May 4, 2017

Rethinking "Wrong" Turns

I realized something very important recently: There's more than one way to get to Baltimore. Shocking, I know. 

You see, I grew up in a small town. I never drove on roads that were bigger than 2 lanes on each side. Maybe sometimes when I would visit my cousins in Buffalo. But for the most part, I prefer to stick with Pennsylvania roads. They make me feel more comfortable. So you can understand why I might get stressed out when faced with bigger roads and more intense traffic when I visit my friend Megan in Baltimore. In fact, I wondered if my stress levels might inhibit me from continuing to visit her. A very sad thought indeed.

But then my fiancĂ© Jason said, "You're not thinking clearly, Sarah. There's more than one way to get to Baltimore." It was like a lightbulb moment for me. I hadn't been thinking clearly. Why did I get it in my head that I had to power through those intense highways if I wanted to visit Megan? And then an even bigger realization hit: I had been living my life with the mentality that if I wanted to get anywhere, I needed to take the fastest route. It felt almost wrong to take any other way. 

If you know me at all, you will note the strangeness of the fact that I had adopted such a mentality. A number of friends call me a "snail." It first started when my friend Krystle was trying to hurry another friend, Tori, and I along after Bible study one day. Krystle is a fast mover, so it's unsurprising that she grew impatient with our slowness. From many yards ahead, she called back, "Come on snails!" Tori just told me about a song that talks about how "Snails see the benefits, the beauty in every inch," so we didn't take it as an insult. We made it part of our identity. We've been known to say we are "snailing" when we are moving slowly. Or if we need to go somewhere, we must build in some "snail time," as a buffer for our slowness. 

What I've been realizing though is this: It's not wrong for Krystle to be a fast mover, and it's not wrong for me to be a snail. I think the hard part for us as humans is to not assume that one of these ways of doing things is wrong. Both have value, and both have different types of benefits associated with them.  It's not wrong to want to get from one place to another quickly in order to maximize productivity. And it's not wrong to slow down and enjoy conversations or the beauty of your surroundings. In fact, both are good, and both are valid. 

It wouldn't be wrong for me to take the fastest route to Baltimore if I needed to get there as quickly as possible. But it also wouldn't be wrong for me to take a more scenic route if I wanted to enjoy the serene beauty of the landscape. Instead, I am free to evaluate the situation, what is needed, what would help me, and what would help those around me. 

So recently, when I found myself in Baltimore after a worship conference, I decided that I would finally put this new realization into practice and take the scenic route back to Pennsylvania. I didn't have anywhere I needed to be, and the flowering trees were so lovely that I felt like I would be more likely to enjoy them more if I could drive a little slower. 

Part way through the trip, my GPS gave me some confusing directions, and I ended up getting off the route. I began to beat myself up for making this mistake, for making such a stupid wrong turn. It set my arrival time back a few minutes, and I was mad at myself for that too. But then I began to realize that I wasn't truly believing the idea that had sent me on that route in the first place: There's more than one way to get somewhere. And the fastest way is not necessarily the best. It depends on what your goal is. And my goal was to enjoy the drive. 

So I took heart in the fact that my GPS would reroute me and make sure that I got where I wanted to go. And I realized that God was directing all of this anyway. As I passed by beautiful farm houses and lovely open fields, I wondered if He purposely allowed me to make that "wrong" turn just so I could be further enthralled with the beauty He wanted to show me along the way. It made me think it wasn't really a "wrong" turn after all. And if it wasn't a "wrong" turn, I could enjoy the journey for what it was. Different in some ways than the route the GPS suggested, with its own set of negative elements, but with its own set of positives too. And if I was too busy berating myself for all of the mistakes I made to get myself there, I would never be able to truly appreciate the beauty of the road that I was on. 

That trip did more for me than I ever could have anticipated. It reminded me of how I want to live. I want to delight in the way that God has made me and the story He is writing with my life. I want to value the fact that God has made others differently, while still making choices that are most suitable for the way He has made me. Whenever possible, I want to embrace that slower path and behold the beauty along the way, even in the midst of what seems like a "wrong" turn. I want to see "wrong" turns and obstacles as another part of this grand adventure and to believe that things will go far better when I embrace those too. I want to choose to anticipate the fact that difficulties and unexpected surprises are part of what makes the story interesting. And I always want to look forward to whatever will happen next, because this surely is a beautiful, heartbreaking, gloriously painful, and wonderfully staggering life. 

