When love and judgment meet

So – like most of you, I have had a ground-level view of 2017-era America. In fact, I have been paying particularly close attention… Say what you want, but it’s not pretty y’all. 

The public discourse in the media, on Facebook, even in the legislature sounds like the backseat of my car when my two preschoolers are hangry. (i.e. what my car sounds like on my way home from work every. single. day. ) 

People are upset. Opinions are flying. And my brothers and sisters in Christ, myself included, aren’t holding back. And even though I have feelings (FEELINGS) about what is going on, the thing that bothers me the most is that I don’t believe that any of this is how Jesus would handle this. Christ saw his fair share of controversy. Of corrupt government. Of abhorrent behavior and outright racism. And yet each person he met seemed singular in his attention. Not stereotyped into groups. Not categorized by race or color or orientation or belief. Each person was precious and worthy of his full attention. 

And if that’s just not what I am seeing today. In fact, to confess, that’s just not how I am behaving today. 

So here goes… 

to my brothers and sisters of color, God loves you. Deeply. He created you to be exactly who you are intentionally and joyfully. (Ps. 139) his active desire for this world is to see love and justice roll like water, to break down barriers, to see his children sit together and peace, love, and equality.  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

to my precious fellow children of God who are immigrants, refugees, strangers in a strange land, God loves you. Jesus himself was a refugee. His people wandered for centuries in a land that was not their home. God has a heart for setting the lonely in families. (Ps. 68) he wants to shelter you under the feathers of his wings. (Ps. 91)  Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my beloved family members who LBGTQ, questioning, or somewhere in between, God loves you. You are made in the image of the Most High God, and that God defines himself as Love. Your ability to love and the love you give and receive to the world is a reflection of His nature.  His thoughts for you outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore. (Ps 139) God rejoices over you with singing (Zeph 3). Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

To my dear siblings who feel marginalized, silenced, overlooked, God loves you. You are not forgotten, you are not abandoned. God perceives your thoughts from afar. (Ps 139) He knows your days, he says that to Him, you are a priceless treasure. (1 Pet. 2) remember – it was to you the angel armies appeared to announce the coming of our Savior. 

And to my fellow believers, my spiritual family, I pray that you know deep in your bones how wildly loved you are. 

-But-

I hope that you also remember that none of us, not one, are righteous. That if we were able to measure up to God’s standard on our own accord, there would have been no need for Christ to come and die. I hope that you remember your own awakening to this kingdom of faith, and realize that it was the voice of love, and not the voice of condemnation or fear, that drew you in. It is my conviction that the Kingdom of God would be much more close at hand if we His children encountered the world with an attitude of radical love, not condemnation.

Yes, I agree, sin is sin. Yet it seems lately more convenient to concern ourselves with the specks in the eyes of others. What planks hinder our vision today? Could it be that our preoccupation with legislating morality is actually hurting the kingdom cause? 

Jesus showed outright love and compassion to those the world condemned. The adulterous. The woman at the well. Zacchaeus. The thieves on the cross. He reserved his condemnation for the Pharisees, the moneychangers in the temple. Those who benefited from his grace yet did not extend said grace to others. 

I will admit – I have no answers. I do not actually know what Jesus would do if he lived in America today. But I have read the Bible. A few times. And much more than a rulebook, the Bible is a love story. And in this book, we are not the mighty hero. We are in the damsel in distress. Needing a rescue. Drowning in a flood of our own making. The thought of which reminds me to end with this: to my fellow Christians…

Jesus loves you. Y O U. And so do I…

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not my story.

It’s that time of year.

The time of year when my Instagram fills up with sweaty, post workout posts.  When Facebook is filled with testimonials of the newest 137 hour fix and beetroot wonderfood shake.  I am always proud of my friends who are working to transform their bodies and their lives, but I must admit, often times these posts take me to a dark place.

