What God Taught Me About Marriage Taught Me About God

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Easily the most life-changing lesson I’ve learned in the past year is that of commitment. As I’ve written before, commitment is not something I naturally valued. As I look back on the past 18 months, I can see the big, big ways my life has changed and it goes back to this paradigm shift that occurred in my life.

As humans in general and especially as Christians, we build our lives on beliefs and values. However, many times, we don’t live as if what we say we believe is actually true. Instead of exercising faith, we struggle to have it at all. Instead of acting or reacting in the way we always hoped we would, we freak out. We act on what we feel, not what we claim to know. We act on our short-sightedness, not from a place of patience and courage. We like to think that we are in control.

The thing is, we really have little control over the things around us. But we can make commitments – and by doing so create safe places to be, grow, and find reconciliation when we mess up.

When I married my husband, our past experiences had already taught me that life together would not always be easy, and that there would be times I would want to bolt. So when I vowed to stand by him for life, I was telling him that I would not leave him, and that when our romantic love was running on empty, the commitment that I made to him would sustain our marriage. As I’ve heard it said before, “the love does not sustain the commitment – rather, the commitment sustains the love.” My commitment to him is the foundation of our marriage, and the love that we share is a product of that promise that I will not leave him. There is a lot of freedom in that. It means the success of our marriage does not depend on how our hormones are behaving that day or how often I get butterflies when Bryant walks through the door, but rather on the bond we have created through our commitment. This commitment frees us from being ruled by our emotions – and sometimes I have a lot of emotions. The commitment we made allows me to act from what I KNOW, not from how I FEEL.

My relationship with God used to be a roller-coaster as well. When I wouldn’t sit down for a “quiet time” with God for a week, I would experience guilt – like I had stood God up for lunch and we weren’t “good”. When I would mess up – sin – I would get all emotional and distraught and just confuse myself because I was so dramatic. When I wouldn’t “feel” God, I would wane in my faith. A sobering thing started to happen when I began to think about my relationship with God as a COMMITMENT…a simple concept that had been lost on me until I started to walk in out with Bryant. I realized that my relationship with Jesus was a commitment just like my marriage is a commitment – meaning that I act on what I know and what God has promised rather than how I feel.

There are plenty of days I don’t feel like honoring my commitment to follow Jesus’ teachings and to do all the crazy things he claims – love my enemies, show hospitality to strangers, die to my own desires, etc. But If I believe that he offers LIFE that is truly LIFE, I press on to try to carry out that commitment.  I am not pretending I am great at loving my enemies and what not – these things are hard with God and impossible without Him, but I am trying to learn and grow.

Our emotions are a tricky thing. It matters how we feel, but living a life with the aim of avoiding every difficult feeling, either consciously or subconsciously, is not going to get us anywhere. Things are hard, and that’s how we grow. Sometimes our emotions are wrong. Sometimes people say things and we take them the wrong way. Sometimes we read situations wrong. Acting off of these wrong emotions often brings about negative consequences. Sometimes we just need to talk ourselves down. Pick our battles. Let things go. Think about the impact that our words and actions have instead of justifying everything we do by how we were feeling at the time.

My commitment to Bryant doesn’t dissolve when I no longer feel the way I did when I made the commitment. In the same way, my commitment to God is not based on my emotions. I am thankful for the freedom in this good news.


Promise keeping is a powerful means of grace in a time when people hardly depend on each other to remember and live by their word.

A human promise is an awesome reality. When a woman makes a promise, she thrusts her hand into the unpredictable circumstances of her tomorrow and creates an enclave of predictable reality. When a man makes a promise, he creates an island of certainty in a heaving ocean of uncertainty. Can any human act, other than the act of forgiving, be more divine?

(Lewis Smedes)

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A Longing for Shalom

Have you ever wondered what heaven is like? Have you ever longed for it?

When I was a kid I used to think heaven would be a bunch of castles on a cloud made of glass and gold and jewels. The only “jewels” I was familiar with were the ones in my Pretty Pretty Princess game and my mom’s costume jewelry, so in hindsight it was a tacky, tacky place.

