The legacy left…

This week has caused a lot of sobering and humbling moments to remind me of some important things in life. My heart sank last week when I heard the news that Hugh Hefner passed away. I don’t grieve because he was a great man. I don’t grieve because the porn industry lost their icon. I grieve because a man died after living a life that has nothing eternal to show for it. My heart sank on Monday morning after hearing the news of Las Vegas. I grieved because lives were taken and lost. I grieved because people were faced with eternity. You might ask why I mention two very different situations- the death of an old man and a mass shooting.

I have spent many moments this week just praying and asking God for direction and understanding of how to process all of this. I am sure if I did my research I would find more lives taken and lost around this world. I would find more stories of people having lived very different lives all with the same outcome- death. In the wake of all the loss of life, beginning when I heard the news of Hugh Hefner’s death, my heart has been stirring one big question: what legacy will I leave behind when I die? We each will meet our end. We each will die, some of old age, some of diseases, some of accidents, and some of tragedy. But we will all die. Death is something scary that a lot of people don’t want to talk about. And honestly, I might talk more about it in a different blog. What I want to focus on in this post is more what we leave behind.

Hugh Hefner built an empire. He launched the adult and pornography industry to be what it is today. From having young women dress in bunny costumers working in a casino to having orgies being filled, he crafted the adult industry to be one of the biggest industries in the world. He is an icon of adult entertainment. Or should I say, was. You see, all the money he made and the industry he built means nothing. When he died, he didn’t get to take his favorite Playboy bunny. He didn’t get to take any of his favorite videos, calendars, or pictures with him beyond the grave. Hefner built a legacy, but not all legacies are good. His legacy has been one of the main reasons men and women, girls and boys, are dealing with addiction to pornography, sexual promiscuity, sexual experimentation, self-image issues, broken marriages, and more. His legacy is one that became the gateway for sin to become normalized in our world through sex. Sex is a beautiful thing created by God for us to experience in marriage. Yet that was hijacked by Hefner and the many others who have built their kingdoms of this design. His death for me is very, very sad. His death to me is a reminder that not all people turn from their own way of living- unless that happened in his final moments. His death to me is one that reminds me that I have work to do as a believer in the redemption of Jesus Christ. You see, Hefner could have been saved. He could have in his final breath had a “come to Jesus” moment. Even if he did, the only thing left behind is the memory of the way he lived: sexualizing and objectifying women and men through pornography. Left behind are the women of the mansion who were mere playthings. Left behind are the millions of porn addicts. Left behind are the broken marriages.

I also see people like the many heroes of the Las Vegas shooting…the people who stepped up and saved lives knowing that their own life might be lost. I don’t know their stories or even the number of people. But the idea is there that those people chose to put others first and love them before their self. Many of the survivors, if not all of them, will never be the same. Their lives are changed because of the shooting. I am sure we will see more stories to come.

My point friends is that we never know when our lives will end or how we will die. We don’t know and we cannot plan for it. But we can plan on two things: live with a certainty of eternity with Jesus Christ and living in a way to honor him. You see, we all build a kingdom of our own. We all live our lives. We make choices and intentional decisions. When we die, we will leave a legacy behind. We have the choice to live by building a kingdom not for ourselves, but one that reflects the heart of Jesus in the everyday. You see when we live for him, we love others well. When we live for him, we leave a legacy of love, compassion, truth, integrity, character, forgiveness, redemption, and more. We won’t be perfect. But I can tell you this, that when I die, however I die, I pray that people remember me not because of something I created or built, but how I lived and loved others. I don’t want to remembered for the great things I have done, my degrees, my accomplishments, my selfishness, my lust, my bad choices, my mistakes, or my failings. I am far from perfect. But I want to be remembered for more than any those things, good or bad. I have reconciled with the fact that I am in a dangerous career and there is a chance my end could come while doing my job. I reconciled that a long time ago when doing missions work as well. I want to live my life reflecting Jesus so well, that people see Him in me more than they see me. I want to love God with all that am and everything that I have so that when I die and meet my end, whenever that is, that I leave behind the greatest legacy of all: that Jesus came to redeem us all. So I ask you, look at your life. If met with eternity today, what kind of legacy would you leave?

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Piercing through tragedy

Today, I think we as a nation grieve. I have seen post after post from people regarding the mass shooting in Las Vegas. Every new update causes me to grieve more. For the last day, I have struggle to find the words to say and things to share that can adequately show my grief and brokenness. And that’s where I leave it…brokenness. The tragedy of the shooting is more than the lives that were lost or the people who were hurt. The tragedy of the shooting is more than an evil act. Facts of the incident are still coming in and we won’t have all the details for probably a while. And yet the facts we do have don’t bring comfort and the questions still unanswered still bring concern and pain. The majority of the posts I have seen online state something along the lines of praying for victims all the while asking the question of “why?” which remains unanswered.

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But if I may, I’d like to share with you my thoughts on this tragedy as well as an idea of how to move forward.

