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 like this over the past month have been 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 genuinely 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 some of 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 he 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.
Standby, 4 strangers, and the highways of Texas
My life lately seems to be full of many moments that I can choose to see as awkward or as anointed. I choose the latter.
On Thursday, I arrived to Orlando airport to make my journey to Dallas, Texas. I had just been at the convention center in town to be a part of a large ministry conference for pastors, specifically, it is the General Council of the Assemblies of God. While there, ministers and lay pastors, along with missionaries, get to see what is going on in our fellowship and community both nationally and abroad. It is so inspiring to see some of the amazing things people are doing all over the world. Some of the less fun stuff included sitting in business meetings where we voted on various things that would affect the next steps of our churches and ministries. One of the things I realized during my days in Orlando, and especially on Thursday, is that God has us where we are for a reason.
You see, I have felt somewhat nomadic lately, borderline lost. I haven’t a had a clear picture of what I am doing for a few years now. I have been searching and praying for the next thing God has for me, the thing he has been preparing me for…you know, the thing you were born to do. Applying job after job, receiving rejection after rejection, I have found myself going to General Council with a whole lot of uncertainty, lack of clarity and no direction. Most of the people go to this conference represent their church or ministry, or in missionary’s cases, their mission field. They vote to represent where they work. The whole week is basically surrounded on the premise that we know where we are….except I don’t. I wasn’t voting for my church. I’m not on staff at a church. I’m not a missionary. My job right now has nothing to do with what I want to do; it simply pays my bills (barely).
Then I had a crazy revelation on Thursday after my flight had made it to Houston. I was connecting to get a flight from Houston to Dallas. When I landed, I barely made the time for boarding for my flight. But that wouldn’t have even mattered. You see, part of my nomadic feel of life is that I fly standby. I don’t by tickets; I instead fly standby as a non-revenue passenger because my dad is a retired pilot with the airline. I only get a seat if there is room by unsold seats or no-shows. And on Thursday, there was not a chance that I’d get a seat…all day. I stood there at the gate trying to figure out what to do, knowing flying from Houston to Dallas was not an option anymore. I had to get to Dallas by 9am the next morning. Standing there at the gate among a few dozen other standby passengers (yes dozens!) also in the same boat as me, I silently prayed to myself for God to lead me. In spite of feeling lost in basically every other area of my life, I felt like I couldn’t handle another lost moment of not knowing what to do.
Within a second it seemed that my prayer was answered in the strangest of ways. Two other young women, seemingly around my age, perked up and said “We’re renting a car and driving to Dallas. Want to join us?” Any other people, I probably would have said no to simply for the reason of safety and stupidity. But being that it was two women asking me, I quickly said I’d join them and split the cost. They then asked another woman standing there with us if she’d like to join. What started off as crazy chaos and traveling impossibility turned into a hilarious adventure among four strangers.
We found our way to the rental car desks and decided to play the field for the best price using pilot discounts, AAA, whatever we could do to save money and get a car fast. Within a few minutes we had a rental and were about to be on our way. Before leaving, the rental company decided to upgrade us to a brand new (10 miles on it) black GMC Acadia. Holy comfort! It was such a simple thing, but what a blessing in the midst of insanity. And we were off…four strangers from four very different backgrounds headed to Dallas for four very different reasons. Two of us were pilots’ daughters. Another was a pilot’s wife. The other was an employee’s daughter. I was headed to a porn convention (try that one for an icebreaker!). One girl was going to her Advocare convention. The pilot’s wife was headed to her class reunion. And the other employee’s daughter was going to a job interview. Over the course of our 5ish hours together, we learned each other’s stories. We learned some of the brokenness within our lives. Ultimately what I realized in that car ride is that I was not surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I have always loved hearing people share their story and learning about what got them to where they are now. What was a surprise to me, was that while I felt lost and stuck, God provided a literal way of showing me that he cares for me and has a plan. Sometimes that plan doesn’t look the way we plan. Sometimes that plan comes at a different cost than we were expecting. Sometimes, it involves being around other people, and doing life together, than trying to do it alone. God showed me in such a real way that he has such a deep, deep love for me, along with a love for those three other amazing women I got to know.