Then, someone told me that heaven was where we “worshipped God forever,” so I took that very literally and assumed it meant that we’d stand and sing songs at God while he sat on a throne in front of us. Forever. Which sounded kind of horrible, if I’m being honest.

As an adult, I haven’t thought much about heaven until recently, until I was in a “rut”. “Rut”, for me, this time, can be translated as “I have woken up for five days in a row and carried on with the mindset that I am a general failure of a person.” Dramatic? Yes. True? Mostly.

For the first few days of my “rut” I tried finding perspective and deciding that I was going to “feel better because I should”. Sometimes when I’m feeling a little low, I forget that it can be a struggle to choose joy and thankfulness over “blah”. Being joyful on easy days is simple, but I often forget that being joyful on a difficult day is not a passive process.

Against all logic (You have a great family! Jesus! Great friends! A great job!), I’ll find myself back on the couch again, sinking deeper into a routine that does not feed my soul anything but junk. (Side tangent: Are you in a rut? Stop watching TV. Deactivate your Facebook. Seriously. Go outside. Read. Write. Feed your soul good things.)

During this time, I read Shauna Niequist’s blog post titled “You Are Enough“. In it, she makes the case that each of us is valued because we are created in the image of God. I read that, and decided I didn’t care – decided it just wasn’t “meeting my standard” to be valued equally right along with every other human on Earth (cringe). That didn’t sit well with me, no, I needed to be the best human out there! Sorry Mother Teresa, I’m gunning for your spot. (Someone could write a book on how everything I just said makes me a terrible human, but let’s carry on…)

Seeing such ugliness and self-centeredness in my heart led me to admit there was a deeper issue going on that I needed to get introspective about. Not pollen, not hormones. Sin.

We humans have quite a bit of capacity for good, but our real specialty is taking the good things God gives us and making them cheap and empty with our sin. When I pause to take an honest assessment of myself, I see that this world is not as it should be, and I’m part of the reason it’s not. Sometimes the things I like most about myself turn into the most self-destructive parts of my life. Ambition, for example, can be directed at worthy and purposeful things that I can do heartily unto the Lord. Or, I can get competitive and only think about being better than everyone else around me, which is all about me and completely rejects the Body of Christ God asks us to build up in 2 Corinthians. There are a thousand things that were created for good that we drive to ruin. Consider alcoholism. Consider the commercialization of sex.

From where I sit today, I don’t wonder or care too much about what heaven will look like. Is it even three-dimensional? Will the food be any good? Wait – will we eat? I don’t know much about how I’ll spend my time either, or if “time” will even exist in the way we grasp it now. I doubt it. But I think I can imagine how I’ll feel – whole.

God has given us desires – things we all desire. To love and be loved. To be valued. To be cared for. We all have these desires, and we all try to fulfill them in different ways. More times than I’d like to admit, I turn away from Jesus and what I need and toward something I think I want.

An example: We have the desire to love and be loved, but instead of “considering others better than ourselves” and “bear(ing) one another’s burdens” in deep relationship with each other (a way to healthily fill that desire), we are glued to Social Media. Instead of doing the dirty work of relationship, we want to be admired from afar and show only our “best side”. It’s cheap and empty. It accomplishes the exact opposite of what we really need. It creates distance and removes purpose instead of facilitating love and grace in real relationship.

In one of my favorite teachings of all time, Tim Keller talks about the biblical concept of shalom – universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight.  (Find it here: http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/justice) The idea of shalom is everything in God’s creation weaving together as it should. But we contribute to the breakdown of society when we put ourselves first, he says. We put ourselves first because we desire to be important and valued – and our pride leads us to believe that we aren’t important or valued unless we reach some threshold we’ve created in our minds. I’ll be ________ enough when I ____________.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” – C.S. Lewis

So now when I imagine heaven like this:

A place where I know fully what I sometimes believe on my best days – that I am already loved and valued by God in a way that I cannot acquire anywhere else no matter what I do. I will finally know and operate out of that in full.

I imagine heaven as a place where all the desires of my heart are fulfilled, but not the ugly, sinful desires that pride draws me to.

