Messy, vulnerable, baby Jesus

So Christmas is here. Soon we will be tearing apart the presents that were wrapped in attempted, not necessarily succeeded, beauty. The stress of it is most certainly here for so many. Family is in town. Maybe some travel. Others have house guests. We have our trees, whether natural or fake. We have our piles of presents. We have our Christmas villages and Santa Clause. Some parts of the world will have snow. I love Christmas. I love Christmas music, cheesy Christmas movies, decorations, ice skating, peppermint…pretty much anything that has to do with Christmas.

Yet in the midst of the Christmas season- holiday season for that matter if we go back to Halloween and Thanksgiving, we lose something. Even for those of us who are “religious”, faith-based, when we attend church, midnight Mass, or something else during this season, we often miss something. I think of something from a movie I find to be hilarious, though to many, they might find this scene sacrilegious. There’s a scene in Talladega Nights where, at the dinner table, there is a comical and ridiculous discussion on how to pray to Jesus. One claimed that he prays to grown up Jesus. Another prays to “6 pounds, 8 oz dear Lord baby Jesus”. It makes me wonder…

When people think of Jesus, even at Christmas, he is often thought of as the Jesus who died on the cross. We forget he was a baby first. We forget that he was vulnerable, exposed, dependent, bloody, uncomfortable, and messy. Jesus was a literal baby. He was born to a woman, just like any other person born. A C-section was not an option. He was born vaginally, where his mother had no pain killer, no doctors, no nurses, no ice chips. He was born and in his birth, the mess followed. There was blood, a placenta, possibly feces from Mary, as that is common for women as they deliver their baby. He was covered in the same amniotic fluid and blood that any other baby would be covered in, only he didn’t have a nice bath and towels to get cleaned. I imagine Mary’s screams being heard in the fields and houses nearby.  I imagine the pain that she would have had, delivering a baby with nothing but will and body.  I imagine Joseph nearby probably freaking out like any dad would be.  I imagine a very messy, very noisy, very painful, very uncomfortable, and yet all the while, very beautiful, powerful moment of history.

Baby Jesus was born.

I think it was on purpose that God chose to let Jesus enter this world painfully, in mess, and in vulnerability. You see, I believe God chose this to be the story of salvation because God wanted the world to see that he gets it…that life is messy and painful. I think God wanted to show Mary and Joseph that his story is bigger and better than we can fathom or understand. Rather than Jesus showing up as a man who had no life experience in relationship to everyone else, he, instead, came as a baby…a baby that pooped, peed, cried, and slobbered depending on Mary and Joseph to take care of him, just like any other baby.

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This world is very very messy. It is broken. It has so much pain. Moments, sometimes longer for others, challenge us. We are faced with hardship. I believe the Christmas story- the reason we actually go buy the presents, decorate trees, and attend services- completely and fully relates to our realities of brokenness, pain, and mess. Jesus understands and knows and wants to be part of your story. This Christmas, I pray and hope that you don’t pass it without thoughts on Jesus and the truth of his love for the world. Jesus could have chosen to not come. Jesus could have chosen to come as a man and not relate to us. Jesus could have ignored us altogether. Instead, he came in such a way that he truly and deeply knows our struggles and our pain. He knows our mess. And he is aching for you to recognize him. So many people ignored the star that showed over Bethlehem that first Christmas night. Kings and commoners ignored Jesus- the Messiah, Emmanuel, creator, and comforter, but more than anything, the king…the only King that can bring salvation, healing, restoration, and redemption. He can cleanse our mess, restore our brokenness, heal our hurts, and give us a hope.

Messiah.
Savior.
Emmanuel.
Prince of Peace.
Wonderful counselor.
Redeemer.
The Light of the world…

In Him, and only Him, we have life. True life.
Don’t miss Him this year.

In the darkness of the road…

This time of year seems to make everyone reflective and nostalgic.  With Thanksgiving, everyone wants to list things they are thankful for. Christmas is always seemingly about family. And New Years is about new chapters in our lives. I find myself here tonight, on Black Friday, reflecting on a whole lot more than the turkey I ate or the family I spent time with. I didn’t go shopping- never have on Black Friday. Instead, holidays for me sort of create a different internal response. I don’t typically share this with most people, but I want to be vulnerable with you tonight.  For me, as much as I love Thanksgiving and Christmas, I find them to be increasingly harder with each year passing.