You might find yourself in some difficulty, lack of direction, frustration with your life, or an array of other feelings. Believe me, I can sympathize with you. Don’t give up. Try to see God working in the everyday and the normal. See God working in things you would least expect. On the highways of Texas, God showed me he was faithful and still doing something in me.
*Vanessa, Danielle and Lizz…It was amazing getting to know you. I believe it was with purpose that God brought us together. What I do know, is that he loves you all very much.**
Taming the wild beast.
My heart has been arrested by God’s deep conviction on my heart. One of those areas includes my words, conversations, and joking. Everything I say now, I feel like I have to double check and make sure it is something that is worth saying. Not everything we think, we should say. Believe me, I am the first to admit having a lot to say…yet having to learn to not always talk. God has been teaching me to tame the beast inside me…the tongue. Our very way of communicating to each other, God is telling me to contain it. Control it. Teach it to be submissive to what is right and tame it. This is a constant struggle for me.
Words can hurt. We all know this. At some point words have cut deep into our core and stab us as if a knife. Words can painfully penetrate the insecurities and doubts within someone’s life. You and I have the power to uplift, respect and bring even life to someone with our words and conversations. However, the other side of this is that we also have a very powerful weapon against others that is very hard to tame. Though the first option is best, the second is far more common. The tongue is a weapon, a sword that cuts through someone bringing deep wounds that will become scars. Simple jokes, gossip, slander… Our words can murder. Can destroy. Can forever ruin. Gossip is poison that leaks from our lips. Life or death, a words will make that difference.
What are we to do?
You choose… life or death. Will you let your words honor others? Build them up? Edify? Encourage? Or will you speak death over others? Coarse joking? Gossip? Hatred?
Scientists say that the tongue is, if not the strongest, among the strongest muscles in the human body. How will you use that strength?
“let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” -James 1:19
“the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness” -James 3:6
“from the same mouth come blessing and cursing” -James 3:10
Here is something to think about.
Below is an excerpt from desiringGod website:
[ http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/20-resolutions-on-taming-the-tongue ]
1. I resolve to ask God for wisdom to speak out of a single-minded devotion to him. (1:5)
2. I resolve to boast only in the exultation I receive in Jesus Christ and also in the humiliation I receive for Jesus Christ. (1:9-10)
3. I resolve to set a watch over my mouth. (1:13)
4. I resolve to be constantly quick to hear and slow to speak. (1:19)
5. I resolve to learn the gospel way of speaking to both rich and poor. (2:1-4)
6. I resolve to speak in the present consciousness of my final judgment. (2:12)
7. I resolve never to stand on anyone’s face with the words I employ. (2:16)
8. I resolve never to claim as reality in my life what I do not truly experience. (3:14)
9. I resolve to resist quarrelsome words as evidence of a bad heart that needs to be mortified. (4:1)
10. I resolve never to speak decided evil against another out of a heart of antagonism. (4:11)
11. I resolve never to boast in anything but what I will accomplish. (4:13)
12. I resolve to speak as one subject to the providences of God. (4:15)
13. I resolve never to grumble. The judge is at the door. (5:9)
14. I resolve never to allow anything but total integrity in everything I say. (5:12)
15. I resolve to speak to God in prayer whenever I suffer. (5:13)
16. I resolve to sing praises to God whenever I’m cheerful. (5:14)
17. I resolve to ask for the prayers of others when I’m in need. (5:14)
18. I resolve to confess it whenever I have failed. (5:15)
19. I resolve to pray with others for one another whenever I am together with them. (5:15)
20. I resolve to speak words of restoration when I see another wander. (5:19)
I hope and pray that this affects you and causes you to, at least, evaluate yourself and your tongue. I desire to love God fully and with my all… that definitely needs to include my speech, words, conversation, joking… if not I am simply living a lie. Only a Pharisee. How do your words, conversations, and jokes affect others? Even more… how do they truly affect you?