March 30, 2017

Too Late to Apologize?

Recently I've been realizing that one of my greatest fears in life is that I will permanently and single-handedly ruin everything. And I mean everything. Forever.

My fiancé Jason realized this before I did. He told me I wasn't allowed to use the word ruin anymore, that it wasn't helpful, that I didn't know how to use it correctly. He says that someday I will get my privileges back, but not for a long while.

About a year ago, I began to feel this deep fear about Jason - that I had ruined everything with him forever. We had been good friends in college. He was in love with me the whole time. I was not in love with him the whole time. And I didn't know that he was actually in love with me. He was. Then he asked me out about 6 years ago. I said no forever. But he didn't tell me he actually loved me. How was I supposed to know?

But then, last March, I rediscovered a letter he had written to me after we both graduated from Muhlenberg College. It was the best letter I've ever read. I remembered thinking so back in 2009 when I first read it. But I had forgotten about it in the meantime. Nothing had ever happened. He never asked me out or anything. Well, not until 2011, that is. And that was a long time after the first time I read this letter.

This letter was like a love letter in which he told me he loved me in every way possible without ever really coming out and saying it. And it was just what I needed to hear last March. I needed to know that someone saw me, not just as someone who ruined everything forever, but as someone intentionally created by God.

It's like he took out all of the bad things about me and only left the good things. And that's how he described me in this letter. And that's how he saw me. He saw the core of how God made me and called it very good. Like how I dance whenever possible. Jason saw that about me and said it was good, instead of silly. And I needed to hear those good things, because I usually only see the bad things. Like me ruining everything forever.

And so as I reread this letter one year ago, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I couldn't help but think to myself, "I think he still loves me. I think he loved me the whole time. I think this relationship might be worth a try." But within the same thought, my fear crept in..."But it's probably too late. I think I've probably ruined everything forever. I think even if I apologized now, he would say he's already moved on, that he's not in love with me anymore."

So I began to feel like my life was actually an Adele song. Each time I got in my car, I would play Hello, belt it out, and cry. I would always cry hardest at the part where she says,

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I've tried
To tell you I'm sorry for breaking your heart
But it don't matter it clearly doesn't tear you apart anymore

And I imagined myself trying to tell Jason how sorry I was and that I was stupid for not realizing how much he loved me sooner and saying that I wanted to try to make things work with us. But in my imaginings, he would always just turn me away. And that's why I would cry. I didn't want to have ruined everything. I didn't want him to stop loving me. 

So that's what I told him. After I apologized for telling him no forever. And after he told me he couldn't be my friend without having feelings for me. I said I didn't want him to not have feelings for me. Then he reminded me that when I told him no forever I asked him to try to stop having feelings for me. I told him that's because I was an idiot. 

He never stopped loving me though. I might have told him to stop. But he didn't. And I was afraid that I had ruined everything forever. But I really hadn't. It wasn't too late to apologize. One Republic was wrong. My apology mattered. It moved our story forward so that we could become friends again.  And then Jason could finally admit he always thought we were like Ross and Rachel. It's like everyone else knew that we were supposed to be together, but we just couldn't seem to figure out how to make that happen. But then we did. 

So it really wasn't too late to apologize. Justin Bieber's fears could be put to rest. And my life stopped being an Adele song. I actually told Jason about how I thought my life mirrored Hello for a while and how I thought all of this business about our relationship didn't tear him apart anymore. He told me I was wrong. He had been torn apart. So much so that he failed 2 classes in seminary when he thought he'd lost me forever and couldn't even listen to Hello or the entire album for that matter. He knew I loved Adele and thought it would be too much for him to handle, because there's no way he could listen to it and not think about me. After he told me that, we listened to 25 together. I thought that was important.

But even if Jason had moved on and the apology came too late for us to be together, it still wouldn't have meant that everything was ruined. And it still would have been right for me to apologize. Because when it looks like everything is ruined, it's not. It just means the story isn't done yet. It just means you're in the middle. And the middle has a whole lot of ups and downs and twists and turns. And they're really painful. But that's what makes the story. Without them, there would be no story at all. It would just be a series of boring events, leading nowhere. And who wants a life like that?

