Sheltered (?)

‘I unfollowed her from Instagram because I was starting to question some of the things she said.’ I read that comment on an article about a current bestselling book by a Christian author. Said author has some beliefs that don’t exactly line up with what Jesus said, but I’m not here to talk about her. I’m here to talk about that comment.

It’s a mindset I see more and more among fellow Christians –  although I think it’s always been there, and I’m just noticing it more the more I pay attention. It’s the concept that if we disagree with something, or aren’t sure of it, we avoid the subject entirely. It’s the idea that if someone believes something we don’t, we have nothing to do with them. It’s the idea that anything contrary to our beliefs should be shied away from immediately.

I understand where this idea came from. I saw a lot of it in my early years; the conservative Christian homeschooling community, while eager to do the right thing, got an awful lot wrong. ‘Shelter’ was a buzzword, the goal of every good conservative Christian homeschooling parent. And why wouldn’t you want to shelter your kids? There’s some dark, disgusting, perverse stuff out there in the world. There’s also some dark, disgusting, perverse stuff inside each of us that no amount of shelter is going to hide us from. I know from personal experience and the experience of people I know that you can get into anything from the ‘shelter’ of your own home.

Now I’m not advocating that parents shove their young children out into the world. As my mom has always said, ‘You can’t be salt and light until you’re salty and lit.’ The idea that toddlers should march into kindergarden prepared to Witness™ is fundamentally flawed and probably not what Jesus had in mind.

What I am advocating is that Christians stop being afraid of ‘the other.’ You can’t make a difference if you’re no different. You can’t share if you aren’t close enough to reach out in some way. A lighthouse that faces the land and not the sea does nothing.

The lie that we should do nothing but ‘shelter ourselves’ takes many forms. You shouldn’t go there, you’re a young, attractive woman. You shouldn’t talk to them, you’re white and they aren’t. You shouldn’t step inside that place, nobody there is a Christian. It’s not safe. It’s not Christian. It’s not for you.

Should we throw ourselves blindly into mindless danger? Of course not. But if we’re supposed to be Jesus here on earth, if we’re Imago Dei, if we’re stewards of the heaven we believe in, if we serve the omnipotent God we claim we do, we can’t be afraid to talk to someone different. To do something others might find stupid. To shine love and care into places that never see sunlight. To let someone who isn’t ‘just like you’ lean on your shoulder. To help someone to their feet who might not fit the mold you were taught was ‘acceptable’ to help.

Because here’s the thing – Jesus didn’t tell us to love some people. He didn’t say ‘let your light shine before mankind, unless you’re a young, attractive woman,’ or ‘unless you’re a different color,’ or ‘unless people believe something different than you.’ Jesus walked into a graveyard to talk with a possessed wild man. Jesus ate with thieves and hookers. Jesus conversed with adulterers. He healed anyone who came up and asked to be healed.

His life would have been a whole lot different if he had only hung out with the apostles. Jesus doesn’t once call us to be sheltered anywhere except under His wing. I’m learning to love my neighbor as myself, wholeheartedly, even when my current neighbor (i.e. person I’m next to) is different than I am. That was the whole point of the Good Samaritan story, wasn’t it? And not just to love your neighbors, but to love them as yourself.

Am I totally there? No. Some days I don’t show love to people in my house the way I want to. Sometimes I fail or weeks at a time. It’s not about getting it right 100% of the time. It’s about being unafraid to keep at it, because shelter isn’t a building we live under. It’s the God we believe in.

The world will figure out what we really believe by watching what we actually do.

— Bob Goff

A PARTING NOTE: Like I stated previously, I don’t believe in flinging oneself into dangerous situations ‘just because.’ I also don’t believe danger should mean the same thing to Christians as it tends to. Jesus wasn’t about safety, and that’s something we tend to forget. He also wasn’t about stupidity. It’s not an exact science, but I believe when He wants you to go do a thing, you’ll know. It isn’t always about ditching your life and going to minister to big-city gangs – it’s usually about reaching out and loving on someone near you who hasn’t seen what love really looks like.
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//indestructible women

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‘A loving woman is indestructible.’