Every survivor and every victim’s family and every first responder that night will never be the same again because of the shooting. Their lives are forever changed. Tragedy is awful, painful, and no one can truly bring the right form of comfort to someone in grief like this. No amount of politics, church, counseling, or anything else can change the past and the wounds that happened or the lives that were lost. I won’t pretend to tell you that moving on is easy. Though I have gone through personal tragedies, I have never experienced anything like surviving something like this shooting. This is what I do know: that in the wake of another tragedy, the Columbine High School shooting, I gave my life to Jesus Christ. It was out of that darkness, that I came to life in Jesus. So friend, if I can offer you any comfort, let me say that God is not absent in the midst of even the darkest days. He is not hiding and he is not silent. God is grieving with each every person grieving this tragedy. He grieves the lives taken and the lives changed. A common question asked after a tragedy is how a loving God can allow for this to happen. Honestly I don’t fully understand tragedy and the why it happens, but I do know that God gave us free will to choose to live how we want, which in turn means some people, many actually, choose to live in evil ways. And its in those evil ways- sin- that these sort of tragedies happen. But just as some choose to live in sin and evil, some choose to rise out of it.

So when tragedy happens, God is still present.

God is present in the midst of the gunfire as police officers run toward the sounds of gunfire as others run away. God is present in the nurses and doctors and EMTs that strive to save and help as many lives as possible. God is present in the stranger who jumps on top of another to shield them from the piercing rounds. God is present in the people using their vehicles and the concert rails in order to shuffle wounded and others to safety. You see in the midst of the darkness, we tend to see people- often we call them heroes- rise above differences, agendas, and then do something powerful: love thy neighbor, even if that neighbor is a stranger.

We still need to each personally choose to live for God or not. We still need to choose on how we want to live and love him. But I believe that in the midst of tragedy and darkness, God’s image that is in each and every one of us, can be revealed. God’s image that was created in each of us at our beginning, is one that reflects his heart. You see when we love others, when we care for them, when we tend to the wounded and hurting, when we sacrifice, and when we count the cost such sacrifices, we reveal God’s heart for us. God loves us all tremendously. God loves us so much that he made the greatest sacrifice in the world for us just so we can choose to love him (or not). I believe in the Devil and believe he wants only destruction for us, so when we face tragedy or difficulties, we only see the bad. But friend I challenge you, that as we are in the wake of the worst mass shooting in our country’s history, to not only see the bad. See that God was and is present. See that God is here for you, for me, for them, to show us that he redemptive, and healing, and full of hope. Every story I have seen since the shooting, have been ones that reveal God showing up through people. As the gunman shot into the crowd piercing them with deadly rounds, God pierced through the tragedy with His love. The devil doesn’t win this. Evil doesn’t get the victory here.

This world is redeemable. You are redeemable. There is hope through Him.

Living the Sermon on the Mount…

I remember years ago while I was in college I had a religion professor make a statement that has sort of stuck with me since. He was preaching on a portion of the Sermon on the Mount and frankly I can’t even tell you which portion. But I remembered he passionately declared this: “The sermon on the Mount should, at some point, offend you…where the Spirit of God arrests your heart because you are living in direct opposition to it.” It was powerful and convicting and been something I have thought often about ever since that chapel day. I studied the Sermon on the Mount. Maybe you’re unfamiliar with it. If you have the time, which I would recommend making the time, read Matthew 5-7. Let me set the stage for you. Jesus is becoming a known a speaker all over the land of Israel. People are recognizing his name. People are talking about him. People are gathering everywhere he went because there was something about the things he said. Jesus was in the Galilean region roaming all over the region encountering people. There’s a hilltop that overlooks the Sea of Galilee, now called the Beatitudes. This hilltop was setting for this sermon. Tens of thousands of people flocked to the location because they heard Jesus would be speaking. I imagine it was a clear and beautiful day. I’ve been to this place and it truly is stunning. The crowds gathered. Then Jesus spoke. The things Jesus said were not the popular voice. They were countercultural and often counter religion. They were statements that stirred the people to seek God and ways of honoring him instead of man. The statements were radical. And the people listened. Jesus spoke of forgiving those who have hurt you, of watching your eyes from lust, of redemption, of caring for the poor, of the damages of pride, of faith. Ultimately everything Jesus said was said with purpose to show people something simply profound: that with living in such a way, it goes beyond being religious, it goes beyond being good, and instead brings you a place where we can strive to be holy and God honoring in every facet of our lives. The Sermon on the Mount was not just a radical message 2000 years ago. It is the same radical message today that causes controversy not because its not true, but because we are innately selfish beings and living in a God-honoring way is harder than living in a self-pleasing way. The message Jesus spoke should convict us. It should offend us, as my professor said, because at some point we aren’t living well to one or more of the things he discussed. Maybe it offends you because you are hate someone, maybe someone who has hurt you, but Jesus says to forgive and not seek revenge. Maybe this sermon offends you because you do lust and allow your eyes to look at people in such a way that your heart is already unfaithful. Maybe this offends you because you know you are prideful. Maybe it offends you because you are like the Pharisees- the religious people of that day- because you are really good at religion but don’t actually know Jesus, and the very thought of admitting that maybe you’ve focused so much on being good and not being godly is offensive. Jesus is our hope. He spoke that message that day knowing that we would fail, knowing that our sin nature would be something that we would daily have to overcome. His forgiveness and redemption are for us. So be hopeful because Jesus loves you. He died for you. And he wants to redeem you. If the Sermon on the Mount offends you, look honestly at yourself and what is the actual offensive part. Maybe, just maybe, its offensive because God is trying to convict you- trying to arrest your heart- to help bring you into something better and more God honoring. God doesn’t convict us without offering hope. Jesus is our hope. He is our hope for everything we face.

Below are a few thoughts I have on the messages of the Sermon on the Mount. Take the time to read Matthew 5-7 as well. Maybe just maybe God has something he wants to share with you…

-“Blessed are the…” Jesus was giving everyone an opportunity to see his Love and purpose, in order that God would be glorified.