I struggle with my desires and wants and yet try to be content with what have. I am nearly 28 year olds at this point and spending holidays with family and friends also just reminds me of the family I don’t have. There are usually people at some point who I don’t know at holiday events who will ask the inevitable question of who my husband is or what he does.  In finding out about my single-hood, people are quick to either remind me of the “you’ll meet him at the right time” bogus encouragement or they’ll try to do a setup.  Neither of which are helpful or wanted.  I don’t get to share the holiday moments with a husband or kids. I don’t get to make memories and create traditions.  I love my family, don’t get me wrong, but I want more. I always have. I want to be married and have the inconvenience of choosing who to spend holidays with. I want the hassle of preparing my own house for the holidays. Holidays for me at some point remind me of my lack.

And yet, it doesn’t quite end there. While everyone talks of careers and time off, retirement and tenured, I struggle with debt that is suffocating and sucking the life out of me. I get frustrated with the holidays, especially Christmas, because in my heart I want to bless others and make people feel special, buy them what they need or want, yet wrestle with what I can actually do.  Between parties, gift exchanges, Christmas presents, meals to prepare, and even traveling, I fight with myself with what I can or should do, and yet wish I could do more. And of course, along with the question regarding my relationship status, I am also asked what I do for a living.  Well, I pretty much work my butt off for just above minimum wage so I can pay off debt that I got for two degrees yet am not getting hired by anyone to actually use. Its a frustrating, sometimes infuriating, place to be in when I don’t have an answer to that question. What I do have is the knowledge that I’ve been rejected by hundreds of jobs while working multiple/overlapping part-time jobs, not using my degrees, and yet still struggling to make ends meet. Struggling with needing and desperately wanting a job that is utterly fulfilling doing what I was born to do.

What I realized, and have been processing, over the past 24 hours, is that life is just really really hard sometimes and there isn’t always a solution or formula.  Sometimes, we just get knocked down over and again. For the past year especially I have felt like I can’t catch my breath. I looked up previous posts and saw that I wrote 3 other posts regarding car and financial issues in the past year, with this being part of the 4th. (Previous posts: Shattered Lights and Black Ice, Cracked Windshield, The Life I want)  You see, last night while driving home from dinner at my sister’s, my car decided to die rather rapidly in the middle of the road as I was going 45mph. As my car died in the middle “suicide” lane, I sat in my car fighting tears and the desire to just yell as loud as possible. I sat, with my hazard lights flashing, in the darkness of the road just angry and lost. The moments before my car died, I was praying for breakthrough in areas of my life…those frustrations written just earlier in this post. I was praying specifically for God to grant favor financially for me. I feel like I’m busting my butt but not getting anywhere. I also was praying to God and telling him (rather honestly) how I am sick of being single (let’s be clear: I’m not desperate, I desire marriage- there is a BIG difference). I was telling God how lonely the holidays can be and how it’d be nice for that area of my life to change. I know that may sound stupid, but sometimes, we need to be honest with ourselves and with God about our wants and our needs.

Last night, I had wants, but definitely had needs.

I sat in my car stuck…and angry. I was angry even though my sister, brother-in-law, neighbor’s father, and my dad, showed up and towed my dead Jeep out of the darkness of the middle of the road. I sat angry at yet another financial thing that I knew I couldn’t pay. I sat angry that I just can’t seem to win. For a moment, I almost wished someone hit my car enough just so insurance could take of it. You see…desperation can make us crazy, but that desperation should still be towards Jesus. In all of my anger and frustration, my tears and my yelling (yes I was yelling at God rather angrily last night too), God was not offended nor was he absent. He created us with emotions- to feel things. But regardless of what we face in life, we need to turn to Jesus. He is not offended by our anger or our sadness, our bitterness or burdens, our brokenness or our weakness. He loves us tremendously and wants us to come to him as we are.

When I got home and into the silence of my bedroom, I broke down. Weeping. Angry. Upset. Broken. Frustrated. Lost. Everything all in one. I was mad at God for everything- my job situation, my finances, my job rejections, my singleness, and more.  I went into work this morning still frustrated and mad. Still broken and lost. But as I continued to silently pray, my attitude started to slowly shift.  My situation has’t really changed too much from last night. Yes, I got my car fixed and the finances of it were worked out. But I still have the same other things- the things I was praying about in the moments before my car died. And yet…I still serve the same God who has provided for me before, who has kept me from things not out of anger or overprotection, but because he understands the things I cannot see. I still serve the same God who has proven his love over and over again. I may be struggling and dealing with my own needs and wants, but my God is with me. I am human and this emotions and wants and needs won’t just disappear. But God is unwaveringly faithful. For that, I can and will thankful.  I serve a God who wants me to bring him my desires and wants, and trust him with them, even if my timing or outcome isn’t as I see fit. If I believe he is who he says he is, than my weariness can be lifted and my head held high on that simple fact.