**disclaimer- I understand anorexia is a condition/disease and struggle for many people. This post is not to belittle it or take it lightly. It is a simple comparison of the result of starved faith. Please read with the understanding that my comparison is not an exact one**
A while back, my young adult group- a 20 somethings community that I was involved- was looking into personal disciplines for our relationships with the LORD.
And I realized how I kind of get angry about this subject.
For weeks we discussed in detail the specific disciplines of prayer, study [the Bible, Christian books, etc.], meditation [not the kind done in yoga, et cetera but the idea of clearing the mind and infilling it with more of God while removing distractions], and fasting. Some of this disciplines I do regularly, the others I still do but can definitely improve on being more disciplined. The idea of going in depth into discussing these disciplines is to see how we can each grow in our relationship with God, and how in growing that relationship, it will inevitably affect the community around. Hence, inward to communal disciplines.
It has been great talking over these subjects, hearing from older pastors, people sharing their knowledge on specific disciplines…
…but tonight I got heated. I got mad actually. Not mad at anyone in particular but at the collective Church. I’m deeply sad for the Church. We waste so much time in programs and curriculums and trips, which yes are all great things, however they are not things that will likely bring the most personal change to each individual. Again, those things are good in context, but for the sake of what I am writing about tonight, some things get in the way. I got mad because I unsurprisingly hear so many pastors and church-goers complain about how they get nothing out of church, they are bored, they are struggling spiritually and don’t know why, or [fill in the blank of excuses].
Going over each of these disciplines taught me something pretty big yet so simple. Look at this way…
Let’s say you want to get in shape. At the new year, so many people set goals and “resolutions”, many often being about behavioral changes and weight loss. Great idea… but you’ll probably fail at it and this is why. You have a great idea but no game plan. The idea is great but you are lazy and say “I can do it later”. If you haven’t already started your New Years Resolution to lose weight… you probably won’t. And you won’t next year either. I don’t mean this to be harsh, but to make a point. If you want to lose, let’s say 40 pounds, a good first step is to 1) buy fitness programs or machines for home or 2) get a gym membership and 3) get accountability. Secondly, it might be good to buy gym clothes, sneakers, water bottles, weight gloves, etc. Spending money on gym equipment and accessories will be more of an incentive for you to actually do something about the problem you have or the goal you have desired. Heck, you can do all of that, but if you still only show up to the gym, and do nothing, you won’t get healthier. Period. It just won’t happen. Going to the gym won’t get you fit. You actually have to workout.
Your spiritual life is just like that. You can say you want to be a better Christian and, with all great intentions, still be a very lousy one. Until you actually create a lifestyle of discipline, you will not- I repeat- will not be a better Christ follower. Jesus Christ was incredibly disciplined. Whether you believe in him or not, it is undeniable that the story of Jesus is one dripping with love, discipline, and matching of lifestyle and beliefs. As a Christ follower, wanting to love him is not enough. Actions are proof of your love. Wanting to have a heart like Christ is not enough. You won’t suddenly love people one day. It just won’t happen. You won’t suddenly be knowledgable of the Bible. You won’t, unless by pure miracle sake, be free of an addiction like drugs or pornography. Your marriage will continue you to fail, your relationships will continue to crumble, your self-gratifying behaviors will still only satisfy temporarily. You’ll be nowhere.
Discipline, I believe, is one of the very things lacking in our churches today. We are an anorexic church because we are anorexic , starved believers that want to change but refuse to put in the work. We are believers that wonder why we are just as broken as people outside of Christ and the Church, because we only got saved and then did nothing else. We are so spiritually starved because, rather than praying for change and believe He is able, we just settle and compromise and give up. We are spiritually slowly dying if we refuse to invite God to be a part of our marriages, our families, our churches, communities through prayer and study of His word. We want to be the kind of Christian that is a Billy Graham or some other big shot of the Christian faith, yet we wonder why we can’t get over our personal sin and struggles.