-“You are the salt and light of the earth..” Jesus was calling his followers to a higher standard, so that he would be seen by all men. Our lives are a reflection of our belief.

-Jesus came to fulfill the Law, not remove it, a misconception by many. We are to serve him through the Word. This leads to righteousness. So read the Bible and do what it says.

-Jesus spoke against hatred, no matter who it is directed to because hatred is the equivalent of murder. Nothing about hatred is good.

-Lust is as bad as adultery. It is adultery of the heart. All temptation that leads to lust must be removed- “tear it out and throw it away”.

-Jesus also took a moment to share the sacredness of marriage. He understood that it is not easy, but he stood on the side of restoration. Marriage is the best example on earth as to how to live like Christ in relationship.

-Yes or No…simply put. Jesus was telling the people, as well as us, that we must honor him by honoring commitments. Be a person of your word. The rest is sin and evil.

-Revenge and retaliation often seem like the best choice. Yet Jesus said to be a better example of Love by not acting against those who hurt you.

-Pray for all people, especially those that have hurt you, made your life miserable, wounded you…that leads us to God’s perfection, which is holy. It is healing for us to pray and to forgive.

-Be cautious of pride, especially when serving others. Everything you do, do it to honor God not men. Have the mentality: “its not about me”

-Jesus taught about prayer…its reverence, thankfulness, devotion, and intimacy with God. And fasting is about your relationship with God.

-Whatever you treasure and value will show in your life. If that is not God, others will also see that your heart and life is not for him.

-Jesus said to stop worrying or being anxious. Trust God and have faith. Seek his righteousness and he will be with you.

-Jesus was the only perfect person, so do not judge others. He simply wants your life to reflect him, working through your weaknesses. And to be clear Jesus is not saying avoid accountability or correction.

-Jesus said that God wants to bless you, but often we ask things with false motives or skewed perspective. Serve him first above all else.

-Your relationship with God will have good fruit, evidence of your life following Christ, or bad fruit, evidence of your owns ways. Its either/or not both.

-Jesus spoke of a house built on a foundation…Jesus is our foundation and our rock. If he is our foundation, then nothing we go through in this world can destroy us.

The company you keep

The past few months I have been able to really think hard and long about some things. I have been able to sit and pray about some major things in my life. Since the beginning of summer, I have been processing my own grief of a loss of a relationship, dealing with financial issues, going to weddings, making it to my one year at my job, and so many things in between. I have spent more time in prayer the past three or four months, than in recent years. Its amazing how life hits you in the face with something bad and you just have to take the hit. Bruised and bleeding you get hit again. And you keep going forward even if you’re limping, breathing hard, or stumbling to find your way, you keep moving forward. I began this year thinking it’d be one of the greatest years of my life. God had answered so many prayers of mine and it seemed like my life finally found favor. Dreams were coming true. It seemed like everything was on this track. Then things happened.

My job is difficult sometimes. Often actually. I made the determination to be an officer who stays in shape, makes necessary sacrifices, and lives above reproach; theres too much negativity in this world to give anyone an opportunity to discount me in my job. Yet, since becoming an officer my friendships have changed dramatically. So many have walked away from me, people I never expected, simply because of the uniform I now wear. Guys think I’m either too manly for them or in too risky of a job for them. I’ve been harassed on Facebook for taking on this calling. I’m cussed out everyday and threatened regularly (though often by drunks who will fail to remember such threat upon sobering up). I’ve been spit on, bit, kicked, and thank God nothing worse so far. Ask any LEO, they probably share similar perspective. I have discovered that I love my job, but it can be isolating in ways unexpected. It can be lonely.

My personal life has radically been altered this year. From meeting the guy I was certain I would marry and indeed started dreaming with him…to having it abruptly end with little explanation. Dreams shattered and my heart broken on the ground. Having your heart break in such a way has been new for me and I would never wish it on anyone. And yet feeling isolated all the more because so many people tell me to hate him, when the love is still very much there. My year started with such love and hope to be ending with an “I do”. Moving on from that…is still such a process. All the while, I see so many relationships and marriages around me, especially at work, so broken and sad, many full of endorsements of infidelity, pornography, lust, and vulgarity. And as heartbroken as I still am, I am thankful that my story was not one like that. Beyond the relationship ending, I thought this year would be the change also for me financially. Of course in the long term, it absolutely has been. But it seems again, that once I start to make headway with my student debt (which I am), I get hit with something else. The past three months, ironically and annoyingly the same timeframe as my breakup, I have discovered the need for hundreds of dollars needed for car maintenance and 2 grand needed for dental issues. Talk about feeling like I can’t seem to catch my breath.

What has been an amazing part of this painful journey is that I have seen the community around me and how much its affected me. I absolutely love my church and am more convinced than ever of the true representation of the Gospel present. I don’t care if you like the music, the style, the preaching…you cannot deny the genuine love of Christ found there. Amidst my breakup, the people- the family- that I have at my church stepped up and were a support system unlike anything I have ever experienced. The sleepless and tearful nights were also ones full of encouraging, consistent, and prayerful texts, Facebook messages, and phone calls. These people have prayed with me, wiped my tears, held me in their arms, and seen me at possibly my worst. They have surrounded me not just with support, but with the Gospel, constantly turning me toward Jesus. I have other friends that have been support from afar, not allowing the distance to hinder their ability to speak life into me at my most desperate. Many of them were the late night texts or phone calls I have received. Many of them were the ones that made the effort to see me when I made a visit home just a few weeks ago. Two girls I was just in a wedding with- girls I had known but not very well- were amazing blessings in my life during a week I truly needed support. They saw through my smile, makeup and my “always the bridesmaids attitude” that I was struggling, and hurt, and sad. They prayed with me and cried with me and allowed me to process with them. I now consider them friends and not just girls I knew from college.

