Why Teaching My Kids How to Love Has Eternal Significance

A few months ago I wrote an article for Christian Woman Magazine about how love is more choice than feeling. This verse reminded me of that idea, and made me ponder how the events of the last year or so have shown us how well we really love those around us. When it’s hard, when we don’t agree with them, when they are making it difficult to love them. How easily even Christians have taken to dismissing or canceling each other, how we’ve begun to redefine what love looks like.

“But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6: 35, 36.

I’m reminded of the passages in Matthew where Jesus asked what benefit is it to us when we just love the people we like? And this isn’t meant to sound judgmental or legalistic—I do it too sometimes when people rub me the wrong way, when they assume things about me without even talking to me, when they dismiss me or reject me because they don’t agree with me. I’m tempted to stop caring about them, to brush THEM off. But did we ever see Jesus doing that? No, He pursued people. He opened doors for people to enter righteousness, he never closed them. It has actually been a pleasant surprise to me this year, that although I have been canceled by some, I have actually had a number of relationships improve that I would’ve considered unlikely to ever go anywhere, just because we chose to pursue each other, to practice the basic forms of love and kindness with each other.

Bryan and I had an exchange with two of our kids recently, discussing this practice of loving one another. Our middle daughter is an acts of service/quality time person—she doesn’t easily verbalize her feelings and it doesn’t come naturally for her to hug you. But she loves spending time with people she loves and making things for them, playing a game together.

Her younger brother though, has physical touch and words of affirmation as his love languages. He constantly tells her he loves her and tries to hug her. The other night she rebuffed him again and it brought him to tears.

I asked her, “don’t you love him Georgia?” She answered, “I don’t know. Sometimes I think I do and then he does something annoying and I’m not sure if I love him.”

Aha! I thought. And isn’t that what the world does? We decide whether we love someone based on our feelings of the moment, or our own interpretation, instead of considering being loving in our intentional actions and trying to understand the person who needs our love.

I explained to her, we all have moments when we are annoyed by or being annoying to another person, but that doesn’t mean the love isn’t there. The Bible actually says that love covers a multitude of sins—that it believes the best, always hopes.

Bryan then explained to her that love is also a commandment, and as Christians, we are expected to love. And if we practice loving someone, then we get better at it, and we find that the feelings come with the practice. He told her it’s like learning a new sport—we practice and practice until we are good at it. In the beginning it feels awkward, but eventually it becomes fun, we find ourselves loving the sport without effort.

So then we told her, babe, go love your brother. Show him kindness by speaking his language, and we’ll tell him to back off and give you a bit more space as well.

This is a challenge to me and to those of you still reading—the next time someone offends you, says something you don’t like, how about instead of becoming annoyed or angry, talking about them or dismissing them, pretending they don’t exist, we choose to practice loving them even if it feels awkward—ask them what their concerns are? What would be kindness or goodness to them? What are they going through and can we be praying for them? What if we tried speaking their language?

The choice to not love, to reject, to cancel, is not of God. It is not Christlike. The only thing God ever canceled was our debts when His son died on the cross. If we have the opportunity and choose to not practice Christlike love when it is difficult, what does that say about our hearts? What does that say about our respect for what Christ did for us?

Choice Words: Why Choice Matters When it Comes to Love.

I heard something last month (the month that in the last five years has undergone a cultural name change from June to Pride) that shook me deeply because it was fundamentally and experientially incorrect.  Someone said:

“You don’t choose who you love.”

My mind and heart in that instant both rose in defiance of this idea, an idea that has been gaining popularity in recent years.  I knew instantly that it was a dangerous notion, and a concept that can have detrimental effects on the younger generation, and thoroughly confuse those of us who know better.

An internet search on the word “choice” in regard to feeling proves to be even more confusing.  There are a myriad of theories of how choice factors into love.  But the popular opinion now amidst the LGBTQ community and their supporters, is that one has no control over who they love, that they are at the mercy of their feelings, that they cannot reign over their thoughts or behaviors.  It is unclear whether they really believe this or if it is something that they grab onto because it gives them a sense of affirmation and peace.

And to a degree, I get it.  If one does not know Christ, does not have a renewed mind and heart as is promised in the scriptures, (Romans 12:2, Ezekiel 36:26, Jeremiah 24:7) then what else does a person have to rely on but their own emotions?  What else could possibly guide them than their feelings and their misguided heart?

But even by society’s definition and standards, this reasoning begins to crumble in other scenarios. 

 First, what do these same people have to use as a defense for adultery if it’s true that one doesn’t choose who they love?  I would argue that people still have a delineated moral line that cannot be crossed when it comes to cheating.  Regardless of your sexual orientation or preference or relationship status or religion, most people agree that cheating is wrong.  It hurts people; it breaks hearts, it destroys marriages and families, it creates deep wounds in children that color their perspective and darken their view of love, it ruins friendships and brings division even in the workplace.  It is clear in these circumstances that there is some expectation that you hold fast to your commitments, that you can’t just follow your feelings and use the excuse that you couldn’t help it when you’re unfaithful.

Second, this same group of progressives will be the first to use “choice” as the foundation of their argument when supporting abortion as a right.  Once a woman becomes pregnant by her choice to have sex (in all cases except 1% according to research by the Guttmacher Institute), she champions choice when deciding to end her baby’s life because it is inconvenient for her.  She has allies in virtually every corner telling her that choice is king.  But in this arena, choice is definitely not loving, because love here would require sacrifice, inconvenience, and hardship.  The mention of irresistible, unstoppable love is nowhere to be found in defense of the unborn child.

Yet sacrificial love and choice is the intrinsic essence of the Gospel, the very basis of Christianity.  And this is why Christians must learn to see love and choice through a biblical lens, to memorize God’s definitions of the words.  In studying the scriptures, one finds that it is an irrefutable fact that God’s love for us was both a feeling AND a choice–a feeling because He Himself IS love perfected and he created us out of an overflow of love, and a choice because we were unlovable.  After the fall, each one of us was born into sin and on a rebellious track to destruction until God in His mercy chose to save us through the most painful, sacrifical choice imaginable.

2 Thessalonians 2:13

“But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth.”

John 15:16

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.

Romans 5:8

“But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

John 6:44

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.”

Deuteronomy 14:2

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”

1 Peter 2:9

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

John 3:16

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Even if the sacred truth and mystery of God’s grace and choice were not clearly spelled out for me throughout the Bible, I would learn the daily reality of choice in love from my own marriage.  Initially, feelings, attraction, and similarities drew me and my husband together, but it wasn’t long before we had our first fight, then our second, then faced enough repeated difficulties in our 15 years of marriage that have shown me that loving him, being loving toward him, is a daily choice.  Some days the choice is as easy as breathing, but other days it takes my commitment to Jesus alone to keep me from walking out the door. 

And a few years ago, during a season of temptation,when my feelings were pulling me away emotionally and mentally from my husband, I had to recognize the very dangerous reality of what following my carnal desires would do to my marriage, my children, my parents, siblings, friendships and community. Blindly bowing to my whim would have been foolish and destructive, and no one would have believed that I lacked the self control or wisdom to make a better decision. Daily, I chose to quote scripture, pray, deny those feelings and chose instead the life that God had gifted me, one that glorified Him and not myself.

