didn't understand how badly I was injured. Even after going back to my regular dance classes, I was still in denial. Each time I tried to dance, I would end up on the floor, crying in agony.

So on Christmas Eve, I had an MRI. On New Year's Eve, I found out my ACL was torn. And my surgery was scheduled for February, right before Valentine's Day.

It felt like a terrible dream that I was going to wake from at any moment. All I could think was… "This just can't be real. This can't be happening. This kind of thing only happens to other people, not to me." My perfect life was caving in on me, and I couldn't find any way out. There was no way to fix it. No way to take it back. No way to work hard enough to recover on my own. Part of my very self was slipping away, and I was helpless to reclaim it. All that I had worked for…gone.

I honestly didn't know how I was going to deal with it. Any of it. The surgery. The rehab. I knew those would be horrible beyond measure. But worst of all - I dreaded the torturous act of sitting in the audience as my friends performed, knowing that I should be onstage with them. And yet…the show would go on without me.

My friends, family, and dance company were very supportive of course, and I'm so thankful for their love and encouragement. But I still felt alone. Like no one could understand the depth of the anguish that now filled my heart. I couldn't help but ask, "Why is God punishing me?"

But I couldn't hear an answer. In fact things got worse. After what felt like a few glorious successes during my senior year, my freshmen year of college plunged me into the depths once again. I didn't get into a single performing group at school. It was devastating. And I was desperate.

That's exactly where I needed to be though. God opened my eyes to the fact that He wasn't punishing me at all. He was loving me. He was pursuing me. So for the first time, He allowed me to see that I worshipped idols. And although those idols could make me feel good momentary, they would turn against me and leave me torn to pieces. But God's love was bigger than my idols. And He sent Jesus to die in my place.

And as He continues to show me His love, He hasn't stopped taking things away. Because He doesn't want me to just be desperate to reclaim all that He's taken from me. He wants me to become desperate for Him alone, since desperate people are the ones that God can save. Without a sense of complete and utter hopelessness in myself, I will just keep doing anything and everything I can to try to save myself, only to find that none of those things actually work.

Like Eminem sings about in his latest single, The Monster, what I really needed was someone to intervene, to save me from myself. Because the very things that I loved were killing me. And I didn't even know.

But God knew. And He sent Jesus to save me from myself. To intervene. To break into the life I had built around myself and to show me that a life that wasn't built around His sacrificial and redemptive love was a meaningless existence.

Now when I look at my 10 year old scars from my knee surgery, they remind me that He loved me enough to walk me through the darkest time of my life so far. Even when I ran from Him, He stayed with me, and continued to extend the opportunity for me to turn to Him, to repent. But without these hard things coming into my life, I would have never even known that I was a real sinner in need a real Savior.

As Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Mark 2:17).

Though I would never wish the terrors of an ACL injury (and more) upon anyone, I'm thankful that God loved me enough to take away the things that I loved most so that I would learn to love Him most.

So now, I still love singing. I still love dancing. And I hope that someday a godly man will want to make me his wife. But so much more than all of that…I love Jesus and sharing the truth of His gospel with the world. It's the most fulfilling thing I've ever experienced. But I never would have known that if God hadn't taken everything else away.

If God is taking away the things that you love, making you desperate, I implore you, don't run away from Him. Run to Him. Don't ignore the chance to repent. It's not too late to turn from the other things you're worshipping and turn to the Lord. Just admit that you've been running. Admit your sin. Jesus came to save sinners like you and me. And in His presence is life and fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11).

For the broken, for the scarred, for the desperate…Loving Him is Red!

January 23, 2014

Beware the Frozen Heart

When I was younger, I used to laugh at my mom for having cold hands. Her coldness even developed into a running joke. Unfortunately, those cold hands seem to be wired into my genes as well. Many friends have fallen victim to my favorite way of heating my frozen digits - putting them on warm necks.  So now my cold hands are the running joke. And my cold heart. Except that's only partially a joke. 

