Amateurs at grace and love.

Just when I think that I have the whole “Christian” thing down (I try), something happens that smacks me in the face with my own humanity. Lately, I have been working on responding with grace and love.  It sounds simple, but it is significantly more difficult than it seems, especially when I wish my biggest problem was when one of my students acted disrespectfully to me and I had to take a deep breath to avoid lashing out at them.

Alas, there are far bigger tragedies in the world.  And, I just so happened to encounter one of them on Wednesday.

If you live in east Tennessee or western North Carolina, you have probably heard about the Tennessee Congressional candidate’s “Make America White Again” billboard campaign.  If you haven’t heard about it, Google it. If you don’t have time to Google it right this second, here’s the nitty gritty: a TN congressional candidate has been campaigning under the slogan “Make America White Again,” and browsing his campaign media will show you that he intends to do just that. It’s repulsive. No one can make this stuff up.

When I first saw the “Make America White Again” billboard and other similar propaganda (including one image of the White House donned in Confederate flags with the words “I have a dream” above it *vomit*), I was shocked more than anything.  Then, I started doing further research and found out a few other tidbits of information, some uplifting and others infuriating.  The uplifting piece is how quickly the community rallied to have the billboard taken down within a matter of a few hours and make clear that their values did not align with the bigotry displayed for the world to see.  I do not personally know any of them, but I wish I did.  I would shake their hands and tell them that I appreciate them.  Civil rights activists come in many forms, ya’ll.

But, there’s still the infuriating part… the part that taught me just how much I still have to learn from Jesus.

As I skimmed over the candidate’s Facebook and campaign website, my eyes locked on one word that I just could not ignore.  In this man’s personal biography, “pastor” was listed as one of his occupations.

Pastor.  One word, and I went ballistic.

It would be exceptionally difficult to ignore the fact that such a person was campaigning for a seat in Congress, but ignoring the fact that this man purported to be a servant of God was completely unacceptable.  I felt my blood boil, and I immediately started planning what I would do, because I simply could not disregard such a vile manipulation of the gospel and such an inaccurate picture of the Jesus I’ve spent the last two years coming to know and love.  I tossed around ideas of writing an angry letter to the candidate, and the things I planned to call him could reduce anyone to two inches tall.  I even thought about writing an “Open Letter” to him on my blog, blasting him to anyone I could reach with my small platform.  I planned to sit down at my computer and “just bleed” as Ernest Hemingway once put it, even if I didn’t quite know the medium with which to share my words.

My plans were not God’s.

As I lay in bed plotting and simultaneously scrolling through Facebook, I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks.  My pastor’s wife had shared a post from Bob Goff, one of my favorite Christian authors who has taught me so much about love.

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As if that one post wasn’t enough to convict me, I started browsing Bob Goff’s page and found another.

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And then, I remembered that one of my sweet friends has been sharing a daily prayer all week for those affected by the Orlando tragedy.  One of her most powerful ones was about praying for our enemies.  Here’s a snippet of it.

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After reading and rereading all of those words over and over again, I was forced to admit that my heart was not in the right place about this political situation.  Let me be clear in saying that there is no justification for the hate this man is spewing, not politically, and especially not biblically.  However, my reaction wasn’t particularly Christ-like either.

Instead of bowing my head and praying for this man’s heart change, I daydreamed about berating him, possibly in a public forum.

Instead of opening God’s word and praying for guidance about what to do in this situation, I almost took matters into my own hands.

I could have easily caused more damage than good in the situation, because here’s what would have happened.  I would have chosen to either write an angry letter, or post an angry open letter on Wandering Purposefully.  Had I chosen the former route, I probably would have received an equally negative response, and I would have done nothing to lead this individual toward Christ (because, if I’m being honest, his actions make me question his faith even if he identifies as a pastor).  Had I chosen the latter, I would have done nothing more than stir up anger in people who probably agree with my sentiments already (I like to think that people in my social circles would not accept this racism and bigotry either).

You know what?  Both options involved me putting my politics ahead of my faith, and neither option would do anything to advance the kingdom of Christ. What would serve Christ’s kingdom is me praying for this man and asking for God to break my heart over these kinds of situations rather than allow resentment to fester in my soul like a contagious infection.

I don’t pretend that praying for our enemies is easy.  As humans, we are so motivated by emotion that it is hard to overcome any scenario in which we or people we love are needlessly hurt.

It’s also hard because we have to accept two difficult realities: 1) that we are no more deserving of grace than the “easy hates” of this world and 2) that we are as far away from being on Jesus’s level as those aforementioned easy hates.

So many times Wednesday afternoon, I found myself pondering the concept of grace and asking, “Even him?”

“Are you kidding, God?  What do you mean that he gets grace?  Can’t we give his share away to someone who actually deserves it?”

Except, that’s laughable.  None of us deserve grace, but on the upside, there is plenty of it to go around.  In the New Testament, some of the Pharisees, the group responsible for crucifying Jesus, converted and became His followers.  My goodness, just look at Paul!  I’m sure that every believer in that time questioned God’s decision to set Paul apart to do His work, but luckily, God’s ways prevailed.  One of the things I’m learning in my walk with God is that I cannot pick and choose.  Sure, God commands me to give grace to the world’s vulnerable populations, and I’ve gotten pretty good at that.  But, God never allows me to neglect the rich and powerful or even those who seem vile and disgusting by our earthly standards of morality. I have to love and pray for them too.