It’s on these days that I have to know the Word, to listen to the Holy Spirit remind me of the sacrificial love that God demonstrated for me, a love I could never earn or deserve–to understand that I don’t even deserve my husband’s devoted and imperfect love, and that it is his choice to love me as well. 

And I’m so grateful that he chose me and continues to choose me every day.  Because for all the times that my feelings try to lie to me, on those lackluster or boring days, there are just as many, nay more, days that I am overwhelmed with love and joy and gratitude for the person I get to choose to love.  And that’s when I can’t imagine feeling any other way.  

“Joy in the Work”—a podcast review.

Linking to an article on Christian Woman & Co Magazine, a podcast review of Episode 3, “Joy in the Work” on the “Is That Like a Thing” podcast by Christian/Country recording artist Crystal Yates, singer Magen Thurman and artist/writer Becky Leach.

In this podcast and in my article we discuss the difference between happiness and joy, gratitude and entitlement, success and the process. Enjoy!

Finding Joy in Your Work

Sheltering in Peace–5 Weeks in Puerto Rico

Like so many other people, we had Spring and Summer plans that were dashed within the first week of COVID. I tried to keep my complaining at bay, knowing that people all over the globe were dealing with canceled vacations, tournaments, weddings, graduations, even very sadly, funerals. I think all of us believed this would be very temporary, that we’d be in the full swing of things, surely, by the Fall.

Summer passed serenely for us–full of local hikes, afternoons at our community pool, plenty of TV and a few restorative, short trips to the beach and the mountains and the tentative hope that COVID conditions were improving. And whether or not I believed all the hype, or agreed with the regulations in place to manage the health crisis, it impacted my life and my family’s life whether I liked it or not, and we found ourselves making daily choices not just about our actions, but about our mindset and perspective. The choices were more deliberate and important when my husband lost his corporate job due to a company-wide resource action that terminated 30-40% of its workforce and the school year began, and we were all under one roof, all day from Monday-Friday, clamoring for any quiet spot with good WiFi where everyone could concentrate and focus on their Google Meets or web conferences.

Every day was a practice in focusing on the Lord, of asking and even begging Him to remind me that the world was bigger than what was going on inside my postage stamp of reality. I woke up earlier and earlier to find moments of silence in the darkness before my family woke to hear from Him, to ask for a new perspective that would remind me that His kingdom depended far more on His faithfulness than my feelings of drudgery day to day, the growing sense of despair and hopelessness that this was never going to end, that I’d be shut off from normalcy, from having hope for community and peace in our country again as the social and political scene seemed to be deteriorating by the day. And then I daily repented of thumbing my nose in God’s face to think that my wonderful life could ever be described as drudgery, that I could ever be so ungrateful as to entertain the thought that there isn’t hope. (Sometimes repentance is a one-time surrender and the Lord turns your heart inside out, hiding you from the sin that wants to entangle you. But sometimes, repentance is a regular practice–a daily surrender of your incorrect thinking). In these moments, my husband was a great inspiration to me, as he never lost a step in stewarding his role as provider, and he did it with patience, temerity, and wisdom–trusting in the skills, connections and experience he’d built over time and in God’s proven good provision for us over the years. His hard work and demonstration of putting one foot in front of the other, showed me that he was believing there were better things ahead.

In mid-August, with the start of a school year unlike any other, Bryan and I were talking about the unique set of circumstances we had in this COVID season–all of us being home, we realized that we could really be “home” anywhere, as long as we had good WiFi, stayed within the US and relatively close to the Eastern time zone so that the kids could join their live instructions during the week. By this time, the free hours to think (away from a regular job) had spawned a new business idea that Bryan was ready to develop. His business partners and developers were located in Puerto Rico, which conveniently checked off all our boxes, and my head began swimming with visions of beaches and sunshine and crashing waves–potential moments of natural therapy after a long day of screen time (for the kids), and managing screen time (for me).

Plans were made the way they usually are in our home–me dreaming, scheming and voicing my preferences; Bryan taking the reigns and booking things with a speed and efficiency that would take me a week to implement. We took COVID tests, we set up management for our AirBnBs while we were gone, we packed and arranged rides to the airport (which wasn’t scary at all—pretty empty and pretty easy place to avoid crowds these days. But it allows you to get a peak into people’s varying degrees of COVID freak-out). We arrived at said airport two hours before our scheduled flight only to find out it was delayed and spent 10 hours there before we finally left, arriving in Puerto Rico at 4:30 in the morning on the following day–dead tired with three kids in tow who started falling asleep sitting straight up on a bench as they watched the sun rise in a rental car parking lot.

Approximately 6am in Puerto Rico–been awake for 24 hours.

The weeks following unfolded much like that–full of surprises and schedules and plans that fluctuated from day to day. The constants through it all were my family, the ocean, the sunshine, and the Lord. People came in and out of our lives in those five weeks in Puerto Rico, and it was no small realization to me what a blessing it was that during a time when the world is so closed off from each other, when we are being told to distance, to scatter, the God-given desire to encounter each other and build relationships is still a need for most people. Whether it was the surf instructor two doors down, the single guys on my husband’s business development team, the new families we met in the elite ex-pat community of Dorado, or the local pastor and his wife at the church we decided to try one Sunday, we found people eager to connect and share community. It was a relief to me to see that need alive in a place the media would have me believe is inaccessible.

What may seem like an opposition to those statements above, is that I also rediscovered the importance of disconnecting for my relational health. I spent so many hours staring out at the ocean–pondering its power, the way it beckons, the way it makes one feel small and insignificant but at the same time fills you with gratitude to be a part of creation and witness the beauty of the natural world around you. I have no idea how much time I actually sat there in a Tommy Bahama chair over the course of five weeks, gazing at the surf and breaking waves, observing sea turtles, not talking to anyone except my children, soaking in the simplicity and power of God’s presence. But I do know that every second, every minute was essential for my peace. This world tells us everything is so dependent on us and our decisions and that there can be no peace, when our Savior has told us just the opposite.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” John 14:27

I believe in those moments, He was speaking that to me, reminding me that tapping into His peace, which is always present, requires my being still. And seeing the waves and the sea life behave according to their design, reminded me and encouraged me as God alone is the maker, the sustainer and the protector of life, and there is actually very little that depends upon my action or inaction in this world where He is the ultimate authority. He holds it all together. As I silently pondered the mysteries and unknowns of the expansive and deep ocean before me, I sensed His Spirit bringing closure to some of my own struggles with sin, and temptation to put my temporal desires first, to get lost in sinful despair, to have my whims satisfied. I consciously released the stress over unknowns to Him.