So the important thing that I have been learning is not to confuse a story's negative turns with the ending. Jason and Donald Miller have been helping me with that. Because any good storyteller knows that the ending must be glorious. I can make intentional choices to make my story go better. And I might make bad choices, even accidentally. But that never means everything is ruined. I can still keep moving forward, one thing at a time. And eventually those all add up. Plus some things just happen that I don't have any control over - both good and bad. That's just part of how any story happens. And somehow God just weaves all of those things together to make something beautiful. And I trust God. I think that He's a good storyteller. So that must mean whatever ending is ahead must be glorious.

March 2, 2017

Lemonade - Uncomfortable Yet Refreshing

When Beyonce's Formation dropped at the Super Bowl, I honestly wasn't impressed. I didn't understand or connect with the references. And when friends started blowing up my newsfeed with the Hold Up video, I seriously didn't know what all the commotion was about. This was not the Beyonce I had come to know and love. I wanted songs that were reserved for nonstop radio play. I wanted to dance to something fun like Crazy in Love. I wanted to cry to another ballad like If I Were a Boy. And it was clear that this new album was not going to give me what I wanted. So without really giving it much thought, I wrote off this new Beyonce. I just didn't like this new music that seemed to highlight vulgarity and a culture that clearly did not include me. Quite frankly, I didn't think Lemonade really lived up to all the hype.

But as time went on, it became increasingly clear to me that others really loved this album. It seemed to help them - empower them. But I didn't really know how or why. And I was perplexed by the fact that we had such opposite reactions to the same collection of music. So I began to think these tensions were worth exploring. And especially after Adele's speech at the Grammy's, claiming that Beyonce deserved to win Album of the Year, instead of her, that seemed like too bold of a statement to ignore. 

Now, after watching the Lemonade visual album, and giving it some serious thought, I find my perspective quite changed. The album features a number of interesting themes worth exploring - including the ill treatment of blacks, women, and black women, in particular.  But for now, I will just stick with a discussion of how the album handles grief and healing. 

The genius of the Lemonade album is that it is a visual and musical depiction of the grieving process. And I believe that's part of the reason we love it and hate it at the same time. 

Beyonce has woven several narratives together throughout her work, and one of them follows the discovery of a cheating husband. She places this discovery in the midst of a historical context that runs in "her blood." She refers to it as "the curse," knowing that it is the same plight shared by women in her family and black women throughout the centuries. The album walks through her discovery of "the curse" until she finds the "remedy." Each song fits with each stage of the narrative from Intuition, to Denial, to Anger, to Apathy, to Emptiness, to Loss, to Accountability, to Reformation, to Forgiveness, to Resurrection, to Hope, and finally to Redemption. She deals with each stage musically and visually in a way that is so fitting for such a vulnerable, upsetting, and ugly topic that the whole album possess a quality that is uncomfortable yet refreshing.

I think that's why I dismissed the album so quickly at first. It made me uncomfortable. I didn't want a Beyonce who would curse or use vulgar language or gestures. I wanted a Beyonce who was there to make me feel good, who created music to give me an excuse to dance. I wanted a Beyonce who would quickly go through the stages of a struggle within a well produced 4 minute song. I wanted a quicker resolution than Lemonade gave me. And that usually what's I want in life too.

But what Beyonce has done with this album is better than what I wanted, and her path to healing is far more effective than the one I usually take. She dives headfirst into the overwhemingly uncomfortable nature of the fact that things are not as they should be. Beyonce has taken her musical brush to paint grief as ugly as it really is. And that honest assessment of reality is where the true healing begins. But the very thing that makes healing possible is the thing that most of us are so uncomfortable with.

We are ok with grief that has already turned into something beautiful, but we have trouble with grief that still looks messy. It's a pill that's usually too hard for us to swallow. We would rather try to fix a situation, making it our goal to try to snap others out of their anger, sadness, or hopelessness. So we try to calm people down, tell them to stop whining and complaining, and hope that they'll put on a happy face. And then we deceive ourselves into feeling like we've helped them somehow. Or at least, now we feel better. But we don't like messy grief. 

I remember when a friend started asking me why I didn't feel free to express my emotions after the house fire I was involved in this past year happened. I felt like I had to just be ok, to suck it up, to deal with it, to move on, to be fine. But I wasn't fine. And my friend gave me permission to allow myself to be sad and to be angry and to see where those emotions went. She reassured me that facing those darker emotions is a necessary and normal part of the grieving process and that if I stopped them in their tracks, I would truncate the healing that could otherwise occur. She was right.