The truth is, I'm only half-joking when I respond calmly to alarmed exclamations of, "Why are your hands so cold?" with the now oft repeated phrase - "Because I have a cold heart." My rational side is completely fine with making this assertion, particularly because when I do, I know that my friends are acutely aware of the absolute ridiculousness of such a statement. That's the part of me that thinks it's just a funny joke. But another part of me, no matter how small, is actually tempted to believe that I am truly and unbearably unloved, in which case, it doesn't seem quite so far fetched that I would possess a frozen heart (resulting in frozen hands.) I certainly know that this sinking feeling of being unloved is unmistakably one of the cruelest of all lies, but it's still easy to believe it anyway.

So you can only imagine my surprise when I saw this lie combatted on the big screen as I recently watched Disney's Frozen. Not only did the movie address the idea of a frozen heart, but also the way one could be melted. (If you haven't seen the movie yet, this is your official spoiler alert.)

As my fellow Frozen viewers know, while attempting to get her sister, Queen Elsa, to unfreeze their kingdom, Princess Anna, our heroine, was struck in the heart by Elsa's icy magic. It doesn't take long for our unlikely hero, Kristoff, to realize that something is terribly wrong with Anna, so he brings her to his family of trolls in hopes that they can help her. It is there that Grand Pabbie troll reveals that Anna's heart has been frozen and that "Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart." Unless her heart is thawed, she will become frozen forever.

After receiving this grave news, Kristoff rides as fast as he can to bring Anna back to her fiancĂ©, Prince Hans, because, seemingly a true love's kiss will do the trick. The problem is, Prince Hans doesn't actually love Anna; he only loves the idea of taking the throne. So once she makes it back to him, he cruelly rejects her and leaves her for dead. Thankfully, our happy snowman sidekick, Olaf, comes to the rescue, just in the nick of time. It is then that he reveals his knowledge of love: "Love is putting someone else's needs before yours. You know, like how Kristoff did when he brought you to Hans and left you forever…"

So once Anna realizes that Kristoff loves her, she and Olaf set off to find him to provide the true love's kiss. But once she's within mere feet of Kristoff, she spots Hans, who is about to kill Elsa. Anna is then forced to make the choice between saving herself and saving her sister. Like Kristoff did with her, Anna chooses her sister's life over her own. And it ends up saving her too. Though it seems like she will be frozen permanently, it turns out that her selfless act of love was the thing that could thaw her frozen heart. But that's not all. Anna's love was contagious. Her willingness to take her sister's place reminded Elsa that love was the only way to stop the winter that her fear had created. Anna's brave love saved the whole kingdom. 

What a beautifully compelling and challenging conclusion! Sacrificial love is presented as the solution to a heart that's frozen. Surely this amazing story can only reflect and point back to the gospel - the most marvelous and sacrificial love story of all. 

Jesus himself said, "Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). But he didn't just say it. He lived it. He gave up His life and died on a cross, not just for His friends, but for those, who through our sin, had become His enemies. (Romans 5:6-11).

So if we have, in fact, been loved with the greatest love of all - this sacrificial love of Jesus - then it's clear that we are not in any danger of being unloved. The only real danger that we face is in not recognizing the love that's right in front of us, offered freely by our Savior. If we're not quite sure that we're truly loved, then our lives will be reduced to nothing more than a quest to make sure that we are. Such a quest is merely motivated by fear-driven slavery to our own selfishness and can only ensure that our hearts remain ice-cold.

But Jesus offers freedom! His perfect love saves us from our fear-frozen hearts. Through the transforming power of the gospel, we can be made into those, who like Him, are willing to lay down our lives for others. His sacrificial love is contagious! If we're already loved more than a thousand sonnets could ever express, then we no longer need to incessantly and selfishly search for someone who will finally make us feel loved. Instead, we can purposefully set our own interests aside in order to truly love others. 

And when we do, we can be assured that we will find true life. Jesus saves us from the selfishness of our own icy hearts by calling us to give up our lives. "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:35).

Then, as Jesus makes us into people who are characterized by sacrificial love, it can't help but spread! We can be part of perpetuating this contagious love of Jesus! What an amazing call and opportunity! 