I imagine heaven as a place where I can enjoy God and others fully because I will see that I AM, in fact, deeply loved, wanted, and valued by my heavenly father. A place where I can finally enjoy the good gifts that a good God wants to give us, without trying to use them for my own selfish gain.

Can you imagine? A place where these desires we try to fill with all the wrong things are finally being filled with all the right things?

Can you imagine the joy? The contentment? Can you imagine the companionship you’ll feel with others when the thought of comparing yourself to them never crosses your mind? Can you imagine the freedom? The things we want on earth – peace, an end to suffering – all becoming true?

“When we look at the whole scope of this story line, we see clearly that Christianity is not only about getting one’s individual sins forgiven so we can go to heaven. That is an important means of God’s salvation, but not the final end or purpose of it. The purpose of Jesus’s coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world. God created both the body and soul, and the resurrection of Jesus shows that he is going to redeem both body and soul. The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world.”

– Tim Keller

I dream of a place where my soul feels at home. I see glimpses of heaven – in the commitment my husband and I share, in the love between my parents and I, in friends who embrace their broken parts and mine too. I used to get freaked out by the idea that I won’t be married in heaven (Matthew 22:30), but this paradigm shift opens up a whole new way of thinking – I now imagine being so satisfied in my desire for love and companionship that nothing will be lost. (I still hope I get to hang out with you in heaven, babe!)

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

So, do I long for heaven? Now I do. Definitely not the formal, stoic “let’s sing at God forever” heaven I used to imagine, but shalom. Every time I see my selfishness, I long for a day when I can fully consider others above myself. Every time I watch the news and my heart breaks for this world, I long for it. Every time a baby is born with no one to care for it, I want Jesus to come back. Every time a child is abused and my stomach turns and my chest tightens, I long for something that I don’t see here, but I believe will come.

I don’t long for heaven in a morbid way, not in eagerness for death. But in eagerness for life. For shalom.

“Has this world been so kind that you should leave with regret? There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” – C.S. Lewis

If you’re looking for purpose, look around.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork,created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Praise God that we are not reconciled to Him by our own efforts – by the “good” things that we do. I cannot imagine a life comparing myself to others, trying to be good “enough”, and the unbelievable rat race that would ensue. Actually, that’s probably exactly what’s happening in the world, which is why so many people are losing their minds in their pursuits of success. But that’s not what I’m writing about today.

I memorized the above verses, Ephesians 2:8-9, as a kid in a scripture memorization class. We were talking about the plan for “salvation” – or, how to be reconciled with God. Somehow, I feel like I always overlooked verse ten. When I was younger, I used to think about God’s “will” for my life as a puzzle that one day I was going to figure out. I remember being so shocked when someone told me that a “blueprint was never going to fall from the sky into (my) lap.” How inconsiderate of God, I thought, to not tell me what I’m supposed to do with my life. I’m doing my best here, right?

We all want our life to count for something. I would like to suggest that we overcomplicate things. If we’re looking for purpose, we should look around. In verse 10, we are reminded that while we are not saved by our “good works”, God delights in giving us opportunities to serve him and serve others. How silly it is that we think our purpose in life is centered around our career, or marriage, or whatever. It’s in everything. We miss God when we look past today and tomorrow to make self-serving plans for a future that we can’t control.

When I look around, I see need everywhere. That is not an exaggeration. I see poor people who lack basic needs. I see addicts who lack freedom (a good moment to note that most of us are addicted to something, whether it’s something “socially acceptable” or not). I see successful people who are spiritually or relationally poor. I see loneliness. I see pain. I see neglected and unloved children. I see my own selfishness and how quick I can be to impatience. I see a God who loves justice, who has prepared good works for his people to do – and a gracious place from which to do them – and I see people (me, you) totally missing it.

I see these things and I see an invitation to come alive. God’s gift of salvation is not just an invitation to skip out on hell. It’s an invitation to live. Our pain is an invitation to experience God, and the pain of others is an invitation to find our God-given purpose in loving, serving, & giving of ourselves. In John 10:10, Jesus says he has come so that we may have “life to the full.” I used to think that was a Carpe Diem kinda thing – sort of a battle cry for adventure and love and all things that are good. Now I think about how the reality of life includes lots of darkness, and being fully alive means embracing the good with the bad – being brave enough to notice the need around us, and using whatever meager resources we may have to help. We will never do this perfectly, but it is important to try.

