When You Need to Know You're Loved Right Here.

Never in my life have I clung more to Jeremiah 29:11. For most of my life, having grown up in the church, this verse was commonplace to me: as one of the most commonly quoted verses in scripture, I had heard it so often that it began to lose its meaning. It was always the theme verse for camps and youth events and bible studies, and I had managed to file those words away in a drawer at the very back corner of my mind. Processed with VSCOcam with t1 presetI didn't really struggle with planning until I went away to college, and my time had to be more stringently delegated. Professors told me that college was like a triangle, with a social life, grades, and sleep, and I could only ever have two of the three. No matter what I was doing, I would be sacrificing time that could be put towards something else. And I couldn't tell you now exactly when it happened, but at some point back there, I morphed from a person who could fairly easily go with the flow, to someone who very nearly needed to plan out every hour of the day. To this day, I am still very much the latter personality.

Between graduation, getting married, and getting a job, I feel as though I got sucked into a vortex of constantly needing to plan and make decisions -- not only for whatever is going on in my life at the present moment, but also for the future. And I feel the weight of responsibility for every decision made, even the seemingly arbitrary ones. Things that I ultimately have no power over whatsoever, I somehow end up feeling responsible for.

A script from a television show arrests my attention: "she is a narcissist," it says. "You can't believe everything is your fault unless you also believe that you are all powerful." 

The words leave my lungs feeling strained, and I didn't want to hear them, and I try to shake off the fact that Jesus is still in the habit of using whatever is in front of us, ordinary things, to bring our attention to him. 

It seems silly. It seems elementary. It seems like I should know better and why am I reading the same page over and over?

Have you ever heard the saying "we plan and God laughs?" Sometimes, I don't believe He finds it all that humorous in the light of day. I think it breaks His heart, this endless flailing of mine.

He is still inviting me to rest, still wooing me and beckoning me to trust that all things are held together by His infinite grace. He knows the plans He has for me. He knew exactly who and where I would be at this moment, and Spurgeon says "had any other condition been better for you than the one in which you are, Divine Love would have put you there."

Its a promise that wherever you are right now, there is meaning and purpose. We are being made whole.

The trial is learning to rest in the middle of wherever I am, knowing that He is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, and believing that He gives His children good gifts. He disciplines those that He loves. He teaches those that He loves. He directs those that He loves. And (later on in Jeremiah,) He says He has loved us with an everlasting love. That means no height, no depth, no fear, no plan for the future, no regret from the past, or anything else can keep me from His love.

Lord, I believe, but help my unbelief. In the morning, when I wake up feeling just as tired as when I laid my head down, help my unbelief. In the afternoon, when I want to be somewhere -- anywhere -- else, help my unbelief. And when I lay down, my body tense from the constant anxiety of bracing myself for the unknown, help my unbelief. When I doubt the nearness of Your presence, give me faith. When I doubt the fullness of Your love, help me to hold onto these truths, that from ashes, You bring forth beauty. Teach and direct this feeble flesh. Keep holding me together.

And help me to slow down, to open my hands to Your grace. Help me to remember that I don't need to have every answer, but rather, I can trust the One who does. Help me to lean not unto my own understanding. Let joy and rest be the balm to this burnt out heart.

Give me the grace, the unshakable grace, to laugh at the days to come -- trusting, unshakably trusting, that You have a plan.

A plan for good, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. And in those days, when you pray, I will listen. When you look for Me wholeheartedly, you will Find me. I will be found by you, says the LORD.

If You Don't Recognize Holy Tonight.

I never used to like the song “Oh Holy Night." When I was a kid, I never understood what the words meant, and it seemed to go on and on

...sort of like my sin. Like the sin of the world that was too great for my feeble understanding at the tender age of twelve.

Long lay the world in sin and error, pining.

I didn't know what it meant to pine for something; to search for and want and need salvation more than the next beat of my heart. My soul had never known weary.

I imagine the very core of the earth heaving a sigh. An overwhelming spirit of heaviness.  And I see the latest news, everything screaming the wild lack of all that is sacred and holy.

But there, in the depth of night, a glimmer. A thrill of hope. 

Salvation came, a bloody and gasping infant. Peace is a person, one who has walked this dusty earth. He traded the entirety of glory for my skin and bones. His name is Emmanuel.

He is still with us.

Did you know that there is a second verse? For the longest time, I didn't.