So, here’s my prayer, and I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t easy to say these words (or type them if there are any literalists out there):

God, Your ways are not my ways and Your thoughts are not my thoughts, and honestly, I’m  grateful for that.  I’m good at giving love to people I deem worthy, however, I am most definitely    an amateur at grace and love for certain others.  I’m thankful that You’re the one in charge,   because I could never give out grace and love as freely as You do.  You give it out, not just to the persecuted, but also the persecutors, and I have no idea how you do that.  Help me to accept the task you have laid before me to love everyone, not just those I find easy to love.  When I encounter situations like the unfortunate political campaign that almost made me lash out, help me choose love even if lashing out seems like the path of least resistance.  Please break my heart for what breaks Yours, and please break the heart of this political candidate by showing him Your truth.  Amen.

I’m certainly an amateur at grace and love, but luckily God isn’t.  And luckily, some people like Bob Goff and Andy Stanley (please watch his “Avoiding Election Infection” sermon!) and so many personal church mentors I’m blessed with seem to get this much more right than I do.  Here’s to being more intentional and learning from their example.

 

Still I go.

Any friend, loved one, or acquaintance of mine can tell you that I love traveling.  In fact, I’m all about it.  Meet me and it will come up within five minutes of our conversation.  When people hear my stories from traveling the world, they usually react in one of two ways.  They either tell me I am crazy in slightly nicer words, or they comment that I am brave.

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Here’s the truth: I’m not brave.

Yes, I have studied abroad, jetted off to a foreign country without speaking the language, slept on the couches of strangers across the United States, and shared the Gospel in a malaria-ridden country full of the potential for infection.  On the surface, all of that seems really brave.  Yet, I can’t help but tremble when I picture what happened in Brussels this week, or in Paris and Beirut last year, at the hands of ISIS. I can’t help wondering if something like that could happen to me.  I picture myself being in an unfamiliar place, already feeling vulnerable, and confronting what I believe is surely the face of evil manifest in human form.  The thought makes my stomach churn and my eyes water.  It strips me of every ounce of bravery in my body.

But, I love traveling, and I don’t want to stop.

I won’t lie and hide the fact that, when I saw the news about the Brussels attack, my second thought (after sheer remorse for the families who lost loved ones) was hesitation about whether Colby and I should go up North this summer on our road trip.  After all, we will be going to New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, three huge cities where anything can happen.  They have huge populations, and their recognizable names make them easy targets.  I’ve been silently struggling over the matter for a few days.  I feel like there is a little cartoon angel on each of my shoulders, pulling me in two directions like they often do the protagonist in a Disney movie.

“Stay home.  It’s dangerous.  Think about what could happen. Where will the next bomb blow up?”

That argument compels me a bit.  My little corner of the world is sleepy and quiet for the most part, and I have rarely felt unsafe in Smoky Mountains.  I could cancel the trip and occupy my time with plenty of home projects, summer workouts for volleyball and cheerleading, or a slew of other tasks.

That voice is not the only one I hear.

The other says, “But, think of traveling.  Your eyes sparkle when you see a city skyline.  New adventures make your heart race.  This is what life is about.  Go.”

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I’ve decided to listen to the latter; I will keep traveling no matter how dark and broken this world becomes.  The logical part of my brain tries to justify this choice by reminding me that my chances of dying in a car wreck are astronomically higher than what could happen on a trip, but logic really does nothing to calm the anxious or the depressed.  I have found true peace about my decision to keep traveling via changes of the heart.

I have not yet been everywhere, but it is still on my list.  Here are a few reasons why:

  1. I’m stubborn. As ridiculous as it sounds, I refuse to let a group of terrorists make me live in fear. Traveling sets my soul on fire and it teaches me so much about who God is.  They will not take something from me about which I am passionate.  I refuse to give it up, and my tenacity is almost as characteristic of me as my love for travel itself.

Evil people want us to live in fear.  If they strip us of the things we love the most, they’ve stolen the very threads of our identities.  And, if they do that, they win.  To honor the legacy of all of the people killed my terrorists world-wide, I will NOT let them win.  I will focus on God and into my excitement about seeing Aladdin on Broadway and watching a Red Sox game from the left-field grandstand of Fenway Park.  I will do these things in spite of them.

  1. Just like I refuse to stop traveling, I refuse to let groups like ISIS define Muslims for me. A current trend in mainstream media, the political landscape of the United States, and even among religious figures, scares me, and it is that ISIS somehow represents common sentiments of the religion of Islam.  This could not be further from the truth.  In case you are confused, consider skimming over this insightful article about how ISIS actually VIOLATES major tenants of Islam, the second biggest religious system in the world just behind Christianity.