Looking back on my extraordinary, ordinary life, I wonder how many times I’ve missed out on the “good works” God prepared for me because the opportunities didn’t satisfy my ambitious spirit. I wonder how many opportunities I’ve missed because I thought I was “overqualified” or “above” an act of service. Or too busy. Or to prideful.

I am trying to stop searching for purpose in the extraordinary and explore what it looks like to be simply faithful with what God’s placed in front of me. My peers and I sometimes seem so busy trying to be extraordinary. Maybe what the world needs are ordinary, faithful people who are committed to serving others at the expense of their own ambitions. It will always be a work in progress, I will never arrive, and as soon as I deal with one problem another one will arise. Still, I find so much hope and peace knowing that no matter where I go or what I do vocationally, God will be there, and he will be providing good works for me to carry out. He will be inviting me to come alive no matter my circumstances, no matter my job, no matter whether others see me as successful or not.

And for that I say with confidence, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.”

Growing Up

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Swinging over Edinburgh, Scotland.

9 January 2014

Something is happening to me. I think it might be called growing up.

Right now I’m on a flight from London Heathrow to JFK, rounding out a 12 day holiday in the United Kingdom and Ireland. I’m exactly where I want to be – going home, that is. On Tuesday in a letter to Bryant, I wrote the following:

“We are on the bus from Cork to Galway and I’m a little homesick. Homesick isn’t actually the right word – I’m not afraid, bored, feeling trapped, or any sort of lonely. Rather, I’m thinking about what’s at home and knowing it’s so much better than what I see here.“

Many things in life are a matter of perspective, and mine has been shifting. I love this quote that my friend Jennie posted recently – “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” (Miriam Beard). That has certainly been true in my travel experiences, and the situations I’ve found myself in over the years have given me perspective, new theological questions, a deeper sense of humility, sympathy and understanding for different ways of life, and an appreciation for culture. I also love the thrill of exploring a new place and meeting new people – it’s like a breath of fresh air in my lungs and can be addicting, really. At times the world has seemed bigger – so many people to meet, countries to visit, and things to learn. At other times, the world has seemed smaller – similar physical and emotional needs across cultures, improbable connections with strangers, and how quickly a location and people group can find a place in your heart.

However, in our culture and in my own life, I’ve seen a growing trend of “wanderlust” that is often just thinly veiled discontent. Travel and adventure, seizing the day and being free can often be a popular way to run from hard work, from commitment, and from investment – anything hard, permanent, or taxing. Lately, I am beginning to realize a few things…

It is my duty to be a responsible citizen.

I am almost 23 years old. I am an adult. Although somewhat true of our entire lives, something is certainly true now – my generation is beginning to have real responsibility for the world and all the good and bad that comes with it. We are moving from 22 years of education into a more tangible place of responsibility. In the truest sense, it is up to us to take that responsibility seriously. It is time for me to learn – really learn – how to take care of money; how to be a good steward of what I’ve been given and how to practice generosity. It is time for me to learn to see and meet need. Maybe you are way ahead of me and your paradigm shifted when you were sixteen – I thank God for you. But for me, although I was learning and doing important things in college, most of it felt like a practice run of sorts.

Life is changing.

I think I grew up subconsciously thinking that even though I was getting older, my parents and grandparents were always the same. As I looked forward to turning sixteen, eighteen, twenty-one, I only thought about myself and the excitement that becoming a young adult would bring. Then one day I looked over at my little brother and he was six feet tall. My Mammaw was taken last October by cancer. And the friends that I grew up with and love dearly are getting married, moving away, having children. Life doesn’t slow down for anyone. And we don’t have much time together. “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” – James 4:14. We hear it all the time, don’t we – “Life is short.” But isn’t it? I wonder sometimes what my life would’ve been like if I’d taken a different road. It might sound silly, but I wonder occasionally what my life would look like today if, instead of selling my horse and focusing on sports in high school, I would’ve continued to make horseback riding my first priority. I’ll never know. What a strange thing it is, to live. We spend so much time trying to manage the opinions of others; so much energy trying to build our own wealth, popularity, and status and it’s so insignificant. We try to be perfect and drive ourselves crazy doing so, but don’t realize we’ll never get there because everyone’s standard of perfection looks a little different – you just can’t please everyone.