The ocean throws its surf and spray violently onto shore over and over again, never tiring, but always leaving behind treasures, little gifts scattered across the sand that are only visible if we’re patiently searching for them. We must remain intentionally patient to find the best shells, the tiny crabs and mollusks that want to run and hide from threats to their environment. Likewise, community and peace in these unpredictable and hostile times require intention, perseverance in stillness, patience and gentleness –the best relationships and changes are worth risking the shifting tides and the occasionally violent and surprising currents. Underneath all the efforts usually lie memories and experiences that remind us that there is reward in seeking community, in claiming peace, much like the reward of a handful of colorful and unique shells after walking the shore.

Finding treasure

Leaving Puerto Rico was bittersweet–to be pulled from a place that served as our escape for five weeks to return to normal life was difficult for us all. We came back with tan skin and blonder hair. My children picked up some Spanish phrases, they learned names of new foods and came to expect a Reggaeton beat as the soundtrack of the day. They gained a knowledge of the ocean and marine life that had not existed before we’d arrived in Puerto Rico. Although our daily life schedule had not changed while away, we pared our essential activities down to school, work, play, basic errands, and simple interactions with the people around us. I began to realize that our lives in Puerto Rico were really the same as our lives back in North Carolina–just with a tropical setting, different people with the same needs and concerns, and ultimately minor cultural differences. Understanding this prepared me for how I could transfer this posture of peace, this sense of gratitude for something so special, back to my home state and see it as special again, and not as drudgery.

Likewise, community and peace in these unpredictable and hostile times require intention, perseverance in stillness, patience and gentleness –the best relationships and changes are worth risking the shifting tides and the occasionally violent and surprising currents.

Christians know that the Lord does not intend for us to live in despondent isolation, but to pour into each other, to enter into difficult places at difficult times with eagerness and compassion. That is why the COVID crisis has been so damaging to humanity–resulting in record numbers of divorces and addictions and depression and weight gain and suicide, because we cannot live without connection, without hope for community.

So my desire is that the being still, the opportunity to shelter in the absence of noise and worry and fear, the peace and hope that God grew in me in Puerto Rico, will bloom gratitude as I remember the way the earth, water and sky bore witness to His presence and faithfulness every day. I pray that, no matter how the unknowns batter me in the next year, however many times I am knocked into the sand, I will remember to look around for treasure in the moments and community scattered around me. I am grateful this year for the answered prayer of knowing, the balance of understanding, that there always are forces and stories much larger than my square of property that are infinitely impacted by circumstances that I may or may not see, currents roiling and churning under the surface. But even though those things may be huge and beyond my ability, your ability to control, we can look for the treasures in the midst and reach out to take hold of them.


Life in the Time of COVID

The virus circulating the globe has been a source of unity and disparity, depending on who you ask.  For every voice that tries to put a positive spin on what’s happening in the world, there are five more that make it their mission to tell you that we are prisoners of this disease, that there is no hope of ever returning to normal, that those of us who are “privileged” have no idea what it is to struggle during a pandemic.

I have no interest in fighting to be the loudest or most relevant voice.  But I do have my own experience to catalog, and plenty of questions–in fact, I’ve had questions throughout the entire month that myself and my fellow North Carolinians have been told to “stay home.”  My questions have come and gone, some have remained the same and some have evolved.  Today, our state is no closer to “normal” than we hoped we would be when we were first told to stay put, but I now realize that a complete return to the way things were, the normal I knew before COVID, would be a mental, emotional and spiritual step back for me.

I’ve been asking myself what I’ve learned through this?  I’ve asked my husband, family members and friends the same.  I even asked my children what they’ve enjoyed about this time, what they’ve missed?  Through this experience, the questions that keep coming to my mind are ones that I can’t readily answer.  I believe they are questions that God has been waiting to lay upon my heart during a time when I was quiet enough, still enough, to listen.

Do I really trust Him?  Do I rush to find information and solutions that will assuage my concerns and satisfy my mind instead of practicing the art of waiting?  Am I humble enough to truly accept that I can’t fix it all, know it all, be fulfilled at all times?  Am I ready to see that without the extraneous events, errands and lists in my life, I’m left with a void that only He can fill?  Do I understand how to practice joy in Christ, to make choices to live an abundant life when the rest of the world is telling me to mourn? Do I know how to communicate the joy and peace of Jesus to a lost world that is hurting and searching for answers themselves?

I have learned through the reality of COVID that these questions will continue to sit with me, although they will likely be pushed into the recesses of my mind if I allow my life to resume the same hectic pace as before.

So I don’t write to communicate that I have all the answers or know whether we’ll see a return to the comforts of the days before COVID.  But I know what I and my family have seen to be true for us.

My husband and I chose early on to limit virus discussion to 5 minutes per day, to only check the news in the mornings after waking and at night before going to bed, solely to get the most recent information and anything pertinent to our local community.  We did this because the first few days that COVID was a headline, we devoured every article, and the result was more arguing and worrying, less joy and contentment.  We knew we couldn’t survive this shutdown with a constant flow of despair and conflicting information pouring into our hearts and minds.

We understood that there were rules and laws we would need to follow as citizens, but we also know there was tremendous societal pressure to behave a certain way based on fears of the unknown.  Both my husband and I have been victims of tragedies–he lost both parents suddenly with no warning; I was abducted and raped at 21.  We are no strangers to terrible things happening without warning.  Because of these events, and our witnessing Jesus sustain and redeem us through grief, we’ve made conscious choices not to live fearful lives.

Notice I did not say that we never fear–I said that we don’t LIVE fearfully, big difference.  When fear and uncertainty come, which they regularly do, I make decisions based on prayer, the leading of the Holy Spirit, logic, common sense and love for others.

The way that played out with COVID was that we spoke to our loved ones, the people around us who we’d be missing the most time with during this quarantine.  Instead of telling them how to behave, what choices to make, we asked them how they felt about their exposure to the virus, where they stood on social distancing.  Instead of assuming motivations and judging hearts, we simply told people we loved them and wanted to see them, and gave them the freedom to say yes or no.  The wide range of responses has been encouraging just in the heart of concern that we see people have for each other.

For those buckling down–web chats brought a convenience and connection that brightened our slower days.  For those willing to stop by and chat in the front yard, smiles and chatter were a taste of community.  Still, there were others who considered quality time worth the risk, who came over for 6-feet apart cocktail hours in the backyard, or cookouts in great weather when the kids could run and play–and with these friends, the time together was life giving and almost seemed unaltered.

I don’t want to forget the way this experience has improved my focus on the Lord’s voice and my family’s focus on each other.  My husband and I have had so many evenings to have real conversations instead of a run-down about what’s happening tomorrow.  Healthy relatives have come to visit with no pressure to return to something urgent. With no school or work open, and travel at an affordable low, we’ve had the flexibility with remote learning to take school and work on the road, renting a beach house as a getaway for spring break.  After a rough return to intensive sibling time, my children are getting along better and creating more imaginative games for each other than I’ve seen since last summer.  I’ve made stupid TikTok dance challenge videos with my kids.  We’ve tackled some home remodeling and organization projects that have been on our list since we’ve moved in.  I’ve discovered a fresh love of running, learned how to sew, read classic Tolstoy, and improved my guitar playing.