Jesus and Jihadists.

There have been so many heartbreaking things lately to happen. So much suffering. So much hate. There is no way to avoid hearing about the hurting happening in this world.  There is no way to avoid hearing about the evil. Lately, it seems the world’s greatest named enemy are Jihadists and terrorist groups. They are doing a great job of instilling fear and terror across borders and around the world. Between beheadings, bombings, mass shootings, public executions, and other threats, the world is hearing and seeing their evil.  What broke my heart this weekend was seeing some more news about more evil and pain through terrorist attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad.  So many lives lost.  So much hurting and pain.

Something struck me through the many social media posts I saw. So many posts were blaming refugees for the attack specifically on Paris. So many posts were calling for immediate airstrikes. And still others were full of grief. What became all the more clear to me in light of the events that occurred over the last week around the world, is that this world needs Jesus. I may sound like a broken record, and frankly I don’t care. Jesus is the only Hope, only Redeemer and only Savior of this world. Whatever brokenness, whatever evil, whatever pain, whatever tragedy we face, he is our hope. Our everything.

 

That goes for everyone. The Gospel and love of Jesus Christ is radically, completely and totally inclusive. In light of the recent events, this could be a very hard pill to swallow: Jesus loves Jihadists.  11906265_195480400790708_347100879_n

I am sure my last statement is not a popular one, but it is a Biblical one. Jesus came to this Earth to save the righteous only, right? No! Jesus came to bring healing to the broken, freedom for the captive, forgiveness for the sinner, redemption for the evildoer. People who encountered Jesus weren’t the same after.  They lived differently. Jesus came bearing a message that would weigh heavy for all of eternity because it was one that included every person. He lived and died for the forgiveness of this world, for every single person.  It is a painful and hard, and even unwanted, to hear that the Good News- the Gospel- is even for the terrorist.  I am not saying that justice on Earth doesn’t need to happen nor am I trying to nullify the evil done. Earthly consequences are often necessary and unavoidable.  I am just trying to convey a message that Jesus died for: a radical love that loved the enemies, the adulterer, the murderer, the liar, the gossip, the slave, the free, the parent, the child, the homosexual, the straight, the old and the young.

This radical love is one that I want to be better at. I want to be someone that can live out a love that is so radical that I can forgive the terrorist. Why? Because Jesus wants even them to turn from their evil and live for Him. I want to be someone that can love someone who may never return that love. I want to be someone that kneels and weeps and prays for those that hurt me and persecute me. I want to be someone that embodies so closely the character of Christ, that people see Jesus first in me.

I would love to be there the day that a Jihadist- a terrorist, a murderer, adulterer, whoever- meets Jesus. The day their life changes. The day that might be forgiven. The day they take ownership of their sin and claim redemption in Jesus.  I understand that the likelihood of me actually seeing that take place is slim, but I want to be sure to pray. To remember to pray for the hurting as well as the offender.  I want to remember to believe that redemption is possible for anyone, even if its on the other side of eternity.

Red light district love.

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I am certain this will not be a popular thought. But my silence is not okay. For those of you reading this who might be offended, that’s fine. Just be offended in the right way. Red Light Districts are not a joke. They are not romantic. They are not glamorous. The other day I was in a conversation with various people (some of you who might read this). In this conversation, someone brought up very casually that he and his brother, among others returning from a deployment training, went to a European Red Light District. He said that some of them “did stuff”. Now, I am no fool and I can assume that by doing stuff that meant that had some sort or variation or sexual acts with the prostitutes who work in that Red Light District. What broke my heart is that not only did he say it so casually, but that he probably didn’t even realize (nor those he was with) that the very women (or men) that they might have “done stuff” with were probable victims of human trafficking. I don’t say any of this to belittle or trash talk those who were a part of this conversation yesterday.  But I literally went home and wept.

Red Light Districts in Europe, along with many places around the world, are the primary locations of the sex industry. In so many areas, especially in Europe, the prostitution is completely legalized. Anyone, from anywhere, can go and pay a certain price for whatever sexual acts they desire. Its compared to ordering a pizza. When did sex because so casual? When did sex become something downgraded to the value of pizza? When did the value or worth of someone else’s life drop to near nothing? The men and women who work these districts are pimped and prostituted out. They are physically broken down so they won’t run and flee. They are emotionally broken so they will not betray those who own them. There families and loved ones are threatened. They are kidnapped, coerced, beaten, broken, raped, and tortured. Yet, people still go to these districts and pay to have sex with them.

Legal doesn’t equate right or just.