Discipline is the answer. Discipline is what makes you stronger. It is what gives you power, strength, diligence, resilience, perseverance, humility and courage to be the kind of Christ follower that actually looks like Christ. That means investing time without distraction in reading the Bible, in studying it-through commentaries, books, and other tools, in turning OFF the phones, computers, tablets, and just being in the silence of the heart and mind and talking and listening to God. It means investing in sacrifices like fasting…that may mean for you to fast food entirely, partially, or some other variation, or in the more common broader term, sacrificing something else [a desire, need or want] for the sake of pursuing God more [i.e. not going on Facebook or social media for extended amount of time]. We need to stop starving ourselves of the presence and Word of God and start hungering after Him.
Why is that we can be so willing to watch Netflix for hours (guilty) yet we can’t study the Bible the same? Why is that we quickly remember lyrics and movie quotes without a second thought yet when it comes to recalling the Bible and what God’s Word truly says, we draw a blank? I see a big disconnect with us- the collective Church- and our pursuit of God. We are missing something and I believe it is discipline. If you want to grow in the LORD more you need to make the change. Stop being a lazy, compromising, or stubborn Christian and pursue God. Yes it takes work. Yes it is about discipling yourself, but just like working out and exercising to be healthy, the results are worth the effort. And you only get out of it what you put in. Instead of being spiritually anorexic, why not be spiritual fit and healthy? No more excuses. No more pity party. No more waiting. No more reasons why not. You can make the change starting now. This world has far too many hypocrites, Pharisees, and undisciplined, apathetic, lazy Christians. Be someone who wants to be an imitator of Paul, who imitated Jesus. Be someone who desires to bring the Gospel- the Great Commission- to the world, even if it that means for you just going across the street. Be someone who, in light of what is going on in this world, can reveal the redemptive love of Jesus Christ because He is who brings the transformation. Our job is to pursue Him and be holy as He is holy.
The slow change.
This is very serious. And funny. And ridiculous. But hear me out…
Anyone who knows me well enough knows how I’ve talked trash about Country music. About the twangy annoyance that is the core of Country. The “something happened to my truck, my dog or my woman so-let-me-get-drunk-and-sing-about-it” music…ugh I hate it. But since I moved to Tennessee 3 months ago, and honestly even before I got here, I started listening to artists like Ben Rector, Andy Grammar and Taylor Swift. Mumford & Sons and Rascal Flats. And now Sam Hunt. Randomly on the radio here I’ll hear a song that catches my attention. And of course, its a Country song. Slowly, but surely, my thoughts toward (some) country and folky styled music has changed. I don’t hate it all. I enjoy some of it…the poppy, the fun, the easy-to-dance to Country music, a lot of which is barely or not at all considered Country. I like line dancing. Actually, I love it. Always have. I’m the goofy person at weddings dancing to every line dance, country or not, heels or not.
What I realized today is that my enjoyment of some Country music didn’t come over night. It came as I embraced certain artists. It came as I have lived in the South longer (and actually again) and the fact that its a part of the culture here. I live an hour away from the country capital of the world. What’d you expect? I have some friends who love it, therefore, I’ve had no choice but to listen to it when I’m with them. I’ve danced to Country. I’ve had those Sweet Home Alabama, Hope Floats, marry me charming- southern-country-cowboy ideas. When I was living New Jersey, I actually had a few friends tell me that they think I belong in the South because I look like a country girl (that’s still to be debated). Slowly, but very very surely, Country music is growing on me.
