Friday, October 30, 2009

An Exercise in Remembering

I have yet to meet a person who claims to be unchanged from a ten years ago. In even a year -- a span of time both incredibly long on the morning of January 1st and then shockingly short the evening of December 31st -- or less, most people would probably agree that they are not the same as they were before. It kind of goes without saying.

But lately I've really been thinking about how I have changed, especially over the past year. It seems like college has really concentrated the maturing juices that I'm marinating in. Nothing really happened to start this period of introspection, exactly, but I began to notice little things in my everyday life that caused me to step back and think for a second.

I didn't used to pay much attention to people around me when I'm walking. I tend to get into this zone when I'm on my way somewhere; you'll notice that I sort of snap out of a trance if you get my attention while I'm en route. My eyes are usually glued to the path I'm taking. In fact, people kind of make fun of how I walk pretty fast and appear to be on a mission at all times. What can I say? I don't waste time!

At some point, though, I started to look at people that pass me by. I realize that most people do this, and that I am some kind of oddball, because they are all looking at me when I'm looking at them, haha. I wouldn't say that I've ever been afraid of people I don't know, exactly, but I sure was not interested in really getting to know anyone new. I felt like they all had to be on their own missions, interested in things that I wouldn't understand or care about, just like I was zoned in on my own unique stuff.

In a nutshell, I was content sharing those little parts of my life with only a few other people, and letting the rest of the world alone on my part.

Now, before I continue on this tangent, I need to backtrack a bit, so bear with me. Clean the little slate in your head before reading on so you can be fresh for this prelude.

Wipe it off!

I don't think I've ever told any version of my life's story on here, so let me paint for you an image of where I come from. I was born in Fairhope, Alabama to a preacher. Sounds like the beginning of something like O Brother, Where Art Thou?, doesn't it? It's all true, though. I am blessed enough to have been born into a family that was founded on Christ, so that I would be brought up knowing God. I was quite a scholar of tales from the big fun color illustration bible (the translation is also known as the BFCIV). There are home videos of my parents trying to get me to recite the books of the bible in order on video tape for the camera, which I wouldn't do, but rest assured that I knew those things backwards and forwards.

However, this isn't one of those stories where a kid at six years old walks down to the front of the church to be saved. I don't remember a time where I didn't know who God was, and have a list of things in my head that I believed about Him, but there are many years in my memory where all of that was in a little box in my brain that had absolutely nothing to do with how I acted or lived. I was a well-behaved kid for the most part, but for the selfish reason of not wanting to get into trouble or be a disappointment. More than anything, I wanted people to be happy with me, and predicated all my satisfaction on that goal.

Circumstances did not really help change this way of thinking as I grew up. The church we went to when I was in elementary school began to feel a lot less like a place of fellowship and a lot more like a place of condemnation. I was too young to be filled in on the details of what was really going on, but suffice it to say that it was bad enough for my family to leave. We were without a church that felt like a home for quite a while. My parents would do a lesson and such in our living room on Sunday mornings, but to be honest, I was not very interested in hearing them teach me when video games and TV shows were on in just the next room.

Not being invested in anything spiritual really set me up for a bad time in middle school. I was such a people-pleaser. I blindly agreed with friends on almost anything, backing them up when I knew they were wrong, siding with some of them in arguments only to go sympathize with the people they were arguing with! I didn't get too extreme with the whole pressure to fit in, but I would cuss like nobody's business and make lewd jokes -- habits that unfortunately haven't gone completely away. If someone I wanted to impress was gossiping or making fun of someone else, of course I would join in.

I just wanted people to like me.

Even after finding a church that I loved (and still do!), this whole mindset dominated my life. My day-to-day existence was focused solely on how I could be pleasing to others. This sounds good -- who would object to a nice person? -- but it was far more than that. I bent over way backwards to the point of despair, if only to be temporarily quenched by a smile or a nod. I obsessed over my appearance, picking myself to pieces in the mirror every morning so that I would be attractive to someone. I slaved over homework and studied to get A's so that I would be intelligent to someone. I laughed at this and enjoyed that so that I would be agreeable to someone. You get the picture. I put my happiness in guys, friends, teachers, whoever would look at all my stress and toil to give me three words of affirmation. That would be enough.

Until I needed more.