I have read that article several times, but I do not need it to show me that terrorists are on a completely different wavelength than most Muslims.  You see, I have a dear friend who is Muslim, and I met her through traveling.  I couchsurfed in her home and met her husband and son.  Please let me tell you a bit about her so you get a glimpse of the incredible woman she is.

Havah is from *drum roll, please* Topsail, North Carolina (Muslims from Arab countries make up less than a quarter of the world’s total Muslim population).  She is an avid reader, enjoys lots of types of music, and appreciates the “handymen” of the South.  She has an adorable little boy and a kind husband, and she runs her own business while finishing a Bachelor’s degree in Linguistics.  She opened her home to Colby and me without question.

Oh! It is important to note that Colby and I stayed with Havah and her family during Ramadan.  If you are unfamiliar with the holiday, know that it is as significant to Muslims as Easter is for Christians.  Fasting constitutes a large part of Ramadan, and Muslims can neither eat nor drink anything (even water) for seventeen hours.  Havah endured this task this summer all while running her business and combating the blistering Albuquerque heat.

Guess what?!  When we arrived at her home, she OFFERED TO COOK SOMETHING FOR US.  Hours before she could eat herself, she wanted to make sure we were comfortable in her home even if it made her excruciatingly uncomfortable in the process.  WHO DOES THAT?!  I suppose you can take a girl out of the South, but you cannot take the southern hospitality out of the girl.  I was and still am completely overwhelmed by this gesture.

Havah and I have kept in touch since last summer, and her friendship has greatly enriched my life.  I would wager that most Muslims are as kind, compassionate, and empathetic as Havah, and I never would have met her if I surrendered to the image of Muslims propelled by U.S. media.  This is why I need traveling… to overcome these ridiculous presumptions and get an accurate picture of the beautiful world we live in.

  1. I want to radiate joy.

One of my favorite things that I have learned about Christianity in the course of my short two years as a Christian is that God truly delights in our joy.  We were never meant to live sterile, decaffeinated lives, stuck on the hamster wheel that is our routine.  We were created for more than paying bills and dying and vegetating in one little corner of the world.  We were made for the moments that make the world stop for a minute and take our breath away.  I’m willing to chase those moments and overcome some fears in order to experience them.

I want to live a life of these moments, a life that points to Who God is.  I want to love people so much that I cannot possibly contain all of my joy… I have to open up the floodgates and share it with everyone.  I have known a few people like this in my lifetime, and none of them ever played it safe.  Some of them have already left this Earth, but their legacies here are eternal, and I remember them by the things that brought them genuine happiness.

That’s what traveling gives to me… true bliss and contentment with the woman I’ve fought to become, the woman God created me to be.  It also gives me a platform to share the Gospel, not in a condescending matter, but rather like the “city on a hill” God mentions in the book of Matthew.  Speaking of the Gospel, one thing I believe many Christians get wrong about our religion is the meaning of the pivotal phrase, “set apart.”  We may interpret this phrase literally and confine ourselves to our own comfy little bubbles, setting ourselves apart from the very culture we are called to engage with.  We are so missing the point!  When God encourages Christians to be “set apart” by our identity in Him, He does not mean being literally separated from the world physically or emotionally.  He intends for there to be an essence to our being that sets us apart… something about us that obviously comes from a divine place.  Whatever “it” is that sets us apart (I imagine some combination of a beaming glow and a raw sense of grit brought on by a series of struggles and triumphs), it was and is meant to be shared with the world rather than sequestered within our own souls.  And, sharing this part of us with the world involves taking risk and pursuing our callings with reckless abandon.  We are never promised safety.

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I still get scared traveling.  A downfall of humanity is how much we cling to routine and comfort, and I fall victim to the myth of security, daily.  The human in me breathes a bit harder every time I board I plane, buckle up in my car, or meet a new person with a completely different background. Each time, I ask myself, “Will everything be okay?” and “Is it all worth it?” Daily, I confront the choice in becoming who I know I’m supposed to be versus leaning into the security and safety the world offers.

It eventually all boils down to this: my identity is ultimately in Christ. On Easter weekend, I am reminded of how much freedom He gives us.  Because of that crucial part of my being, I get a spoiler for the ending of my story. It’s almost like middle school when I used to flip to the last page of the book to make sure everything turned out okay. I don’t want to spoil the story too much for the rest of you, but I will tell you this: it works out for my good and His glory.

It is not up to me to decide when I receive this happy ending.  Obviously, the later in life the better if we’re talking about my preference.   I would enjoy buying a home, adopting children from around the world, and continuing my career that I love, but I hope I would be content with a more abrupt ending should that be part of the plan for me.  At the risk of sounding morbid, should something ever happen to be while traveling, I hope the people who know me convey, “She was just doing something that she loved,” and smile rather than wallow in grief and start living with caution.

The world seems bleak at times, but still I go.

Still chasing waterfalls.

Still boarding planes.

Still cherishing other cultures.

Still choosing to see the good in people.

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It’s how I’m meant to live.

After gaining this overwhelming sensation of peace about our trip this summer and all of the future ones to come, I realized something incredible.

It wasn’t a little cartoon angel on my shoulder who convinced me to continue the crazy journey that is my life.

It was God.

