February 26, 2015

Breaking the Bonds of Disordered Eating

No one wakes up thinking, "Today I want to become enslaved…"

It doesn't happen that way. It's more gradual. Little by little. Choice by choice. Thought by thought. Until you're completely trapped by the cycle that you're stuck in. Utterly obsessed with an impossible goal. A goal that promises so much…

But the promise is a lie. The thinner you get, the more dissatisfied you feel. The more flaws you notice. The more you plunge into despair that you could never make your body look the way you hoped. So your body becomes nothing more than a slave to your thoughts - a slave to the lies you believe. 

And you would give anything to get out of it. But you don't know how. You want to be free, but you can't even imagine what that would even feel like or how you could get there. So you sink into hopelessness, feeling like there's no way out. And you certainly can't tell anyone about it, because you're sure that no soul alive could possibly understand the turmoil you're in. 

But by the sheer fact that you're reading this, I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who's felt this way…

Over the years, my struggle has manifested itself in different ways. And I could write all about it. It would probably be therapeutic for me. But I'm not sure that this blog post is the best context for that. So I'll just share what the struggle looks like for me these days…

You see, I have these conflicting desires. They're at war. They fight for control of my life. And they're things that I desire more than I love God. (James 4:1-10). On the one hand, I think food is really great. I like it. I like the way it tastes. I like that it quells my hunger. I like the experience of trying different things at different places. I like the freedom I have to enjoy it. But on the other hand, I like to be thin. I like to see how small I look in the mirror. I like the way my clothes fit. And the lower the number on the tag of my jeans, the more confident I feel. And that's not even mentioning all the positive feedback I receive from the people around me.  

Most of my life has been a pendulum swing between the two extremes of these desires. And most of the time, I don't really think about how to be healthy or honor God with my body. Sometimes I believe that the only true way to be happy and beautiful and loved and successful is to be thin. And so I obsess about what I eat. I think ahead about every meal and snack - what's allowed and what's not. I obsess about exercising, sometimes multiple times a day. I obsess over the progress I'm making by weighing myself frequently, looking in the mirror, and trying on smaller sized clothes just to see if they fit. 

But then I begin to hate that life. I don't want to deal with the never ending list of restrictions and rules. They feel like slavery to me. And I just can't take it anymore. Plus the results aren't even good enough. I still don't look perfect. So I give up. And I start to believe that if I lift all of the restrictions that seemed so oppressive, then I will be able to find true freedom. So I just eat what I want, when I want. But strangely enough, that doesn't seem to leave me feeling happy or satisfied either. And then I'm just sad, uncomfortable, and ashamed for the weight that I've gained - for the weight that must make me repulsive to all who see me, including myself. So I plunge even further into despair. And this "freedom" feels like slavery too. 

At the point of feeling utterly hopeless, out of control, and too ashamed to talk to anyone about it, that's when I know I need to let someone else in on how bad things really are…on how much I'm really struggling… (1 John 1:5-10)

Because otherwise, these lies that seem so true to me in the moment, will continue to grow in my mind. They will tell me I'm alone, that there's no hope, that I should give up. But when I honestly share my struggles with someone else, they can help expose these thoughts for what they truly are - lies. And that's where the shining light of hope can break through the darkness I've been living in.

So my battle is not really with food. My battle is not really with the mirror. My battle is against the lies I so easily believe about the way to find true fulfillment, love, and happiness apart from God. My battle is against the idols I've chosen to worship - food or my body. So my body is not really my enemy. But I do have a true enemy who loves to feed those lies, who loves to spur on my idolatry, who loves to keep me in the dark. 

Friends, I would be remiss if I didn't mention something that I often forget: Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). He loves eating disorders. He loves death and destruction. He loves keeping people enslaved. In our fight for freedom, we don't just battle against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:11-12). Our battle is against the very powers of Hell. 

And what Satan would love more than anything is for me and you to get so fixated on worshipping this present physical life (i.e. what we eat or how we look) that we miss the very fact that there's anything happening in the spiritual realm. When we get obsessed with this physical life, we miss the greater, deeper, eternal things that are far more significant and far more satisfying. We get so busy dwelling on things that are only temporary that we miss life itself - we miss truly knowing Jesus. 

Here's how Jesus addressed a group of people who were more fixated on the physical bread He gave them than on finding Him - true bread - true life:

"Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:27, 33, 35, 47-51).

Jesus is the bread of life. And He died that we might have life through Him. There is food that perishes and food that endures. And giving myself unabashedly to pursuing my ideal of perfection in my physical body is food that perishes. It may satisfy temporarily, but never ultimately.  And physical food can only sustain for a while. But allowing myself to eat without restrictions will never fill the hunger my soul has for something more substantial. Jesus is the food for my soul. Knowing Him and believing in His life, death, and resurrection can energize, fuel, sustain and satisfy eternally - and on the deepest level. Knowing Jesus is real life now and forever. 