It's an addiction like any other, but it takes the shape of so many different things that they pile up, one on top of the other, until you are absolutely buried in expectations that you feel the compulsive need to meet. I didn't understand that no one could ever show me my own worth enough for my satisfaction. I struggled with this for years and it left me with crippling moments of loneliness and worthlessness at times. Sometimes I wonder if it's actual depression or not. That isn't really the point. I just knew that this was not how life was meant to be lived. It's a broken record.

A lot more angst and prayer and thinking went into this, but suffice it to say that the summer before my freshman year of college, I did make the conscious decision to follow the cross. All that was just an interesting little shelf of ideas in my brain became my daily reality. Besides truly wanting to learn more about God and grow constantly in understanding, I found myself in a whole new community of believers, one that is not satisfied with skin-deep friendships where you're asked how life is going with the expectation of a one word answer. That's not enough. You really get to know other people's hearts. The more I learned about everyone's pasts, lives, personalities, struggles, I did find a common denominator that I had not really acknowledged before: we all go through that search for love.

We're all the same deep inside, and while that need manifests itself in different ways, you bet that we all turn to things other than God for the same reasons.

If you can stand it, this is where the story comes back to my original point. I had chosen before my walk with Christ not to care so much about other people's lives. People I didn't know were not very important or interesting to me, and I didn't even care to delve much deeper than the surface with people I'd known for years, really. I think I just didn't believe that we all had something in common throbbing in our innermost beings.

But I dare you to find someone who isn't quietly, desperately pursuing love and acceptance. Ask a girl who wears almost nothing in hopes that someone will gawk at her body, showing her some iota of value. Ask a guy who is lying on the bathroom floor, having drunk way too much in order to impress some friends that don't really care about him. Ask even a quiet guy sitting in the library, dutifully reading book after book to get an A on a test so that he can hold that up as proof that he means something in a world as big as this. Anything that we are so attentive to -- idols, dreams, ambitions -- is to prove to ourselves that we have value and that we can earn love with this value.

Realizing that everyone experiences that put them in an entirely new light. Instead of seeing person after person walking past me on the sidewalk, I see individuals who are thirsting for evidence that they're loved. It goes without saying that I believe they are, and would be thrilled by nothing more than being able to share the source of the love I know.

A simple smile at strangers passing by is a start.

Having prayed for a soft heart, the Lord's hands feel more gentle as they reshape my heart every day. My appreciation for what He has done for me grows, and my desire to share that with others becomes more passionate and joyful.

If he can do all this in a year, I can find no words to show how excited I am to see His handiwork in a lifetime.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Every Nation, Tribe, and Tongue

Tonight is just what the inventor of the "wake up call" must have anticipated at the time of its creation, hoping that it would hit big all these years later and still make an impact.

In other words, God's plan does indeed go for your gut, and it packs a wallop like none other.

I had the privilege of hearing a very interesting man speak. A man named Yun, a meek-looking guy from China, who has actually been through a lot more than his optimistic smile and energetic voice would let on. I can't say I've met many people who have been tortured and thrown in prison multiple times for what they believe in -- especially to speak about it later on with encouragement in their eyes.

My little imagination can hardly conjure up an idea of how grim it must be to languish away in a prison cell in China, a country so mysterious and shrouded in difficult history. I knew reports already of what happened to people who were caught sharing the gospel and worshiping there, but it was something different to see one of these people face-to-face. I especially didn't think there was any way that he could look so whole, satisfied, and healed, despite the horrific memories he must have gone through.

An anecdote to illustrate my point: he was in a building with other Chinese Christians, secretly holding an underground church meeting. Suddenly, the police came in and started handcuffing everyone in sight, arresting them for worshiping the Lord. He started to call out to others nearby to encourage them to try and escape, since there's no reason to run into the hands of persecutors if you can. He backed into the wall and leapt out a window at least 2 stories off the ground -- only to land on about 30 police officers that happened to be waiting outside, which he didn't know about.

If you've ever felt like a sheep in a pack of wolves, this story might humble it.

To backtrack a little bit, before he came on, there were actually these three guys who rapped for a little while, which was pretty cool because I've never heard anyone rap for the sake of the gospel before. It sounds silly maybe to some people but seeing this in person really encouraged me that every kind of person in this world can be driven to fall in love with Jesus and be compelled to show that love however possible. What the main rapper said really prodded at my heart and embedded into my brain: "I have a hard time imagining standing before God on judgment day and Him telling me, 'You know, you were too radical down there. You didn't need to be all that radical about Me. Look at this guy, here; he just scraped by with a normal life and he's still here.'"