Friend, stranger, whoever you are that is reading this, I want to challenge you with something very important. Be cautious and mindful of the company you keep. We all will go through good and bad seasons. We will all face difficulties, defeats, and despair. But who we choose to be a part of our life, mainly our closer relationships, can determine our attitude despite the outcome. The people we keep closest to us should be ones of understanding that they will influence us. The friendships and community I have now is one I am beyond grateful for because I saw the company they were to have in the midst of my own storms. Instead of telling me to be angry, resentful, bitter, they have told me to hope, forgive, love, and pray. They taught me to seek Jesus. During this season, I have seen the other kind of company in my life. These are the ones that told me to react in selfish and sinful ways regarding my breakup and to hurt my ex. These are the ones that endorsed debauchery and sex for a couple about to vow before God. These are the ones that didn’t show me Christ, didn’t show me love, didn’t point me to truth but instead to the world. We need to be cautious of those we invite to be a part of our stories. We need to be mindful of who we allow access to our lives. I would encourage you to look at you life…what kind of influence are the people around you giving you? Are they drawing you closer to Jesus and to strive for holiness? Or are they possibly one of the influencers that are chipping away at your relationship with God, maybe without even realizing? If you are a Christian, be intentional with who you bring into your life. I urge you to strive for community with other believers that you can do life with. Community can make or break our faith. For me, in probably one of the darkest seasons of my life, the community of believers I have in my life were the very thing that kept me from completely breaking. God used these amazing people in my life, literally all over the world, to encourage me, lift me up, pray for me, pray with me, challenge me, and sometimes carry me. I know the company I keep…they are a company of believers that have shown me love and grace and ultimately Jesus.

A fight worth having

Fighting in prayer.

I know this may seem like a foreign concept to some who read this. But I am utterly convinced that prayer is something powerful. Don’t believe me? Read any post on social media about death, tragedy, difficult times…it could be written by anyone, but I guarantee you that the comments will be full of posts of prayers. What I have found is that we, as a Church, don’t fight hard enough in prayer. We will seek God when it gets tough. We will say a quick prayer for a big exam or job interview. We might say a generic prayer before a meal. But do we really know how to fight in prayer?

I am an advocate for prayer. Not just the quickie prayer. But deep focused prayer. Now before you create your own image of how I pray, I am not a 5am, get up early, kneel for 2 hours a day person. Not me. I am a pace around the room, cry, scream, yell, kneel, weep before God prayer person. I am advocate for prayer because I have seen God move and do amazing things by my prayers. God doesn’t need us to pray. He wants us to pray. He wants us to seek him. But sometimes we need to pray. Actually, more than sometimes. As often as we can muster. What I have learned is sometimes we can’t afford to just say the quickie prayer because we had a bad day. Sometimes, we need to have the uncomfortable, painful, messy, moments in prayer in the solitude of our room, or car, or wherever you can find time in prayer alone. Sometimes we need to make ourselves pray, not so we can check a mark on our to-do list as a Christian, but to realize that sometimes we need to seek out God, humble ourselves, but to also fight.

Ephesians 6:12 states “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

This is where it gets tricky, especially if you are not a person of faith or religion. This is where it gets awkward if you are a Christian but you don’t know this. Crap happens in our world. Bad things happen. Sin exists. Whether things happen by choice and consequence, or just because, we need to pray. Evil exists because the devil exists. I believe in Satan. And I believe he wants nothing more for you than being exactly who God doesn’t want you to be. He wants you to feel defeated by your own wrongdoing. He wants you to feel destroyed by the bad things of this world. He wants you to feel unworthy because of your sin or mistakes. He wants you to think that God could never forgive or love you. That is the spiritual realm I speak of when I talk of prayer. When we pray, we show the devil that he doesn’t get to decide the things in your life. You get to by seeking God and allowing him to lead your life. When we pray, we are saying “God I need you, I am desperate for you, I am angry and need your help…” and so much more. When we pray we are telling God our problems, our needs, our hurts, our fears, but also of our faith and our hope and our belief that he is going to do what he promised. What I have learned, and then been reminded of recently, is that sometimes, we need to make the time to pray. Make the time to pray for your needs and ask God to provide. Pray until God does something. Pray until you can’t pray anymore. I’m not talking like 30 minutes and you’re done. Do it everyday. Seek him and his will. Seek his direction and clarity. He will not let you down.

Make the time to grieve your sin. GRIEVE YOUR SIN. And then fight against your sin. If we can’t or won’t grieve our sin, then we don’t know Jesus truly and that’s even more of a reason to grieve. This is painful, humbling, heartbreaking. I know this all too well. I had to grieve my sin years ago when I finally admitted to having a porn addiction and problem with lust. I had to grieve that what I was doing was far from honoring God and far from being holy. I have had to do that again since then for other things. I have had to grieve the fact that my behaviors were grieving God. If we can’t be broken for our sin and the things that we do that grieves God, than we do not know him at all. Start with knowing him and surrendering your life to him. And then pray and fight even for God to work in and through you.