Dear friends and readers, please understand the heaviness of my heart tonight as I write to tell you: please for their sake, do not embrace the Red Light Districts, do not engage in sex or behaviors with prostitutes, do not treat sex so casually as that of a pizza. They are worth more than that. YOU are worth more than that. End the demand of the commercial sex industry that is really the forced sex trafficking of individuals who have no other option or way out. Use wisdom in your travels. Value your own sex and sexuality more than offering it up to just anybody. Don’t buy into the lie of buying sex or giving sex because you can.  Find your value somewhere else, not in the using or abusing of someone else’s sexuality. Be offended at sex being treated like a recreation instead of something valuable. We were designed for more and far greater things.

Til the day I die…

It seems that our news is becoming more and more bleak, full of hopelessness, loss and despair only to be met with hatred, viciousness, and suffering. I have so much to say and I feel like I cannot fully express what exactly is going on in my mind and heart. But I can say this, that at my core, I am equally sad and angry as I am overjoyed and strengthened. You see, Christians globally are becoming more and more of a target of things that are reminiscent of the Early Church; things such as public executions, beheadings, crucifixions, shootings, and imprisonments. And I sit here in my dimly lit bedroom fighting tears wondering how I play a role in Christian history as events continue to unfold.

More Christians have been slaughtered brutally. In Syria, under the oppression of ISIS, 11 Christian missionaries were crucified and beheaded, just last month. Two of the women missionaries were publicly and violently gang raped only the to then be crucified. Other Christians have been beheaded in Africa. Others have been caged and drowned. And yet, still others, closer to home, have been shot. I can’t help but have a sense of camaraderie with my fellow Christians worldwide. But as I hear each story and painfully take in their suffering as a martyr and hero of faith, I am reminded of something that changed my life more than a decade and half ago.

April 20, 1999.

A normal day, until it happened…Two students, dressed in trench-coats and carrying various weapons, decided that they were going to change the course of history for their school and Littleton, CO.  These two gunman, teenagers, began bringing havoc on their school as they sought out specific targets. Some of their targets were classmates that confessed love for Jesus Christ and that they believed in God.  By the end of the day, they had intentionally shot, at close range, 12 of their classmates and 1 of their teachers, and then themselves.  As an early middle schooler, I was saddened and broken by this news. I remember it clearly. I remember watching TV reports of students and faculty fleeing the building. I remember seeing images of people jumping out of the second story windows. I remember the names of victims. But it wasn’t until a few years later, the events that unfolded that dark day at Columbine High School would forever change my life.

Having grown up in the church and being raised by Godly parents, I pretty much assumed I was “good” for a long time. I think a huge part of me loved God and loved church- especially events like camp. I loved youth group. I loved learning about Christianity and God. But one day I realized that it wasn’t enough. For two years, I was constantly reminded of the murders of the Christians at Columbine. For two years I couldn’t get a few of those names out of my head: Cassie Bernall, Rachel Scott, and Isaiah Shoals. Then, in 8th grade at a winter youth retreat, I was broken and realized that I had missed something in this story of Christianity. A youth group had done a drama to a song dedicated to the victims- specifically the Christians- of Columbine. A phrase in the song is what did me in.

“What if tomorrow, what if today, faced with that question, what would you say?” 

I realized that my religion wasn’t enough. My church attendance wasn’t enough. I realized in that moment, I did not have the faith those students had in their final moments. I remember thinking “God I don’t love you enough to die for you, but I want to.” It was in that moment, February 17, 2001, that I made a commitment, until the day I die, that I would try to love God with everything I had, even my last breath. From that day, I realized that it would be a journey to keep loving God no matter what was going on around me or happening to me. This journey is still happening. And that’s why news is painful at times, but necessary, to remind me of my commitment.

Last week, in Oregon, a similar shooting took place at Umpqua Community College, where a shooter targeted Christians for their faith. When I heard the news, my heart stopped for a moment, to give a silent prayer for the survivors of the shooting, and at the same time, remember the fallen of the Faith. Today, I learned of more executions by ISIS. There will be more. More hate. More evil. More persecution. More brokenness. But one thing, one thing I know for sure, is that in spite of the evil that exists in this world, the pain that follows, the brokenness that remains, I have Jesus Christ as my savior and my lord. This means I trust him, love him, and serve him with my life. He is my constant, steadfast and unwavering confidence in the midst of the darkness around me and in this world. Earlier in my blog I said “that at my core, I am equally sad and angry as I am overjoyed and strengthened”…I am sad and angry for the evil and hatred that exists. I am sad for the loss of life. I am angry at the taking of life. But I am overjoyed and strengthened because these Christians, faced with the question of belief and love in One God and Savior in Jesus Christ, they refused to recant, run away, make excuses, or betray. They stood firm. They were steadfast. They looked evil in the eye and said that God mattered more, even than their life. They knew that losing their life still meant gaining life and eternity with Jesus forever.