I came across this phrase by Steinbeck several weeks ago, and I loved it so much that I scribbled it on a card and stuck it to my wall. It catches my eye every time I sit down, and thus I’ve had plenty of time to mull it over. I’m blessed to have known many loving women in my lifetime – my mother, more than anyone, has provided a ceaseless example of what fierce, patient, female love looks like. But this particular month has brought the subject of friendship into the forefront of my thoughts, and so I want to take a moment and talk about four very different women I know, and their four very different styles of love. They remind me of the elements – each varied and different, each unique and so strong it amazes me.

Arielle (fire)

She is a flame, loving with a burning passion that singes and sears with fierce heat. She is the fire that never goes out, the beacon buffeted by wind and rain that may occasionally flicker down to embers, but which rises again at the first opportunity. We greet each other with ‘Morning!’ and delve immediately into discussions about history or philosophy – but on those days, the days that aren’t so motivated or inspiring, we might just exchange comfort and exchange Pinterest links. When I had begun to freeze over, her warmth thawed me before I had time to turn to ice. She is a paradox – a white-hot fire, as stalwart as a stone pillar.

Lauren (water)

She is the many forms of water. She is rain, giving rain where I am dry, giving me enthusiasm where I have none. She is the ocean, deep and dark and turquoise, holding more wonder and mystery, terror and beauty than anyone fully knows. She makes me laugh harder than anyone I know, and encouragement is her middle name – even on the days when she doesn’t feel it. Like playing in the rain refreshes my spirit, so Lauren’s kind of love refreshes and cleanses. She is the roaring of a waterfall and the companionable whisper of rain on tree-leaves.

Jenny (earth)

She is the soft deep-green moss of spring and the brilliant red-orange hues of autumn. She is the wonder of fireflies, twinkling like stars in a summer thicket. She is the deep silence of falling snow and the dazzling brightness when the sun shines off ice. She reminds me of the way winter slides into spring; when the mornings are still cold and leave the earth touched with crystal frost, but then the sun rises and the mist clears, showing the fresh, green shoots pushing up through the hard-packed ground. She is honesty, wit, and beauty.

Hannah G. (air)

She is the playful breeze that tousles your hair, or the raging wind that sweeps the desert clean and re-arranges the sand in new, artistic ways. She is kept always busy by the turning of the earth, but she is always there; always ready and willing. She can make herself invisible and silent, or she can bring scents of faraway spice caravans and the sounds of voices telling new stories. She is mischievous or soothing, kicking up my inspiration like leaves, tugging my hair so I turn and see something I had missed before.

Each of these women is incredibly unique and incredibly strong. All love in different ways, and all – I am convinced – they are far more indestructible than they think, because when they love, they love with strength, endurance, and passion. My life is infinitely brighter and richer with them in it, and I am constantly amazed that God saw fit to bless my existence by bringing it alongside with theirs. They have shown me what friendship looks like, in all its varying, crazy, beautiful forms, and I am forever grateful.

//as yourself: thoughts on love

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what you do not see is the cool spring breeze blowing in through the window. it’s supposed to be winter.

There are two opposing schools of thought in Christian society. The first school of thought belongs to the progressive half, and it appears to stem from the ‘worldly’ idea that ‘I am more important than anyone else.’ It buys into the idea that ‘self-esteem is the most important thing you will ever learn.’ The second school of thought belongs to the more conservative half, and it buys into the idea that ‘I am worthless, God is everything. Self-esteem is a lie, and my happiness is of no concern.’

I’ve always had trouble balancing the two, and trying to make them both fit. On one hand, the idea of self-esteem does seem fairly postmodern and self-centered – but on the other hand, constantly degrading oneself and allowing people to walk all over you doesn’t seem like what God had in mind.