Will this virus ever really go away?  Will I be sitting in a crowded restaurant in a month?  Will I be able to get a pedicure for Mother’s Day?  Will our economy be able to recover from the ravages of the virus?  Will small businesses survive the shutdown?  Are the case models accurate?  Did China lie to everyone?

I have no answers, and I probably never will.  And honestly that’s okay with me, because despite all the medical, scientific and political information out there, you and I were never meant to have all the answers.  But we were designed and meant to know the One who does, and He is always good no matter the mystery.  I am so glad that I answer to Him.

Not Your Average Beauty Blog Post

Hi ladies, how are you?  I’m saying “ladies” because with a title with the word “beauty” at its center, it’s likely that there aren’t any guys reading this.  But, who knows, there could be.  So.  For you random men checking in, perhaps you’ll stick around until the end of this blog post and gain some insight into the psyche of your wife/girlfriend/fiance/adult daughter.

Beauty is one of those polarizing, controversial topics these days.  It’s something that women, that people, aren’t supposed to care about anymore, but one glance at YouTube, Etsy, Pinterest, the check-out line at your local supermarket or pharmacy, the plethora of products on the shelves at Ulta and Sephora tells you that we still REALLY do.  Not only do we care about beauty, we worship it, we strive and spend to prolong it as long as possible.

Yet we aren’t supposed to discuss it.  Women are not supposed to care about or comment upon the beauty they see in another woman, lest it portray them as petty or competitive or insecure.  Men dare not admire or remark upon a woman’s beauty, lest they be labeled lascivious, patriarchal or shallow.  Women are privately maligned or criticized for either not doing enough with their looks, or for paying them too much attention.  And this is one area that all women eventually migrate to in their focus, regardless of their age, ethnicity, career path, religious affiliation, economic status, political preference.

One has to ask WHY that is?  Well, as a woman who believes very strongly in a loving and wise Creator, I think one reason is because God enjoys beauty.  I think it brought (and brings) Him great joy to see the beauty in His creation–in the hues of the sunrise and sunset; the intricate design of each snowflake falling from the sky, of each sand-dollar washed onto the beach; the colors of the trees across a mountainside in the Fall; the regal feathers of the peacock; the patchwork of fields and swirl of mountaintops beneath you when you’re flying in an airplane; the sinewy body of a wild horse, and in the people He has made to carry His image.

Now, this is the part where I usually include some scripture that backs up my opinion.  But this time, I actually couldn’t find anything in the Bible to support my theory that God loves beauty.  I only believe that He does because of what I’ve observed in nature and in my opinion that the design of the human form is inherently beautiful because it reflects the image of God.

If we look carefully, we can see God’s intention in His creation of beautiful things, and the deliberate omission of attention to beauty throughout scripture.  In avoiding the topic, He is making a point: beauty is all around us and is a marker of His glory, it deserves our admiration as it points us back to Him.  But it is not to be worshiped, idolized, or to become our obsession or place of value.  Conversely, it is also foolish for us to pretend that beauty has no place in society when God himself invented the concept.

But we’ve cheapened it.  I’ve cheapened it.  And in doing so, we’re hearkening back to the very thing that got Satan in trouble and bought him a one-way ticket out of Heaven in the first place.  He saw that he was beautiful and he began to worship his beauty, to identify with it and to imbue it with a false power. (Ezekiel 28: 12-19)

And when I read every scripture passage about beauty since the fall of Lucifer, I see a warning.  I see warnings about the focus we place on beauty, the time we spend praising it, seeking it, desiring it, then mourning its loss, denying it, vilifying it, pretending it doesn’t exist.  The warning is repeated throughout scripture, because whether we paint beauty in a positive or negative light, the space and attention it gets in our female minds is space and attention that we are not giving our beautiful Lord.  So that’s another reason I think that we all tend to hone in on beauty–because the enemy tends to use it as a distraction to turn our praise away from the Creator.

And listen, I am guilty of this.  It’s why I’m writing this post, and it is not easy for me to be vulnerable about this topic.  Vanity is a true struggle for me–there, I admitted it.  There are parts of my body that I’ve been proud to have throughout my life.  There are parts of my body that have been the source of much complaining, that I’ve wished weren’t there.  And in recent years I’ve begun to see a change in the physical attributes of mine that I would call “strengths.”  And the change has not been welcome.  As this year marked my 41st trip around the sun, I am seeing the orbital pull on my skin–that it is not as tight, taut, smooth or spot-free as it once was.  My hair is not as thick.  My muscle takes longer to tone and more easily hides behind fat.  My nails are becoming more brittle and my stamina is flagging.  When I was in my teens, 20s and early 30s, I think I secretly believed that I would never show signs of aging.  The realization that it really is happening to me, that the appearance that I have become so familiar with and grown to appreciate is wavering and fading, is a pivotal point.

Here is where I, and many women, grapple.  Here is where I begin to understand the message that Paul preaches about contentment in Philippians 4:10-13.  The world would try to persuade me to prolong my youth, to not let my beauty suffer because of aging.  It pushes medical creams, organic serums, and various aesthetic treatments to try to sell me the lie that I can retain my youth, that I can improve upon something God has designed according to His will.  It turns something God inhibits in Himself into a sinful distraction of discontentment.  (And you can hear that the world also tries to convince us that beauty means youth, not maturity).  But, my choice and my challenge is to listen instead to the Lord, whose message, although I struggle to accept it, is that I’m still imaging Him as I age, in my peaceful acceptance of the order of His design.  The gradual loss of young beauty reveals the condition of my heart and the strength of my identity in Christ.

I did not write this blog post to fish for compliments.  I wrote it to acknowledge the question that every woman asks, either out loud or to herself: “am I beautiful?”  And to answer this question and close this blog post, I think it’s worth our time to turn our attention to the creation story in Genesis chapter 1.  When God created Adam and Eve, the crown jewel of His creation, they were described in this way:

“So, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them…God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1: 27, 31).

That should be enough, for you and for me.  To carry the honor of imaging God in exactly how He made us, knowing that when He sees us, He thinks that we are very good.  We carry His creative fingerprint in the gender that He has assigned to us, the hair we have, the tone of our skin, the sound of our voice, and the natural changes that occur in our bodies as we grow.   To try to downplay or exceed His work is an act of rebellion itself, yet enjoying and appreciating how He has crafted us is an act of praise.

So yes, ladies, you are beautiful because you were beautifully made.   Rest in that fact, but when you begin to doubt, trust the One who made you to reassure you of the wonderful beauty that He sees in you when it seems that the world has turned its gaze to lesser things.

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:14

 

 

 

 

Climate-Controlled Christianity–Why It Matters How You Unwind.

I bought a huge bag of oranges from Costco a couple of weeks ago–mostly for school lunches, healthy snacks at home, and soccer games. I pulled a few out of the bag for our tabletop fruit bowl when I got home, then stored the bag with its remaining oranges in the pantry.  Then I kind of forgot they were there.