And going through the grieving process myself has helped me to see the sadness and the anger and the apathy of Beyonce's album with fresh eyes. As I learned to be honest in the midst of my own grief, Lemonade's honesty became refreshing to me.  

I have lived life for so long thinking that I have to keep it all together and present a neatly wrapped package with a perfectly tied bow on top. But that's not life. Real life is hard and messy, and things happen to all of us that we know should never happen to anyone. And we all have to deal with that every day. So it's like a breath of fresh air to see someone use music to grapple with how sad and upsetting things really are, instead of just pretending everything is fine.

Deep down, I think we all know that real healing takes more than pretending. We have to be honest. And Lemonade has done what so few of us do by pushing right through the uncomfortable and digger deeper into the grief. Our girl B has to admit that she has died before she can resurrect - before she can start again. And I think that's the key to real healing that most of us miss. 

Beyonce recognizes what feels like her own death during the intro of the the song Sorry: "What are you going to say at my funeral now that you've killed me?" The life she had before the infidelity is gone, and she has to admit it and mourn it. Though it is unbelievably painful to recognize those things about our lives that are now dead, we can't get a resurrection any other way. In some ways it feels like things just have to keep getting worse before they get better. But once you hit the lowest level - death - the resurrection is just waiting to take over the story.

The fusion of the uncomfortable messiness of grief with refreshing honesty creates the real path to healing. And Lemonade shows us, not only that this path is possible, but that it actually works. By the end of the album, after singing songs of forgiveness and hope, Bey says, "True love brought salvation back into me. With every tear came redemption. And my torturer became my remedy. So we're gonna heal. We're gonna start again." She gives us our happy ending! But that happy ending would not be possible if she hadn't gone through the rest of the grieving process. 

So in the end, Lemonade is an amazing depiction of the fact that real life resurrections are possible. And we love a good resurrection. But a resurrection assumes that a death has occurred. That's why I believe this album must be uncomfortable in order to be refreshing. Embracing the sour is the only way to get to the sweet. And I think the more I grapple with that in my own life, the better off I'll be.

* Lest there be any confusion, let me set the record straight by saying that I do not promote profanity, vulgarity, or anything else that might be otherwise offensive or unhelpful to my readers and advise you to use your own discretion when deciding what is best for you to listen to or view. I merely wanted to point out the things that I found helpful about the Lemonade album, instead of getting distracted by what initially caused me to discredit it's value. 

May 5, 2016

This Burning House

I just kept staring down at my blackened hands, obsessing over them, turning them over and over. Panic began to set in - "How did this even get on me!?! I can't have this on me!!!" It was then that I was reminded that I had just been in a burning building - the house that had been my home, a safe haven for me - and it was now filled with thick black smoke. 

I had underestimated the fire. I thought I could walk through the house unscathed. I thought I could confidently waltz in to simply open windows - get the smoke out before things got too bad. They had already gone in with the fire extinguishers. I thought things would be ok now. But as the smoke filled my lungs and my eyes, I knew that even this small task was far too big for me. It was already past the point of bad. This was a full on emergency. I was glad I had already called 911. This fire was out of control - too much for us to handle ourselves. I stubbornly opened two windows, fixated on doing something to help. But that was my limit. If I stayed in the house any longer, that smoke was going to consume me. 

Even after fleeing the source of the smoke, it stayed with me - in my hair, on my hands. It was like it had become part of me. All I wanted to do was remove any reminder of this smoke from my body - wash my hands immediately. I couldn't stand to look at these hands that were so covered in filth and yet, I couldn't look away. This thing that was destroying my house was on me - threatening to destroy me too. And that was more than I could handle. All I wanted was to rid myself of this horrible black film...but I couldn't. It wouldn't make it go away. This burning house was not just a nightmare; it was my reality. All I could do was just stand and watch helplessly.