Take the time to fight for others in prayer. Don’t just hope someone changes. Don’t just be sad that someone is living in a way that doesn’t honor God. Don’t be unmoved by people, especially those that claim Christ, to continue to live in their sin and not be broken. Be broken for them. Pray for them by name. Pray for them to know God more. Pray for them to encounter Jesus and the forgiveness he offers. I have a list that has names on it that I pray for daily. I have people in my life that I specifically and intentionally pray for because I know God has more for them than they could imagine. Be inconvenienced to pray for others.

Whoever you are and whatever you face, you might need to take the time, or make the time, to really seek God in prayer. But be willing to fight, because the devil doesn’t want you to realize he is a liar and deceiver. He doesn’t want you to know that God can redeem you from your sin. He doesn’t want you to know that God is good. God isn’t intimated by any emotion you could possibly express to him. He isn’t intimated by language, words, worries, fears, or circumstances. He is intimated by your humanity. Just seek him. Weep before him. Grieve your sin. Be broken. Be angry. But be open for him to speak and move boldly in your life.

Purposed spouse

There seems to be a trend in my life, that regardless of my relationship status, I am a person consulted regarding marriage and relationships. What I also know is that God has given me such an undeniable passion for marriage- not just for my own one day but for marriages at large. I firmly believe marriage is one of the most beautiful journeys we can ever embark on yet it is one that is absolutely among the hardest. Marriage is serious. Marriage is sacred. Unfortunately our culture has done a stellar job of equipping people for lives that are about happiness and not holiness, self-serving and not self-sacrificing. I believe God created the idea of family by first thinking of a marriage. He created us for community and connection with others. He created us for intimacy with our spouse. He created us on purpose to live our life with purpose, not just make it through life and die at the end of it. When it comes to thinking about living out a life that he has called us to, for the majority of us, it will include marriage. I absolutely hope my life does one day include marriage, hopefully not too far away. I’d like to get married and truly hope that is something God has for me. I know some people who read this may not be a Christian and may not agree with me on everything, but know this, I believe marriage is incredibly signifiant. I want to do my best, that if I ever am a wife, to remember that God has given me that honor. I hope that the things I say in this are things that anyone can do in their marriage, I just think God makes everything far greater. That includes marriage.

What really is the point and purpose of a spouse? We talk of marriage and even in the church I think sometimes we are confused. I wanted to share my thoughts, even though I’m single and have no clue who my hopeful husband might be one day. I think I have a good idea of what God desires for us in a marriage and from us for our spouse.

Before any other thoughts, understand that your spouse cannot be your god (check out another post of mine: Happily never after). Plain and simple, if you put your spouse, your job, your kids, your health, anything over your love for God, you have terribly missed the point. Love God more than you could ever love your spouse. I promise you, even if you are in a dating relationship, that if God is not your number one and he does not have your love first above your significant other, you have an idol in your life. You may have a good relationship, but not a godly one. Let me be clear on this: going to church, being a good person, reading your Bible, not “sinning”….those things don’t make you godly. It makes you religious. Loving God is about knowing that he is your God and you believe that Jesus died for you for your sin. Loving God means you want to do your very best to honor him with your life- your every breath, all that you are, everything you do. Love God truly above anything else in your life.

I understand for some people reading this, it brings some pain. I absolutely believe some things in life are unforeseeable, terrible, painful, and unplanned. I think that is where God’s grace comes in, even including divorce and remarriage. God is restorative, redeeming, and his grace is perfect. I am sorry if you have gone through such pain. Again, I believe God is a redeeming God and he can still work in you. But I do want to hope for marriage to be something that is before God a covenant- lifelong commitment to try to love your spouse as much as Christ has loved you. A spouse is not just someone you marry. This person is someone you commit to love. Not just when you feel like it. Not just when its easy. Not just when you are “happy”. Not just when its convenient. Your spouse should be the most important relationship in your life second only to God. If they are not the most important person, then you need to reevaluate some relationships in your life. Your children, your friends, your parents cannot usurp the relationship of your spouse. Ever. I’m not kidding. Your spouse may be wrong on something and that’s okay. Talk through it. Fight through it if you have to. But your spouse is your partner in life and you need to have your partner’s back. They need to know you will be there and present for them, with them, and on their side. Part of living out godly lives means you learn to love each other as God has called you to love them. You learn to love them how they need to be loved. You learn to love them despite things you may not like. You learn to see them through a lens of grace and eyes of Christ. Why? Because marriage is something that reflects your relationship with God. When two people come together and are good people, they might have a good relationship, but not a godly one. When a man and woman come together and vow to have a gospel-centered marriage, their marriage will not only be a good marriage, it will be a godly marriage, one that can overcome the tests that will inevitably come. It can overcome any struggle, any battle, any difficulty, not because it is perfect, but because Perfect Love lives in them at their core.

Two years ago I wrote a blog, strangely my most read one thus far, that were honest words from a single. I wanted to end this post by sharing more honest words with you (and summarizing as well), whoever you are, whether you are married or hoping to be one day. Marriage is an amazing opportunity for us to love God by living love out toward another person you.