So when I decided to reload the fruit bowl, I was disappointed to pull the bag out of the pantry and find that at least four of the oranges had turned–they were mushy, smelly and coated in this brownish-green dust that was rubbing off on any good orange they touched.  I managed to salvage some, but even those had to be scrubbed after resting in the bag with the bad fruit. It was discouraging to carry that bag, and a good portion of oranges that were too far gone to consume or just too near the mold, out to the trash in our driveway.  I thought of the money I was throwing away, the fruit that had gone to waste, and realized that I could have prevented it all if I had been just a little more careful about how I stored the oranges.

As I stood there slightly disgusted, a parallel formed in my mind between the oranges and the life of a Believer, specifically in regard to where and how we rest, spend our downtime and “store” ourselves, and how these choices impact our lives and the lives of those around us.

I have heard pastors in various churches preach their ideas of what it means for Believers to be “in the world, but not of the world”.  This exact phrase is actually nowhere to be found in the Bible, but is a summary of a section of scripture from John 17, where Christ is praying the night before His crucifixion.

“...I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world, but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it…As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John 17: 14-16, 18).

And then in Galatians, Paul explores the “fruit” or byproducts of walking closely with Christ and in step with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22)

That Christians are called to be a part of the world, rubbing up against non-Christians, living a life that reflects Jesus by the fruit of the Spirit is not ground-breaking.  We all know this to be our God-given role and responsibility. The struggle with this is often in the how we do this.  Just how do we represent Christ while being relevant to our culture, our demographic; how do we maintain that “set apart” aspect of walking as a Believer while forging relationships with people who can have a vastly different world view?

I believe the key is found in not our action, but in our inaction, in our rest.  And specifically, the kind of rest and relaxation to which we habitually turn.

In Matthew 6: 33, Jesus said:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

And then in Matthew 11: 28-30 He continues:

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Even when He preached these words thousands of years ago, Jesus was timely and relevant for today.  His audience wasn’t plagued with an overabundance of information, a competitive job market or endless fundraisers.  Yet, they needed rest, and although the advancements in technology have made our lives easier in some ways, so do we!  We 21st Century Believers have so many choices for how we can spend our downtime–at our fingertips this very moment are, more than likely, 15 things we can do today to unwind.  But if you think about it, most of them are simply distractions.

I have been learning this year as my children have gotten older and become more involved in things outside our home, forcing me to become a part time taxi driver (without the pay), that it is so important what I do with my free moments and where my stores of peace lie.   I’m learning to be wary of the things that my flesh thinks it NEEDS to relax. If I reach for my phone, I’m bombarded by images and sounds that could be drowning out the voice of God. If I habitually reach for a beer when I’m sitting alone on the sofa for a rare ten minutes, I’m filling my body with a substance that offers a counterfeit joy, and possibly feeds an addiction.  If I turn on the TV and zone out, I’m surrendering to the fantasy of escapism.

After reading the paragraph above, some may assume that I’m labeling each of these things as evil in and of themselves.  Not true–all of these examples, and others, are indulgences that can be perfectly harmless when relegated to their proper place or occasion.  However, I think it’s worth paying attention to where and how we habitually rest. If we run to the Lord when we need filling, respite, and peace, we’ll be fresh and ripe for the harvest, much like my oranges would’ve been if I’d stored them properly in a temperate refrigerator.  They would’ve stayed delicious and pleasing, enjoyable to everyone. If we begin to depend on these created things that weren’t meant to fulfill us, the things that offer a counterfeit “rest,” they start to eat away at us and spread rot in our lives. What grows in the darkness in isolation and out of God’s ideal climate can never be healthy for us or for those with whom we come in contact.

If you know the Bible well, you’ll notice that I omitted part of the passage I quoted from John at the beginning of this article.  It’s worth noting at the end here:

Sanctify them by your truth: your word is truth.” (John 17:17)

We can never forget this crucial nugget of Jesus’ prayer to His Father the night He was betrayed and sent to die for us.  It is ever so reassuring to me that Christ knew that we would struggle in this world, that it is important for us to know the truth in the midst of our struggles, and that we would recognize the Word (i.e. another name for Jesus) as the truth.  And it is only when Believers are resting in Jesus, seeking Him as our means of true escape, that His essence begins to permeate us to the point that we no longer have to try to image Him to our world–like an essential oil, He anoints us with His fragrance which is easily noticeable to those we rub up against.  May we not succumb to the false fillers of the world as our means of rest, but run to the One who offers rest in its purest form.

 

 

 

The Unpopular S-Word

This post is not for perfect people or those unwilling to get real.

I’m always grateful when the Lord gives me an object lesson to share with you guys. If you saw my story this morning, then you know I had a confrontation with a nasty little critter, a roach, that I had to chase down and kill and dispose of on my own. And it got me thinking about sin. (And I’m using this photo because I figured it’s a little better than a photo of a roach, and also, because sin is black-and-white, serious business).

Sin is an unpopular word today. Non-Christians don’t want to acknowledge it because they don’t believe many things are really “wrong” but a matter of perspective, human nature, or the fault of others. Christians don’t like to talk about it or face it in themselves because it forces them to confront that they still battle it. It makes them vulnerable and reveals how, even with salvation, they fall short of perfection.

Much like the roach that surfaced in my hallway this morning, sin is insidious. It lurks in the darkness and festers where ugly things grow. It’s always around, looking for an opportunity and space where there is no protection or guard to invade your life, catching you by surprise, threatening to spread its disease in your home, life and relationships.

The good news is here, and it really is black-and-white: that all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23), that He has provided a way of escape for us to stand up to temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), that if we confess and turn from our sin He is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), and that we are no longer burdened under a yoke of slavery to sin (Galatians 5:1), but are set free in victory.

What this means for you and me is that all the struggles in emotions and relationships that drag us into dispair, that make us feel guilty, that threaten to swallow us—have no true power over us. When I recognize sin in myself, it makes me angry, it repulses me. I can’t ignore or deny it, because it doesn’t belong in my life and doesn’t represent who I now am. Instead, I call it what it is and reach for the weapons that God has given me to fight it (Ephesians 6:10-18). I can’t give in to it and let it bring disaster and decay upon my life, because God has promised me abundant life (John 10:10), so I have to face and fight it, even if I don’t want to, and do what’s necessary to remove it.

But whereas this morning there was no one home but me to chase down, kill, and dispose of the roach, when it comes to sin, I have a Helper. I have someone I can ALWAYS call to fight it for me, because I have to recognize when some enemies are too big for me to battle alone. He never laughs or belittles me when I have to run from the room in disgust. He never shakes His head and rolls His eyes when I come to Him groveling and in shameful tears. And even when I come to Him with a blind and haughty spirit, He lovingly changes my mind, my heart, breaks down my self-worshipping pride and shows me how much I need Him.

So for those who have made it this far—my hope for you is this: recognize the little creatures that attempt to infiltrate your spirit. Be on guard against “roaches” that fit through the cracks in your heart and try to turn it from Jesus, to harden it to His voice. Listen for the “roaches” that creep across your mind and make you doubt His word and His promises (2 Corinthians 7:1). He has fitted you with the power to chase them down and rid them from your life.