And when I know Him, He gives me His Spirit to live inside of me - the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 8:11) - the same Spirit that triumphed over Satan as Jesus broke the bonds of sin and death through the power of His resurrection! So if Jesus already defeated Satan, and I have that power living inside of me, then Satan's lies need not have any power over me. He that is in me is greater than he who is in the world, and He can free me from this slavery (1 John 4:4).

Friends, eating disorders kill - not just physically, but they kill our spirits. Satan came to kill, steal, and destroy. But Jesus came to bring life to the full (John 10:10). Let's fight for life! Let's fight for freedom! And no matter how hard, or how hopeless it may seem, let's never give up! 

Who's with me?

Loving Him is Red!

If you or someone you know can relate with the things I shared here, please please please talk to someone about it! Talk to me, talk to a trusted friend, call a hotline, just talk to someone! The only way to truly loose this battle is to give up...and it's harder to lose all hope, when you have friends to help you fight the lies! You don't have to struggle alone! There is hope!

February 22-28 is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. For more info check out: http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/

February 12, 2015

The Valentine's Verdict

Throughout my time in high school, I looked forward to Valentine's Day for one reason, and one reason only: the flowers. 

But it's taken me til now to understand the reason why...

You see, my school managed the obscene amount of Valentine's deliveries by turning our lobby into a botanical wonderland - a repository for the endless number of bouquets that were sent to the school throughout the day. All in all, the protocol was pretty straightforward: If you happened to be dating someone when Valentine's day rolled around, you could be sure to receive a note in class telling you that you could pick up your flowers at the end of the day. But if you couldn't wait til then, you could at least try to catch a glimpse of your flowers on your way to lunch.  

I had been through the process enough times to know the drill, by the time I reached my senior year. And since I had been dating a guy for a few months, I was fairly certain that there would be flowers waiting for me in the lobby that day.

My lunch was scheduled for the earliest time slot, so I wasn't too worried after perusing the flower area to no avail. 
But as the hours ticked by, I became more and more unsettled. Class after class and still no trace of my flower note! Panic mode began to set in. It was unfathomable to me to think that my boyfriend didn't know to send me flowers…this was Valentine's Day after all… And then a horrifying thought crossed my mind: "Maybe he sent them to my house…"

The idea was almost too absurd to really even consider. "He wouldn't have had them delivered to my house!" I thought. "He went to this school for four years. He knows how the system works. He has to know that my flowers should be delivered to me at school..."

Yet as the final bell rang, I left my last class empty handed… And then I began to fume. 
Though I felt slightly relieved after coming home to a vase of lovely red roses, my anger was still not abated. Clearly, there was much more wrapped up in these flowers than I ever realized…

It wasn't just that I wanted flowers. I got them. And it wasn't even that I wanted a specific type of flower from a boy on Valentine's Day. I got that too. What I really wanted was for him to send me flowers in a way that everyone would see. Somehow, these flowers were supposed to publicly declare to the world that I was unquestionably and undeniably loved.   

Unfortunately, I didn't have the insight to recognize the great significance I was placing on these flowers. So things only grew worse in college...

My college was small enough to deal with Valentine's deliveries in almost the exact same way as my high school - except the note went to your mailbox. So all the flowers went to the info desk in the lobby of the student union. Botanical wonderland 2.0. But early in my college career, I made the decision that my days as a serial dater needed to come to an end. And you'll never guess what was one of the hardest things about it for me: the fact that there would be no flowers waiting for me in the lobby on Valentine's Day…

Sometimes I even preferred to avoid the lobby altogether. What used to be a stroll through a botanical wonderland became a walk of shame. Those flowers taunted me with every step. Each bouquet seemed to call out - "I'm not for you! I'm for girls with boyfriends - girls who are loved. How foolish you are to not to have a boyfriend on Valentine's Day. Don't you know that means no one loves you?! Everyone knows that!" Their screams felt so loud that they were almost more than I could bear.

Yet even if I had been able to avoid the taunts of those Valentine's flowers, I wouldn't have ever been able to evade the plethora of other things that continued to call out to me on a daily basis… Engagement rings. Relationship statuses. Wedding photos. You name it. Those things have all told me that they are the undeniable evidence that I am unloved. And I believed them. 
But I don't want to listen to them anymore. 

I am learning to listen to the blood of Jesus. His blood speaks better, louder, and more accurately than anything else in this world (Hebrews 12:24). It never taunts or mocks me. It does the exact opposite. It tells me it has cleansed me from all my shame and unrighteousness and that there is no condemnation left for me (1 John 1:5-10, Romans 8:1). It tells me I am fully loved, fully accepted. Always and forever.