What I actually realized is that this is exactly how we are with sin. It’s never overnight. Regardless of the type of sin, sin is a creeping, deceiving, and dangerous thing to have. We compromise. The compromise may not happen fast. It may be years of slowly deciding something: to take glances at pornographic websites which eventually lead to an addiction; to flirt with that woman who is not your wife which leads to an affair; to cut corners at work which lead to fraud; the list could go seriously on. We surround ourselves with people who pull us down. We settle. And sure enough, one day, we find ourselves addicted porn, cheating on a spouse, lying on the job, committing a crime, etc. The people we put in our lives are so crucial. Our friends, our inner circles, our closest, most intimate people in our lives ultimately determine the direction. It may seem like nothing, but think about it for a minute. When you are deciding on asking a person out, who do you usually talk to first? When you are thinking about a new job, who do you ask for advice from? When things are rough, whose shoulder do you cry on? When life happens, we usually have people alongside us. The problem that some of us find ourselves in, is that when life happens, we don’t have an actual solid support system. We have people who tell us mediocre or, dare I say, stupid advice. We trust the wisdom of other people who have no idea what they are doing, people who make poor decisions, etc. For me, I don’t get dating or guy advice from friends that have a track record of dating a guy for a short time then having things end. I don’t go to those friends, not because they aren’t friends, but because their advice won’t help, unless I want to learn the “what not to do”. What many of us do is surround ourselves with people that aren’t a support at all. I’m not saying everyone has to have all of life’s answers. What I am saying is that, the company we keep influence our direction for life. Scripture says a few times that “bad company corrupts good character”. If you’re in AA and abstaining from alcohol, the wisest advice I can give you is to not be around alcohol or those that drink. How can the alcoholic get sober hanging around drinkers? How can student do well on all their exams when they only spend their time goofing off with their friends never studying, only to find out they failed? How can a Christian grow in their faith in a world where our faith is challenged, when that Christian doesn’t have a community of believers in their life or a sustainable prayer and devotional life?
Friends, look at those people in your life and the choices you make. Are you in good company? Are you a better person because of those friends? Or possibly, do some changes need to happen because of those relationships and negative changes?
Christian friends…I don’t go to friends, Christian or otherwise, about wisdom on scripture, life or current events from people who aren’t in the Word figuring out and discerning God’s will for our lives. Christians, when I struggle with areas of my life and sin, I can’t be surprised when I am in it deep, if I never had safeguards to protect me from getting there. It is the slow compromise of faith, of behaviors, of actions publicly and privately, of choosing something other God as a priority. It is the allowance of negative influencers in our lives. Christians, I challenge you, give people great access to your life- your dreams, your passions, what excites you, and what breaks you. But use wisdom with those people. Use wisdom in how you respond to things going on around you. Be in the Word, and don’t just read it. Let things in life change you and challenge you, but make sure they are things that are Godly, good and matter.
Happily never after. The idol of a spouse.
About a month ago, I shared my heart a little bit with you all in my post Honest Words From A Single. In that post, I wanted to both encourage singles and the Church. Single-hood is valid. It is part of what helped launch the Early Church. But at the same time, marriage- Gospel centered marriage, is just as valid. When we begin to think one is greater than the other, we miss out on a large group of people that God has invited to be a part of his story. So today, I wanted to write another post, focused on spouses, whether you’re a single person in search of a spouse, or someone married who already has a spouse, this blog is for you.
For so many of us single people, we long for spouses. I can’t honestly speak for everyone, however, I know how I feel. I know that for as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be married. Maybe that came from the Disney fairytales…you know the ones about the princess or damsel in distress who captivates the heart of some prince charming. We have Ariel who charms the human and gives up life in the sea to be happily ever after. We have Belle who falls in love with a mysterious man… more like a case of Stockholm syndrome. We have Snow White, Mulan, Rapunzel. Aurora, and so many other Disney fairytales that share with young kids- primarily young girls- about falling in love (usually at first site and at creepy young ages) with some “prince” who will fulfill them, meet all their needs, rescue them, or give them a castle. I mean, on one side of it, who doesn’t want to be treated like royalty, live in a castle, and have a handsome man/beautiful maiden by their side? However, what these stories do, though cute and enjoyable, is show such an unrealistic expectation of a spouse: that a spouse can fulfill and complete you. Don’t get me wrong, I love Disney and love the classics. But I want a real love story, not a fairytale. I don’t want a story that has me falling in love at 15 (I’m well past that!) and being taken away to a castle by some man I hardly know. I don’t want a story that has me relying on my worth and value and beauty through the opinion of someone else. I want a real love. A true love. A love that is for life.
It is a such a myth…or dare I say lie…that we will be fulfilled, completed and made whole by getting married. Marriage is not about being made whole at all. Single person reading this: if you’re searching for love- for a spouse- because you think your life will be made perfect, think again. If you think that person will complete you because it is “so right” or “perfect”, you might want to think about being single a little while longer. Without a doubt, if you go and ask married people if their spouse is still completing them after 15 years of marriage, 30 years of marriage, or to their deathbed, they would tell you that marriage is more than being with the right person, more than being completed and more than a fairytale. Marriage is hard. Those vows actually mean something. When a spouse gets diagnosed with cancer, its hard on both of them. When a spouse cheats, its hard on both of them. When a spouse has an addiction, becomes distant, or wants something new….I guarantee you that marriage is not about completing anyone at all.