"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35).

Frozen hearts can thaw because Loving Him is Red!

In what situations do you find it difficult to believe that you find your life when you lose it? 

What fears keep you from loving sacrificially? 

December 5, 2013

Worth the Wait


 This weekend, for the second time in my entire life, I had the opportunity to select my very own Christmas tree. My friend Faith and her family have a tradition of cutting down their tree together each year before Christmas, and they have been gracious enough to include me for the past 2 years. As I recalled the general merriment of our last tree excursion, I expected this time to be an equally enjoyable experience. But I never anticipated that the Christmas tree selection process would also help teach me an invaluable life lesson.

After stepping into the world of Christmas trees, Faith made her decision rather quickly. I however, was unable to do the same. As the minutes ticked by and I still continued to look, I began to feel an internal sense of pressure to speed up my search. But as Faith made suggestions about trees for me to consider, I couldn't help but notice things that bothered me. They were fine trees. And I wanted someone to have them. But they just weren't my tree. So I kept looking.

As I considered tree after tree, I began to wonder if there was even a tree out there that was right for me. Maybe I would just leave the tree farm empty handed. Maybe I should have just gone ahead and chosen one of the other trees even though I had doubts about them. Was it too late to go back and find one of those other “ok” trees? Had I let all my chances pass me by?

But then something happened that broke through my barrage of internal questions. I spotted it. A beautiful tree. All of the other trees just faded into a distant memory. I didn't hesitate to deliberate about this tree's flaws as I had done with the others. Instead, I stood there, marveling at it's perfection. Immediately, I knew it was the one. This tree had been worth the wait.

As I grabbed the saw to confirm the finality of my decision, I realized that all the fears I had about choosing one of the others trees were now gone. A wave of relief passed over me. Why had I been so nervous that I wouldn't find what I was looking for? Why had I even considered settling for a tree that I wasn't excited to call my very own?

And that's when it hit me. The fears I had about finding the right Christmas tree were the same fears I had about getting married. Actually, it's scary how similar my inner monologues have been on the two subjects.

As friends around me have been getting married, I have begun to feel the internal pressure that I need to hurry up and get married too or at least get a boyfriend so I can move in that direction. Then when it's seeming to take a long time, I begin to wonder if I will ever get married. Is there even a guy out there who's right for me? Maybe I'll die single. Maybe I should have just gone ahead and married one of the guys who expressed interest in the past even though I had doubts about them. Was it too late for me? Had I given up all my chances of getting married?

And yet, as I stood there with my wonderful Christmas tree, it was blatantly obvious that waiting a little longer was entirely worth it. The joy I was now experiencing made my fears seem silly in comparison. And if waiting for the right Christmas tree could bring such joy, how much more would there be in waiting for the right man to marry! Wouldn't it seem that waiting for a husband would be even more worth it? I think so. Whoever he may be, I have to believe that he's well worth the wait.

But the scary thing about waiting is that there's no guarantee that you'll actually get the thing you're waiting for. There's a risk involved. What if I had scoured the entire Christmas tree farm and never found the tree I was looking for? What if I wait my entire life for the kind of man I'm interested in marrying but still never end up getting married? These are real possibilities. Yet these are risks I'm willing to take, not just because I'm hoping that the risk will pay off in this life, but because I have decided to view my life through the lens of eternity.

What do I mean? Well, if you're not considering the existence of anything beyond this life, and if there's not really a guarantee that “good things come to those who wait,” then it would really only make sense to just “take whatever you can get.” There's no sense in waiting. And then the most you can really hope for is that you'll be one of the lucky ones who just happens to end up with the best of all the good things life has to offer. But then you die and you lose everything you had gained. Sad, I know...

If however, there really is an afterlife, then that totally changes everything. Here's how Paul compares this life with eternity for those who have put their hope in Christ:

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us...For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:18, 24-25).