So my real problem never had anything to do with flowers, Valentine's Day, boyfriends, or even what the rest of the world was thinking about me. My real problem was that I didn't really and truly believe that I was unquestionably and undeniably loved. So my life was a search for proof. 

But this past year, I began to believe, not just with my head, but in my heart, that my search was over. I began to believe that Jesus is the only proof I need to know I'm truly loved, and it has made me view Valentine's Day - and every other day - in a whole new way. 

The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that I can't look to Valentine's Day to give me a verdict of whether I'm loved or not. The real verdict is already in. Jesus died in my place. And then He came back to life. His sacrifice worked. And His blood speaks of what He's done. That's the proof. I am unquestionably, undeniably, irrevocably loved. No other evidence is needed. Case closed. End of story.

And here's the freeing part - when you truly believe that you are undeniably, unquestionably, irrevocably loved, you won't be thinking about what everyone else thinks of you. You won't need the world to know that you're loved. You won't be thinking about yourself at all. You'll just be. You'll just enjoy the better-than-life love of your Savior (Psalm 63:3)You'll bask in it. You'll taste and see it's goodness (Psalm 34:8). You'll savor it. And as you do, the love of Jesus will overflow onto everyone else in your life (John 4). Isn't that the love you want? The kind of love you want to share with the world? 

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us" (1 John 4:7-12).

So friends, let's not look to Valentine's Day to tell us who we are. Let's let the love of Jesus define us in every way, regardless of our circumstances, regardless of the day.

Because on Valentine's Day and every day - Loving Him is Red!

* Tim Keller's sermon, Blessed Self-Forgetfulness, has been instrumental in helping me come to these conclusions. I never realized that I could be free from the turmoil that I used to think was just a normal part of my life until mediating on the truths he shares from 1 Corinthians 3, 4, and 13. If you want to learn more about how to stop looking to other things to give you the verdict of whether or not you are loved, I would highly recommend listening to it! And listening to it multiple times!

* Want to believe what God says about you, but feel like you're living in silence? Check out last year's Valentine's Day post - Say Something, I'm Giving Up on Valentine's Day

January 29, 2015

28 Life Lessons Worth Learning

This past Monday, I turned 28. Hard to believe, I know… 

But the truth is, God has taught me some pretty big things in those 28 years. In fact, I'd say that these lessons have been so integral to learning how to do life that I want to make sure to never forget them. So I figured, why not jot some of them down as a reminder? As per usual, I thought I might as well share them with you all as well. Here goes:

1. Life's an adventure. It's full of twists and turns, ups and downs, mountains and valleys. It's not always easy, but it's exciting to discover what comes next, especially because you'll be with the one who knows you best and loves you most. (Genesis 12:1)

2. You don't need to predict the future. You're not a fortune teller, and neither is God. I know you think that it will make you feel better if you only knew what was going to happen, but there are things that God has not yet intended to reveal to you. So embrace the adventure, and walk by faith. (Hebrews 11) 

3. Life decisions aren't as earth shattering as you might be tempted to believe. Do you really think that you're so powerful that you could mess up your life in a way that God can't redeem? Look at all the beauty God has been able to bring from the mess so far. 
(Romans 8:28)

4. Second guessing your decisions will never help you move forward. It just makes sense. Looking back slows you down. Keep taking steps of faith, instead. You will make mistakes, but you can learn from them, and move on. (Luke 9:62). 

5. You're not a victim. You don't have control over everything that happens, but you do have choices to make. Make them. You don't have to feel stuck. If you don't like the direction your life is going, figure out what steps you can take, and trust God with the outcome. (Proverbs 16:1)

6. If your main goal in life is to get married, you have forgotten how to dream. I'm not saying that it's bad to desire marriage or to desire to lead a godly and quiet life, but is that honestly all you want your life to be about?  Don't you want your life to be about something more? (1 Corinthians 7:32-35, 2 Corinthians 5:11-21)

7. It's not romantic to center your life around loving anyone besides Jesus. It's idolatry, and it will make your life miserable. Do you really want to go back to the slavery of letting your life revolve around the need for someone to love you? You're already loved.
(Romans 1:18-25; 8:38-39)

8. If you need people to love you, you can't actually love them. Instead, you will base your worth on whether you feel loved by them at the current moment or not. And how can you possibly think about what's best for another person when you're so busy thinking about yourself and what you need? (John 15:13)

9. Your worth is defined by the price that Jesus paid for you. And He paid it all. To Him, you were worth His very life. And that means you are loved. Always. Despite all other circumstances. Despite how you feel. That's the truth. (John 3:16, Galatians 1:3-5)

10. The fight to end your love affair with the mirror is a battle worth fighting. The mirror doesn't love you. It will let you down. And do you really want your worth to be defined by your ever fluctuating evaluation of how you look on any given day? It's slavery. Fight to be free. (Romans 6)