 

 

 

A Lent Update and an Additional Fast

“A lot of us are just a few steps away from a breakthrough.  Maybe all of us are just thirty seconds away from being different people today.” —Hannah Brencher, If You Find this Letter

This blog will likely take more than 30 seconds to write. In fact, I’m sure of it. I’ve written variations of it in my head, adding and cutting things over the Chinese food I ate for lunch.  I know that I will edit it obsessively before I share it, because I feel like this one, in particular, has to be just right. So, it will probably take hours when all is said and done, but like Hannah Brencher’s quote, I want this to be a fairly minuscule period of time in the grand scheme of things that actually changes my life.

Many of you are probably thinking, “What is the big deal? Why is she taking so much time to confess to us that she has snuck a piece of chocolate here and there on Lent?”

The truth is, telling you about how Lent is going right now isn’t the hard part. I have abstained from fast food since it started. My tendency to compare myself with others is always a struggle, but it is going fairly well too. I have messed up with chocolate once or twice, but it is going much better than last year when I tried to forgo sweets all together and gave up midway.  I’m happy with the improvement.

The hard part is telling you about the additional fast I am taking on and exactly why I am doing it.  At the risk of outing myself for all to see, here it is… I plan to stop engaging in discussions about politics online, with the exception of sharing deprecating Donald Trump memes (because they are hilarious).  This is a fast I will continue well beyond March 24, 2016, the day that this year’s Lent is over.  But, before I get to the nitty gritty about how or why I came to this decision, let me digress for a minute.

As frustrating as politics are, I am fascinated by them.  They are complex and intellectually stimulating, especially when we consider political realms on a broader spectrum, outside of the United States.  I love talking about them with like minds or others, but only if it can be civil. Last semester, I had a Civics class that was all I could have ever asked for. One day, one of my students said something that will forever be engrained in my mind. I don’t even remember what we were discussing, but it was something the class was fairly split on (I had students all over the political ideology spectrum). Before he gave his opinion, he said, “I have something I’d like to say, but I’m not sure if I should say it. I like you people, and I would never want to offend you.”

I swear, my kids teach me more than I ever teach them. What kind of world would we live in if this sort of political dialog and empathy was the exception rather than the rule? We might actually have a functioning congress!

The reason I sometimes share politically-pointed posts (say that three times fast) on Facebook is that I believe thoughtful consideration of every side of an issue is so incredibly important. In addition to being a political minority for the area, I usually dissect parts of issues a lot of people don’t consider; my brain is wired that way. The teacher in me is always looking to make moments an educational experience, even talking about politics on Facebook.  I’ve never wanted to argue or offend; I’ve wanted merely to educate.

Another reason I share things (or “used to share them,” I should say) is that there are some political causes that I’m genuinely invested in. I care about humanity, and I want people to be able to have access to all they need to live healthy, full lives (whatever that looks like for them). I typically get behind issues and candidates that promote that ability for everyday people.

One of the biggest reasons I’ve decided to stop talking about politics on Facebook is that it feels terrible when people invalidate something you care about, especially for people like me who wear their hearts on their sleeves even if they don’t want to admit it. Our ideas and beliefs are such a huge part of our identity. After all, God gave us the ability to reason and believe, and it is what sets us apart from other species. So yeah, it hurts when people rip out such a crucial part of us and stomp on it. It hurts even worse when people do that on a screen for the world to see.

This has happened to me before, and here was my reaction: I got angry at first. I thought things like, “I see your crap and keep scrolling; why can’t you do the same?” But, beneath the knee-jerk reaction of anger that comes naturally to a spit-fire with a temper, there was indescribable hurt that people could really feel that way about me and post it for the world to see.  I would rather someone call me fat, tell me they hate my clothes, or do just about anything else than tell me my ideas don’t matter.  I don’t want to feel that way again, and the last thing I ever want to do is make others feel that way about themselves. I know there is always a risk of people disagreeing with controversial opinions, but disagreement isn’t what hurts. When people disregard all of the good things about you to nitpick one are they believe is flawed (an area that you might be perfectly comfortable with) and they do so publicly, that’s what hurts. It is a hurt I don’t want any part of.

But, that’s not the only reason I am “fasting” from election talk online. There are a few others.

A huge problem with America’s political landscape is “activism” on social media. A status, tweet, or Instagram post will never replace a warm body. Facebook did not exist when Bernie Sanders marched on Washington with Martin Luther King Jr. or got arrested for his civil protests. But, I have an inkling that he would not have stopped in the middle of doing something so important to take a selfie and share it with the webosphere. Regardless of how people feel about Senator Sanders, I think we can agree on one thing about him: we need more of that… action.  I want to make a commitment to be more presently involved with grassroots movements, write letters to my representatives more than I do now, and volunteer for causes about which I care deeply.  Since I won’t have to walk on eggshells online, wondering what I can say without going too far, maybe I’ll have more time on my hands to do so!