A place filled with shoulds.  A place where my inner voice starts shouting about all the diets I should be on, and all the new workouts I should be trying.  Of the way my body should look, and the ways I should be spending my precious down time.  I often tell others to stop shoulding all over yourself.  It was time I took my own advice.

My history with self image is… fraught. There is a strong family history of unhealthy body expectations and practices that is ingrained into the way I view the world. Whenever I go one a diet, I am immediately transformed into a different person. One who is hyper-focused on the number on the scale.  My entire week’s success or failure hangs on the results of my weigh in.  Meal planning and denying the voices shouting in my head takes up all my mental energy.

So, a few years ago, I decided to hop off of that train.  No more diets for me.  No group exercise because frankly, I spend the entire time comparing myself unfavorably to others.  I decided to love myself, and realize that who I am is WAY more than what my body looks like or a number on a scale.

But most of all, by giving up dieting, I gave myself permission for that to NOT BE MY STORY.  I do not want my kids to grow up remembering me as a person who jumped from one diet to the next.  Someone who shied away from photographs and bathing suits.  I didn’t want my daughter to see me constantly evaluating myself on outward appearances. I wanted them to remember a mom who was joyfully present.  Who baked with them.  Who showed them how much FUN playing outside could be.  A mom who took care of herself, soul, mind, AND body- and did her best to keep the three in balance.

Does that mean I gave up taking care of myself?  No.  In fact, I have actually lost weight since stepping out of that ugly cycle.  Instead of focusing on denying myself the foods I can’t have, I focus on feeding myself well.  Of celebrating with others with cake and champagne, but also falling in love with the crisp simplicity of a salad.  I realized that exercise could be a reward for me.  That I like using my body.  But that I like to exercise alone.  To give myself a chance to clear my head and process my life.  Or to take a walk with a good friend.  For me, that’s about as sweet as life gets.  And it turns out it’s good for me too.

Should everyone quit on diets?  Of course not!  For me. they became an idol, and they chipped away at my sense of self worth.  But more than that, for me, I decided that I wanted my life to be about more than just that.  That this was a priority I was consciously putting aside.  And I feel stronger by engaging in that process. By giving myself a divine permission to walk away from that unattainable standard.  By embracing the everyday grace available to me, and recognizing my infinite worth in Christ, which is separate from the worth given to me from the outside.

fork

 

What art teaches me about God, Part 1


This year has been a year of creating for me, and the majority of it has been visual, not written. 

Why?

I’m not sure. I just know that making something, creating beauty, even if it isn’t a masterpiece, feeds something deeply hungry in my soul. For some reason, combining form and color and meaning is a balm for me. It’s one of the few times in my day where I become fully present. Completely immersed in the thing in front of me. My thoughts stop spinning, my hand may ache and tingle from holding the brush, but my heart is in harmony. And for me, that is enough. 

Enough to know that the process of making art is important. Refreshing and life-giving to me in a way that makes me pay attention. I think for me, art may be one of the thin places, a place where the veil between the sacred and the earthly becomes blurry, a place where I encounter God. Because I sense this, I follow that trail. I allow myself to use my brush, my glue gun, my paint and my palette as instruments of worship. Worship not for the thing I am creating, but for the Creator in whose image I am formed. 

I truly believe that we, as men and women formed in the image of the Almighty God, all have a spark of creation buried within us. And when we fan that spark into flame, we bring glory to God and fullness to our souls. 

Does that make us all artists? No. (although I think we all tend to be much too quick to disavow any artistic talent- don’t get me started on art injuries…) But does that make us all creators? I would argue yes. I think each one of us has some God given ability, interest, or activity that makes our soul sing. 

We all have a handful of things that fully immerse us, and, regardless of talent or outcome, bring joy. That thing may be making art, but it also may be making an omelette. Running a 5K. Telling a killer bedtime story. Knitting a truly great sock. Keeping the busy schedules of a family singing like a symphony. You may be enamored with creating spreadsheets or balancing budgets. Perhaps your have created your home to be an oasis of peace, a welcoming place for neighbors. Whatever your thing may be, when you bring it into the world, you bring glory to the One who made you that way. 