11. Cultivating internal beauty is infinitely more important than external. Do you know how much God cares about your heart? Don't you want to cultivate beauty that lasts instead of only focusing on beauty that will fade away? (Proverbs 31:30, Isaiah 40:8)

12. But it is still important to honor God with your body. Don't buy the lie that if God cares about the heart, He must not care about the outside. Don't you know that whatever's on the inside overflows to the outside? Your life can proclaim that only Jesus satisfies by eating and exercising in a way that reflects God's good boundaries on your life. (Psalm 34:8, Psalm 16:5-6)

13. Bringing struggles into the open is better than hiding. You don't have to hide. Bring your struggles into the light. When you do, you can fight the lies that Satan has been using to keep you in chains. Don't you want to be free? (1 John 1) 

14. When a friend points out your sin, don't second guess their love for you. A good friend would not bring these things up unless they cared about you. They can see the things you're blind to. And they want to help you. So listen. (Proverbs 27:6)

15. Comparing yourself to others makes you more insecure, not less. Do you really think you'll ever come out on top in every category? Comparing is a futile and prideful way to try to build your own kingdom. Plus, how in the world are you ever going to love any of the people in your life if you are so busy trying to decide how they measure up to you or how you measure up to them? You will be crushed if you think they're better than you, and you will be prideful and self righteous if you think you're the best. Really. Just stop. (Proverbs 16:5; 29:25)

16. You can learn from others by appreciating their strengths. If you don't have to compare, then it's actually ok for others to be good at things you're not. Encourage them to keep using their gifts for the Lord, and ask them to help you in your weaknesses. (Ephesians 4:1-16)

17. You can help others in their weaknesses instead of getting annoyed. If you don't have to compare, then it's actually ok to be good at things when others are not. And instead of looking down on them, you can offer your gifts as a way to build up the body. (1 Corinthians 12)

18. If you aren't cultivating your talents and using them for God's glory, you are wasting them. Don't waste them. And don't be so afraid that you will just use them for your own glory that you avoid the internal fight to use them for Him and to build others up. Give God a good return on His investment in you. (Matthew 25:14-30)

19. Real joy is found in laying aside your selfishness to serve others. Have you honestly ever been happy when you've been obsessed with trying to feel loved by others? Don't you come alive when you try to think of ways to care for them, instead? (John 13:1-20)

20. The pursuit of humility is a worthwhile endeavor. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Do you really want God to deliberately oppose you? Plus, you're really not that impressive. And anything great about you is from the Lord anyway. Jesus was impressive enough on your behalf. Rest in that. Then you can apologize and seek unity more than you seek to be right. You won't need to defend yourself. Jesus can do that. (James 4:6)

21. Asking questions doesn't make you stupid; it helps you become wise. So be curious. Don't pretend to know everything. You don't. You know it. And so does everyone else. So stop acting like you're fooling anyone into thinking otherwise, and start learning. (Proverbs 1:1-7)

22. The person you become through suffering is a person worth being. Beautiful things happen to you when you seek to trust God in the midst of sadness and pain. You become more like Jesus. And that's the whole reason you exist. (1 Peter 1, James 1)

23. You can fight bitterness with thankfulness. Don't allow hurt feelings to turn into bitterness and anger towards the person who seemed to cause the hurt. You cared about this person for a reason. Remember those things and thank God for them. (Eph 4:17-32, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

24. The hard work of forgiveness is worth the cost you pay. It's a high cost, but Jesus paid a much higher cost to forgive you. He can give you the strength to forgive others.  (Matthew 18:21-35). 

25. It really is true that you find your life when you lose it. So stop trying to desperately hold onto the things you want in this life. You'll find freedom when you let them go. And then you can enjoy life for what it is. (Matthew 10:39)

26. You see God's provision more acutely when you're uncomfortably generous. I know it's scary. But He will take care of you. When you use your resources for Him and His kingdom, He will always supply all you need. And honestly, he gives you abundantly more than that. He is a lavish God. (2 Corinthians 8:1-15)

27. It's good to think about the rest of the world. Don't get so comfortable in your life that you don't think about God's heart for the world and how He might use you to reach it. (Matthew 28:19)

28. You don't have to wait for the "right moment" to preach the gospel. The moment you're waiting for might not come. And then you'll be sad that you didn't love that person enough to share the best news in the world with them. So find a way to talk about Jesus, and trust God with the results. It doesn't have to be weird. Just share your heart. 
(1 Peter 3:15)

So there's my list so far! It's honestly helped me to live in so much more joy and freedom than I ever have before! And I hope it encourages you as well :)

Loving Him is Red! 

Do you have a list of life lessons? What has God been teaching you?