A lamb without blemish, spread naked across an altar, bore the pain of nails and splinters that should have been mine. A curtain torn from top to bottom, unleashing furious glory over the earth. A crescendo of love, pouring out from the heavens as love won the war.

But it probably didn't seem like that in the immediate, in the carrying of his broken body to the tomb. The twelve huddled, wondering what to do next, some daring to ask if they should part ways and return to their old lives. They knew questions in the deep darkness. They were bound to it for three days.

We know chains. Anxiety, depression, addiction, fear, hopelessness, temptation, judgement, selfishness, lies. They coil around our spirits, threatening to choke the very life from us.

Even after Christ had risen, some had their doubts. Perhaps you've visited those dark corners with me? Some shadows seem heavy enough to dim the truth. Even Mary, as she looked upon her risen Lord, her Savior, did not recognize him.

She probably believed that the final battle had been lost. All hope, all that held her together, had been desecrated.

Sometimes holy is right before our eyes, in the tiny moments when we least expect it. Sometimes holy looks like the gardener. But then comes the beautiful recognition. The life sustaining revelation that he now holds the keys.

Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother. And in his name, all oppression shall cease.

Hallelujah, we are no longer bound. Not only are the chains unlocked, but they are broken.

That, dear friends, is revolutionary. 

Can your soul feel its worth? Oh, that the Creator of this universe, in all of His splendor, would love us so fully.

So if in the hustle and bustle of life, you're missing out on feeling loved, missing out on the joy and the hope and all that is sacred and holy...

just slow down and breathe him in.

Take a few moments, I promise, this is so worth your while.


Dear Church (An Afterword)

I never liked debating. I can surely talk a big talk in seclusion, but my heart quakes and my fingers quiver as I punch keys to form the syllables of my convictions in the presence of others. My stomach turns somersaults and I lose sleep. At times, I find writing those things out in the public eye to be very unforgiving. On a grand scale, I don't have a lot of opinions, and I like it better that way because I get to focus on what really matters to me. I'm transforming, learning, growing in the gritty everyday. Its happening all the time. It really is mind boggling to think that people on five continents stopped by yesterday to see what I had to say about faith and the Church, and to those of you who emailed me or left encouraging notes, I thank you. In the past, I have been called a bad Christian for standing up for what I believe: that people are people, deeply afraid and searching desperately for a love withheld from them by so many. We are flesh and blood, hunting in the dark for meaning and purpose and a safe place to rest our hearts. And sometimes, we lose our way. Sometimes, we walk in aimless circles wondering what went wrong. And while some simply resign to stay lost, the overwhelming majority are crying to be found. I know because I have been there. Perhaps you're in that boat with me?

I don't claim to have everything figured out. I used to, but then I heard someone say that if you have all the answers, you've been asking boring questions, so I've been trying to start from scratch lately. I also know that it isn't enough to simply name the problem. In the gracious company of others, I have attempted to examine that which is broken. I have grieved for it, experienced everything from denial to raging anger to disbelief. And I have tried to accept it, but that's a day to day decision I'm not always good at making for myself, because hope is a four letter word and I swear too much as it is. Honestly, these issues that plague us are much greater than me. Its going to take all of our effort, all of our grace and if you're anything like me, sometimes you run out of grace quickly. But His grace can always reach us, even at the end of our rope.

So I try to be part of the solution by living the truest thing I know, which is love. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love lends of its sweat and blood before shouting opinions. Love turns over the tables of those dealing lies to the hurting. Love goes deep enough to understand that we are all in this boat, trying to do the best we can, and that this cycle of life can be so ugly.

Life is too short, too fragile to not tell the truth. We have divorced ourselves from that notion, maybe because we believe that the truth needs our protection. Perhaps we believe that if the Truth gets out, there would be no way to ignore it. Grace is uncomfortable, because it plucks us out of our complacency. Grace finds us in our grave clothes and begs the question "what if there's more?"

I don't know about you, but I want more: more than a list of rules to follow, more than the magnifying glass hovering over, waiting to find the cracks. I want to share myself on my own time, and allow others the freedom to do the same. Because two are better than one and three are better than two, and this is how we heal: person to person.

Update : I am so thankful for the encouragement and constructive conversation that has taken place over the past few days as a result of these posts. I stand by everything that I have said, and don't regret telling the truth as I and many others perceive it in this instance. This post is not a retraction of anything, not by a long shot. That being said, this has been something of a whirlwind; there is still a lot to process, and I think the best way for me to do that is to go dark for a few days. Aside from the weekly FMF post, I will not be engaging in social networking in the very near future. You may still reach me by email, and I will do my very best to respond in a timely manner.