Paul says that we have hope, knowing that what we're truly waiting for can be found in heaven, and once we have the thing we really want, we won't even remember all the other “ok” things we gave up while here on earth. So we can wait for this “glory to be revealed” patiently, because unlike the things we wait for on earth, there is actually a guarantee that we'll get what we're waiting for.

So what is this guaranteed “glory that is to be revealed to us” that's totally worth the wait? Can it really help drive away the fears that revolve around the possibility of never getting good things like marriage during our time on earth? Absolutely! It's a better marriage to the perfect husband!

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 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 21:1-4)

For those whose sins have been washed away by the blood of Christ, we will be clothed in white, like a bride, and presented to our groom, Jesus, in the most epic wedding celebration of all time. And when we're with Him, He will take care of all the sadness and all the pain we felt during this life so that we never have to experience such misery ever again. Wow! What an amazing picture of what we have to look forward to!

How then can this help me wait for a guy I would be excited to marry (like I waited for my Christmas tree)? Well, since I will most certainly be part of the most amazing wedding in history, I don't have to let the fear of never getting married dictate my life. I can wait when God has called me to wait without second guessing myself. I can pray diligently that God would provide the kind of man I'm longing for. But whether or not I see that provision here on earth, I can continue to trust Him. Either way, I'll be reminded of my desire for heaven. Not getting what I long for drives me to desire heaven – to set my heart on the only guaranteed happy ending. And getting what my heart longs for drives me to desire heaven just as much, because any happiness or joy I experience here on earth is just a broken picture of the marvelous joys that I'll experience in heaven forever. All of this just serves to help me fall more in love with this God of grace, who has loved me so well and sent His Son to die for me – His enemy – so that I could become His bride.

What a great God we have who beautifully orchestrates our lives, using every circumstance and longing of our hearts to point us to our greater longing for Him! Who knew that He would even use something as simple as choosing a Christmas tree to remind me that Jesus is worth the wait…

Jesus is most certainly worth it, and Loving Him is Red!

Can anyone else relate to these struggles?
What Scriptures have reminded you that Jesus is worth the wait?

*This post was originally published as a Facebook note on 12/7/12 and is now making an appearance on the blog due to popular demand :)

November 14, 2013

Grace: God's Wrecking Ball

If you're like me and went to the DiscipleMakers Fall Conference this past weekend, then you may have come back deeply challenged by God's Word. Thankfully, the Lord knows me well enough to know that He should reinforce the things He's teaching me with song lyrics in order to help it all sink in. So I might even go as far as to say that the weekend wrecked me. But the wrecking had really started weeks before...

Let me back up a little bit. A few weeks ago, a friend asked me what I thought of Miley's hit single, Wrecking Ball. At the time, I hadn't thought about it enough to have a real answer. So I started to listen to it, filtering it through a gospel lens as is my habit of doing with pop culture artifacts. 

I wasn't really making much progress until one fateful evening when my roommate decided it would be a good idea to learn to trim hair by practicing on me. I tend to be pretty particular about my hair, so I was somewhat hesitant at first, but she was just so excited about it that it was hard for me to refuse. Besides, it was only a trim. So I put on Wrecking Ball for some background tunes, and handed over the scissors.  

But it quickly ended up being much more than a trim. It accidentally morphed into a major haircut. And as I stood gaping at my considerably shortened hair, the refrain that stuck in my head was, "You wreck me." My first instinct was to blame my roommate as the one who wrecked me. Upon a second consideration, however, it occurred to me that perhaps the Lord was actually using this as part of His bridge burning project. He had wrecked me. And it was good for Him to do so. He was helping me to focus on the imperishable.

As I reflected on the whole thing later that night, here's the passage that came to mind: 

"1 What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you" (James 4:1-10).