January 1, 2015

The Year I Started Living

Sometimes when you're in the middle of something, you can't see what's happening very clearly. It's only after you come out the other side of the tunnel that you even know what hit you.

During 2014, I reached the end of a tunnel. And when I did, I realized that something miraculous had taken place:

I started living.

I'm not really sure what I was doing before that or even how I got to that place, but the best way I know how to summarize the change that happened in the past year is by saying: 

I stopped letting my relationship status define my life. And it's felt like the difference between slavery and freedom. 

The weird thing is, I didn't even realize how many fears I had or how enslaved I was to them until I started experiencing what a deeper sense of freedom could feel like. 

Thankfully, the truth can set us free! 

Choosing to believe God's Word has made all the difference in helping me break out of my self-imposed prison.  

So now when I start to feel weighed down, burdened, and saddened by whatever circumstances seem to be the source of my distress, I've been quicker to realize that I'm probably believing some lie about my identity, about the Lord, or both, and I need to talk to Him about it. Actually, I need to let Him talk to me.  
Here's one such conversation from about a year ago that I wrote down in the midst of a major moment of struggle.

This is not who you are Sarah. You are not defined by your relationship status. You are not less of a person because you're not married or because you're not in a relationship, or because there are no men who are madly in love with you. I love you, and I'm the one who matters. Don't believe these lies. They will kill your soul, slowly from the inside, until you are desperately sad - totally stripped of the beautiful joy I intend for you to possess. I never meant for you to put your hope in earthly things. There is no cut off age for marriage - no age at which you are given the official title of total loser and rejected outcast, though I know sometimes you feel that way. Let me tell you something. I came once for people like you, and I am coming again. I will not forget you or overlook this current suffering. Though, I promise, one day it will be even less than a memory. Keep waiting. You are not rejected. You are not forgotten. Can a nursing mother forget her baby? Never! So I can never ever forget you! (Isa 49:14-16) It's time for you to be freed from this lie. I release you. Go and be healed (Mark 5:25-34).

Now, in the moment, this conversation didn't seem like a major turning point. I had honestly forgotten about it until I was rifling through some old documents. But reading over it again reminded me that the continual process of confronting the ugly lies that I had allowed to define me for so long was really what helped propel me toward freedom.  

Singleness is not a disease that needs to be healed. Real healing comes when we stop believing the lies that keep us in chains. And waiting for a godly spouse isn't a bad thing. But waiting expectantly for Jesus to come back is much more important. He is everything. And waiting for Him doesn't just look like sitting around til He gets here. He calls us to live for Him. And because of the Spirit that He's given us, we actually can!

Why then should we listen to our feelings when they tell us that our relationship status, or anything other than Jesus' perfect life, death, and resurrection defines us, when it will only leave us trapped, paralyzed by fear, and completely unable to move forward?

I don't need to be a slave to fear. Shame does not define me. Jesus does. He says I'm loved. He says I'm adopted into His family. He says I'm free.

Here are some concrete examples of what the change from slavery to freedom has looked like in my life:

Slavery - I used to think that I needed to wait to move away from State College until I got married. I felt paralyzed to even imagine where I could go next in the future. I didn't even want to think about it, because the idea of making that decision all by myself was so terrifying.
Freedom - A year ago, I decided I was going to move to Lewisburg, because that's where I felt like The Lord was calling me to go. And I didn't want my fears to prevent me from following Him or being used by Him.

Slavery - I used to think that I needed to wait to get bedroom furniture that I actually liked until after I got married.
Freedom - This summer, I found great bedroom furniture on Craigslist that I absolutely loved. I bought it without hesitating.

Slavery - I used to set deadlines for the latest date I could possibly get married based on my age and how long I thought I could wait without literally dying. I felt like I couldn't even commit to summer plans, because then it felt like it ruled out the possibility of getting married during that time.
Freedom - I decided to go on a mission trip to Colombia this summer without even thinking about the idea that the summer is when I should be getting married.

Slavery - I used to think that I needed to marry a guy who could take care of money and budgeting, because it was too scary for me to think about investing. And I definitely needed to wait to invest in buying a house. I felt like getting a house as a single woman would be equivalent to giving up.
Freedom - Now, I've started talking with a financial planner to help me figure out how to best invest my money to help me save for a house, because I would be excited for the opportunity to have another way to bless and minister to others.

These are just a few examples of the steps The Lord has helped me take into freedom. And I  can't wait to see what else He has in store for 2015!

There is no reason to live in slavery when Christ has set us free. He offers us freedom, and we are free to live in it right now! 

At the start of a new year, Loving Him is Red !

What lies have you been believing that keep you enslaved to fear? 

What would it look like to start living in freedom today?