You may read this and think I am crazy. Just another religious nut. You make think this is bogus. But let me challenge with one thing: if I am wrong, then so be it. I lose nothing. But if I am right, I gain everything. I have a hope. I am not in despair. I am not lost. I am not weakened. I am redeemed and I am confident in Jesus. If I am faced with some event, whether natural, or evil, I want to know that I am doing my utmost, my best to live in a way that honors the God I say I believe in. If I am faced with death- I want to be among those that give up my life instead of give up my God. I want to be among the ones who finish strong and firm and confident in Him. Life is messy and painful. Life has evil. I don’t always understand everything. But I have hope in everything.

Til the day I die, I will live for Him.

 

 

 

Pierce the darkness with light.

 

For a moment, or rather just a few moments, the world seemed to care about the moon and story it had to tell. In case you weren’t aware, this past Sunday was the super moon lunar eclipse. It was nicknamed “blood moon” as well, as it was allegedly a prophecy for the end times (I don’t buy that part of the story). Whether you’re a sciency sort of person, a religious person awaiting the coming of Christ in the appearance of the blood moon, or someone who just wanted to see what the fuss was about, a lot of the world, waited and watched the lunar eclipse. Here are a few of my pictures from the night…I missed a few phases of the eclipse, I missed most of the red reflections of light (hence the nickname of “blood moon”). Clouds were in the way. We’ve had rain off and on and I just didn’t think I would get to see any of the eclipse. Actually, I was disappointed because I love astronomy- constellations and the incredible depth of mystery around it all. Staring into the night sky is easily among my favorite things to do pretty much ever. After checking outside to see the moon, I decided to grab my camera, you know, just in case.

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The clouds blocked a lot of the moon. Even when I checked on the phases of it, often it was hindered by clouds and was pretty much a moon like any other night. Or at least, it wasn’t anything worth fussing about.

 

But I continued to watch it sporadically and see if anything changed.
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Still….so many clouds. I tried to capture the ending of the eclipse as best as I could. Between the clouds and my amateur photographer skills (Nikon baby!), it wasn’t the best shot. It was still so incredible to experience. I mean think about it, the world almost collectively watched the moon and regardless of location, the moon was present. It doesn’t mean that clouds, storms, buildings, or something else hindered its presence. The visibility was just blocked.  Not only were so many people watching the moon, people were going at it on social media posting pictures. If I may be honest for a minute- like I haven’t already been honest- I get so sick of poor quality pictures. I know I am not professional photographer, but I know enough technique and have enough skill to spot good pictures or, in many cases of social media, bad or outright terrible ones. But nothing bothers me more than people posting either their own or someone else’s poorly or obviously photoshopped picture and claiming it to be either a masterpiece or declaration of truth. Its a fraud. I am all for using editing software and even photoshop, but please, for all that is good and beautiful, stop with the terrible photoshops being passed as fact. I saw people posting pictures of a bright red moon sitting on the horizon of the Mount of Olives essentially peering over the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem. Not only was the moon placement incorrect, the size and color were both terribly wrong, and quite obvious. But then there were other, less obvious, frauds that had so many people believing its validity. And though many were deceived by these frauds, we still will declare to the world, that we don’t like fake…

After my attempt of catching the eclipse mostly failed, I went inside my townhouse to read and watch some Netflix. I like evenings because I like the quiet and reflective nature of them. So after some binge watching, junk food, and Facebook, I unplugged a bit. At this point it was about 2 in the morning. Silence. Part of why I love the silence of the night is because I like to go outside on a porch, balcony, in a backyard, or wherever I am, and pray, reflect, then listen for what God has to say. When I stepped outside, I was taken aback for a moment. I thought there were new street lights or something because it was so unusually bright. I quickly realized something: I got to see the finale of something incredibly beautiful while the world slept (or in reality the Western Hemisphere). The moon was brighter than I had ever seen. It was big and bold and perfect. The clouds were gone. The sky was clear. And it was lovely.

I stood at the backside of my apartment building and fence just smiling in awe of such beauty. The darkness was gone. The night lit up like it was the day. And then something came to my mind, I believe, a whisper from God.

Pierce the darkness with light.