Far From Suburbia: What I Learned in Two Hours in the Slums of San Francisco

I was uncomfortable to say the least.  From the moment my Uber pulled over and I stepped out of its pristine cleanliness onto the wet and trash littered sidewalk in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco, I felt my guard go up.  My shoulders tensed and my head swung left to right as I looked for number 232 Jones Street.  The storefronts lined the sidewalk without a break, many of them plastered with posters, decorated with graffiti or marred by cracked glass and rust stains.  Somber faced people passed on either side of the road without making eye contact with me, but somehow I knew they still saw me.  The drone of traffic was occasionally broken up by people 20 feet away from each other shouting jokes, a woman babbling nonsense to herself as she pushed an overloaded shopping cart.

I stuck out like a sore thumb–clutching my purse, wearing clean Nike sneakers, eyes wide and afraid.  This was not my suburban North Carolina sidewalk.  I walked up it a few feet, counting the numbers before deciding that I’d gone too far and then turned around and retraced my steps.  It was nestled in among buildings I’d just passed, and seeing the sign on the door, I breathed in relief:

San Francisco City Impact Mission

Opening the door I was greeted by a smiling young woman who invited me to sit while I waited for someone named Andrea, who had been emailing with me the week before and had given me instructions for meeting her at the City Impact office.  When she emerged and introduced herself, she apologized as she confessed that she’d forgotten who I was and what I was doing there.  I chuckled and repeated what I’d told her over email.  My husband was in San Francisco for a work conference.  I’d tagged along on his trip as a little vacation.  I’d never been to San Francisco before and the trip was mostly pleasure, but I liked to take a little bit of time serving in a local mission as a way of getting to know the city and not spending my entire vacation solely focused on pleasing myself.  Despite my altruistic explanation, there was a slight swell of pride in my chest as I spoke.  I thought of the old Friends’ episode where Joey tells Phoebe that there is no such thing as a selfless good deed and she sets out to prove him wrong.

Recognition came to her face as I explained my presence and she started nodding.

“Oh THAT’S right!  I’m sorry I just totally blanked about why you were here because you didn’t come through our regular volunteer pipeline.  I do apologize.”

“It’s okay,” I said.

“We’re so glad to have your help though.  Thanks for coming down.  I’ll take you over and introduce you to Randy and he’ll get you settled.”

Randy is a diminuitive man orginially from the Phillipines, a former youth pastor who was now dividing his time between overseeing operations at City Impact and setting up events at the Moscone Center, San Francisco’s convention center.  He took my hand and gave it a firm shake, smiling warmly when Andrea introduced us.

“Great!  Thanks so much for being here.  Come on in and I’ll show you what we’re doing.”

As Andrea said goodbye and turned to go back to the office, I followed Randy inside the meal hall.  It’s a basic cafeteria-style room–tile floor, white walls, folding tables and chairs set up the length of the room, about enough to accomodate a maximum of 50 people.  All the chairs were arranged to face the small stage at the far end of the room, where a simple podium stood in front of a cross mounted on a backdrop of shiplap.

The air inside the hall was warm, close and musty.  I wasn’t sure if the smell came from the bedraggled people already lingering in the room or the crates and boxes of donated produce that were stacked up just inside the door–perhaps it was both.

Several eyes followed me as I followed Randy, who was walking quickly and greeting people just as quickly.  He took me back to the small kitchen behind the main part of the hall.

“So I’m a little disorganized today.” he chuckled amicably.  “Cara who usually runs our meal service isn’t here, and I don’t really know what I’m doing.  But we’re gonna figure it out.”

He introduced me to an older Asian man named Yomo who didn’t speak any English, but who was so accustomed to the flow of the meal services that he didn’t really need to talk or understand what you were saying.  The entire time I was there he rotated from one task to another, filling plates, washing pans, and wiping tables.  I quickly learned that he  was one of those invaluable, behind-the-scenes people who is often unnoticed, but without whom the entire process would crumble.

Randy continued to describe his plan for the meal.

“Since it’s raining today I asked them to make some soup in the kitchen.  That’s a treat, we don’t normally have soup.  We’ll walk over there now and see what else they have.”

I wondered if I looked as awkward as I felt: my small purse clutched tightly against my side, my Columbia rain slicker zipped up to my throat and my wedding ring turned to the inside of my hand so that my diamond wouldn’t be obvious to people who may see me as a mark.  I mentally kicked myself for not leaving my ring back at the AirBnB.

“Is there a place I should put my stuff?” I asked Randy, hoping for a locker of some kind, or a drawer in the internal office that I could see through the window.

“Uh, yeah, you can just stash it in here.”  He gestured to a stainless steel cupboard full of dishes and pots and pans and aluminum tins.  “Alright, let’s go visit the kitchen.  I’m supposed to have more people helping serve here today but I think a lot of them are running behind with the rain…hopefully it won’t just be us!” The smile had never left his face, but he chuckled nervously.

I only considered putting my purse in the cupboard for a moment, but quickly decided against it, afraid that one of the rough-looking men staring into space in the cafeteria would wander into the room and discover it and take my phone and credit cards.

On the way out, an African-American man named Russ (who unfortunately bore a resemblance to Bill Cosby) stopped to talk to Randy, and when Randy introduced me and said that I was there to volunteer, Russ’s eyes went wide and his arm swung open in the direction of the office.

“Well, I’ve glot plenty for her to do!  Follow me young lady.  I’ll put…”

“Um,” I chuckled nervously. “I’m actually here to help Randy with the meal.”

“Yeah, sorry Russ,” Randy said. “She signed up to do the service.”

“Oh! I’m sorry!  I didn’t realize that.  I shouldn’t have assumed.” Russ apologized.

Randy waved him off.  “It’s okay.  We’ve gotta get over to the kitchen.”

As Randy and I went outside and walked around the corner to the kitchen, he asked me where I was from and how I’d found out about City Impact.  In turn, I asked him a couple of questions just to find out a little more about him, but I was distracted by the people on the street–either shuffling along and staring at the ground as though every step was a movement of great effort, or aggressively striding down the sidewalk with a pace that indicated you should not try to stop them or speak to them.  Expletives were flying through the air, horns were blaring incessantly, steam was hissing up from the ground, the occasional used needle littered the sidewalk, but Randy continued smiling and chatting with the ease of someone who had become accustomed to the noise and subliminal intensity that set all my nerve endings on edge.

The kitchen was full of hot food, with not a soul in sight.  It was almost as if it had been prepared by ghosts.  There were at least six huge pans of penne pasta; two vats of an indistinguishable brothy soup (which we later mixed with the pasta); ovens containing four whole baked chickens; two pans of corn-dogs; two enormous plastic bins of salad; one filled to the brim with sliced oranges and another with slices of baguettes; and three metal pans containing what we assumed was meatloaf, which we ended up smothering with barbecue sauce.

As if on cue, a couple of teenage boys showed up and loaded all the food onto a cart with Randy’s help and wheeled it back over to the room we’d just left, which I now realized wasn’t really a kitchen after all, but more of the assembly station.  Randy quickly filled a styrofoam container, showing us how he’d like the food to be presented and then left me and Yomo alone to get started.  About five minutes later, a young Latino man walked in, donned an apron, snapped on a pair of latex gloves and, smiling, introduced himself to me as Allan.