Here’s what I think:

-love God more than you love your spouse
-daily pursue God by reading the Bible, praying, journaling…something!
-don’t neglect time for yourself and God
-pray with your spouse
-pray for your spouse
-talk about God things with your spouse
-be Christ-centered
-be committed in church
-God is redeeming and loving…nothing is too broken for him
-your sexual past doesn’t define you, but it will affect your relationships
-if porn is in your life, do WHATEVER it takes it to remove it
-porn will eventually destroy yourself and your marriage, don’t let it get that far
-flirtations with someone not your spouse may not seem like a big deal now, but if you aren’t careful, you’ll end up going down a dark road
-respect your spouse enough to place up boundaries with other people in your life, especially those of the opposite sex, former relationships, and people who you just might need space from because its better that way
-respect your spouse’s concerns and worries
-be patient with your spouse’s insecurities, fears, worries
-work on your own insecurities, fear and worries by seeking God and wise counsel
-be your spouse’s biggest fan and greatest advocate
-be a solid support for them
-listen, don’t just talk
-do things they want to do, even if you don’t
-do things for them, just because
-never make them feel uncomfortable, that includes sexual behaviors
-fight for your spouse, always
-fight with your spouse, not because you want to fight, but fight instead of giving up because they are worth it
-make necessary sacrifices to better love them
-take time out of your schedule for your spouse
-never stop dating them
-remember, everyday the vows you said before them and God

Marriage isn’t always easy. It isn’t always glamorous. But a spouse is someone who God has brought alongside you. Don’t waste the moments you have. Learn everyday to love them more and see them through God’s eyes. Marriages are our way of loving someone for the rest of our life as just a glimpse of God’s love for us. If you are single, pray that you can live in such a way, starting now, that you honor God will all that you do, including your single life. Pursue purity and sexual integrity in your behaviors. I know its a challenge but pursue it as best as you can. If you are dating, it does not get easier the closer you get to marriage. Pray for them to love God more. Pray for God to move in your relationship, and even painfully, if your relationship is not something God desires, that he make it clear. Seek God and wise counsel if you are struggling with things from your past, mistakes, sin, and anything else that might affect your future marriage. And if you are married, know that you have an incredible opportunity to show the world God through your marriage. Start now.

Whoever you are, whatever your past, God isn’t done with you yet.

A hug…

I had this incredibly sweet moment today. Honestly, this moment was the highlight of my day and something that brought more joy, more peace, and more resolve than I could have imagined. As I was leaving church today, a sweet family was talking in the doorway and I joined into the conversation. Their youngest daughter, I think she is around 4, is a gem and total firecracker and someone I see as world-changer all in one tiny human-absolutely one of the cutest kids ever. As we were all chatting in the doorway, she heard me say something then proceeded to ask if I was sick. I asked her why she thought I was sick and she stated firmly that my voice was scratchy. I politely told her I was good but sometimes my voice gets like that. I then continued chatting with her mom, only to find seconds later, this adorable girl just wrap her arms around me. And then hug me and hug me more. She held on for probably a good two minutes. For whatever reason she wanted to hug me. She has never once hugged me at church before. Actually she’d grab my hand or say something silly. But never a hug. And this time she hugged me unprompted and held on tight.

It was just a hug. Then I realized it was more than that.

When this sweet girl hugged me, I realized something: this little girl in that moment was more perceptive than most adults. Her mom is someone I went to recently regarding some personal issues and grief I was facing and she knew that even today, though I’m much better and have peace, I still hurt a little. It was like that little girl’s hug was God’s reminder, again, that he is listening and I’m not alone. This adorable little fireball had this precious child-like faith and love that embodied God’s heart. Throughout the day I kept thinking about that hug. And it made me think even more…how much God loves us to speak to us in even the simplest of ways. He meets us where we are at and wraps his love and grace around us. That moment…those two minutes of her just hugging me unprompted was like God himself was hugging me and reassuring me that its okay. It was God’s reminder to not discount the small, seemingly insignificant moments. Sometimes, those are the moments where God’s voice is loudest. Sometimes those are the moments where change truly begins. God’s love meets us, sometimes in a whisper and subtlety. Sometimes, however, God meets us with huge slap in the face to get our attention. I have had both recently. The grief I spoke of in my recent blog, in the midst of pain, was one that, though I didn’t want to realize it at the very beginning, a sort of slap in the face from God, one that stung and hurt but got my attention. This hug, however, was like a gentle sweet whisper from God.

Friend, wherever you are today with whatever you are struggling with, know God is with you. You are not alone. He hears your cries, knows your worries and fears, doesn’t need a promoting from you for you to know that he loves you deeply. Whatever you are facing, God is at your side if you let him lead you through it. Have the child-like wonder and pure faith like the girl at church. At the same time, don’t miss God in the moments, whether subtle or bold. He is wanting to speak to you and move in your life. You are not forgotten. You are not too messed up. You are not too bad or too dirty for him. His love is pure.
And its for you.

In the midst of pain

In a single moment, the life we live and the plans we make can fail, crumble…shatter.

I’ll be honest with you, this week was a long moment of such shattering. Everything I planned regarding something fell to pieces and I felt fragile to the point of the pieces of me going everywhere. I’ll be honest again- I didn’t handle myself in a way I would have expected or a way that I was pleased with. But we each have that moment, something that shatters a dream, a goal, a plan and we can’t do anything about it. We can try to pick up the pieces as they fall and break on the ground. We won’t be able to. We can be angry, but anger can’t change circumstances. We can only grieve initially.

We can grieve the loss of relationships, the loss of a loved one, the failure we had made, the loss of a job, the diagnosis, the misfortune. Let me tell you this, dear friend or stranger who reads this, when you go through difficulty and something like what I speak of, grieve. Don’t bottle it up. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen. Be angry. Be upset. Be discontent. Grieve! GRIEVE. Go through that time of processing the loss or the pain. Allow yourself to mourn. Cry. Weep. Fast. Sleep. Exercise. Whatever. Just don’t turn to something to grieve like alcohol, sex, drugs, or other addictive or unhealthy behaviors. Truly grieve. Then get up. Fight through the tears if you have to. Its okay to not be okay, but know that grieving cannot last forever.