Fairytales don’t exist. Covenant marriages do.
As Christians, when we live our lives to honor God, he becomes our priority. He becomes the thing that we should love most. He should be your priority and your number one. If he isn’t, something needs to change. In my years of being single, I have learned that when I place the idea of a husband on a pedestal- like a Prince Charming- that idea, that man, becomes an idol and starts to replace God. Instead of letting the Creator, my God, fulfill my life and heal my brokenness, instead of letting the redemption that I received through Christ be my priority in everything, I allow for a man, a person, another failed individual, to take the lead. And that, dear friends, is a dangerous place to find yourself. If you are single, be in a place where God fulfills you, where he heals your wounds, strengthens you in your weaknesses, and gives you passion. I am not saying don’t desire marriage or a spouse. I am just asking that you keep things in the right place of priority. God first, always. Anything that comes before God is an idol, and that definitely can include a spouse.
Married friends (and friends who want to be married), whether you’ve been married for a day or 60 years, keep God at the center. Keep Jesus as the thing your life fuels on. You will always blame your spouse for everything, whether right or wrong, when your life is solely centered on them instead of God. You’ll praise them for the good, and hate them for the bad. But when Christ becomes your center- your focus- where you both find fulfillment in and completion, then and only then, will your marriage be one that reflects a Gospel-Centered love. It is when you have this kind of completion and living out the Gospel in your marriage, that the world will want to see because it’ll be rare. Its hard, don’t get me wrong, but it is completely possible when Christ is the lead and center focus of your story.
Don’t desire the fairytale, for it will only be a tale and not a truth. Desire a love that is so deep and so pure, that in spite of the failings and mistakes and heartaches that will come in a marriage, you can overcome. Desire a love that is made whole and redeemed through Jesus instead of each other. Desire a marriage that reflects the heart of the Creator, instead of Man. Find your wholeness, fulfillment, completion in a God who loves you more than your spouse ever possibly could. Isn’t that a story worth telling, far more than some child’s fairytale?
“So as we stand here today and as God joins you together in marriage, there is something bigger going on. Its not just a special night but its a sacred night. And its a sacred night because its not just any ceremony- your heart, my heart, our hearts collectively is that the Lord Jesus Christ would be honored. And I can promise you this: that the world will marvel at what it looks like when two people live out a Gospel centered marriage. Its one of sacrifice, its one of love, its one of honor, its one of respect and its one that the world longs to know more about.”
[taken from a wedding video sermon I saw a few years ago]
Honest words from a Single…
I’m 27 and somewhere along the way, dating sort of missed me, or at least serious dating. I am not one of those twenty-somethings that enjoyed dating throughout college and early career. No bars. No clubs. No coffee shop dates. No wedding dates. A few pursuits, but that’s all.
And you know what…that’s perfectly okay.
But somewhere along the way, as a single, I have still somehow become that person people come to for advice and counseling regarding relationships, dating, and marriage.
What I have found in my many years of being single, is that, my singleness is not only valid, but I have some things to share with those of you who will listen. I hope you’re okay with my honesty and openness to things I will share in this post. I think we could all use some honesty and vulnerability and willingness to listen…and I’m preaching to the choir here. All I ask, is that you hear me out, and some of the things I have learned along the way in my near lifetime of singleness. Prepare yourself, because this blog is a bit lengthy.
I went to a Christian college. Everyone wanted to date and get married before graduating. And believe me, plenty of my peers did just that- date, get engaged, and married all within the 4 years of college. I learned quickly that so many (not all) of these couples were rushing the process because they had waited (sexually) until marriage, and now that they had found the one whom their heart loved, they would just get married. What we really had, in many of those cases, 20 year olds that couldn’t control their hormones anymore with the person they loved, yet at the same time, was terrified of having sex before marriage and being tainted goods. In other cases, there were friends that dated and didn’t rush. They took their time and they got to know the person. Some of those people got married before graduation and some did not quite get their “Mrs. Degree” (only you Christian college kids might get that reference). And still others, got married after graduation to someone they met along the journey of their life. None of these paths were wrong. But none of these paths have been mine.