I’m here – I’m a college graduate looking into the great unknown, even though my “unknown” may have a few more pieces in place than many others in my position. I am getting married in June and moving to Charlotte. I am living in a little green house with a red door. But I’m here and I feel the pressure – the pressure to make a lot of money, the pressure to be independent and successful, the pressure to be beautiful and intelligent and well-traveled. And I feel myself pushing back against it all, asking, “Why?” “What is the point?”

As I begin this new chapter of life, there are lots of things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to be so all over the place that I can’t truly “do life” with the people I need and people who need me. I’ll always be adventurous, but I don’t want to idolize the pursuit of the next-best-thing. The past four years of my life I’ve traveled so much and been involved in so much that i’s been hard for me to truly, deeply invest anywhere. I don’t want to settle into a 9-5 job and making crock pot dinners for my hot and holy husband every night, totally insulated from the world around me. I want to dig in. I want to be ready to see and meet the need around me. I want my home to be a place that is known for having an open door and my table to be a place where full, life-giving conversations happen. I do not want to be tempted to find security for my future in false places – everything that is not from God can be taken away in an instant. Instead, I want to experience God more deeply by living life in a way that makes faith – the sense of trust in God’s provision – necessary. I want to be aware of my dependence on God. I don’t want my faith to be myopic and overly introspective – instead I want to life in the belief that I cannot “grow in faith by sitting alone and trying to flex my faith muscles…but by putting myself in situations that require faith.” (to paraphrase Jim Martin in The Just Church).

This whole post has been a stream of consciousness. I’m not sure that there is a thesis that can wrap up what I’m trying to say, and these thoughts are a product of studying scripture (Ecclesiastes, Isaiah 58, Luke 12), reading several books, and musings from the journey that God has me on. I think part of this is an urging to look at yourself and the motivations that lie behind your actions. Do you serve others? If so, why? Is it to look good to the folks you want to impress? Is it to feel good about yourself? Or is it truly from a benevolent and selfless place that is focused on the need of others? I admit that throughout my life, many of my motivations have been from a selfish place.

Are you filling your time by pursuing things that have no eternal significance? Do you romanticize travel and adventure to the point that they are idols in your life – things you do not to better understand the picture that God has painted with humanity, but rather to look and feel cool and adventurous and free?  Do you go on mission trips and have intense emotional experiences about the depravity and suffering present in our world, but make yourself a hypocrite by insulating yourself from the suffering and pain that is close by you in your hometown? I did for a long time; sometimes I still do.

Sometimes in the Christian life it is hard to find the balance between giving, giving, giving, and finding the freedom to experience joy and have fun. I find this commentary from JI Packer on the book of Ecclesiastes helpful:

“Fear God and keep his commandments; trust and obey him, reverence him, worship him, be humble before him, never say more than you mean and will stand to when you pray to him; do good, remember that God will someday take account of you, so eschew, even in secret, things of which you will be ashamed when they come to light at God’s assizes. Live in the present and enjoy it thoroughly; present pleasures are God’s good gifts. Though Ecclesiastes condemns flippancy, he clearly has no time for the super spirituality which is too proud or too pious ever to laugh and have fun. Seek grace to work hard at whatever life calls you to do and enjoy your work as you do it. Leave to God its issues, let him measure its ultimate worth – your part is to use all the good sense and enterprise at your command in exploiting the opportunities that are before you. This is the way of wisdom.”

When tuning out means tuning in.

If you’re a 20-something and you’re on Facebook (is that redundant?) it’s likely that you’ve laid eyes on a dozen or more links that read something like this:

– 20 Things 20-Somethings Don’t Get

– 50 Things All 20-Somethings Should Know

– 10 Most Important Lessons for 20-Something Workers

This list goes on and on. These lists exist because there is demand for them, and therefore, the supply rises to meet me and my peers who are, as the internet seems to define us, wanderlust-y idealists who are facing unmet expectations.