I’m ashamed to admit that my first glance at Allan produced a combination of fear and judgment.  He was dressed in all black, his pants hanging low on his hips, and he walked with a cocky swagger that didn’t fit his childlike, crinkly-eyed smile.  His hair was closely shaved and the sleeves of his baggy black hoodie were pushed up to reveal tattoos that covered his muscular forearms.  I just knew, that in my regular life in my upper middle-class, mostly white neighborhood, if I was ever alone on a street at night and saw Allan approaching me, I’d assume he was trouble and would cross the street to get away from him or look for storefront to duck into until he’d passed.

As these shameful thoughts came to my mind, I intentionally pushed them aside and started asking Allan questions about how he became involved with City Impact, because the fact that he was beside me, already scooping out the mystery meatloaf onto the plates I was passing him and neatly arranging them on a cart without a word of instruction or a glimpse of hesitation, spoke volumes to me about the heart under the intimidating exterior.

“I drive the truck, pick up donations.  And this part of the job is just a kick-back,” he said, still grinning and looking directly into my eyes.  I found myself grinning back–it was impossible not to.

“A kick back?  What do you mean?”

“I get to see these people smile, just because they’re getting a warm meal.  It makes my day.”  It would’ve sounded cliche, fake, except that it came from someone who looked, on the outside, like they wouldn’t care about such simple, yet essential things.  I liked him so much in that moment–he reminded me of my brother, and I would’ve hugged him if I had known him for longer than five minutes, and if I’d known that he’d have let me.

Soon the room was full of helpers: the same lanky teenage boys who had brought the food over from the kitchen, me, Yomo and Allan, and then an Asian woman in her 40s named Jen, who seemed to take on a leadership role once she arrived.  The two teenagers cut up and joked with Allan while our assembly line passed Styrofoam trays, but their joking around never led to idleness.  They were funny and happy and never once seemed to begrudge their time being spent in a soup kitchen.  At one point, I heard one of them tease Allan about prison, and he calmly but firmly said:

“Man I’m never going back there.”

It was then I wondered whether this young man had to have had an experience with God, whether through Randy, someone else at City Impact, or maybe no one connected there at all, that had changed the course of his life.  And he was here out of gratitude.

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Someone turned on some praise music, and as the cart filled up with trays and the talking ceased, I focused on the words to a popular song, “Build My Life”by Housefires:

“Holy, there is no one like you, there is none beside you, open up my eyes in wonder.  Show me who you are and fill me with your heart and lead me in your love to those around me.”

This chorus was one I had just heard for the first time when attending worship with my parents the Sunday before flying to San Francisco.  It was meaningful while standing and singing it, but it was so much more powerful as it rang in my ears in this tiny makeshift kitchen in the slums of San Francisco, working side by side with people I would normally never encounter–people outside my age group, outside my socioeconomic category, outside my preference.  We were there not to be seen, not to be noticed, praised, graded, or critiqued.  We were there because we’d been led by the Father, in love, to serve those around us, regardless of the legitimacy or caliber of their stories.  And it also explained to me how things just seemed to happen in this place without discussion and even when my first impression was that things were completely disorganized: God was so active here, His love so palpable, that people joined in where they were needed without complaint or rush, because they just wanted to be His hands and feet.

Randy spoke to the crowd of wet men and women, about 30 of them, and he brought them a message of hope, of challenge.  His diminutive frame seemed to grow larger as he filled the musty air with fragrant truth.  He reminded them that Jesus is able to change their hearts, their desires, to reflect His own heart and then use them for His glorious purposes.  His angle surprised me, because on an average day I would’ve looked at these people as beyond hope, as expendable, as weak.

Their faces lit up as we brought them food.

“Thank you.” “Please.” “Where are you from?” “I used to live in North Carolina–Winston-Salem, do you know it?” “What brought you to San Francisco?”

My own eyes were opened in wonder in those two hours in the Tenderloins.  I marveled, and inwardly praised God, for these reminders and the urging to come to City Impact, so that I could see again how wrong I was and how easily my assumptions block the pipeline for Christ’s life-changing love.  For these people, so easily ignored and looked down upon by the rest of the world because they outwardly wear their struggles, simply reflect what so many of us are like on the inside: broken, tired, slogging through life, hostile, dirty, hungry.  And City Impact was a place where all of these similarities were laid bare.

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The meal wrapped up and the people left quickly, arms full of to-go boxes, heads nodding in thanks.  A couple of them stopped to say a word to Randy or Russ, but most just walked out the door without looking back.  I guess there wasn’t much to say when this place was so familiar to them, such a regular stop in their days.

I helped wipe some tables and then stood up and looked around the room, understanding that my job was finished.  I went back to the mini-kitchen and tossed my rag in the sink and grabbed my belongings out of the cupboard, which, halfway through the meal I’d decided was actually the best place for my purse and jacket after I’d tried to dish out pasta with my purse constantly swinging forward into my arm.  I went back through the cafeteria toward the door and was grabbed by Russ, who apologized profusely for assuming I was there to help him. I assured him it was fine, that I wasn’t offended.

“Thank you Jesus!” He breathed, wiping his brow dramatically.  He then sat down on the edge of the stage and started to give me his testimony, telling me how he became a part of City Impact, and about the biggest roadblocks and problems the mission was experiencing.  Something he kept saying over and over again was,

“It’s bad out here.  People are hurting!”

He asked me to pray for him.  I felt so unworthy to pray for a person, for people, for a movement that was investing in the details of the most difficult environment in San Francisco.  Knowing that they would be back there tomorrow pouring themselves out, and that I would never look back and would eventually get on my airplane and go back to my comfortable furniture; my needle-free, swept sidewalk; my suburban life with an expanse of green grass, put a lump in my throat and I had to fight the shame, the thought that Russ didn’t really need my prayer.

But I prayed anyway.  It was uncomfortable at first, but as he squeezed my hand and agreed with me in prayer, “Mmm-hmm.  Yes Lord, yes Jesus,” my wall crumbled yet again and tears started to well up in my closed eyes, because I felt as though I was praying for a brother.  I knew that I’d made a friend, one only God could’ve brought into my life.

Russ said thank you after I said Amen.  He gave me a quick hug and then jumped off the stage and disappeared.  I shouted goodbye to the rest of the volunteer team, who responded with smiles, waves and a few thank-yous, and then pulled Randy outside for a photo under the City Impact sign.  His smile was still there, even in his eyes, as I walked away and called probably my 20th Uber in San Francisco.

A week or so later I was showing my six-year-old daughter how to pot some pansies for the pedestal on our front porch.  She was eager to help, but she wanted to just pull the pansy out of the plastic container and stick it straight into the pot.  I explained to her that we first had to break the soil that had retained the stiff, rectangular shape of its confined space in the plastic.  She watched as I gently squeezed the soil and freed the delicate roots, turning the rectangle into a mess and then placed the pansy into the waiting bed of soil in the bottom of the large clay pot.