Speaking of time, I want to start being a lot more intentional about how I spend my time and energy, because I don’t have enough of either. I want to work out every day, plan engaging lessons for my students, and work on the memoir about which I eventually want to send queries to literary agents (excuse me while I vomit from nerves; sorry for the visual).  I want to watch Netflix with my husband, and cuddle with my furbabies, and daydream about my next adventure, hopefully with playlists that make me nostalgic for the adventures I’ve already had.  I want to do something with my time that makes a lasting impact, even if I’m tired.  And, I am tired. Most days, I am exhausted.  I’ve decided that I’m too exhausted to read or talk about politics on Facebook any longer.

The final reason is the kicker.  It is more important to me than any of the other reasons, even than avoiding the hurt that comes when people make us question the parts of our identities we’ve already wrestled with the most.  It has to do with Jesus.

Conviction slapped me in the face this morning at Church (not in a legalistic way, because that’s not what Village is about).  Our message was discussing the launch of Village’s first formal members, which is something I’ve been excited about since Colby and I realized Village is our place.  As Andrew, our pastor, was outlining Village’s mission and “DNA” he calls it, he brought up a scripture about the early church that really spoke to me. It’s Acts 15:19.

 

Acts 15 19

Quick translation and history lesson: members of the early church, including James, Jesus’s little brother, came to the conclusion that they should never stand in the way of someone getting to know Jesus.  Period. They laid aside a lot of religious tradition and dogma in the name of reaching people, and how different would the church be if they hadn’t?!

I don’t want to ever be that blockade between someone and Jesus.  I might care deeply about education, income inequality, and mountains of other political issues, but I won’t flash them all over my Facebook wall at the risk of nullifying my credibility to talk about Jesus.  I want my life to be like the Hawk Nelson lyrics: “Let my words be life.  Let my words be truth.  I don’t wanna say a word unless it points the world back to You.”

So, from here out, I am fasting from almost all election talk online.  I will only share Donald Trump memes (I was so serious when I said that) and political posts that have a direct, immediate, and significant impact on my community (for example, Western Carolina University and the Koch Brothers debacle, and how much it is hurting one of my favorite professors).  I’m finished with everything else.  I obviously will still have opinions that I’d love to share.  I’d also love to hear your opinions too, so we can learn from each other.  But, I’d rather talk privately, preferably over good coffee or Mexican food.  Until March 24th, however, we cannot talk about politics over chocolate.

For listening:

An Open Love Letter to my Grandmother

Dear Granny,

The world already seems discombobulated without you in it, and selfishly, I miss you.  I miss sitting in the floor by your monitor heater, simultaneously laying my head in your lap.  I miss asking you about your day even though your response was always some variation of, “Ya know, I’ve just been dawdling around here.”  I miss you asking me to go sit on the porch with you even if you did not feel well, because you somehow knew I was secretly hoping you’d ask.  There is a void in my heart that will never be full without these things.

But, I would not bring you back to this world; you have already served it well.

You were always scared of nursing homes, and you were intentionally independent.  I know that it is no coincidence that you went home to be with Jesus merely hours before you were scheduled to be transferred from a regular hospital room to the resident nursing home.  You did not even know that’s where you were going.

But God did.

As painful as it is to feel this way (and even more so to write it, because writing something always makes it official), I love God for His mercy.  You devoted your life to taking care of other people, and you never wanted anyone else to take care of you.  You would not even let us buy you Dunkin Donuts without offering to pay us (plus extra “for our trouble’).  You only relented when we distracted you and mentioned that the glorious variety box had a delectable Boston Cream doughnut inside with your name on it.

You continually held joy and contentment, and a nursing home would have stolen that— your very identity— from you.  I’m certain Jesus hasn’t taken any part of you other than your fragile little body, and even though you have only been with Him for a short time, I’m sure that your joy has been made whole.  You are complete.

I have spent the last two days pondering my memories with you.  I am so grateful for who you were and what you taught me.  I could never say, “thank you” enough, but here’s my futile attempt at trying.

Thank you for teaching me to love simple things.  I often fall victim to thinking I have to “do something” or “be something” worth being.  You were content in loving your family and working hard, and your legacy reminds me that life is not about achieving.  Love is what matters most.

Speaking of family, thank you for showing me that investing in people and extending genuine hospitality is important.

You were not materialistic, but you taught me to take care of my possessions and appreciate heirlooms.  Among my favorite things you’ve ever given me are my cake platter, punch bowl, and pearl bracelet, and I will cherish them forever.  (Just not as much as I will cherish you.)

Thank you for always being interested in knowing people, really knowing them… not on a superficial, surface level.  You were so observant, and you loved to learn about what made people tick.  You found unique ways to make people feel special.  My very favorite memory of you involved an elaborate treasure hunt around your new home when I was probably four or five years old.  I do not even remember what my “prizes” were (probably little yard sale trinkets).  My biggest spoils of victory were the laughter and bliss that can only be come from a little girl spending a springtime afternoon with her grandmother.

Even though I was a rowdy teenager who turned into an occasionally temperamental adult, you never made me ruminate on my flaws.  You never tried to change anything about me, and you only spoke about the good parts of me, even if they are few.  You gave me confidence.

Thank you for sharing moments like my college graduation and my wedding with me.  I’ll remember them even more fondly knowing you were there.