I can tell you from experiences in my life, one of which was recent, that if you don’t grieve, you won’t heal. If you grieve, it will be painful. We don’t like pain. We don’t like coming to terms with things that have happened. Grieving is painful but it is necessary to survive and move forward. Very recently I had to grieve something, something that was a plan and a hope for the rest of my life. I had to grieve the loss of something that I didn’t understand. In my grief, I wept and cried for days. I couldn’t eat much. I barely slept. What’s amazing about grief though, is that when you grieve you can choose to be alone and just suffer, or you can seek out community and God. On my sleepless days and nights, I read the word…A LOT. I read Bible app devotionals. I prayed and I journaled seeking God’s wisdom, clarity and peace. Oh how good peace feels when you finally allow God to move and move boldly in your life.

That’s where I am at today. I grieved, I wept, I cried, I lacked understanding, and I even lacked peace for a time. But in time, with our struggles, God meets us where we are at with whatever we face. It might be subtle. Or he might show up boldly saying “I AM”. I am a firm believer that God has a purpose and uses moments like these to shape our story. We can choose to let things dictate and define us and even destroy us. Or we can, sometimes even painfully, allow God’s refining and redeeming love to transform us through our grief. He can use whatever shattering things have happened to create in you something new and beautiful. Its hard to see at the time when we are still fragile or broken, hurting, and lost, but God absolutely loves us and is wanting us to let him take the lead. Still grieve. Still process. Still be upset. God is not afraid of our emotions or turned away by our humanity. He meets us where we are and beckons to love him through the pain. In the midst of our pain, he meets us with with peace. We don’t necessarily have closure, the answers we seek, the person we love back, the job we want, or the future we dreamt. But let me tell you this: every time I have gone through something, the only constant has been his love for me. The only thing that I have found is peace when I trust him to write my story, one far better that I could even dream. Whatever you face today, its okay to grieve but allow God’s peace to work alongside your grief and I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Living differently.

We live in a world today where so much happens to influence who we are that in turn we are no longer living as the individuals God created, but a society that is deeply confused. Christians, we are confused just like the world. We stand for Christ in name but our behaviors say differently. Our words speak differently. Our lives tell a different story. I say this in love but also conviction because I am completely guilty of the same.

I so badly want to live my life as a voice for the Gospel as someone who has been changed by Jesus Christ. Yet I find myself in a constant struggle against self. I absolutely, fundamentally believe in God. I believe in Creation and I know that we have sin. I believe that to make up for the sin in our lives, a consequence followed, to which Christ paid. I believe it is through Jesus Christ alone that I find peace and redemption and restoration. I believe that God’s way is best. I believe that God wants more for us than we could ever know and that He writes bigger stories for us than ones we could write for ourselves. But I also believe I am complete idiot sometimes. I believe I am a failure other times. I believe that I make some deeply wounding mistakes and damaging choices.
You see, if we say we believe in God and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, then shouldn’t we live in such a way that honors him? Shouldn’t we want to live in a way that gives thanks to the one who paid for our sin rather than continuing to live in it? This is the human holiness struggle.

What is holiness? When Jesus died for us, he also rose again. Its why we celebrate Easter. The Bible may seem like a disconnected book of stories but instead it is actually a book of a collective of stories that reveal God’s heart and design for us through Jesus and the Israelite people. God loved us so much that he wanted to show us his love, rather than make us love, so that we might have a choice to choose to love him or not. Holiness is our way of, through our life, attempting to live like Christ did. Holiness is our way of trying to live in such a way that God is honored. It is our way of being set apart from the world and those who haven’t met Christ yet. You see I firmly believe that when we have encountered Christ we cannot be the same as when we first met him. He changes us. He changes hearts. He redeems us. Frees. Breaks up. Renews us. We cannot be the same if we have met Jesus. Holiness is the difference.

We might make mistakes. No, we will make mistakes. We will live selfishly at times, falling to whatever cravings we might have. We will be arrogant. We will be sexually tempted. We will mess up. Plain and simple. My mess up might look differently than yours but we both will mess up, sometimes in little things, sometimes in way bigger things that bring painful consequences. But the writers of the Bible knew this struggle. They knew that when they wrote things in the books that we had a God who loved us deeply and a way to make it through. Jesus is the way. The only way.

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It may seem like I sidetracked from my original sentences about us basically being just as confused as the world. So many of us Christians, especially today, want so badly to not offend people while simultaneously leading people to Christ, the Savior of our lives who changed us forever. We want people to know him personally like we do, but we don’t want to be legalistic. I am totally guilty of being legalistic- just ask friends of mine, especially from college. Legalistic faith isn’t good because it leaves no room for error and paints a picture of everything in life as black and white. Its just about rules. At the same time, it shouldn’t be thrown out. You see somewhere along the way, a lot of us Christians have wanted so badly to lead people to Jesus by being relevant and cool and engaging that we have actually forgotten that we are also called to be holy. We dislike correction from other believers or being told to change something in our lives. Jesus commanded his followers to make disciples along the path of their lives. To live in such a way that people would see Jesus in them. To make the Gospel known to the world because it is his love that can change us all.

We need to continue to tell the world about Jesus and how amazing he truly is but in the process we can’t look and act like the world.