We can all agree that if anything, it would please the Lord of the Universe that we were enthralled enough by His love and mercy to go do crazy things so that other people might experience it too. And the word 'please' could be an understatement.

Brother Yun might attest that if having your legs broken and crushed, and being thrown into jail four times isn't radical, nothing really is.

Yet because of people like him, 130 million Chinese people are now followers of Christ. He has staked his life on the sacrifice of the Son of God, and his own life is not worth keeping if it could be lost in the struggle to bring more people to the Kingdom. The Chinese church is now sending missionaries to the Middle East and Central Asia to spread the good news even further, because they would rather it not be contained. Instead of leaving their repressive country to find a safe haven to worship God, they would rather go somewhere even darker and put their energy into seeing other people come to confess faith in Christ despite the dangers.

I have never wanted to want God to take my fears and desires away unless they honor Him so much in my life. I don't want to love life on this earth more than seeing more people know God. I don't want to love my things, my status, my relationships, my pride, my anything more than my Savior and what He wants for me. My prayer is that He does that, and that I will gladly let Him take me where I need to be and teach me to lean on Him alone in times of trouble.

Before tonight, I had heard of this crazy idea about being given "strength in the moment." It sounded pretty reasonable: you may go into a perilous situation without the courage and endurance to withstand the potential suffering, but at the very moment when strength is needed. the Holy Spirit will intercede and make you able to stand up for the Lord. I like this idea but it's still not easy to take that step out of your comfort zone where this possibility may or may not help you. But just to hear that when Yun felt the Lord telling him to just walk out of a high-security Chinese prison, despite hesitating and arguing internally for a while, he finally took steps towards his cell door, to find that another prisoner friend had unlocked it, and that every gate he came to was unlocked and unguarded. When he exited the prison, plenty of guards were outside as they were changing shifts, and not one asked him where he was going or who he was. A taxi was waiting for him and he left.

The Lord is faithful, even if He had let Yun be shot for trying to escape, because that plan would only take him home sooner, his mission complete.

If I pray one thing tonight, it be that I thirst for the moment the Lord calls me home, and that I patiently await this end amidst all the things He calls me to do while I'm alive. I want to have the certainty that this is far better than anything I will find on this earth, and it's worth dying for.

"I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" -- Mark 9:24

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Make a Wish on a Falling Star

I must be on some kind of nature kick these days, because on top of my enormous love ballad to autumn that I composed in my last entry, tonight I jeopardized sleep in order to partake of a meteor shower, which I've never witnessed before!

The scene that my imagination produced as I was waiting for the show to begin was this epic barrage of shooting stars falling from the heavens, taking the whole "shower" part pretty literally. I was waiting around for there to be tons of meteors plummeting toward the horizon in a spectacular display of falling globes of fire.

That, however, is more like a clip from a movie like Armageddon. In real life, meteor showers tend to be a little more sporadic, it seems to me. Sarah (my delightful roommate) and I were lying on towels in the grass for an hour, chatting absentmindedly while gazing up at the sky in anticipation of something so mind-blowing that Tchaikovsky would immediately begin to play in the air from no discernible source -- that mind-blowing. Yet we mostly were just waiting for something to happen. We saw two pretty clear meteors fly by within a minute of each other, and a couple more random ones that were harder to see. The stars were beautiful and the few we saw were still pretty neat, but it wasn't the thing we'd cracked it up to be.

My growing awareness of God's presence in every single part of my life seems to be a double-edged sword: on the one hand, I find myself quicker to pray to Him in times of need and when I just think about something troubling me, and also quicker to be thankful when I realize how happy I am about what's going on in my life. At the same time, it's easy for me to just blame Him in passing for stuff that I would not have ordinarily pinned as His doing, necessarily. Tonight, without being absurdly outraged or anything like that, I couldn't help but ask, "God, could you send a few more? This show isn't really as good as I'd thought it would be. I want more. Show me more of what I imagined. Blow me away."

Just recently, Sarah told me something that one of the leaders of her campus ministry repeats over and over for everyone. "God is not a genie!"