“See honey, this pansy can’t grow anymore if it just stays in the same space.  It needs to have more room to grow, but first we have to break up the soil and expose the roots so that they can grow deeper and stronger, so that the flowers will grow higher and produce more buds.”

I’d like to thank San Francisco City Impact, for being the space that I needed to see, to experience in order that God might break down my comfort and shallow soil, expose the frailty of my roots and give me the nourishment and inspiration that I needed to blossom and grow deeply into His love.

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God, Marriage, and Justin Timberlake

I can almost hear the eyes rolling in your heads right now.  That title couldn’t be cheesier right?  Is this some article by an obsessive fan who thinks that she has some cosmic connection to Justin Timberlake?  No, not really.  I promise that I have a point and it will make sense if you can just hang with me for a little while.  Let me explain…

I wouldn’t call myself a huge JT fan, more of a nominal one.  I was at the perfect age to become a boy-band-crushing-teenager when NSYNC formed in 1995, a year before I graduated high-school, but I was always more of a 98 Degrees kind of girl.  And years later when all those 90s boy bands started breaking up, I really didn’t foresee a solo future for any of those guys.  But low and behold, Justin Timberlake surprised us all with his knowledge about the industry, musicianship, his vocal range and connections to all the right people.

Even as his career took off and matured, I was still a moderate fan.  I’d listen to his music from time to time, and took a break from it for a while when it was on the raunchier side.  Recently though it seems that Justin and I have regained some common ground–we’re only 3 years apart; we’re both parents; both married; both getting pretty reflective about our pasts and carefully considering the trajectory of our futures.

I’ve found more interest in his most recent album as I feel that it talks about “real” life (as “real” as your life can be when you’re insanely talented, an international superstar and a gazillionaire).   Knowing the life-cycle that rock-stars usually have, I also sensed that his career may be peaking, and with a slew of hits under his belt I thought if there was one JT concert tour that I should see, it would be this one.  So when I found out that he was coming to Raleigh, NC, I spent a little more money than I usually do to get General Admission tickets for my husband and me, so that we could be close to the stage for what I thought may be one of Justin’s best, last concerts.

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But my mind went to places that I didn’t expect as I watched the show.  Justin was handsome, yes.  His feet moved quickly and his body was all fluid, precise, smooth motion.  He smiled for cameras, fist-bumped fans, flirted with his back-up dancers, told us that we were the best crowd he’d seen (which of course was a lie), and all I could think was, yeah this is awesome, but then what?

You see, my husband and I were the minority of those crushed close to the stage.  We were surrounded by Superfans–those who buy their babies JT onesies; who follow him from concert to concert; who cry if he comes within four feet of them.  And yes I was woo-hooing with them all, but I walked away from the concert not marveling about Justin Timberlake, but rather about the awe he produced in about 20,000 people in one night, and realizing that he does this night after night with people around the world.

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And it made me think about whether my/our awe has been misplaced?  What if I, what if we, directed even half of that awe, half of that amazement, toward the One who created Justin Timberlake, the One who gave him his talent?  As fans, we cluster to have an encounter with someone we pay to give us two hours of their time.  (And sometimes we pay a silly amount–especially if you’re sitting in the VIP section).  We might get a fist-bump or a high-five, but does that personal encounter really change us?  Does it take away our troubles, give us a sense of peace, a new identity?  Does Justin Timberlake really know any of the people he touched last night?  Will they ever really know him?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is no.  Nothing about the concert last night has changed my reality this morning, and it certainly hasn’t changed his.  I’m the same person, living the same life with the same ups and downs, joys, sorrows, and okays.  I’m not richer or poorer, and Justin has continued on with his life, climbing into his tour bus bound for another city and another concert in front of another crowd of thousands.

But every day I can spend as much time as I want with the God of the universe, who stepped down out of heaven to, get this, PAY for an encounter with ME.  He gave up everything to be with me, and He offers to make me His for life through His Son.  He’ won’t just entertain me–He’ll hold me.  He won’t flatter me with savvy lyrics that speak to my vanity–He’ll speak the truth that gives life and nourishes my soul.  He won’t ever pack up and leave town–He’ll be my Immanuel, “God With Us.”  When He touched people, they were healed.  When He spoke, mountains rose up out of the sea and people fell flat on their faces in true awe.  When He sees you, you know that you are safe, yet you aren’t ever the same.

Isaiah 43:1,  “…this is what the Lord says–he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.”

Matthew 28:20, “And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

John 10: 14-15, “I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with spending money to see your favorite singer for a couple of hours.  I think music, dance and fun are gifts from a Good Father who loves to see His kids enjoy life.  I also disagree with those who say that there’s nothing beneficial or edifying that comes from the secular world of entertainment.  Simply because, God can do exceedingly more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), and I believe that if we are walking closely with the Maker and Sustainer of all things, that He can use most any setting, environment, crowd and subject to remind us of His presence and His glory.  I don’t think it’s a stretch to suppose that one other person could have experienced an awakening by the Living God last night during the Justin Timberlake concert, because God really is in the business of taking our wisdom and ideas of what we think we know to be true, and flipping all of it upside down to reveal HIS truth.  And if just one person entered into relationship with Jesus last night, then Heaven is certainly rejoicing just as loudly as it would after an Elevation or Lauren Daigle concert, and that makes it all worthwhile.

I not only reflected on Jesus last night at moments during the concert, but I also looked to my left at the handsome man that I call “Husband,” and remembered for about the 10,000th time why I’m so blessed to have him.  Bryan doesn’t really care for JT.  He only knows a song or two and we got into a pretty heated argument right before we left the house yesterday, but instead of refusing to accompany me and making me go alone, he got in the car.  That was humility.  He sat with me cheerfully and kept me company during the three-hour wait outside.  That was kindness.  He walked to a nearby restaurant and got us food and drinks so that we wouldn’t be starving after the show.  That was graciousness.  He stood beside me the whole time even though his calf muscles were knotted up and painful after a long run yesterday.  He even danced with me a little.  That was sacrificial.

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I told Bryan before the concert began that even though I might scream and yell at Justin as he danced down the stage, I still think he’s hotter.  He replied, “yeah right.”  But as the concert ended, I knew I meant every word.  Because although Justin is certainly cute, charming and coordinated, he’s a stranger.  Yet Bryan, like Jesus, has demonstrated over and over again that he truly loves me.  He knows me. He takes care of me.  He does all of this so well that he’d even stand beside his wife as she snaps photos and videos of another man.  And he went home with me and was still there when I woke up this morning.  That’s a gift of faithfulness that God and Bryan have both given me, that is far more valuable than any concert ticket.  They make me feel like a VIP.

So Justin, if you read this, (doubtful, but a girl can dream) I want to say thanks for being a vessel for yet another Jesus-takeaway.  I’m sure that’s not what you expected, but I suspect you’d be amused.  Hope you have a great rest of your tour, and hurry home, I’m sure your wife wants you beside her too.

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My silly-creepy “selfie” with JT.