Thank you for being a quiet leader.  You were the matriarch of our family, and you created a line of self-sufficient women.  Yet, you never felt it necessary to boast in your accomplishments.  You were okay with being in a room full of people without being the center of attention.  You did not have to be right or even be heard to feel validated or loved.  This is one part of you that I try to emulate most, but it will take me awhile.

The other part of you that I try my hardest to replicate is your kindness.  You were not only kind to the people you loved, but you showed grace and compassion to people you barely knew and even some people who had wronged you in the past.  You taught me that it benefits no one to hold grudges, because grudges become bitterness.

Thank you for showing me that education never stops, and that self-education is important.  You got your GED as an adult, but you loved books like Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind as a child.  In truth, you remembered more about their plots than I do, and I have two degrees in English.

Most of all, thank you for showing me what a genuine relationship with God looks like.  You showed me what it was like to walk in the spirit.  You taught me that God’s presence is not defined by our emotions or human eloquence; a simple “Thank You Lord for this food” or “Please protect my family today” is always enough, and our hearts are what God searches.

I love you, and if I ever have/adopt a daughter, I’d like to call her Adelaide.  I know that a part of you would hate the idea of a namesake because you are the most humble person I’ve ever known.  The other part of you would smile meekly with tears in your eyes, not knowing quite what to say.

I wish there was some way I could phone you in Heaven.  I know exactly what you’d say as you were about to hang up.

“Have a good day.  I wish it for you.”

I wish it for you too, Granny, but I know I don’t have to.  I doubt you could be any happier than you are at this moment.

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Why Falling in Love is the Most Important Thing We’ll Ever Do.

Over Thanksgiving, I had the incredible opportunity to serve on my church’s first international missions team in Maniche, a small Haitian village in the mountains.

I am going to be brutally honest. For a few weeks leading up to the trip, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I prayed desperately for God just to “help me make it to Haiti,” because the last time I could remember being so tired was right before my first bout with depression. I was genuinely concerned that my health might start to deteriorate if I kept going at the same pace.

As always, God delivered exactly what I needed.

I have never been on a mission trip, but others have constantly told me that you will walk away feeling more loved and served than the level of love and service you provided the people around you.

These stories were accurate.

The citizens of Maniche have almost nothing, but they gave all they had to make us feel welcome and home. They do not live a glamorous life full of iPhones, electricity, or even clean drinking water, but what they lack in resources, they make up for in community. I have never been a part of something so tight-knit, and I come from a small town where I have played on sports teams, worked with small staffs of people, and experienced bonds I never thought could be outshone by any love in the world.

If love were a volleyball match, the Haitians would have beaten me 25-0 every single day.

Although everything they did was dripping with the love of God, here are just a few ways the community of Maniche loved our team more than I personally am capable of loving:

Our cook, Bezta, thought we were getting tired of Haitian food, so she cooked us spaghetti (granted, it was for breakfast, but it was an incredible gesture nonetheless).

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We visited schools that had virtually no supplies for students and teachers, but the students sang is welcome songs and delighted in our visit. One little girl, Jordalee, absolutely stole my heart, and teaching her a secret handshake became the highlight of my trip.

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An elderly gentleman who has been working on the village’s irrigation system all morning climbed a 50-foot coconut tree just so “the Americans” could try fresh coconut. We also got our own individual coconuts, none of which we could finish despite our efforts to eat them all.

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The family who owned our guesthouse (which was a profitable business endeavor, but not enough for a luxurious lifestyle by any means) ran a generator for us in the evenings and nights so we could have a fan in the Caribbean heat. We were the only ones the Maniche with semi-consistent power, and I cannot imagine the expense it ensued.

No matter what activites we participated in, our new friends always thanked us. Even if we mainly stood aside and observed them digging an irrigation canal, making homemade jelly, or teaching school children despite a poverty epidemic, they showed gratitude for our presence alone.

That’s love.

Before I left for Haiti, I was caught back up in the vicious, self-inflicted cycle of “not good enough.”

My house couldn’t be clean enough.

I did not cook enough.

I never got through nearly enough material at school.

I wasn’t devoting enough time to my loved ones because I was always working on something for school or our home.

I didn’t do, have, or perform well enough for my impossible standards.

I’m not sure when the American epidemic of work-a-holicsm began, but it is almost impossible to avoid. I believe our tendency to overwork ourselves comes from some romanticized ideal that we are special and that we all have some Earth-shattering calling that will change the world so long as we find it.

I’m bursting everyone’s bubble, including my own: none of us are special, and very few of us will end up in history textbooks one day.

And you know what? That’s okay.

I asked my World History students this question the other day: “What makes Alexander the Great great?” Many of them responded with summaries of his military accomplishments, but one student’s response was completely the opposite.

“If this is a mater of my opinion, he is not great. Just because a person has power and can lead an army to victory does not make him great.”

I could not agree more. The only thing that makes any of us, rich or poor, powerful or anonymous, great is the love of Jesus that He declared over us. If Jesus thought love was important, then may we never neglect showing it in exchange for marking things off of our growing “to-do lists.”