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Our world is filled with so much filth. Distraction. Hate. Evil. So much darkness engulfs this world. Just like the earlier part of my evening and watching of the eclipse. The clouds got in the way of the beauty and perfection. You see, when we allow for things to pollute us and fill us with filth, we aren’t in the light. We all have sin, innate darkness, within us. It is the very reason why our world is full of evil. Its why there is brokenness and pain. But with Jesus, light has come. I know this may make me sound like a crazy person, but that’s honestly fine by me. Jesus died to bring life. He died to redeem. He died and rose again for each of us.  As Christians, Jesus needs to be the most important thing in our lives. He must be the light within us, but it must also break forth from us. What good is it if the light in us remains hidden from the rest of the world stuck in darkness? What good is it if we have been forgiven much and redeemed, yet aren’t telling others about it? Remember when I was talking about the bad photoshops? Yeah…nobody likes a fake, and if you’re a fake Christian- a hypocrite- people will eventually catch on.  Some might buy it, but eventually frauds are uncovered and exposed. If Jesus is the light of the world, if he is “the way the truth and the life”, why are we not excited to live that out and let the world catch at least a glimpse of that light? What good is grace and mercy in our lives when we aren’t living differently or offering it others? If we, Christians…if we, the Church, stepped up and lived as we say we believe, and let Jesus not only change us, but light up the world around us, this world would and could look very very differently. Pierce the darkness around you with the light of Jesus Christ.

 

Remember.

You may not know this about me, but I like to remember dates and important events. Historically speaking. Whether it was a good day (or event) or something horrifyingly painful, I feel like I need to remember it. If there is anything that frustrates me most, apathy and lack of compassion would be on the top of that list.

Now I am not one who normally cries in movies- romance or anything. But I do cry in movies that are based on real events- movies of honor, heroism, pain, suffering, and tragedy. I cry because I see the brokenness of this world, past or present. I love war movies. Among my favorites are Saving Private Ryan, Band of Brothers, and We Were Soldiers. I love other historical movies like UnbrokenThe Impossible, and Hotel Rwanda. The reason I like movies like this and why I need to watch them over and again, is because it reminds me of something that happened and the pain (or joy) someone experienced. I am not someone who simply likes to post on social media about an event. It isn’t wrong to post something to commemorate something terrible or celebrate something good. But I like to remember so I do not forget.

When September 11th comes every year (which is today as I write), I relive the horrors of that day. I watch the news from our country that dark day. I read or watch survivors’ stories. I remember my own story from that day- the sadness and fear I felt. I remember the suffering that friends of mine went through. Every year on its anniversary, I watch the movie World Trade Center, about the survival of two Port Authority cops (starring Nicolas Cage). I’ve seen United 93 and other movies about the events as well.

I do the same thing with other movies that pair with important dates. When December 7th happens, the anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor, I watch the movie Pearl Harbor. December 26th is a date a lot of people may not remember the same as I do, but I watch The Impossible, as it shares the miracle and story of a family that somehow was able to survive the tsunami in 2005, the tsunami that nearly wiped out Asia Pacific. To honor our freedom for Independence Day, I’ll watch The Patriot. The timeframe in between Memorial Day and July 4th, I like to have a sobering reminder of freedom, the reminder being in watching the mini-series Band of Brothers, about the 101st Airborne Division, specifically following a group of soldiers from training camp and D-Day to VE Day. If I ever need a reason to push through difficulty, loss or overcome difficulty, I like to watch movies like We Are Marshall or North Country. I want to remember things, but I want to be inspired as well.

It may seem silly to you and that is honestly okay. But to me, this is so important. I want to be broken for this world. I want to remember tragedies and not let myself because calloused and cold to them. I want to be broken by suffering and pain. I want to be reminded of the things that have been overcome- war, death, injury, genocide. I want to feel something because I need to feel something. I believe deep in my core that this is something God put inside me- this deep empathy and ability to be broken for other people but also rejoice and be excited with other people.

God’s heart breaks for brokenness.

I think we sometimes, myself included, want to blame God when things go wrong and might be painful, uncomfortable, or in the case of many of the dates I listed above, out right terrible. God is the creator, but he gave free will. Out of that free will, people have the choice to do great or terrible things. When these things happen, I want to have a heart that weeps for others. I want to have a heart that is reminded of pain and sorrow, but also to hope. Regardless of the actions of others, I want to be the kind of person that sees people the way God sees them.

Nothing about this post is like my normal- with a call to action or a challenge. Instead, it is me sharing my heart, to you. I guess, if I will give a challenge, it is this: life will bring both good and bad, to you and to others. But you have a choice in your response. Don’t live your life pretending those things don’t matter. Don’t live your life ignoring the cries of others. Don’t blame God. Don’t quit trying. If I have learned anything from consistently watching these movies and others throughout the year (many falling on important anniversaries), it is to allow myself to feel something and to be moved to action, hope, love, and care, but to also inspire others to do the same. History- whether world, country or personal- should never be forgotten. It should be honored, remembered, and, if anything, a reason to continue to push through and strive on.

