Once upon a wilderness.

bwvines On Wednesday night, a group of scrawny teenagers sat in a circle inside the church building to talk about faith. As the conversation intensified, the girl with the black hair asked if we really meant to say that people die of cancer today because the woman ate the fruit a gazillion years ago. Some days my own heart burns with that same slithering question: if God really is good, then why all this pain?

And I want to say yeah, girl, I feel it too -- the pain. It plagues my body, my mind, my relationships, everything. And I want to tell her that I've been doing this whole Christian thing for a long time now, and still there is a deep longing inside my bones for something that I can only describe as being outside of myself.

My cheeks are ablaze from news that came earlier in the week: a friend's unfaithfulness to the marriage vow. My heart is heavy, and all I want is to be able to tell this wide eyed girl just starting out that it gets better. I want to tell her that this weary world won't always knock the wind out of her. I want to promise that she won't get sucker punched if she lets her guard down. I want to tell her that it can be well with her soul, but I honestly don't know if it is well with my own. I look at the floor and say nothing.

Jesus didn't come to save us with answers. He came to save us through his blood. 

I've been silent here in observance of Lent. I've tried to embrace stillness in an effort to meditate on what he has given me in spite of myself. I've thought a lot about the places that I've taken my cup recently, in hopes of receiving what is already mine. Henri Nouwen calls this "running in circles, hoping that something or someone will be able to convince me of my Belovedness." I've read through the first chapter of Ephesians more times than I can count, and gone back and forth with God about whether or not I actually want the light turned on. I change my mind a lot, and on the days when this life just gets to be too much, I want to take it all back.

What I haven't done, what I just can't bring myself to do, is be honest with God. So I busy my hands building cities and try hard to not want or need him or offer him anything at all beyond a cool, cordial nod every now and then.

That's how I know he is wooing me. Because if this love story was all up to me, well, I don't have the greatest track record when it comes to faithfulness either. Most days, what the world offers me looks a lot more comfortable than a cross, and even the pain of emptiness seems safer than illumination and exposure. 

See, I know the words I want to pray, but fear is quick to swallow them up. I've mastered the art of covering myself with fig leaves sewn together with my own self sufficiency and pride. Still, he asks, where are you? And I tell him that I'm all good. Except, of course, I'm not. I try to pretend that he doesn't already know.

More so than ever, I'm finding it painfully difficult to be vulnerable. I want to ask God to tear down the walls, but I'm also terrified of what we will find on the other side of them. Its so strange, this juxtaposition between wanting something with my whole self and being so afraid of it at the same time.

I know he has things to say to me. I can tell, because I've got these big dreams inside me, but no matter where I go or what I'm doing, I feel like I don't quite fit. This place feels like wilderness, like he just wants to get me alone so he can tell me all the things my heart is so desperate to hear through the pain.

I want to run, but I'm discovering the only direction I can go is towards him.

So instead I walk, more like feebly crawl, hoping I could just touch the hem of his garment. Yeah, as it turns out, that story is about me, too. And the miracle of it all is that he called the bleeding woman daughter. It wasn't enough to take away her ailment -- he replaced it with an identity.


How good it would be to hear that word, God. How good it would be to be called daughter. 

Will you speak it over me?

Silence every other voice. 

Strip away every other identity. 

Whisper it in the dark until I believe. 

23: Who Jesus Says We Are: Redeemed

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetAt least twenty of my twenty-three years have been spent going to church. I knew about Jesus from the time I was a toddler, and gave him my heart at the tender age of five. Unlike so many millennials, I never looked back or considered taking a different path. And I was good. I never got in trouble at school, was part of lots of extracurricular activities, sang solos at church, watched the babies in the nursery, didn't go to parties, didn't have sex, and didn't take part in anything that was illegal. In 2009, I graduated from high school and immediately went to a small liberal arts Bible college an hour away from my hometown. I was so good. I don't tell you those pieces of my story to puff myself up in any way, but just to let you know that on the outside, I'm a champion at looking like I've got it all together. I've even managed to convince myself a time or two by actively ignoring the upheaval and mess behind the scenes.

Yeah, I said it. I am a mess. If you need proof, see here, here, and here.

What I failed to mention in that tiny paragraph is that even though I might look good on the outside, I miss the mark of righteousness on a daily basis.

I have lied, cheated, stolen, abused, gossiped, taken for granted, and wasted.