Meekness? Certainly, but ‘meekness’ doesn’t imply we’re all milquetoast. When I was younger, my mom used to organize a family retreat, and occasionally I would answer the phone when someone interested in attending would call. Frequently, it was a conservative Christian woman speaking in a breathy, barely-there voice I would strain to hear. Also frequently, she would ask a question, and then I would hear, “Was that all right?” and her husband’s voice saying, “That was fine.” This baffled me. They thought they were being ‘meek,’ I’m sure, but that isn’t what ‘meek’ means. The definition of ‘meek,’ as used in the original language, means ‘power under control.’ A rudder on a ship, a bit in a horse’s mouth. It means restraint and self-control.

But how was I supposed to combine everything – self-esteem, humility, meekness, confidence? I felt like I was missing a key ingredient somewhere, a puzzle piece I needed for any of this to make sense. And then, a couple weeks ago, during a sermon, I was handed that piece in the form of Mark 12:31.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Key words: as yourself.

So I put it to you – how are you supposed to obey this instruction if you don’t love yourself? If you’re constantly putting yourself down, putting your needs aside, and draining yourself of all energy? How are you supposed to give others anything if you’re empty?

I’ve had days where I’ve spent so much time counselling people, praying over them, being there for them that I have nothing left to give. I’m tired, I’m worn-out. I have no grace for my family or myself. It wasn’t until I was up past three a.m., encouraging someone I barely know, that I realized – I wanted to help everyone, but I was destroying myself in the process. I wasn’t sleeping. Every day was a gray fog of uninspired weariness, and I was irritable around those who love me most. I was scraping the bottom of the barrel and still coming up empty.

I wouldn’t drain someone I love like that, but I was doing it to myself, and it’s an easy cycle in which to fall. I had already made steps toward taking care of myself – I was getting more sleep, running on a relaxed schedule. Things were better, but after Mark 12:31 struck me, I made even more changes. I unfriended negative people I barely spoke with on Facebook. I unfollowed a few blogs that irritated me. I finished several commissions I’d been lagging on, so I didn’t have that weight on my shoulders.

For me, that’s what loving myself looks like. It looks like going to sleep well before midnight and getting up at seven in the morning. It looks like taking time out of my day to read those books I’ve been wanting to read and sketching something that isn’t a commission when I feel like it. It means not jumping overboard to help everyone who dives into the ocean, because I need that energy for my family and close friends. It means spending more time out of the house, doing things – simple things, like shopping trips with my mom and my baby sister, and it means hibernating in my room when I get the time because I need that to recharge. It means saying no sometimes, and it means saying yes sometimes.

It means finding a balance. Finding a place where I stay recharged and lit, so I can share that light with others and not worry about it. It means being my best self, so that I can encourage others to be their best selves.

Balance. I’m not ready for a tightrope walk, but I have more balance than I’ve had in a long time.

It takes discipline to love yourself, but it’s a necessary discipline if we want to follow Christ’s command. We must love ourselves so we can love others as God loves us.

 

//you can’t hurry love, no, you’ll just have to wait

I’m single.

I’ve never dated, courted, or whatever you want to call it.

It isn’t because I have something against guys – some of my best friends are guys. It just hasn’t ever happened. And I never really cared much until about a year ago, when some kind of rose-colored lightning struck and the majority of my friends began to split off into couples. Before I realized what was going on, people were dating, getting engaged, and tying the knot left and right, and suddenly I felt very…

Well, not lonely. Not unhappy. Not even discontent, per se. But now I was aware that I didn’t have a significant other, and it made me wonder – was something wrong with me? Was I not pretty enough, not interesting enough? Was it because I wasn’t spiritually perfect yet? Was I destined for life in the dreaded friendzone?

One of my guy friends asked me today if it was just his friends who were all getting romantically involved. I told him nope, it’s everywhere. Somewhere a memo was sent, and we missed it.

Yesterday, feeling sick and miserable, I curled up with some coffee and Runaway Bride. In the movie, Maggie runs from her true love at the altar, and they spend the next few months apart, wondering what went wrong. It’s what Maggie does with her time that stood out to me – she doesn’t wallow. She hangs out with her friends, she takes up jogging, she figures out what kind of eggs she likes to eat. Instead of drowning in self-pity, she discovers who she is. She uses the time to get to know herself. Because of this, she’s able to confront her fiancée and ask him to marry her again, without fear or uncertainty, because they both know what they’re getting into.