Charlie. 

Sometimes, we need to just stop… just for a moment, so we can see a bigger picture. Sometime we can be so busy. Think about it. We rush around to our own drumbeat and rhythm. On our way to work. Maybe it’s on your way to school. Maybe on your way to yoga or the gym. You might be rushing out the door with kids after a frazzled morning. At work, you might be overwhelmed with the insanity of a deadline or major project. In college, you have papers due, midterms and finals and an assortment of other assignments.

Life is crazy.

But does it have to be crazy? Does it need to be something that is so incredibly exhausting to the point where we miss life happening right before us? I had a moment yesterday. It’s been a tiring week so I was excited to sleep in until 8:30 or 9am. The coffee shop I work at has been insanely busy to the point where I’ve missed breaks and been on my feet for 8 hours straight. As I awoke yesterday, I saw a text asking me to come in for work early. I started getting ready for work thinking I’d be able to get there maybe 45 minutes to an hour early, instead of 2 hours early as requested. On my way out the door, I felt ready for what I figured would be another crazy day. I got in my car, with some worship music in the background, I began to pray- talking out loud to God. It may seem crazy but it’s a normal thing for me. I’ve been asking God for moments and opportunities for him to speak to me and show me things… little daily lessons. A few moments like that have happened lately and I’ve been wanting God to show me more. I wrote about one here on a previous blog.

Then something happened. I approached a busy intersection with the red light on my side. As I slowed to a stop I saw an elderly man walking with a cane across the street pulling a rolling suitcase. I was sad for him wondering where he was headed. The direction he was going would have him walking up some hills along a busy road in 95 degrees. In my heart, I knew I needed to pull over and see if there was something I could do. On an off chance miracle (or God ordained moment) he was heading to the Goodwill less than a mile from my store. So in a quick moment and choice, I decided to let him get in the car and I’d drive him to his destination. On our 10 minute drive, he shared a bit of his story. He’s 86 and diagnosed with liver cancer and has an inoperable tumor with 3 hopeful months to live. I’m unsure if he is currently or formerly homeless. Either way, he seemed to have a big story to tell.

When we pulled up to Goodwill, before he got out of my car, I asked if I could pray for him. I prayed for him- for God’s provision, understanding, and healing- but ultimately for God’s will to be done.  He then went on his way and I drove back toward my store. What I realized in those few minutes is something I wish more of us, especially Christians, could understand. Are we too busy to miss a moment or opportunity God has placed before us? Are we too rushed or too distracted to see God in the everyday? In the little moments? In the mundane? In the bustle and hustle of life, are we seeing what God is doing now? With Charlie, I got to hear his story, only in part, but I still was able to hear him, which I gathered he hasn’t been able to share in a long time. Are we willing to go out of our way for someone who can’t or won’t do the same? Are we willing to sacrifice for others, make time for others, or be uncomfortable for others?

Christians, we need to be in a place where the world sees Jesus in us. Jesus was incredibly intentional in everything he did. He chose to regularly go out of his way for others. He chose to regularly choose people in the midst of a crazy schedule. Jesus chose to help those who couldn’t do anything in return. Jesus taught his disciples that loving people, especially loving them where they were at (spiritually or physically), was the foundation of his message of the Gospel- the Good News. I’m not asking you to go do something extreme. I’m just simply challenging you to not miss God or the opportunities he places before us because we are too busy, too comfortable, too lazy, too distracted or too rushed. Maybe, just maybe, if we all could love our neighbor as ourselves, love people regardless if they can or will do anything for us, this world could look a lot more like Jesus.

The few moments over the past month have moments that have spiritually challenged me to strive to actually be more like Jesus, instead of just saying I believe in him or love him. Whether its opening a door, picking up a stranger, paying for the person behind you, praying for that random person at work, or anything else, be sensitive and discerning to what God might possibly be saying to you or asking of you. It might be simple. But it might just be worth it.

The loudest voice

There is a good chance that I may not know your story…or know the details of your life, what you believe, behaviors you have whether public or private, or the things that have shaped you to be who you are today. I believe life should be lived intentionally and with great purpose. I believe that because of my faith. I also believe that some people can become seriously and painfully misguided by their beliefs.

This is one of those stories.