Can I just say out loud (well, in print… on screen?) to all of us results obsessed Americans that sometimes the process is of more value than the outcome? So what if you are not the best at something? There is only one best, and guess what- it’s not you. BUT. Does that thing bring joy to you? Does it make you feel? Does it renew you, center you? 

Then do it. 

Unashamedly. 

We all seem to feel a bit abashed when we let our light shine. Yet, shouldn’t we be unashamed to do things that bring us joy? If I create art as an act of worship, then who cares what it looks like? I mean, really? If you run because you love it and it gives you mental space to encounter God, then your split time doesn’t prove your worthiness, does it? 

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

Who looks at a picture a child draws and critiques it? Who turns their nose up at a home cooked meal made by a loved one because it isn’t haute cuisine? So it is with us. When I really stop and look around me, the main critic I encounter is… me. And why should I dim my own light? 

So what I am saying is… go do your thing. And be awesome. Yay God. 

My Dark Secret Story

As Christians, we have this whole set of practices embedded in our culture that seem pretty bizarrstorye if we step back and look at them.  Things like… fake cussing.  “Holy Toledo,”  “Mother of Pearl,” “No effing way,” and, worst of all, “Bless Her Heart.”

We sing in groups.  In what other area of your life to adults get together once a week and sing?  Don’t get me wrong- I love it, but, outside the church (and community chorus) it’s not a normal activity.

Then there are the essential parts of our faith.  Things sacred and beautiful to us, but probably seem bizarre to outsiders.  Baptism (dumping cold water on babies).  Communion (eating bread and juice and talking about eating the Body and Blood of Christ).  Confession (telling our deepest darkest secrets to our friends).

As part of my job, I recruit one person from my church to share their faith story with the high schoolers monthly.  I am always surprised to hear how many people don’t feel as if they have a story to tell.  I hear over and over that their story is boring.  That they never really did anything ‘worth’ giving a testimony about.

We seem to have a misunderstanding in the church.  We believe that unless you have some horrid history to share, that you don’t have a story to tell.  If you weren’t a former alcoholic, scam artist, or motorcycle gang member, then you don’t have a testimony others want to hear.

In terms of testimonies, my story is pretty basic.  Sure, I made some boneheaded decisions as a teenager.  I got my heart broken a few times.  I wrestled with forgiveness.  But all in all, my story is pretty vanilla.  But here is the thing- it is my story, which makes it precious.  As I tell my high schoolers each month, the reason we tell our faith stories is to remind ourselves that God is doing something in the lives of everyone we see, including our own.  The more of other’s stories we hear, the better we are able to recognize the love story God is telling in our own lives.

Here is the truth.  No matter how boring our story may seem to us, it is actually epic.  Here is how your story goes:

You were lost.  Unredeemed.  Guilty and sentenced to death.  Living a life utterly without hope.

And a hero came.

He swept you off your feet.  Loved you without fear.  Delighted in the things that make you utterly unique.  Reminded you of your worth and your beauty.  And then, this lover of yours did the unthinkable.

He dove in front of the train.  He sacrificed his life, without a second thought, took your punishment upon himself, so that you were rescued.  Because of His sacrifice, you have a second chance at life.

Your faith story is SO much less about you, and MORE about Jesus, than you could ever imagine.  And because of that, we all have a story to tell.  One of the greatest love stories of all time.  One that includes drama, suspense, tragedy and triumph.  And your story is yours alone.

So you don’t have a shameful, dark past to tell?  So what?  You still have so much to share.  And your testimony can be told forwards as well as backwards.  What adventures are you living now, as you walk hand in hand with your Savior?  If you think your story is boring, stir it up!  See what adventures you can live today, next week, in your next decade!