I have chosen anxiety when offered peace, and I have chosen depression, self-loathing, and self-pity when offered joy.

In my haste to be loved by you, I have said thank you, but no thank you to the Lover of my soul.

If you've spent your life as a good girl, I know that you get this. But maybe you haven't spent your life as a good girl. Maybe you've spent your time living in what might be seen as rebellion. Maybe you've made some bad choices, and even though those things seemed to be fun at the time, you're wondering now if someone could ever love you or see you as a whole person. Maybe you bear the weight of those decisions, and you wonder how you can keep carrying it alone. Maybe it was back in high school and college, or maybe it was last week.

Regardless of what sort of circumstances you've come from or are facing today, we all bend under the heaviness of this life. We are, each of us, prone to wander.

We search for quick solutions, hasty cover-ups in lieu of turning towards the patiently wooing Savior. We've been doing it since the dawn of time.

What I find so amazing about the Garden narrative is God's response to Adam and Eve's sin. When the Almighty enters the Garden, He knows exactly what has taken place even before man and woman admit their wrongdoing. He knows exactly where they are, and instead of storming in to shout, He quietly asks a question: where are you? 

Where are you? I love you. I want to be with you. 

See, He knew when He created us that we would fall short. And yet, He infinitely loves and relentlessly pursues our hearts.

He knew when He created us that He would send Christ to hit the mark in our stead.

He lived a perfect life and died so I wouldn't have to. He made a way for me to return to the Father.

Redemption has always been at work.

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And when we ask, He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us.

That heaviness we carry? We are free to exchange it for His grace.

I got to help lead a girl to Christ in our church's youth group last night. Our pastor had given the salvation message and read about taking up our crosses daily to follow Christ. I told her that sometimes daily is an understatement. In fact, most days I have to take up my cross at least hourly.

I told her how much this good girl who has been reared inside the walls of a church needs Jesus every minute of every day, and how Jesus is so faithful to meet me -- even in my pain. Even in the middle of the messes I make when I make the wrong decisions. Even in the messes that other people make that may very well alter the course of my life.

I told her that He is the Redeemer, and that even though those painful parts of the story are always going to be there, they have been made new. They have been healed. And even though we don't know or understand it at the time, He is always preparing us for something beautiful.



The Conversation Starts Here: 

How have you seen Jesus redeem the broken pieces of your testimony?

How can I pray for you today?

{Leave your questions + answers + thoughts in the comments below.}



Some Fine Print:

This is the twenty-third of thirty-one installments to be posted throughout the month of October. To view the entire table of contents as it is made available, click here. You can receive the entire series in your inbox for free by subscribing via email (no spam, just my heart by way of weblog). Please feel free to pass these words along to a friend. Sharing is caring!

22: Who Jesus Says We Are -- Chosen

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetI waited with anxious anticipation to hear back from the website after I submitted my piece. Though it was the first time I had ever ventured onto this limb, I thought that I had put my best foot forward, and that surely the guest post coordinator would find my words to be meaningful enough to share. A couple weeks later, much to my dismay, I received an email saying that my piece had not been chosen. Several months after, I interviewed for a new job and received a similar email, stating that the company had decided to hire someone else.

Needless to say, rejection is not a pleasant feeling.  I felt like kid who didn't get picked for the kickball team or invited to the sleepover. My mind wandered back to the days in high school that I would eat lunch alone. More than likely, there were also a few tears and a pint of frozen yogurt tossed in for good measure.

There are days where we all feel like the little kid in the back, jumping up and down and waving her hand wildly, craving to be picked. We all desire for our hearts to be contended for, our work to be noticed, our gifts to be celebrated. Even the most cynical of us, deep down, just wants to be chosen.

The funny thing is, despite the fact that I am painfully introverted and radically aware of my parameters, I want to be chosen for everything. I want to be picked to give the message, head up the group, have my work featured, my passions in the spotlight. Even though I know I am not able to do everything, I still want to be in the running to be asked. Perhaps it is God's grace that my name does not show up on every short list.

Truthfully, in all of my haste and busyness, I often find it difficult to choose Him. Truthfully, its difficult sometimes to just let Him choosing me be sufficient.

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. -- John 15:16 ESV

I fear that when we choose to fill our schedules beyond the brim and fail to slow down in our quest to find fulfillment, we miss the fruit-filled opportunities that God has chosen for us. 