December 4, 2014

Novocaine Can't Heal Pain

novocaine - a drug given to people to stop them from feeling pain 

(*The song that I've chosen to write about in this post is a song that grapples with loss and contains some provocative content in reference to the way one artist has chosen to deal with her pain. I am in no way seeking to promote the kind of destructive behaviors she sings about, and I would suggest that the song does not allow us to come to the conclusion that any of these behaviors are effective in dealing with emotional pain. If you are unfamiliar with the song and may find those things offensive or unhelpful, I suggest you refrain from listening to it and especially from watching the official music video. However, I empathize with the struggle this woman describes in dealing with heartache, and I think there might be something to learn from considering the ineffective methods we tend to use to deal with our pain.) 

Over the past few years, I've come to the realization that I'm not very good at dealing with pain. Not physical pain. The deeper kind. The pain of the soul. 

I think that's probably why the song Habits (Stay High) by Tove Lo resonated with me from the very first time I heard it. And considering the widespread popularity of the song, it seems that it may have resonated with quite a few other people as well.

Throughout the song, she sings about the many ways she has tried and failed to forget the love that she has lost. She longs so desperately to escape the very memory of him, because of all the turmoil that losing him has caused her. But none of it ever works. No amount of sex, drugs, alcohol, or binge eating ever helps her to truly feel better. 

And it makes me wonder if perhaps none of us are really that effective in dealing with our heartaches...

At the end of the day, I think our drug of choice is typically novocaine. We don't know how to find true healing, and so we try to find a way to become numb, to forget that we're hurting. Or if we do know where true healing is found, something else always seems to look better in the moment. So we reach for the novocaine. 

Now of course you won't find any of us raiding our dentist offices. We all have our own personal forms of this numbing drug - whatever we think will help take our minds off the pain that we're experiencing - whatever we can find that will help us deny the fact that we're not actually ok on the inside. 

For me, it's things like:
Dressing up
Seeing good pictures of myself
Receiving compliments
Getting likes on Facebook
Eating chocolate
Watching movies
Reading books
Listening to music

It's not that these things are bad in and of themselves. But I use them to distract me - to cover up the hurt. They're my novocaine. 

And the sad part is, I am completely aware that these things won't really help. Even as I am choosing them, I know that they cannot and will not heal me for real. But I like the temporary high they give me. I like that they make me feel better for a little while. But like any addiction, I just want more and more. 

The truth is, what I really should do is turn away from those things and turn to Jesus.

Because novocaine can never heal the soul. It can only make it numb. But the soul needs water. The soul needs bread. And these are the very things that Jesus offers us so that our souls might LIVE!

"Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:14)

"Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'" (John 6:35)

But Jesus is more than that. He is a man who is acquainted with our grief. He knows our pain. He even bears our scars. Scars from the wrongs done to us, scars from the sheer brokenness of this world, and even the scars of the pain we've brought upon ourselves. He bears them all. And He alone can make it right.

I cannot claim to fully understand how the healing process works, but I do know that Jesus is the only place to start. From beginning to end, Jesus is the only answer for the healing of our hearts. We won't experience the full restoration that we long for until Heaven, but for now, we can always look to Him. 

"Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:4-5)

It seems so counterintuitive to believe that another man's suffering could restore our souls, but that's the only solution to our problem. We need someone else to carry our sin and sorrow on our behalf, and that's what Jesus has done. During His time on earth and especially on the cross, He faced the terrors of every horrible thing we would ever have to encounter and worse. Real healing comes when we choose to believe that. By His wounds, we are healed! 

It's really that simple. It's just hard to remember. And hard to choose to believe at times.

But the truth remains - His wounds are the only thing that can heal mine. 

So why settle for novocaine? Why settle for numbness when we could have LIFE?

As we look to the man whose wounds heal our own, Loving Him is Red!

What things do you use as your personal form of novocaine? 
What would it look like to turn away from those things and turn to Jesus instead?

October 2, 2014

My Soul Needs the Surgery

A few months ago, I decided that I needed to revamp my view of beauty. Well…in some ways, I've known it for a long time, but I just recently decided to get more serious about such an undertaking. 

If I'm honest, I think I began this quest with the intention of trying to find a way to feel good about myself - mostly because I was sick of the love/hate relationship that I had with my looks. I figured there must be a better way to live life - and with God's help, to feel secure and beautiful no matter what. But what I found, instead, is that the path to understanding true beauty has begun with the realization that I am actually far uglier than I have ever been willing to admit. And truthfully, the ugliest thing about me has nothing to do with the way I look. 

Now before you feel the need to frantically rebuild the broken pieces of my self esteem, you should know that this realization has actually been refreshing. I feel like the blinders have been removed from my eyes so that I am starting to see more clearly. 

Let me show you what I mean.

Check out how Jesus talks to those who are consumed with the outside while neglecting the inside:
 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matthew 23:27-28)

Now, Jesus isn't specifically addressing the topic of physical beauty here, but I think there's a lot we can learn from the principles he's addressing. 