Here, James reminds us that at the center of every conflict (or potential conflict) we are sure to find: the warring desires of our hearts (v. 1-3) and the God who is battling to be our first love (v. 4-10). He even calls us spiritual adulterers (v. 4) because we give the love that God deserves to other things. And the way that the Lord fights for our hearts is with a jealous grace (v. 5-6). So my hair crisis was more than an accident. It was an opportunity, sovereignly and graciously planned by God Himself, for me to examine what my heart was really worshipping and then to choose to worship Jesus instead. And to my surprise, I actually did that. I repented of worshipping my appearance and turned to Jesus, thanking Him for loving me so much that He would go to such drastic measures to even mess with my hair in order to help me love Him more. It was an amazing evidence that God's bridge burning had been making a difference in my life. The power of the gospel was truly changing my heart! What a victory!

But the coming days were harder. That little victory was a shining moment in the midst of the constant battle. All the things were sad. First, I was pretty horrified to look in the mirror, because on top of my hair struggles, my allergy induced puffy-red eyes came back with a vengeance. I literally looked like a zombie. And nothing seemed to help. I seriously didn't even want to go out in public. Plus the song that I was writing was not coming together the way I hoped and was causing all sorts of internal emotional turmoil. And to top it all off, I was having conflict with people on every side. So when you add those things together, I was struggling, but thankful for how God was at work through it. 

That's when I went to the conference last weekend. And there was a very real war going on inside me. I desperately didn't want to feel ugly at an event where I would have to be in front of 400 people. But I also desperately wanted to choose to put my hope in Jesus and the perfection of His beauty instead of in mine. And I longed for the song that I had been working on to go well.  But I also longed to be freed from closing my fist over that desire so that God could be worshipped in the way that would be most pleasing to Him. The war was raging between my kingdom and God's kingdom. 

As you can imagine, God's kingdom prevailed. I wanted Him to win, but it's just such a painful process. The wrecking ball of God's grace kept crashing into my life and my heart to tear my kingdom down. He used the devastating combination of disappointments from my idols as well as His powerful Word to make me all the more desperate to be changed by Him. So as I heard the Scriptures preached over the weekend and felt myself being exposed as a sinner, again, the words rang in my head. "You wreck me." And that's what I needed. That's what I always need.

Because our idols wreck us in a bad way. They leave us ruined and hopelessly disappointed. But God's the one behind it all, and He has redemptive purposes for His wrecking. He wrecks for our good. Our merciful God loves us enough to oppose our pride and selfishness so that we can become the person He intended us to be - someone who reflects Him. He destroys the kingdoms we're intent on building for ourselves so that we can refocus on the only kingdom worth building - His. God's plan crashes into ours, not because He's malicious, but because He's full of grace. And His jealous grace is the wrecking ball that shatters our hearts, not so that we can remain broken, but so that He can truly heal us as He makes us like His Son. 

When it comes down to it, Jesus was the one God truly wrecked. Unlike us, Jesus never tried to build a kingdom apart from His Father. He never committed spiritual adultery as we do. Yet, on the cross, the Father crushed Him for our sins. So when God's wrecking ball comes at us, it's only to train us in holiness. Jesus already took the fatal blow of God's wrath, and all there's left for us is His boudless grace! 

So whether we find ourselves wrecked as a result of our idolatry, just by the fact that we live in a fallen world, or because His Word has convicted our hearts, our gracious God is surely there at the center of the wrecking. He is sovereign and has orchestrated all things to point us to our need for Him. Through it all, our loving Savior is asking us to let Him win the war for our hearts, asking us to put Him first. Thankfully, for Christians, Jesus' victory is guaranteed. He has won the war over sin. And He won't stop with His grace til His kingdom finally reigns in our hearts!

As His jealous grace wrecks us, Loving Him is Red.

How have you found yourself wrecked by God's grace?

October 24, 2013


Let me just state the obvious for a second. When given the choice, I think all of us would admit that it's much more logical to choose something that is guaranteed to last as opposed to something that is guaranteed to break. But honestly, in the case of beauty, I am much more inclined to spend my time trying to make something that will break into something that will last. You may remember me sharing about one facet of this long time struggle in The Cost of Beauty - Not Worth Your Soul. As I'm sure is true of many of you, the struggle hasn't gone away...