In what often looks like an effort to showcase ourselves, we neglect the divine appointments set before us to showcase God --

the God who sees us and intimately knows us and accepts us just as we are, the God who ordained us before the beginning of time to share His appeal of grace and mercy and love with the world.

What on earth could we be chosen for here in this life that could possibly outweigh the glory of that?

Of course, these divine appointments don't always seem very glorious. In fact, I dare say that most of the time, they seem like interruptions and inconveniences in our lives. They require an often uncomfortable shift of our attention.

I imagine it was this way when the Samaritan man stumbled upon a Jewish man who had been the victim of a mugging. Don't you know it cost him something to tend to that man's needs? Don't you know that other people probably didn't get it? But that's the point of it all. When we are willing to sacrifice our schedules, our treasures, our time here on this earth, we are able to make room for those very things that God created us for.

He chose us for far more than a kickball game, and He pursues us with an unrelenting love, asking us to choose Him back. Choose Him back and experience the crazy, life altering beauty that is His kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.

The Conversation Starts Here: 

Share about a time that you were not chosen. How did it affect you?

Share an instance when you were interrupted by a divine appointment. What was the outcome?

{Leave your questions + answers + thoughts in the comments below.}



Some Fine Print:

This is the twenty-second of thirty-one installments to be posted throughout the month of October. To view the entire table of contents as it is made available, click here. You can receive the entire series in your inbox for free by subscribing via email (no spam, just my heart by way of weblog). Please feel free to pass these words along to a friend. Sharing is caring!

21: Who Jesus Says We Are: Approved & Accepted

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetThe headlines scroll at an ever faster pace. Another child has been bullied to death, for something as simple as liking a certain cartoon. A hilarious and talented celebrity is found dead, and in the days following, his inner battle is revealed. These are the extremes, but if we get down to the heart of the matter, we all have parts of ourselves that we fear others won't accept. When we live in a world that expects us to cram ourselves into the preferred mold, it becomes all too easy to believe that we won't be approved or accepted if we are vulnerable in showing others who we really are. It becomes deadly. We're taught from the very beginning to pick out the thing that is different, and that you have to be strong and tough and not rock the boat too much. Perhaps we are simply caught up in the natural progression, because as adults, we see the same scenarios playing out in politics, in elementary schools, in Hollywood, and in churches. We learn swiftly to leave our eccentricities and our messy parts at the door, and fall in line with the expectations of society to be the funny one, the smart one, the easy going one, the one that has it all together. And more often than not, if our messiness does find the light of day, we're identified as the messy or imperfect one. But the truth is, these molds only make it more difficult to be our true, multi-faceted selves.

We learn to gauge whether or not we are lovable by how well we can meet the standards of other people. We learn to be afraid. We learn to hide. Even in our relationship with God.

I've heard countless stories, from Christians and non-Christians alike, about feeling like they have to have everything together before they can approach the throne of grace. Perhaps you have heard them, too. Stories about needing to get their marriage right, quit a bad habit, make the right grades, you name it.

Even the things that aren't perceived as inherently negative can often feel like too much of a risk to bring up.

I wrote, back on day thirteen, that we struggle with the idea of being known, and how scripture says that God knows us so intimately that they very number of hairs on our heads are counted.

For the most part, its easy to believe that God loves us. He's God -- He is love. But it is so much more difficult to believe that He actually likes our quirks and eccentricities, to believe that He takes us just as we are.

Not in spite of our perceived inadequacies or weaknesses, but because of them. Not because of our own strength or abilities, but because of the work of Christ on the cross. Because when we bring our whole selves to the altar, God is able to do infinitely more than we could ask or imagine. Not only does He expand His kingdom in our hearts as individuals, but He expands His kingdom in the world.

My friend Aliza shared a verse on this very topic, and is giving away this lovely printable on her blog.


The Conversation Starts Here: 

What is your definition of fitting in? How has it changed as you have grown?

What is something about yourself that you feel prevents you from fitting in?

{Leave your questions + answers + thoughts in the comments below.}



Some Fine Print:

This is the twenty-first of thirty-one installments to be posted throughout the month of October. To view the entire table of contents as it is made available, click here. You can receive the entire series in your inbox for free by subscribing via email (no spam, just my heart by way of weblog). Please feel free to pass these words along to a friend. Sharing is caring!