In Haiti, I learned that “God reigns over nations” (Psalm 47:8), and He does so in many ways. He created a breathtaking world in six days. He continually heals the sick and meets the broken in the middle of our messes. He proves His power over and over again.

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He also created a species capable of belief, perseverance, and love, and that is why we are the best display of His glory. But, with that esteem comes great responsibility.

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My life may seem luxurious and over-the-top compared to many in Maniche, and it should given that Americans are global 1%ers. But, my “callings” in life that become obsessions for me are not worth any more in the eyes of God than the calling of Haitian people: care for their families, grow enough food to survive, and serve the communities around them. Neither I nor them accomplish anything if what we do is not done in love.

Luckily, we have the chance to fall in love every day of our lives if we choose to do so.

Thank God for that!

For Listening: “Proof of Your Love” by For King & Country 

 

An Honest Conversation with God

A part of my past that I have come to terms with and am open about is that I was secretly Agnostic for most of my college years.  I became good at putting on a show for people who knew me.  I posted Bible verses on Facebook and asked for people to pray for me in difficult situations.  I didn’t buy into any of the God stuff, but I feared that if I defied the status quo of the Bible Belt, I would lose the love of family and friends.  I would officially achieve “outcast” status… so I pretended.

One of the reasons I became Agnostic is that I witnessed many people around me also putting on a show.  They would post Bible verses online in between their hate-mongering comments, and they used their faith to justify isolating groups of people who opposed their views.  I made the very human mistake of lumping God in with the very Christians I despised, and that misconception drove a wedge in any sort of relationship with God I salvaged from my childhood (which was rocky and legalistic at the very best).

Over time, I subconsciously started creating my own sort of god, one I could mold into whatever I needed.  This god would understand my needs and whims with no accountability necessary.  For a while I thought it was working, and then I finally came to terms that my life was in shambles.  At that point, I was exhausted.

I can remember one day being tired of it all having the rawest conversation with God.  It went something like this: “I’m sorry God, but I just can’t believe in You.  You’ll make me choose.  I can’t love You and not love people, and I don’t know why I should have to in the first place.”

This conversation occurred not long before my first [diagnosed] bout with major depression.  While the height of my mental illness remains one of the darkest points in my life, I will be forever grateful for it, because it led me to Jesus.  Later, as someone who had been a believer and who had distance from her realest but scariest talk with God, I began thinking about the origin of my crazy delusion that I could not love certain people if I chose God.  Earlier this week, the answer finally came to me.

Christians.  Christians are what made me think I could not love God and love people.

If I chose God, I could not love my gay friends.

If I chose God, I could not love my non-Christian friends.

If I chose God, I could not love my Christian friends when they slipped up and made big mistakes.

Christians made me think I needed to “Bible-Thump” or morality police the world, and I refused to do it.  I knew I was a lot of things in life, but “hypocrite” would never be one of them.

Because of Christians, I willingly gave up on God, and only His grace and provisions rerouted my heart.

Now, not all Christians are like the ones I just described. I’ve met some of the kindest, most humble, loving Christians in the world, and they are God’s provisions that ultimately guided me back to faith.  But, I would argue that we do not see nearly enough of those Christians in the modern church.

Scrolling through social media and various Christian websites, the number of Kim Davis photographs overwhelms me.  For those unfamiliar with the situation, Kim Davis is the Kentucky county clerk [with multiple divorces] who was jailed for refusing to issue marriage licenses to anyone based on the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling (two things you need to know about Kim Davis before you hit the “religious persecution” panic button: 1. She refused licenses for everyone, not just same-sex couples and 2. She prohibited any deputy clerks underneath her from signing the licenses).  Kim Davis has become a modern martyr to many people, and they lift her on a pedestal for blatantly disobeying the law (which God speaks out against in Romans 13, Mark 12, and Matthew 22).  I’ve reached the point that I grow nauseous seeing people slam our government for rightly imprisoning her in contempt of court. The number of times I’ve read some version of “our Christian rights are being taken away” seems infinite.

Here’s the thing: as believers, our rights are far less important to God than our responsibilities.  And, our number one responsibility is love.  It is not accountability; it is not evangelism; it is love.  If you do not believe me, skim over Matthew 22:36-40:

“‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’  Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.’ And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Many days, I wish I could go back to the day I had my talk with God, abandoning Him for what I thought was forever.  I wish I could hug a younger version of myself, wipe away all of her hurt and tears, and explain that we cannot love God without loving others, and that the best love we have for others will come through loving God first.  I would tell her that, while her thought process was inaccurate, her beliefs did not manifest from thin air. Christians skewed her perceptions, and that she should not equate God with them.

I may not be able to go back and converse with my younger self, but here’s the deal: I have this incredible opportunity to have this same conversation with other people who may suffer and question similar realities.  As scary as it feels, I intend to start those conversations with some guidance from Jesus.  It’s time to take the plunge.

But, one person cannot make a big enough impact on the world.  To see positive change both inside and outside of the church, we need to be intentional about who we are and what we represent.

If we care more about our “rights,” than loving others, we need to check ourselves.

If we continually paint ourselves as victims when we have never encountered true persecution like Christ’s early followers, we need to check ourselves.