And I totally believe that. I mean, I've prayed for a bunch of things over the years, ridiculous and genuine, and I know He hasn't concretely answered those prayers in the way I had hoped or expected Him to. If He'd done everything I'd asked of Him, I know He wouldn't be a good God. Plain and simple. I've prayed for some really stupid things that I had no business asking for or telling Him. I also pitch a little fit when I feel like other people are praying for petty things that I think are too self-centered to be a cog in the great machine of God's plan for His kingdom.

Or something like that.

However, I have certainly not surrendered everything that I want to His will in this way; I would be a complete hypocrite not to say so. I still pray about things that in and of themselves may not be bad things, but are still things that I want to glorify me and fulfill just my little needs that I think I have, rather than asking God to act for His own glorification and the fulfillment of the things He has said He would. I look at my desires and think, "Hey, these are perfectly godly things to want. The bible says nothing about getting married, having kids, and living in a castle in France being bad."

But how selfish and foolish am I to be sure that these are the very things that will move the kingdom of God closer to fruition? Why in the world would I believe I have the wisdom to come up with a plan better than that of the Creator of the whole universe and its laws and matter?

I mean, read that last sentence slowly, out loud. It kills me how much of a doofus I am to believe that. Yet every day, surely at least once, I let my mind wander to that little corner and fester in its own sinful creativity, devising plans for my own glory, not His.

Which should be one in the same, correct? (I'm thinking of an Ephesians 3:8 kind of train of thought here, where humility brings God glory, and eventually myself. Yeah. That's it.)

So what if God's plan for those meteors was to stay hidden from the little patch of grass by the duck pond that I was plopped down on? I mean, there's no way I'd know why that is the way it is, how He fabricated the laws of physics that would determine their whereabouts and my ability to watch them soar across the sky. And I'm becoming more and more okay with the idea that I am not meant to know, even if I had half the capability to do so.

Wondering about what I was missing could have distracted me from the absolute beauty of the twinkling stars that were abundant tonight anyway.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Golden Leaves in the Wind

Most poetry, literature, lyrics you will ever read seem to worship springtime as the season of change. The dripping of icicles melting off tree branches, the blossoming of little flowers, the trees refilling with green leaves, the baby animals scampering about. It is a symbol of renewal and refreshment, newness.

None of these artists lived in Florida. Because if they did, they would have to revere the come of autumn instead.

Summer here gets incredibly oppressive and stale. Towards the end, when you're back in school, it's still beyond hot and intensely humid, especially after a random rain shower that might happen while the sun is shining and/or for maybe five minutes at a time (Florida loves these weather jokes). And then fall arrives. It begins in waves, but the first few cold snaps really shake you alive again, unless you're one of those weirdos that loves the sultry Floridian summer heat.

I love the breeze coming back, even if it bites at my face. I love how the sun is shining but I somehow don't feel like I'm being melted into the ground, but it's just beautiful outside instead. I can wear a sweater and let the chilly air sweep around everywhere, and I can't even begin to think of enough great things about fall. It goes beyond the weather. The return of pumpkin spice flavored things at Starbucks, soups for dinner, holiday decorations littering Target and Wal-Mart... man! Can I get enough? Of course not.

The funny thing about autumn is that it makes everything feel possible. Even more than New Year's Eve, a good cold front moving through definitely makes me wonder what's around the river bend for me. It's more of an optimistic introspection than I am accustomed to.

Just imagine all the things that will happen soon, though! Baking Halloween treats, watching scary movies, wearing costumes, eating candy, prancing around campus in my coat and scarf, getting coffee late at night, going to Paris, cold football games, making tea, Christmas parties, listening to holiday music on the radio, seeing the decoration displays, shopping for others... what a list!

Why can't I get this excited all year long?

I'm just going to have to move up north and prolong the joy. At least, until I discover that there's a reason people move here, come February. In the mean time, though, praise the Lord for giving me fall as my season of spirit and joy.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I'm, Like, Totally Buggin'

Wow. I can NOT focus on studying for tomorrow's mid-term to save my life. Really. This is ridiculous. I am in this awkward position where I remember all the stories we've read for 19th Century Russian Literature (I know the look on your face, but it's really not bad at all) but I'm not sure how much detail I'm going to have to pull out of my butt to get a good grade.