Since he starts out by saying, "Woe to you," that should get our attention. This is a curse. He is saying that there is great sorrow, grief, and distress in store for those whose lives look like these beautiful tombs - who care only about appearing outwardly righteous -because it is possible to look beautiful on the outside but be inwardly filled with death.  In other words, there is something very dangerous about looking good outwardly while there is something far worse going on within. 

If you go back a few verses, Jesus explains the motivation of why these people want to look good:
"They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others." (Matthew 23:5-7)

Essentially, Jesus is saying that these Pharisees are only doing good deeds to be seen by others. They don't actually love God or the people around them; they love what they can get from looking good on the outside. And these Pharisees are people that know the Law and had just talked to Jesus about the two most important commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22:34-40).  Instead, they want others to see how great they are and to recognize them for it. They are putting on a show so that they will receive honor. But not only that, they want to be elevated above others. They want to be the best. They are proud. 

And sadly, what I am coming to find is that I am much more like these Pharisees than I ever realized.

Most of the time, I want to look good on the outside, not because I love God or others, but because I want praise. I want to be seen by others. So I put on a show. But not only that. I want to be esteemed more highly than others. I want to be the best. I am proud. And pride is not beautiful. 

Let me show you why. (But be warned - it gets really ugly…)

If we have our hearts set on being the best, being pretty will never be enough. Each of us will want to be the prettiest girl in the room. But in order for us to achieve such a status, we must compare ourselves with every other girl we know. And so, in some ways, it's great to be surrounded by girls, who by our assessment, aren't nearly as pretty as we deem ourselves to be, because then in our own hearts, we can still boast in being the fairest of them all. 

But then again, if we must be the best, it would be important that those who are of the same caliber of attractiveness stick together. We wouldn't want anyone to think that we could be somehow uncool for spending time with anyone who's less than gorgeous. So then, we would each need to make sure to have a posse of attractive girlfriends to hang out with. But they would also need to be just slightly less attractive than we are, of course. Otherwise, how would we ensure that all the guys would be interested in us, instead of in them? 

So then if there are girls in our lives who we feel are prettier than us, we will feel insecure around them. We will despair. We will resent them for it. We will not want them in our lives. We would rather they didn't exist. So every girl would have the potential to become our enemy if she threatens the position we really want - the fairest of them all. Because everyone (and I mean everyone) knows it's a truth universally acknowledged that a girl isn't worth anything unless an attractive guy thinks she's the most beautiful girl in the world and wants to marry her. 

But even if we do find such a man, we would really only be using him to feel better about ourselves. Though we would never admit it, we would secretly feel superior to all of our single friends. (Because didn't we feel inferior and unattractive without a man?) So we would not actually be satisfied by the man's praise or his love. He was never really our goal. We just wanted him to help us feel like we were worth something. But it can only work temporary at best. We could try other men, thinking that we simply picked the wrong one, or that we just need more affection and praise, but we would still find ourselves unsatisfied. 

And we haven't even begun to think of all the implications of getting older and the fact that our bodies decline with age. That reality will be too devastating to handle. Not to mention the fact that we have only been discussing one realm of the things we need to compete about if we are intent on being the queen of all… 

This is what happens when the ugliness of a heart fixed on self-glorification is left to run rampant. Friendships are reduced to no more than a constant competition. And romantic relationships exist merely to boost the ego. 

But the truth is, all the praise and all the admiration in the world could not satisfy a heart that is fixed upon being the best. In fact, God makes sure that our pride cannot be satisfied. As we seek to promote ourselves, He opposes us. James 4:6 says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." Pride is utterly repulsive to Him and displays the heart of our rebellion; we don't want to worship Him - the One we were created to worship - we want to worship ourselves. And the ugliness of self-obsession cannot be fixed outwardly. It's our souls that need the surgery. 

And that's exactly the solution that Jesus gives: 
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. (Matthew 23:25-26).

It is not enough to just look good. Our souls are sick. We need to be washed on the inside. And Jesus is the one who can cleanse our hearts (Psalm 51:10). He knows how truly ugly our sin has made us, and yet He still died in our place. He knows that it will never be enough for us to simply feel beautiful. He wants to make us beautiful for real.

But we will never become beautiful for real if we are too busy pretending that we already are. That's why the path to true beauty must begin with the realization of how ugly we are on the inside. Only then will we find that the fairest of them all is able to start to make us like Him. 

When Jesus changes us on the inside, He makes us more beautiful. He makes us like Him. 

Loving Him is Red.

September 26, 2014

Where is Hope in Death?

*Adapted from an earlier post, on the occasion of the death of friend and fellow member of the WAHS Class of 2005 - Mitchell Kelly. 