Even days later, I keep replaying everything in my mind. The smell of smoke and the soot that covers everything I own has been too much to bear. I think subconsciously it reminds me of something else - sin. If I'm honest, I know I can't save myself from the blackness that has covered me due to my own disobedience to a loving Father. It has rendered me absolutely stained in every way, and there's nothing that I can do about it in my own power (Jeremiah 2:22). It permeates every aspect of my being. It's not just outside of me, but in me, part of me. It consumes and spreads, bringing destruction. It's ugly, it's devastating, and it deserves God's wrath as a punishment (Romans 1:18)

But unlike me, Jesus did not underestimate the fire of God's wrath. He knew what He was getting into when He walked into the smoke filled house of my sin and faced God's wrath against it. His soul was troubled unto death as He thought about facing it, but He set His eyes on completing the mission His Father had given Him (Matthew 26:38-39). He was going to save the world. The black soot of sin covered not only His hands, but His entire being, as He who never knew sin, became sin in our place (2 Corinthians 5:21). The Father's anger toward our transgressions burned hot and fierce upon Jesus, who became our substitute. And though the cross was too much for anyone to bear, He stayed. That was the price our sins demanded. He could have called His rescue squad of angels to intervene. But He didn't. Jesus didn't wash His hands of the soot of my sin - instead, He carried it through the flames of God's judgement - the judgement that should have been mine. He died - covered by the blackness of my sin - so that I could be clean. 

What I faced on Monday was terrifying, but what Jesus faced was a thousand times worse. And that makes me thankful that He knows what I'm going through and has made sure that I will never have to experience the full extent of the terrors my encounter only pointed to. The victory of His resurrection means that He not only conquered the blackness of sin with His perfection, but He has offered to let me have His spotless robe of righteousness (Isaiah 61:10)

God spared our lives and the house on Monday. There's plenty to struggle through in the aftermath. It can feel overwhelming at times, but Jesus has dealt with the scariest part of all. He hasn't just cleansed my hands but my blackened soul has been washed white. I might not have been able to escape this house fire completely untouched, but in His grace, Jesus has completely shielded me from the fiery wrath I deserve. I was helpless to remove the blackness of my sin, but He has washed me clean. That is surely a reason to rejoice. 

Loving Him is Red!

April 28, 2016

More Than a Dandelion

Have you ever been awestruck by a dandelion? 

As I was walking home yesterday, I found myself absolutely enamored by these so-called weeds in a way I never have before. When you think about it, their lifecycle is incredibly mind-blowing. How does this little yellow flower somehow turn into a round puff of white perfection? And how does the wind blow with such precision that these aerodynamically designed little seeds end up taking flight and dancing upon the air? 

Though I didn't find an answer to these questions on my journey home, I stopped to admire many a dandelion puff along the way. I just couldn't get enough. I marveled at their perfection. I watched the seeds dance in the wind and all but reenacted Belle's epic dandelion scene from Beauty and the Beast. 

I couldn't help it. 

And I don't want to help it. I don't want to get used to dandelions. I don't want to simply pass them by like they're ordinary. I don't want to see their beauty as some sort of an inconvenience. The truth is that dandelions are spectacular, and so is the rest of this breathtaking world. There are real masterpieces before our very eyes every second of every hour of every day. 

So I never want my senses to become so dulled that I begin to find life boring or uninteresting or not worth infinite study and consideration.  I don't want to get tired of beauty or build up a tolerance to life. Rather, I want to let it make me crave for the beauty of the Creator, because I was made for something more. 

I always want the moon to stop me dead in my tracks, the sunset to leave me sighing in peaceful delight, the ocean to send me into instant composition, the feel of the smooth sand beneath my feet to leave me dancing, the open fields to send me frolicking, and the first snow to send me on a mission to catch a perfect snowflake on the tip of my tongue. 

All these things might seem commonplace, but they're more than just mere moments - more than just normal. They are reminders that we get to be a part of something special: God has given us life and He gives it abundantly, particularly through Jesus (John 10:10).

So I never want to see the beauty of this world and take it for granted. Instead, I long for that loveliness all around to point to a divine Creator who is every bit more enthralling than the present beauty my eyes now behold. I never want to become so spoiled and spent on the pleasures of this life that I do not pause and give thanks to the One who invented them. I never want to get used to living this abundantly glorious life. Instead, I want to breathe in the wonder of it all and ask for more.

Surely this world was meant to prepare us for something far more glorious that incomparably surpasses the loveliness of every inch of splendor that surrounds us. And if we don't appreciate this lesser glory, how will our souls ever be prepared to embrace something far greater than our current limitations could dare to fathom? How will our hearts ever be ready for the surpassing joys of Heaven if we fail to value the glimpses of its fractured perfection all around? How do we dare dream of more if we simply shrug our shoulders at the best of all we see? 