This may be true of some of us. This may be true of a lot of us. I’ve read a lot of articles like these and will readily admit that they often contain great advice. I welcome advice. But I’m starting to have a problem with all these articles, and here’s why:

You are, I am, we are – unique individuals with a unique story. As young people who are largely inexperienced, we need all the advice and help we can get. However, I  begin to worry when we allow strangers who know nothing about us and nothing about our stories heavily influence our decisions. As Christians, God asks us to work hard (Colossians 3:23),  and to seek counsel from “many advisers”(Proverbs 15:22), but 2 Corinthians 5:7 also reminds us that we are to “walk by faith, not by sight.”

If we gather anything from reading about some of the Bible’s most compelling characters, we see that God often leads his followers down crazy, unexpected roads. He works in what seem to us to be strange, even nonsensical ways. But God is in the business of redeeming stories. One great example is Joseph, who was sold into slavery by his own brothers as a young child. That’s a rough start. God ends up using Joseph to save all of Israel and Egypt from a horrible famine (see: Genesis chapters 30-50). That’s a good ending.

So am I saying that horrible circumstances (i.e. being sold into slavery) means that you’re on the fast track to be second in command in Egypt? No. I’m saying that YOU DON’T KNOW – that you can’t predict the future – and that it would be unwise to find a false sense of security and a hollow sense of worth in how well  your story fits nicely into the “20-Something To-Do Box.”

You are a unique individual with a unique story. Censor this internet advice through that lens. If you don’t make it to the 20 places to travel in your 20s and all that jazz, you are not defined by what you have or have not done. Sometimes we have too many voices in our head and it makes it impossible to think clearly, know what we actually want, and hear from God. Lots of good , well-meaning advice can lead to confusion and indecision.

What if tuning in really means tuning out – tuning out all the expectations of who we’re supposed to be as defined by our culture, the media…anyone who is not God. Seek counsel, but seek it from those who know you and your heart, your skills, your abilities, and your dreams. Have real dialogue with people you trust. Work hard. Read your Bible, soak in what God says is true. Seek a meaningful life that takes into account family, friends, career, and spirituality.

“I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer. You are yourself the answer. Before your face questions die away. What other answer would suffice?”
― C.S. Lewis

Decisions about life and the future.

“I have no idea what I’m doing with my life.”

THAT is the most common phrase I hear from people my age. We are early twenty-somethings who are making big-kid decisions for the first time. We want everything and are therefore paralyzed from moving toward anything. Our lives have consisted of school, then more school, then more school. For many of us, our biggest decisions have been about romantic relationships or how to spend our precious summer months. All of a sudden it’s time to walk down a career path, talk about marriage, and to step out of parental co-dependence into a world that is much less structured and kind. My intention is not to downplay the difficult decisions that many of us make during our adolescent years, because they certainly seem (and may very well be) huge when we’re faced with them. However, this new season of independence is equally liberating and terrifying. Here is what I think God has to say about it:

Find your identity in Jesus.

I will say that I am pretty okay with the future. For the most part, it doesn’t freak me out too much lately. But there are days – times when I get lost in thought about all the things I want to do, and I go into a manic job-application binge. During these times, I spend an hour on indeed.com feeling frustrated and thinking that I will be a boring old lady with nothing to offer the world. I worry about my ability to get my foot in the door somewhere; to be in a place that facilitates upward mobility and gets me closer to my ”dream job.” I worry that I will get stuck somewhere and that I won’t ever travel again, won’t ever have a thriving career, or will be miserable doing menial work for my entire life. I wonder if I’ll have children and have trouble prioritizing them over my career. I was thinking on this yesterday and all of a sudden I realized a common theme in my thoughts.

Me.

Me…my career, my success, my life, and ultimately my identity and my worth.