Frankly, I just don't feel up to memorizing a ton of things, or rereading everything that I've already ran my eyes over in the past. If I make myself reread anything right now, my brain is far too loopy to absorb anything.

On the other hand, for the first time in my life, I just want to pray. I want to get into my bed and pray for everything on my mind. So many things are on my heart: the girls in my bible study, my own personal walk with Christ and my understanding of God, my friends that I want to trust Him to reach through me and their surroundings, the circumstances in my life that get me down sometimes, the problems my closer friends have shared with me about their own lives, and the list could go on forever.

Yet that mid-term is nagging me in the back of my head.

This makes me wonder how much I've really entrusted the Lord when it comes to parts of me that I believe I control. I've made great strides in handing Him my relationships, for example; whereas in the past, I might obsess over working at making friendships or romance bloom somewhere through my own efforts, but now I am far more faithful that He will bring into fruition what should by blessing me with wisdom in how to conduct myself and interact with them. That sounds so deep and meaningful.

I'll be honest, though, when I say that I sure do not trust Him with my schoolwork.

Getting a "B" is surely not the end of the world. The vast, vast majority of people would say that this is a good grade and indicates future success at whatever I want to do. Getting a "C" isn't really the end of the world, although it'd make me shake my head.

Getting a "D" would make me cry, but this would not literally be the end of the world.

Even failing a class would not immediately poison my body and let me die. I would sob, and fret, and hate myself, and mope, and worry and obsess.

But life would not be over.

I mean, imagine the life of King David. What on earth could possibly be worse than losing an infant son? If I were presented the choice of failing a class or losing a child, I would not think twice about choosing to fail a class. The comparison is absurd. In the face of human life, something as flippant as a mark on how well I did on some tests and assignments doesn't stand a chance as something deemed "important."

And even though his son died, he managed to write over a hundred psalms in praise of the One True King. He was called a "man after God's own heart." He found reasons to celebrate with the birth of his next son, Solomon, and did not dwell in God's seeming injustice and cruelty in allowing that to happen.

Life did not end for him.

So, which is more important to me: getting an "A" (not even "A-," which definitely pissed me off last semester when it brought my GPA down to a 3.97) or having an intimate connection with the Lord, where I continuously share with Him my heart and petition Him to stay true to His promises and reveal to me what wisdom He desires for me to know?

The biggest thing I have ever seen up close is probably Big Ben. Standing next to it, I felt so small. Imagining God as at least as huge as Big Ben is daunting. I picture myself standing before this awesome, majestic God, as a tiny little loser at His feet. He looks down at me and waits for me to speak with open ears. I tell Him anything that I'm thinking about -- if I'm mad at Him, or joyous, or confused, or sad -- and He cares for what I tell Him. He's glad that I chose to share with Him what is plaguing my brain, and will reciprocate the honesty that I showed Him.

That image in my head is so, so, so powerful. What in the world could a grade at a public university mean in comparison to that?

I've read more than once in the bible study material the phrase that the Christian life is characterized by repentance and faith, repentance and faith, repentance and faith, over and over, until we are called home. Slowly, we find new lies that we believe about the Lord or ourselves, and come to confess our misunderstanding in exchange for a new faith in Him. The idol of success in school is hardly one that I had noticed until fairly recently, and I pray now that He will absolve me of fears that I will perish without being top of the class. I hope one day I can honestly say that He could do anything to my transcript if it would ultimately bring Him glory and move along His kingdom in some way, however ridiculous it might seem to me.

I already know that I have this issue believing that God will let me taste a blessing for a moment, only to take it away from me. I suffer from believing the stupid lie that He would bless me with gifts and desires to do certain things, and then pull the rugs I stand on from under me just for some sick, cruel sense of enjoyment. Because scripture does not promote such an idea:

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose." -- Romans 8:28

"Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart." -- Psalm 37:4

"If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!" -- Matthew 7:11

Just to scratch the surface of the truths that I need to fill my head with. He will give me good gifts if I ask for them.

I guess asking through prayer should come first then, am I right?

I know Russian literature well enough to get by, and I have the morning to continue getting through that. But right now, I want to sit down in the radiance of God and take advantage of my privilege to speak to Him and have reason to expect an answer.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Hiatus, "I Hate"-us

So it's been a while since I've published an entry. I've actually started about 8 different entries since school started, trying to sum up what's been happening with me on campus and whatnot. Each time, I got going, outlining the most important things that I could think of, but I never felt compelled to finish up one with anything meaningful.