Dear Church, I'm Still Here.

I really like Rachel Held Evans, and anything related to the culture of a young and growing church, so when a Christian friend in Generation X asked that I comment on Rachel's CNN article on why millennials are leaving the church, I was more than happy to share my thoughts. For the majority of young people, our moral compasses are calibrated by the culture around us without question. For me, personally, the culture around me was The Bible Belt. At twenty-two years old, I've never known any different. I have attended church my entire life, and prayed to receive Christ into my heart at a young age. I grew up to attend an evangelical college, where I minored in biblical and theological studies. Needless to say, my faith has always been an important part of my life.

I wasn't the girl who cursed or got in fights at school. I never drank or went to parties, and I didn't have sex. I barely even listened to popular music. I went to youth group and participated in the prayer circle and Fellowship of Christian Athletes. My identity throughout school was the good Christian girl. But I also battled depression, and felt like I had nowhere to turn.

My parents fought at length throughout my teen years before deciding to separate during my sophomore year of high school. It was during this period that my depression reared its ugly head. When I attempted to talk about it, my feelings were shrugged off, even by my Christian friends. There was a deep seeded shame that I, as a Christian, felt deprived of joy and abundant life. Church didn't feel like a very safe place, and the majority of that time was spent simply going through the motions.

Now, thankfully, depression isn't the monster in my life that it once was. But I know that the slope is slippery. There was a time in college that I deeply questioned my worth, and even battled self-injury. I don't know if I would be where I am tonight had it not been for the love and support of patient friends. If you want to read more about that, click here.

In college, I met a man named Jake.* He was incredibly nice, attractive, and popular. He played basketball, and participated in a variety of activities. I was and still am very fond of him. He was a senior when I was a freshman, and after he graduated, Jake posted a note on Facebook admitting his attraction to the same gender. Later, a group of students extended the opportunity to the student body to anonymously discuss our secrets via a blog. Many of the secrets had to do with homosexuality.  It occurs to me that many Christians view gay people as threatening, even defective. My heart breaks, thinking of how I watched Jake and an untold number of others struggle to feel safe or welcome in the greater evangelical church.

I also met a woman named Katherine* who disclosed in a counseling class that she had gotten an abortion when she became pregnant as a teenager. I was shocked to receive this information, and she admitted that she didn't discuss it on a regular basis (for obvious reasons). Nothing in me can fathom the fear a woman experiences that drives her to scrape out her occupied womb. Fear that she will be abandoned if those around her find out what she's done; fear that life as she knows it will be over should she go through with bringing this life into the world.

Then there was Joyce, who repeatedly posted on Facebook that democrats were idiotic sheep, and that all Muslims rape their babies and hate Christians and seek only to kill. And Kyle,* who says he loves Jesus, and that anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot, and will be called out.  And Dan,* who told his daughter that her testimony and their family name were tarnished because of her decision to get a belly-button ring. The list could go on forever.

The conservative church brims with judgment, often with blatant disregard for the hearts behind the statistics. Until these issues become lonely and scared flesh and blood, I fear that we will never learn to exhibit the love and sensitivity required of those who represent Christ.

Gandhi is quoted as saying "I like your Christ, but I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."

Those in Gen X question why young people are leaving the church. To borrow Rachel's words, it is because we don't find Jesus there. It has nothing to do with skinny jeans or coffee or high technology, or whether there is a drummer in the band or the congregation sings from a hymnal.

There has to be something more. There has to be substance. Because simply not swearing or drinking alcohol or getting pregnant in high school because I was told that they were wrong things never led me to a better understanding of who Christ is. What has? Being loved, and reminded of it often, and experiencing the freedom and safety within the Body to ask questions, wrestle with and heal from my own issues, and become who I was created to be. Don't read me wrong: I'm not trying to downplay sin, and I don't believe Rachel is either. Scripture states very plainly that the consequence of sin is death. We're good at preaching that. What we're not so good at, though, is proclaiming life, and making Church a safe place for sinners.

Now that I'm older, and have gleaned some experience and understanding, I'm working to make a change. Because I believe in the Bride of Christ. I love her dearly, despite her faults. And I desperately want for her to resemble Jesus by drawing in those who are hurting and confused and searching for hope and truth.

*Names have been changed.