This is an ugly realization. Many of the things I want to do in life are careers that allow me to ”help” other people in tangible ways. I am interested in social justice, cross-cultural  relations, religious freedom, humanitarian aid, and poverty alleviation. So how do I get off making those things about me? If someone else told me that they approached these worthy causes with such selfish ambitions and motivations, I would think they were a horrible, selfish person. But it is the truth that rears its ugly head from the depths of my heart when my fears start churning.

So I am faced with a truth. I am a selfish person. I am never enough and no matter what I do, it will never be ”enough.” I rarely meet the expectations I have for myself, and when I do meet them outwardly, my motivations are often tainted by some remnant of pride. I look around and see the amazing things that others are doing and I rarely measure up in comparison. I lose perspective. I get bitter.

Then I remember what God says about me. That I am so very ordinary in my human-ness, but of extraordinary worth in the eyes of God. That my identity is not found in what I do, but in whom I belong to.

”You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” – 1 Corinthians :11

This is my identity in Christ. I am washed clean. In Christ, I have been brought to fullness. (Colossians 2:10). I look at this nifty list and remember that my life is not my own: Storyline Blog – my identity in Christ. Go Donald Miller.

I remember that I was bought with a price (Jesus’ life and death and life) and that God has saved me from a life that is all about ME. He has saved me by his grace through my faith in Jesus, not because of anything I’ve done. And he has prepared good works for me to do – also not about ME. He has asked me to think about myself less so I have more time to love and serve others.  Hear ye Christians, please do not raise money to go on a mission trip as an excuse to travel. Please do not lead a Bible study so you can look cool and spiritual. Please do not apply for NGO jobs because they are hip and trendy and you want to be hip and trendy. Please DO all of the aforementioned things with a pure and humble heart. The people around you need you and the love that you can offer them because of the love extended to you, by God, through Jesus.

So when you’re making decisions, join me in trying to think less about yourself and more about honoring God and serving people. I have a lot of work to do in this area. What will benefit society as a whole? What will reconcile people to each other and to God? What will help people have their basic needs met?

The conventional wisdom of today tells us that true happiness comes in the freedom to pursue whatever we want whenever we want. In my life, that eventually manifested itself as an inability to commit to anything, extreme indecisiveness, and the worst case of wanderlust you’ve ever seen. That is not freedom, it’s slavery to a life and to desires that are all about ME. Take my word for it, or don’t, and spend your entire life searching the world looking for the next best thing.

Now read as Tim Keller puts my thoughts into more eloquent words than I could ever hope to:

1. Put your heart’s deepest trust in God and his grace. Every day remind yourself of his unconditioned, covenantal love for you. Do not instead put your hopes in idols or in your own performance.

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart.” (Proverbs 3:3-5a)

2. Submit your whole mind to Scripture. Don’t think you know better than God’s word. Bring it to bear on every area of life. Become a person under authority.

“Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5b-6)

3. Be humble and teachable toward others. Be forgiving and understanding when you want to be critical of them; be ready to learn from others when they come to be critical of you.

“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:7-8)

4. Be generous with all your possessions, and passionate about justice. Share your time, talent, and treasure with those who have less.

“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)

5. Accept and learn from difficulties and suffering. Through the gospel, recognize them as not punishment, but a way of refining you.

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:10-11)

As I meditated on these five elements–rooted in his grace, obeying and delighting in his Word, humble before other people, sacrificially generous toward our neighbor, and steadfast in trials–I thought of Jesus.

The New Testament tells us that the personified ‘divine wisdom’ of the Old Testament is actually Jesus.

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:19)

And I realized that:

a) Jesus showed the ultimate trust and faithfulness to God and to us by going to the cross,

b) Jesus was saturated with and shaped by Scripture,

c) Jesus was meek and lowly in heart

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30),

d) Jesus, though rich, became poor for us,

e) and he bore his suffering, for us, without complaint. We can only grow in these five areas if you know you are saved by costly grace. That keeps you from idols, from self-sufficiency and pride, from selfishness with your things, and from crumbling under troubles. Jesus is wisdom personified, and believing his gospel brings these character qualities into your life.