 

The voices in our heads…

Question:  What were you just thinking? Just then?  If a day in your head goes anything like a day in my head, the answer could be anything.  From pondering the grocery list to reflecting on the meaning of life, the gears in my head are always moving.  And not in a linear, predictable way.  One seemingly mundane thought can lead to another, and another, until my mind ends up miles from where it began.

In the truest part of ourselves, we are thinking creatures.  We think an amazing amount of thoughts, ALL the time.  In the morning, we wake up thinking about our days, thinking that we wish that we had more sleep, thinking about the dreams we just had that were actually the thoughts we were having in our sleep.  At the breakfast table we eat our cereal as we think about how stressed out we are about the day ahead.  All day long it goes, thinking, daydreaming, worrying, but living our lives in our heads, many times much more than we do outside of our heads.

maybieHave you ever wondered what it would be like to NOT think so much?  Take my dog Maybie, for instance.  Do you know what she thinks about?  Squirrels.  And walks.  That’s it.  Literally.  Sometimes I just want to spend a day in her head, looking out the window and waiting for my next walk.  Thinking about… squirrels.  I think more than my dog because that is how I was created.  In the Garden of Eden, God created us in His Image.

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  Genesis 1:27

And what does it mean to be created in the Image of God?  What IS God?

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
John 1:1-4

God created us in His image, and in the Bible, His Image is described as the Word.  So, When you think of it, our capacity for speech, for words, for thought, is part of what makes us image bearers of Christ.  This ability to think, to reason, to observe and interpret the world and our lives is a sacred thing.  In the Garden of Eden, we were created as real, thinking beings who spent our lives in the presence of God, walked with him in the evenings, and shared every bit of our lives with him.

Worry was not a thing.

Fear didn’t exist.

Our minds, our thoughts, were happy, joyful, creative places.

So what happened?

The serpent.

Have you ever thought about the fact that the first thoughts Adam and Eve had after they ate the apple were ones of anxiety?

Ack!  I’m naked!

In an instant, a life of peace, a mind of harmony, was transformed into one of fear, anxiety, and self doubt.

When we began to doubt God’s goodness, we immediately began to doubt everything we knew about our lives, our selves, as well.  The serpent keeps whispering his lies into our ears.

Have you ever taken inventory of your thoughts?  Kept track of how many of your thoughts in a given day are happy ones, verses sad, scary, or anxious ones?  If you are like me, the bad ones outnumber the good ones.  And what’s more, the bad ones are the ones I pay attention to.  Why?  These ones are the lies…

But everyone does it.  However, is this the way it has to be?  In the world of therapy, professionals are starting to question the assumption that all of our thoughts are true, all are valid.  How can someone who is socially successful feel in the depths of her heart that she is unlovable?  How can a person who by societal standards is beautiful still believe with all of her mind that she is ugly, fat?  How can a mother who is working herself to the bone to support and nurture her family lays awake at night, convinced that she isn’t doing enough?  The truth is, we are all walking around believing lies, despite overwhelming evidence of that these things simply aren’t true.

We all live in a world where it feels as if there is an angel on one shoulder and a devil on another.  One is whispering lies, telling us we aren’t good enough.  The other is whispering the truth of God, that we are dearly loved, cherished, enough.

Which voice are you listening to?

John 10:1-10
“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber!  But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.  They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.  Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.  The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

Satan’s purpose is to steal our joy.  To kill our confidence, to destroy our peace and our relationships with others.  God’s purpose is to give us life, and life to the fullest.

But here is the thing.  You get to choose which voice you listen to.  You can allow words of life, or of death, to rule your brains every day.  Which voice are you going to choose to listen to?

I am going to leave you with one final thought… words directly from God, in one of my favorite passages of the Bible- Philippians 4:6-9.  These words have been so influential for me in the battle for my mind.  Let these words wash over you and know, above all else, that you are dearly loved.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.