If we try to convict people through judgment rather than pointing them to the One who actually changes hearts, we need to check ourselves.

If we talk about the Kim Davis debacle more than we do about the Syrian refugee crisis (perhaps the biggest humanitarian crisis of our time), we really need to check ourselves.

If I’ve learned anything about God, it is this… everything works out in His timing.  Almost two years ago, I asked God, “How could I ever choose between loving You and loving other people?”

Well, He just responded to me this week.  His answer?

“You can’t… and you don’t have to.”

Several Things I have seen/read lately inspired this blog.  Here are some of them.

Tim Tebow, Kim Davis, and The Victim Mentality

For the sake of the Gospel, drop the persecution complex.

Everyone’s a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony

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This photo should say, “some Christians,” but it is food for thought nonetheless. Photo from World of Wonder Facebook Page.

What you do to the least of them.

Lately, God has been revealing a lot to be about one particular issue. Through my personal study of the New Testament, the devotions I read, and articles that have somehow crossed my path, I keep being pointed in the same direction. God seems to work this way in my life. He is never subtle.

I “cleaned up” my Facebook recently. I unfriended and unfollowed a lot of people. What does that have to do with God, you ask? See, years ago, I would have done something like this for personal, selfish reasons. I’ve made comments like “Purging my Facebook, Bye Felicia!” Now, my heart is in a different place. As I notice all that is wrong with the church, which can often be discerned by a quick skim of social media, I have begun to pray for heartbreak for Christians who seem to be carrying the banner of Christ unjustly (often myself included). Seeing posts that anger me does not help me acquire the heartbreak I have asked God for repetitively. I am hoping that distance from some people can replace my anger with heartbreak. That’s why I cleaned up my Facebook.

While the church’s presence in media outlets if far from the biggest issue on our plates, it is worth visiting. How should we present ourselves and respond to the world online? What better place for discernment than the gospel?

I just finished the book of Matthew, and the image of Christ’s self-sacrificing love remains etched in my brain. Not only does He act in love, but He charges us to do the same. Matthew 25:40 sticks out to me more than any other bit of wisdom Christ offers us: The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

Wow. Whatever we do to the “least” we do to Christ. In Jesus’s time, the “least’ were lepers, tax collectors, and other outcasts, although I would argue that the definition of least has evolved as the world has. Least is no longer a blanket term. Each of us have a different least, an individual or group with whom we do not identify and whom we probably resent for some reason. I would wager that most of us are not treating our “leasts” like we would treat Christ of He were in the same room as us.

Think about all we see on Facebook on a daily basis. What if those comments were directed to or at Christ?

You lazy, illegal immigrant.

You disgusting homosexual.

You despicable Muslim.

You ungodly liberal.

You ignorant conservative.

When would the malice stop? Would we try to crucify Christ again? Because that’s what we seem to be doing of a lot of unbelievers or even believers who disagree with us on social and political issues.

This has to stop, because there is too much at stake. Most of the unrest on social media directly relates to political differences, and as Christians, our politics and personal rendition of the “American Dream” have to come second to the gospel. I’m fairly sure that, in Heaven, God will not care if someone lived undocumented (I hate and refuse to use the word “illegal”) a country for a period of time, nor would He care how we voted, nor would He care about most of the issues we seem to devote so much time and energy toward.

What if we put this effort toward helping widows, orphans, and other suffering populations like the Bible instructs us to do?

What if we logged off our Facebook kingdoms and spent that time feeding the hungry?

What if we worshiped God with abandon and really, really meant, “For thine is the kingdom?” God’s kingdom, not ours?

We would live in a different world for sure.

Franklin Graham is a huge face in the modern church, and he reaches thousands of people online. People in droves follow him and this kind of logic. Leaders like this have incredible power to promote love, but terrifyingly, their impact can often alienate the onlooking world.

I am not unrealistic. I know there probably won’t be a massive overhaul or church reform that happens overnight. But maybe, just maybe, our personal efforts would be enough to start a ripple effect that eventually sparks a colossal movement toward love. Maybe our efforts will lead to a day when the church is truly known for love and not for hate like Franklin Graham’s words above.

So next time we start to call someone ugly names, why don’t we try “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), “loved” (1 John 4:19), or “enough” (2 Corinthians 12:9)?

Next time we start to say something nasty about someone online, why don’t we check our spirits? Would we say those things to Christ if we met Him face to face? Because posting it online is practically the same thing according to Matthew 25:40.

Next time we try to browbeat people and be their morality police (which we ARE NOT called to do), why not just say, “I love you and I’m for you. I choose you. God does too!”

Instead of arguing that people should “Go back to their own country,” how about we learn enough about their language and culture to effectively tell them just how much God loves them? What if they’ve never heard it before?

At some point, we have to realize that carrying the name of Jesus comes with great responsibility. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14), but what do our cities look like at the moment? Are they bright, warm, and inviting, or are they cold, distant, and exclusive?

We will be noticed; that’s reality. What kind of legacy we leave is completely up to us.

There are several messages, articles, etc. that influenced me to write this blog. Here are two of them that I would highly recommend checking out.