Perfect Moments

As far as this blog goes, I have struggled to know how to share my experiences this summer. Many of them have been profound but are still being worked out in my mind, others are too personal to share, and still others feel personally significant but not worth sharing. Today I was at my IJM desk reading an article that spoke of perfect moments. The author described these moments as “experiences shared with others when time stands still.” My mind immediately flashed to the movie The Sandlot, where Benny and Smalls are running to play baseball on the 4th of July and stop to stare at the fireworks as America the Beautiful plays. They’re captivated by the moment and, as silly as it sounds, I always get chills thinking about it.

When I read this, I realized the best way to share my summer with you was through snapshots of these perfect moments. Times when phones have been unplugged and hearts have been wide open. There have been so many in the 35 days that I’ve been here, and I don’t doubt that there will be many more.

1. Day one of IJM orientation. Gary Haugen is delivering the most compelling word on God’s heart for justice from Exodus 3. He speaks of what it looks like for someone to live in the absence of fear and shows us videos of Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King, Jr. Mother Teresa is feisty and arguing with some men about her determination to bring aid to Lebanon and carefully addressing the needs of disabled orphans in Calcutta. “I have found the paradox,” she says, “that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only love.”

Martin Luther King Jr. on the day before his death – “Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will…So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.” I’m in a dark room full of strangers and we’re all crying. I’m overwhelmed with the opportunity I’ve been afforded to be here this summer. A perfect moment.

2. Our commissioning ceremony at the end of IJM Orientation. All headquarters staff plus 80 new interns, fellows, and employees gather in a small conference room to celebrate new beginnings. It’s a rite of passage and I can’t wait to start working. We sing, take communion together, and thank God for the opportunity to partner with him in what he wants to do through IJM. We sing together and are individually prayed over by our mentors. I pause and know that I’m standing in one of the most anointed workplaces on planet earth. A perfect moment.

3. A regular night on the town that turned nostalgic. Colin, Taylor and I head to the district of Adams-Morgan and laugh about how in the world three people from Elizabethton have somehow ended up in D.C. together. Colin and I have been best friends since 7th grade and Taylor was his college roommate. We reminisce, as always. We go to buy THE LARGEST pieces of pizza you’ve ever seen in your life and our conversation digresses into hilarious laughter as we people watch from bar stools and drip grease all over ourselves. I’m feeling as young and free and happy as I’ve ever been. A perfect moment.

4. A sunset drive over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Myself, my friend Laura, and her sister Lynne are driving back to D.C. after a day at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware. We’re salty, sandy, sunburnt, and full of coconut shrimp + crab bruschetta. The air conditioning doesn’t work in Laura’s car so we have all the windows down, our hair is wild, and we have country music blaring into the open air. The Bay Bridge is a two-mile arc over the water and the sun is setting, so I’m singing my lungs out and driving into the sky that’s on fire. A perfect moment.

5. The Hungarian Dance Barn. Colin and I meet up to explore the National Mall on Independence Day. We’re walking around checking out the Folk Life festival, which (from what I gather) is a celebration of endangered cultures and languages. We turn the corner and see a big circular wooden structure full of screaming, stomping people so we weave our way right into the middle. I spend the next twenty minutes trying to keep up as a tall, lanky, foreign man leads all of us in these crazy, loud, FUN line dances. It is sweatier than senior prom and therefore verifiably the sweatiest day of my life. Afterwards we get Lebanese food from a food truck and pineapples from hispanic ladies on the street corner and spend the next twenty minutes trying to guess the names of people walking by (we’re yelling names at people). We make a bet that whoever gets a name right first has to buy smoothies. We both lose so we both buy smoothies. So we both win? A perfect moment.

6. July 4th Fireworks. I’m on the roof of a huge house and have a 360 view of all the fireworks in the city. The sun has already set, it’s 75 degrees and breezy, and I’m surrounded by all the DC people I’ve come to love. I’m sitting cross-legged on a ledge but have the urge to stand on the corner of the roof, so I climb up and spread my arms out, laughing at the house next to us where people are screaming and dancing to “Party in the USA”. Dozens of fireworks light up the sky and fire trucks rush around trying to manage what I’m sure are plenty of firework accidents. I take it all in and consciously decide to never forget the moment. It’s perfect.