I dated one guy very briefly right before graduation of high school. That relationship didn’t last long…But what do you expect of silly high school relationships? In my early years of college, like really all college students, I had my crushes. Of course I had my hopes of falling in love and starting my married life by my early 20s. Also…not my story. I wasn’t even asked out in my entire 5 years of college and graduate studies. There was a chapter in the middle of my college years where I dated a childhood friend. It didn’t work out and that’s okay…he’s happily married now. That was six years ago, and I have remained single since.
I have a point in all of this commentary of my history.
I have not been without near failures, indiscretions, and mistakes. Most people who know me, know there is a shadow of darkness upon my story. I was a porn addict for my years of high school. I am human and have those natural desires like anyone else. Let’s be adult and not need an explanation. But the beauty of grace is that He redeemed me from that addiction my first year of college, and now, I get to counsel people with addiction, tell porn stars and strippers they matter, and show people that regardless of their story, Jesus can redeem them. Somewhere in the midst of my desires for marriage, minimal dating life, my earlier years of addiction, and many years of singleness….I have found some wisdom to which I’d like to share with you.
As I said, I am 27 years old and haven’t been on a date in over 6 years. I am actually one of those unicorns- you know…the ones who are waiting for marriage to have sex. As I have gotten older, my desire for marriage and intimacy has only grown stronger. And my struggle to remain pure has only gotten harder. Please listen to me when I say this: I understand a sense of waiting and patience that few really can understand. Myself, and those who are likewise waiting, can offer something tremendous to the Church and Body. We can show what waiting through desires, controlling our flesh, and loving Jesus more than an idol of a longing for a spouse can really look like. We can show you what it looks like to serve the Church and Jesus Christ utmost the way Paul encouraged, without distraction of a spouse or children. We can show what it looks like to serve those who are broken when we might also be broken.
I have invested so much time into the Gospel and serving others, like so many others, but I do it without the pleasure of having my spouse on the journey with me. For 4 years I was a youth pastor and, honestly, those were some of my loneliest years of my life. There’s something so lonely (sometimes) about doing ministry without getting to share joy, heartache, loss, excitement, passion, and vision with a spouse. I don’t get the privilege of going home after church or work and sharing my day with someone. I don’t get to plan a wedding (yet!). I don’t get to prepare for pregnancy. I don’t get to plan my kids’ birthday parties. I don’t get a lot of things that my married friends have been able to experience. What I do get, is an opportunity to find my strength in Jesus through my absolute greatest longing. To turn my longing toward Him instead of him. I don’t know if or when God will allow for me to be married. I do believe that God has a man out there in the world for me. I have believed that since as far as I can remember. But I also believe that God has me waiting, for whatever reason, for His timing.
So here’s my wisdom and words to you, whoever you are:
- waiting is painful
- serving Jesus has been the greatest joy in my entire life
- Churches and pastors need to stop being so scared of talking about sex
- God created sex and marriage and said it was good!
- its okay to long to be married
- its okay to be sad about being single
- its okay to want certain things in life…but it can’t become an idol
- even a desire for a spouse can become an idol
- the more you give your heart away, the more broken or fragile it will be
- for those of you in ministry…I get you and I’m here if you need a support system
- whether you’re married or single, don’t forget to have adventures
- porn is never good for you
- honor your spouse now while you’re single
- honor other people as they are not your spouse
- avoid compromising situations
- it is possible to wait for sex
- it is worth it to wait for sex
- if you’re single, work on your struggles and weaknesses now
- let your patience in the waiting become a virtue, not a burden
- let your self-control be an encouragement to others
- being single doesn’t mean you’re broken
- being single isn’t bad
- if you’re married, invest in the singles around you and in your churches
- if you’re single, find friends and invest in them
- if you’re single, find married couples you can learn from
- if you’re married, love your spouse in spite of their failings
- if you’re single, love your spouse now- it doesn’t start at the altar
- mistakes happen
- redemption is possible
- your story isn’t over until your last breath- don’t give up
- love Jesus more than you could ever love your spouse, your kids, or anything else
I am sure there are plenty of other things I could share with you. I am sure I missed a few thoughts tonight. But I hope you understand that for people like me, the single (who doesn’t always feel so young anymore), that single-hood is both awesome and annoying, painful and beautiful. A lot of the Early Church was advanced by single people dedicated to telling the world about Jesus Christ. A lot of people in the Early Church were married. The point: we all have a part in the bigger story that God has for us if we are willing to be obedient in the journey. Whatever your story- single or married- God loves you and He is not done with you yet.