So what if you’re single? Use your singleness. Get to know yourself. Grow. Focus on your relationships with God and your family and your friends. Try painting. Read books. Work on being a better person. Use your time to better yourself, to find new interests, focus on talents. Don’t stop living just because you can’t update your Facebook relationship status.

Let life happen. It’s okay being single. I promise.

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an open letter to you

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hello. you probably don’t know me; and if you do, you probably don’t know me in real life. I probably don’t know you, either. maybe a comment here, a shared pin there. but I’ve never had the chance to sit down with you over coffee and tell you what I want you to know, so I’m doing it differently. get yourself that cup of coffee, or tea, or vitamin water, and listen. I have some things to say to you.

yes, you can.

you’re listening to them, aren’t you? the voices that say you can’t do that. you don’t have the talent. you’ll never stick with it. you aren’t good at that sort of thing. it’s just a phase, you’ll grow out of it. you’d never be able to accomplish it. well, they’re wrong. you can do it. if you do it out of courage, out of love, out of hope, you can do it. nobody ever got anywhere by listening to ‘you can’t.’

just because you made a mistake doesn’t mean you are a mistake.

it might not feel that way now. you messed up. you majorly messed up, and you don’t know how you can ever fix things. you lay awake at night staring at the black ceiling and trying to figure out how you’re going to continue with your life after what you did. you will. your life will continue, and every moment will offer you a chance for redemption. do not let yourself be defined by the mistake you made. eventually, it will be forgotten by everyone, unless you choose to keep it alive. kill it.

you are beautiful.

I do not mean beauty in the shallowest form. do not demote yourself to the purely physical, outward appearance. you’re worth so much more than that. you’re beautiful when you laugh your genuine, joyful laugh. you’re beautiful when you stand up so someone else can sit down. you’re beautiful when you become so engrossed in creating art, or composing, or writing, or building, or making beds or doing laundry that you forget yourself, and start to hum. or maybe you work in complete silence. or maybe you listen to loud, loud music. you’re beautiful when you hug a stranger, when you pretend, when you grin at a joke no one else thinks is funny. you’re beautiful when you’re kind, when you’re generous, when you’re forgiving. your soul is beautiful.

you are loved.

maybe not romantically. maybe not by a certain family member. maybe not by everyone. but you are loved. I guarantee that somewhere, someone loves you. and not just someone, but Someone. Someone who created you, who brought you to life in all your colors, with all your personality, with all your flaws to perfect and your quirks to revel in. you are never, ever unloved, no matter how you feel.

it’s okay to be imperfect.

no one is perfect. to believe you’re perfect is to blaspheme the only One who is perfect. you are messy. incomplete. you are human. you are in a state of mortal being, and you will strive. you will aim for perfection. it is what we should do. but you have to realize there is no human perfection in this lifetime, this here and now. one day you will be perfect, but it is not today. so work at it. be good. be better. never give up; never, never, never, never. remember to breathe, because being human is a beautiful, fractured, funny, tragic, lovely thing. it is not perfect. but ‘you don’t pass or fail at being a human,’ dear.’

breathe.

slow down. slower. stop. close your eyes. inhale. exhale. do it again. one more time. now open your eyes, and realize. you are not a mistake. you are beautiful. you are loved. your are human. you are imperfect. and you can grow. you can get better. you can move on. you don’t have to stay where you are unless you want to. you will change. your life will change. your situation will change. give it time. relax. let go of things you have no control over. treat strangers like angels in disguise. treat people you know like they’re the most important thing in your life. breathe.

p.s.

don’t look for love, create it. leave people better than you found them. learn to see your worth without a compliment. always be kinder than you feel. don’t compare yourself to others. don’t make excuses for yourself. you are allowed to change your mind. it takes seven kindnesses to erase a cruelty. stop waiting for the time is right, because it never will be. allow yourself to be a beginner; no one ever began an expert. courage is contagious. happiness is personal. be a good influence on yourself. ‘what would Jesus do’ is never a silly question. be the best version of yourself.

laugh much. smile more.