That has been my problem more than once. I have known that I loved God since February 17, 2001. I have known that God changed my life, that Jesus freed me from so much, and that God had more for me than I could imagine. But I also know that sin is fun and enjoyable and satisfying…for a time. Things that satisfy my flesh, my desires, my emotions, my…MY…my. I have the wrong perspective. If I live my life with my as the focus, then I am terribly misguided. My life is only mine because of Him and my life needs to be a reflection of what he has done. The Bible is very very clear on certain things…on those black and white issues; live as best as you can to abide by those things. This is where legalism isn’t necessarily bad. Some things are black and white. Don’t be a hypocrite. If you say you love God, live according to his Word. On the areas not so specifically mentioned, take it with grace and study to see what God’s Word might say as much as possible and pray to find your peace with the rest. But please do not, DO NOT, cherry-pick the Bible for what you want to be true and ignore the rest. Study and learn the Word. Then do what it says. If in doubt, ask yourself, “does this please God?” Life is hard and there will be plenty of times where we will each make mistakes and fail to sin and selfishness. Don’t just give up because you fail. But keep getting yourself back to God’s Word, in prayer, and live as best as you can every day to reflect God’s love, God’s truth, and live differently in a world that hasn’t met Jesus yet. Strive to be holy. Because maybe, just maybe, through you someone might encounter Jesus.

The story behind…

I am such a sucker for a good story. By good, I don’t necessarily mean “happy”, I just mean a story worth hearing. I am particularly a fan of someone’s personal story whether that be their life story, their faith story, a war story, love story, whatever. I am such a sucker. I think everyone has a story to be told. That being said, if you have ever read any of my other posts, at some point you have probably learned my story, or at least parts. Today I made the decision to create a sort of memorial to my story so I won’t ever forget what my story has entailed. The Israelites had a beautiful thing they did to remember what God had done. They would create a memorial out of rocks and stones to always see and remember God’s providence, healing, freedom, and love. They also, later on, would put the scriptures on their doorpost to always remember the Word of God was true and essential to their lives. I wanted to do the same.

I got my first, and probably only, tattoo. I know what some of you might be thinking: “why mark your body permanently?” I get it, I really do, but bear with me for just a moment.

You see 8 years ago I went on a study abroad trip to Israel that began a new journey for me in my faith. Just before leaving on that trip I had gone through a bad breakup (I know right, typical college student). I had also gone through a season of finding out what I truly believed in God and my calling. When I left for Israel, I was so ready for God to just do something.  Anything. I was desperate. I knew I loved God and I knew what he had done in my life. God had brought me out of a dark place just a few years before where I was struggling with my self-esteem and had been addicted to porn (yes, girls can be addicted to porn. yes, I firmly believe porn is utterly destructive). But God freed me from that addiction, not overnight but through discipline, accountability and vulnerability. God was using my story of freedom to help show others that redemption is actually possible- that we don’t have to just stay defeated by what life brings us or what mistakes we have made. So that brings to Israel. I felt defeated again. I felt broken. I felt lost.

My trip to Israel was amazing and actually life-changing. I had a heart that was just ready for something to happen. I was living there for the semester with some amazing friends from college while making new ones. I was able to travel to sites all over the country. Some of the places we went to were historic because of the Holocaust or another war. Some of the places were historic because of the Crusades. Some of the places were enchanting simply because of their beauty and mystery. And yet my favorite places were where Jesus had walked, where stories from the Bible came alive, where my faith was made tangible before me. I stood in the valley where David gathered his stones to defeat Goliath. I was baptized in the Jordan River, the same as Jesus. I went out onto the Galilee and saw the same water that Jesus walked and Peter fished. I hiked above En Gedi, the place where David hid to find peace from Saul. I walked through the Garden of Gethsemane, the same place Jesus prayed regularly but also the place of his betrayal. But of all the places we went to, there is still one place that brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it…the Jesus Steps.

By the time we visited the Jesus Steps, I already felt more renewed, alive, ready for more of God than ever before. But those steps brought me to my knees in humility once again. Those steps were along the path people would have walked up from the Garden of Gethsemane. They are called the Jesus Steps now because historians and archaeologists believe that Jesus was brought this path before being held for execution. The whole area was full of old ruins of the Temple jail with a church built at the top of the hill. I was so overcome with knowing that this place was were Jesus was more than likely dragged up the stairs and taken to captivity overnight. He was held in a dark cistern because the guards didn’t want him to get away or be rescued. He endured being beaten, humiliated, cold, damp, and eventually crucified.  That darkness he endured was for me. I sat at the base of the Jesus Steps, crouching in a part of the old ruins, just weeping. I wept because Jesus did all of that for me. Weeping because his love for me is so great. Weeping because Jesus loved me with ALL that he was and I was desperate to do the same. I wanted that same kind of love to be part of me.

So you might have forgotten while reading this that I am writing about the story behind my new tattoo. I got the tattoo as a reminder of what God did, both with my story of freedom from porn addiction, but also knowing that I am redeemed and made new. That he made me part of the story that was first for the Jew.  I wanted to remember the moment in the ruins when God met me again. I needed to remember that if Jesus could love me with all that he was, even to death, why couldn’t I at least try to love him with all that I was? I wanted to be reminded daily that even when I fail and when I’m weak, Jesus is there and I’m forgiven. I wanted to remember that it is Jesus who is my redeemer and my source and without him being the lead in my life I am nothing but lost. I had been lost before; I didn’t need to go back. My tattoo is my memorial of faith and testimony to the great things God has done in my life. Its a story on my arm that will bear witness to my attempt to love God with all my being, to tell people of his love, and to know that he writes my story.

 

 

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