End of the desert years.
For anyone who knows me well enough, you would know that my last several years have been less than my plan. I have faced challenges, financial struggle, consequences of poor decisions, and I have simply faced life. Sometimes that is what happens. Sometimes we just do what we think is best, we try to live right, and still life happens. In October 2010, I made the decision to move back to New Jersey from Florida. I had just finished college and was near completion of my Masters Degree. I was offered an opportunity to work at a church as a youth pastor. In my mind, I didn’t really have many other options. I knew I needed job experience. I knew I needed to pay off the student debt that would soon be my burden. So I left Florida behind. It wasn’t so much a leap of faith as it was just taking the opportunity as it was presented. But in those 4 1/2 years between then and now, I have seen a lot of the depth of what that decision really meant.
In 4 years I have worked in 2 churches alongside also working in 2 different coffee shops (one I which I am still employed), a school, a temp position, and free-lance photography. I have been actively engaged with a young adult community, among which I have met many of my now best friends. I committed to working in adult industry outreach. My schedule was often busy. My life was more than often hectic and busy simply to be busy. I think I partly chose to be busy because I like having a lot on my plate. I also think I chose to be busy to cover up the fact that I hated waiting. I have known for years what I wanted to do in theory, I just couldn’t necessarily put my finger on what exactly that would look like. So I kept busy wandering through my life of the past 4 years. It hasn’t been bad…by no means am I saying that these past few years have been terrible. However, I am saying that when found in the waiting, it can be hard to push through the mundane and mediocre daily occurrences of life.
I think of the Hebrews (Israelites) and their journey to the Promised Land. They were not allowed to enter the land because they weren’t obedient to God. So for 40 years they wandered through the desert, through life, through the mundane. For 40 years….Its hard for me to fathom that time frame simply because I haven’t lived 40 years yet. What I find crazy about it is that God chose to let them wander in the desert, in a state of just waiting for the promise, because he wanted to show them that He knows what he is doing. Sometimes God using time…time that can be boring, discouraging, frustrating, and not what is desired, simply because he wants us to get it. He wants us to understand that he is God, that he loves us, that he has a plan for us. For 4 years, I have been waiting for God to give me direction on the next thing, next step, next chapter of my life. For 4 years God told me to wait and be obedient with where he has placed me. I feel as though now is the time where the Promised Land is attainable. I don’t necessarily mean life will be easy from this point on or that I’ll get everything I’ve ever wanted. I do believe that I am seeing a lot of God’s faithfulness right now. I am seeing a lot of his clear favor and blessing. For me, I think this is the turning point where I get to move into the next phase. He has been doing a lot already, don’t get me wrong, but I think a lot of the desert years might be behind me…the years of just wandering and wondering what he was doing. In a quick leap of faith, I transferred my job at Starbucks to Fort Campbell in Tennessee, stepped down from all volunteer and leadership commitments, ended memberships and began apartment hunting. In a matter of three weeks, my life was turned upside down (queue Fresh Prince haha). I still don’t really know all that is ahead. Now I get to walk in obedience and faithfulness and honor of what he has done and will still do.
Wherever you find yourself, don’t give up. Life is hard, difficulty happens. Things occur that can be disheartening. Don’t give up. Think of your life, at this moment, as a teaching moment from God. Be attentive. Be listening. Be hopeful that God isn’t done with you yet. The Promise could be just ahead.