This past month alone has included: an intense allergy attack that literally made it look like I had been punched in both eyes, a number of bad hair days in which my rebellious locks refused to do anything cooperative, several smudged nails in the midst of an attempt to give myself a perfect manicure, and last but not least, a red bump on my forehead caused by a head on collision with a flying iPhone. 

It's not like these things were earth shattering occurrences. But at every step of the way, I found myself getting annoyed with these little hindrances to my preferred physical appearance and thought to myself, "Is it really so much to ask to have my hair look cute today?" or "All I want is for my stupid nails to just turn out nicely for once!" And as I focused more and more intently on fixing each glaring flaw, I couldn't help but think, "God is answering my prayer to take away my idols by burning my bridges down."

Quite honestly though, most of the time, I would really just prefer if God simply granted my wish for external beauty without challenging my tendency to worship outward appearance. In other words, I would rather have Him let me be satisfied with beauty that fades than have Him teach me about beauty that does not. Because if He teaches me about beauty that lasts, then that will probably include suffering, as has been the case in my month of beauty fails, and maybe even worse... 

How do I know that?

Mostly because of what I've been recently reminded of in 1 Peter: 

"3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls." (1 Peter 1:3-9)

At the beginning of his letter, Peter takes time in verse 3 to remind His audience that because of what Jesus has accomplished through His death and resurrection, Jesus is now eternally alive, and He is their hope! He then goes on in verse 4 to tell them that part of this hope is the lasting inheritance or treasure that's in store for them in heaven. But Peter is sensitive to the fact that these people have truly been suffering, so though he recognizes they have many reasons to rejoice in what Jesus has done for them in verse 6, Peter doesn't want to ignore the difficult things they have been going through. So in verse 7, he graciously reminds them that though these trials have grieved them, the result is that these temporary hardships are shaping their faith into something that is increasingly precious and genuine.

I think that's encouraging even just in and of itself.

But what's even more interesting is the similar way that Peter talks to women about beauty in chapter 3 of that same letter.

"3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very preciousFor this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening." (1 Peter 3:3-6)

Notice the words that I italicized in both chapters 1 and 3. Peter uses the same word to describe the inheritance in 1:4 as he uses to describe the beauty he wants women to cultivate in 3:4 - imperishable. Not only that, but he also uses the same word to characterize their faith in 1:7 as he does when he refers again to the internal beauty of the heart in 3:4 - precious. And the word hope is used in both passages - referring to a living hope in 1:3 and hope in God in 3:5. 

It's as if Peter is saying, "I know that the things you can see - like your outward circumstances and the way you look- might seem really important, but actually, the things that are unseen - like your faith and the beauty of your heart - are the things that truly have lasting value. So if you put your hope in God, instead of all the externals, you are choosing to focus on something that does not fade. Your faith grows and becomes more precious - more beautiful - because you are choosing to put your hope in something that will stay intact forever."  

Now don't get me wrong. I'm all about celebrating external beauty in a way that gives glory to God for creating us in His image. But what I don't want to be about is celebrating it in a way that turns what's meant to be used to worship our Creator into a way to worship self, since that's surely the very pride and self-centeredness that God is opposing in me when He brings these continual beauty fails into my life. 

So when all of my efforts to cultivate outward beauty fail me, it is God's gracious reminder that nothing else can be my living hope except for Jesus. It's His way of fighting for my heart, as He calls me to turn to Him in humble repentance and reminds me of the lasting inheritance in store for me in heaven. Instead of allowing me to foolishly set my heart on beauty that will fade, He wants to cultivate real, unfading, and imperishable beauty within my soul through His Spirit at work inside me. And He won't give up til all this bridge burning is done and He sees me in glory.

Even when His goodness and pursuant love is annoying, Loving Him is Red!

How has the Lord been teaching you about things that have lasting value versus things that fade?

And...just for fun! In case you want some music to think about, check out this amazing cover of Royals by Pentatonix that I've been listening to on repeat. It's a song that exposes part of the trouble of putting hope in externals, but really only offers the solution of an imaginary world instead of true hope.