You see, last weekend I was in Dallas to go to another sexpo. Porn convention. Adult show. Name it what you will, I was there. Arriving in Dallas, I already knew the weekend would be different. It already was. My very arrival was contingent on the spontaneous road trip that I took with strangers I met at Houston airport. The city seemed quite when I arrived at nearly midnight while walking from the train station to my hotel in Downtown. I prayed to myself as I walked, pulling my seemingly overweight bag (I had almost 10 big books in there!). I prayed because I was grateful: the week leading into this Dallas convention I had been at another convention with thousands of pastors, a handful of which were the financial reason I was able to be walking through Downtown Dallas heading to a porn show. I was excited because this was another convention with XXXchurch where I would be able to share my story and the love of Jesus to anyone wanting to hear. Even gazing out my hotel room’s large bay windows at the silhouette of the cityscape, my heart melted. It melted because I know in my heart that Jesus loves me and that he is why I am who I am today, but so many people are stuck living lives of quiet desperation, brokenness, shame, fear, and wandering. My story of redemption- of Jesus changing my heart and my brokenness- is why I feel obligated and compelled to go to conventions like Exxxotica. If one person- ONE PERSON- can see Jesus through me and hear about how much he really loves them and accept that, then every single moment is worth it all.

But sadly, some people share a very different story.

At Exxxotica, we were met with many different voices, voices all telling a different story. Exxxotica itself is an event that highlights and glamorizes the sex industry and those who work it. I have met many industry workers and have gotten to know some closer; they are some amazing people. I don’t like pornography or what it can and will inevitably do to someone; I believe that it is a painful part of some people’s stories. It was a part of mine which is why I feel I have a voice in this.  Though I don’t like it, I do believe some people genuinely do, including those who work as porn stars. I also believe that when you disagree or even know the damages of certain behaviors or lifestyles, usually the loudest and meanest voice is the least received of them all. XXXchurch goes to this shows not “save” anyone from the industry. We don’t go to rescue people from trafficking. We don’t go so we can convert porn stars or producers or consumers. We go because we love Jesus and we believe He truly loves them. We go in love. We go giving out free things like stickers and t-shirts. We smile, we chat, we stand all day, we laugh, and we get to know people’s stories. We don’t yell. We don’t condemn. We don’t judge. That is not our job. Nothing we do or say can or will save someone for Heaven OR condemn someone to Hell. We are not God. We simply share who Jesus is to us and how e loves people.

There was a much louder, crueler voice present. They weren’t a booth. They weren’t a vendor. They were a local church. They were a church that apparently had craft time before showing up to the Kay Bailey Convention Center. Signs were made…and screaming was their choice of presentation.  Instead of preaching of the love of Jesus, redemption, salvation, or anything else, this church purposefully spoke in hate and condemnation. This church had signs that read “God hates fags”, “Homo sex is sin”,  and “Got AIDS yet?”. The kicker of it all was a man, who I believe was the pastor, holding a sign that read “You deserve rape” with the other side reading  “God laughs at your rape”. Tell me, please dear pharisees of that Dallas church, where in the Bible it says such things? Where does God laugh at sorrow or pain? The God you were screaming so violently and cruelly at attenders and workers of this convention is most certainly not the God I serve.

My God is a God of tremendous love. A God who forgives. A God who is unconditional. A God that sacrificed the very thing that brings us new life. He is a God that when we make choices and live our lives to our own pleasing, he draws us to Him and lets us choose to love Him (or not). It is a choice to allow God to work in our lives and transform us. You see, He is an incredibly patient God that will wait for us and never abandon. He will love us and never hurt us. When we hurt, he weeps, because he truly understands sorrow. He doesn’t laugh at our pain, but wants to be our strength especially when we have none. My God- my Jesus- sat with sinners at their tables, the very people that the religious elite thought they were too good or righteous for. Jesus chose to be associated with people who had baggage, made mistakes, had pain, lived questionable lives, had sorrow, had brokenness, and he chose in the midst of all of that to be a voice… calming and loving and redeeming. A voice resonating around the world even still 2,000 years later. A voice that didn’t need to show condemnation, especially when he was the only one actually able to be self-righteous. Jesus loves us as we are but loves us way to much to stay the same. He has a greater story ahead for us. And that story, dear friends, is what we share when we go to sexpos and porn conventions. This is why I share what God has done in my life. I have experienced first hand his grace and mercy and redemption. Instead of shoving religion down people’s throats or in their faces, I want to always offer hope through relationship with Jesus Christ.

The church protesting there may have been the loudest voice, but it was not the truest or holiest.

As always, Jesus loves porn stars. But he also loves the protestors. He equally wants to redeem us all.