So a dandelion might just be a weed. Or it might be something more. It might just be a way to see the creative power, wisdom, intelligence, perfection, goodness, and grace of a truly unique and amazing God. I, for one, think I'll stick with the latter.

Loving Him is Red!

In what ways have you learned about God through looking at creation?

Wanna join me in an Instagram photo challenge to help us notice the beauty of God in the created world? I try to post a photo a day, and I'd love to see your photos too! @sarahmonticue

April 14, 2016

Piece by Piece

Over the past few months I have felt more broken than maybe ever before… At times, I honestly wasn't sure if I could bear it. But I'm hopeful that all of this brokenness is on it's way to becoming something good. Here's what I've been thinking about.

It's hard to deny that Piece by Piece by Kelly Clarkson is a powerfully emotional ballad. I mean, who wasn't in tears after watching her performance on American Idol?!? The stripped down piano-based version, along with the extremely personal lyrics, and the vulnerability of her singing all lend a poignant rawness that is particularly appropriate for the topic she has taken on in this song. 

I resonated with the lyrics right away. With each listen, I felt more and more like she understood my life - like I wasn't alone in my feelings of being shattered in pieces. The words "I begged you to want me, but you didn't want to" felt all too real to my experience. And there was no use holding back the fountain of tears that came with, "Back then I didn't have anything you needed so I was worthless." Her words encapsulated the feelings and fears I had carried with me for so long. And she articulated them in such a way that made it impossible for me to ignore them.    

But though she was singing about how her father's departure left her in pieces, she was also singing about a man who came along and loved her - who collected all those pieces and put her back together. And that was something I couldn't relate to. Though there have been times when I have felt like God has restored me, a lot of the time, I just don't feel put back together. I still feel broken. But the longing to be put back together, to have what she describes…that goes down to the very depths of my heart. 

So I found myself with mixed emotions. I was happy for her that she had someone in her life who was restoring that picture of what a man should be like. And even more than that, I was glad that he could show her what God is really like. We teach each other so much about who God is, and when we love, we show others the very heart of God (1 John 4:12). But I also began to feel like maybe that's what I needed. Maybe that's what was missing. Maybe that's why I was still broken. Maybe if I could just find the right man to stick with me and show me what love is really like - then I could be whole too… But that didn't seem right either. Whether it's with Kelly or with me, the promise of "he'll never walk away" is not a guarantee. All of us are too fragile. Even when we have the best of intentions, we all fail in some way or another, even accidentally. And then there's the fact that all of us die… We just can't avoid it. Finding another person to restore you is not secure enough to truly provide real and lasting healing.  

Even as I began to grapple through the feelings of unwantedness and worthlessness like she describes in the song, I found myself spiraling into a pit that seemed unending. I just couldn't bear it if those things were true. Those things could not define me. It was too painful to even think about. I needed them to be contradicted. I hoped that the validation and affirmation from my other relationships would help outweigh that internal sinking feeling…but it didn't work. It never works. I ended up feeling even more alone, more broken, more hopeless. And that's when I began to realize and started to admit to myself that maybe we're all too broken to actually offer each other the healing we really need.

In so many ways, I'm just like ancient Israel - looking to other people and kingdoms to do the impossible:

"When Ephraim saw his sickness,
    and Judah his wound,
then Ephraim went to Assyria,
    and sent to the great king.
But he is not able to cure you

    or heal your wound." Hosea 5:13

No one else can heal us. The deepest healing that our broken souls need cannot come from other people. It just can't. We don't have the cure in and of ourselves. Because the thing of it is, I may be unbelievably broken, but so is everybody else. Our lives may be cracked and fractured in different places, but we're still all shattered in one way or another. We're all broken. We need something more. Our wounds are far too deep to be bound by any human. 

Real brokenness demands a real Savior. 

There's just no way around it. I have searched with all my might to find another route to healing, and they all come up short… And isn't that so often what it takes for us to see what's right in front of us? We have to try every other option to see that it doesn't work. And then, when we've come to the end of the line, we finally come to our senses. We need God. 