I can't tell you how much I wish I didn't have a reason to write this...

But death is one of the cruelest reminders that this world is broken beyond comprehension. And whenever we seem to forget it, it has this ugly way of interrupting our lives with its devastation, refusing to be ignored. 

I do not wish to assert any kind of expertise on this topic. Many others have certainly experienced the up-close-and-personal reality of death in a way that I have not. 

However, death is a reality, for those who have gone through the heartbreaking loss of a loved one and for us all. No one is exempt. So I offer this, not to belittle the pain of those going through the deep suffering associated with death, but as a fellow sufferer who is looking for hope in the midst of the saddest thing we face in this life. 

Here are some reflections upon the untimely death of a friend and classmate:

Earlier this week, I woke up to some sad news. A friend of mine had died. And death always has this horrible way of taking me by surprise. I was shocked. And speechless. I didn't want to believe it. couldn't believe it. But I had to face the facts: A man's life had ended. And there was absolutely nothing that anyone could do about it. This was final. Unable to be undone.

But he was young, intelligent, talented, loved by many... It seemed like his whole life was ahead of him. And now his happily ever after would never come to be. And it felt wrong. Completely wrong. 

And what's worse is that these same tragedies happen all the time - to our friends, to our families, to usThe heartbreak is inescapable. It's everywhere. 

Death doesn't care how old you are, how much money you make, or how many people adore you. No matter how long and how much you love another person, there's no stopping the cruel hand of death. Death kills happy endings.

Yet, there's something in all of us that knows that death is wrong, that it shouldn't be this way, that death shouldn't rob us of life and the lives of those we love. Especially when it's someone young. It seems unjust. We are desperate for these wrongs to be made right.

And they will be. There is hope. But we have to understand where to find it. 

You see, the only way to really understand death is to go back to its origin. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And He created man. At first, man had a perfect relationship with God in a perfect setting. There was no death, no pain, no suffering. But then man sinned. And when sin entered the word, death came along with it. "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned" (Romans 5:12).

So ever since Adam and Eve, sin and death have been a reality for us all. 

Life then, can feel like one tragedy after another - like there's no happy ending in sight. And we are powerless to protect ourselves or our loved ones from the harsh realities that await us with the mere passage of time. We can't turn back the clock. We can't heal every pain and suffering. We can't beat every disease, sickness, or cancer. We can't bring the people we love back to life again. Death is a fierce enemy who seems stronger than us in every way.

But there is one Man who proved to be stronger than death - who proved that He, not death, is the King.

Jesus, God Himself, came to earth in the form of man to live the perfect, sinless life that we could not live. And He died in our place to pay the just penalty for our sins. He took on our sins, our pain, our suffering, our death, our personal hell...during His time on the cross. And He did it all out of His love for us. He loved us so much that it killed Him. 

But death could not defeat Him. His perfect life was indestructible. He came back to life, as proof that God the Father accepted His sacrifice as payment for our sins. And when He resurrected, He proved that death would not reign supreme. He took on death, and He won. 

Though we do not see Him now, He gave us reassurance that He has gone to prepare a place for us, which means He will surely return to bring us to be with Him: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3). 

And when He does come back, He will win the final victory. He will trample all His enemies. "For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death"(1 Corinthians 15:25-26). Death will be defeated forever! So for those who trust in Him for life - He lets us share in His victory. Though we all die because of sin, Jesus offers eternal life. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). 

Sadly, if we do not accept Jesus' payment for our sins, we volunteer to pay for them ourselves. And since God is holy and just, the only acceptable payment for sin is death - not just physical death, but spiritual death - an eternal separation from God. Without Jesus, this is the perpetual tragedy that awaits us. Without Him, we have no hope. Death has killed and will kill every single happy ending, except the one that Jesus has resurrected - His own. And He wants us to be part of His eternal happy ending. All we have to do is believe: 

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:16-18). 

If we believe, Jesus gives us the opportunity to be a part of His happily ever after - the one that all others point to, the one that death could not kill. We just have to wait. Our hope is in Heaven. 

So for now, death may steal away our happy endings. I'm still grieving for friends who have seemed to leave this world too soon. I'm still brokenhearted for those around me who have lost those so dear to them. And all this pain just continues to reinforce the fact that w
e are made for a happy ending that this life cannot deliver. But Jesus can. With Jesus, death isn't the end. He can resurrect. He makes all broken things new. He's working on it even now. And in Heaven, all things will be restored. That's why His glorious story has the best ending:

 "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.' And he who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new' (Revelation 21:1-5). 

Won't you embrace this hope of a happy ending that Jesus longs to give you?

In the midst of loss, grief, and pain...Loving Him is Red.

What other Scriptures have comforted you when dealing with the harsh realities of death?

How do you find hope when death kills a happy ending?