"  I will return again to my place,
    until they acknowledge their guilt and seek my face,
    and in their distress earnestly seek me.
“Come, let us return to the Lord;
   for he has torn us, that he may heal us;
  he has struck us down, and he will bind us up.” Hosea 5:15-6:1

I wish I could say that the healing happens instantaneously. But it doesn't. I wish I could say I've finally learned my lesson to stop chasing after other things to do what only God can. But I can't. I'm still broken. I'm still going to fail. But I do know that God is not going to give up on me. He is committed. He's not leaving. If I was worthless to Him, He never would have sent His most prized possession - His own Son - to the cross on my behalf. And so I have hope that He's going to keep putting me back together piece by piece, little by little, from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor 3:18).

Loving Him is Red!

What things do you tend to run to in order to look for healing?

In what ways has Jesus begun to heal you piece by piece?

*Hi Dad, if you ever end up reading this, I want you to remember that I have already forgiven you. I know you're just like me - broken. I know how easy it is to look everywhere besides God to find healing for a broken heart. That's what we do. You, me, everyone... I'm not writing this to hurt you or make you look bad - I just know there are other people out there like Kelly, like me, who are struggling through the aftermath of having an absent father, and I want them to know they're not alone and that healing is possible - even if it takes a long time. If you're still looking for healing too, I hope that you find it in Jesus - little by little - piece by piece. 

February 14, 2016

An Inextricable Connection

This weekend, I had the opportunity to have some girls over for a Valentine's Day sleepover. It was the best. We had an awesome popcorn bar - complete with Reese's Pieces, chocolate chips, and marshmallows. We relished in the splendor of the new Cinderella movie. And of course, we stayed up way too late. But my favorite part was the Bible study on God's love that we did in the morning. As we looked at a passage from John 15, we had the opportunity to listen in on some of Jesus' last words to His closest friends:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)

Jesus is the vine. He is the source of all life. I am a branch - inextricably connected to Him. He has guaranteed our connection through His Holy Spirit that He's given to all who believe in Him for life. Apart from Him, I certainly have no life at all.  Even if I thought I could do anything without Him, why would I want to? He is everything. He's the One who wants my life to be beautifully fruitful. And that's part of why He wants me to stay close to Him. Any good that comes from my life is only because I'm connected to Him. 

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. (John 15:1-2)

I am not just connected with Jesus through the Holy Spirit. I am also connected to the Father - the vinedresser. He's the one who takes care of the vine and the branches. He knows what He's doing when He takes away branches or prunes the ones that aren't bearing as much fruit as they could. So when hard things happen in life, I can take heart in knowing that my Father is using those things to help me be even more fruitful. And all the while, Jesus is with me in every situation - because we're still connected, even though other things in my life are taken away. 

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:9-11)

The Father is not just good and powerful, but He is also loving. He has loved Jesus, and Jesus shares that love with me. One of the ways He shares that love is by giving His commandments. They are meant to help me experience the Father's love more fully. And how could they not? The first command is love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. And the second is love your neighbor as yourself. Those commands not only extend love to me, through helping me to relate with God and with others, but they help teach me to become someone who overflows love. That's the kind of person I want to be. That's the kind of life I want. A life that overflows with love is a life that overflows with joy. 

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you...You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide. (John 15:12-14,15-16)

Jesus has loved in the greatest, most beautiful way imaginable. He has laid down His life in order to call me His friend. He paid the price that my sins deserved so that I could be connected with Him. And this amazing demonstration of love comes from someone I would have never chosen to love if He had not loved me first. And yet His persevering love took Him all the way to death on a cross. 

Now He has called me to love others in that same sacrificial way. How free a person must be to be able to sacrifice themselves for the good of someone else! That's the kind of free I would love to be - to have such a focus on things of eternal significance. And that is exactly the result that Jesus promises in the lives of those who are connected with Him - they will bear fruit that abides. He promises to help us love like Him so that our lives can produce something more than earthly accomplishments. He can help us love in such a way that our lives can create ripples of lasting impact. 

Surely Jesus offers the truest, deepest, most secure, loving connection anyone can ever offer. Though there will be hard things about being connected with Him, He will never leave. And He promises a life so full of love and joy that it seems almost too good to be true. But it is true. And real. And overflowing. And lasting. 

So this Valentine's Day, I'm glad to be inextricably connected to Father, Son, and Spirit. 

Loving Him is Red!

What other things did you notice from John 15?

In what ways has your connection to Jesus added love and joy to your life?