Maybe that's because it hasn't been meaningful.

It's not that I haven't been doing anything; I've studied, helped co-lead a bible study, been discipled by a good friend, made new friends, and worked on things with Volunteer USF, amid various fun activities. I was thrown at surprise birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, gone roller skating, and other things that were a good time. Yet I couldn't really bring myself to detail any of these things like they were worth writing about. I have good friends, good school, good fun, but what does all that really mean?

It vanishes the instant my hormones change, or something goes the slightest bit off course from what I wanted or expected.

I am thrown again into the tailspin that characterizes life -- one mishap after another, the tiniest taste of chaos that brainwashes us of all the wonderful things we've known before, until the dread subsides for one more moment until the next.

I know that all sounds horrifically depressing, but tell me that it isn't true. We are so prone to emotional dips and highs, that the very cycle is depressing. Even if your life is an exact sine curve of equally high and distant hills and valleys, representing happiness and sadness, just thinking about how you will someday be unhappy again after having been happy will take the joy right out of you. It's pitiful how quickly we can be ripped from the most thrilling and joyous experiences by something either petty or horrific.

We can't just look at those little moments of happiness as if they define us, because they can be blown away like smoke by a slight gust of wind. Then again, we can't define our lives by the sadness either, because that does not last forever either.

What is constant?

That's what I really had the chance to explore this weekend on Fall Retreat. It's always awesome to get away from school to hide out in the woods and just refocus. It starts out tough and ends with such understanding and clarity for me. I am hesitant to meditate on the Lord at first, because frankly, I don't trust Him to teach me anything new, especially when I'm running on 4 hours of sleep -- which is my fault, so let's just take that for what it is, haha. But as Saturday wears on, I find myself thinking radical thoughts for a human being, ones that did not originate in my mind. They both go against everything I ever thought, but at the same time make more sense to me than anything I've ever encountered.

One of the biggest realizations I finally embraced this weekend was this: I am beloved. I am a cherished daughter of the One True King. It is one thing to read that and think, "Okay, I get it. I'm a child of God. Great." We imagine God as our own earthly father and smack all his traits onto His traits. I am blessed with an amazing, loving dad, but he is by no means perfect, and he knows that. It's easy for me to imagine God being upset when I do things wrong, not understanding where I'm coming from all the time, being too worried about me to let me taste adventure, and not being a super sensitive and mushy guy about our relationship. But I saw God as far less than my real dad, even, as absurd as that is. I kept seeing the things in my life that I thought were kind of crappy and blamed God for devising such situations for me to bring me to miserable ends. When I imagined the look on His face when He gazed upon me, it was one of indifference. I am one meaningless, pitiful, useless human being. I screw up all the time. I've done nothing worthy of being placed before the Lord of the universe.

With such a low opinion of my abilities and qualities, little did I realize that pride was holding me back from truly knowing the Messiah.

Did I think I was too bad to be saved? That I was so horrible and worthless that the God who created everything we see, touch, smell, taste, and hear couldn't handle me? That He couldn't transform me into something beautiful, let alone grasp me from dangling above hell like a spider? I might not have what it takes to earn a place in heaven by any work of my hands or lips, but if God has conquered our rebellion and sin for good, He can conquer little ol' me and wash away my filth and shame, replacing them with robes of pure white perfection.

I'm not bad enough to undo this work He has done in my life. When He sees me, He is delighted, because we are reconciled. He sees the perfection of His Son, who died in my place with a crown of thorns on His head, and He accepts me. He has always loved me, or He would not have pursued me so that I might turn around and fall in love with Him. But now I am a citizen of heaven, a daughter of the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.

What momentary elation or misery can surpass the unchanging mercy and ceaseless love of the Lord?

Realizing this truth has set me free from worrying about finding meaning in the string of seemingly random occurrences that take me from high to low daily. I don't have to worry about whether life is sad or happy, or fret that I am not appreciating the value of either of these things. I only need to be concerned with how much God loves me, and what all He can do through me, and what is waiting for me at the end. If I can't even perfectly appreciate these things at times, nothing chances. He is the same; I am the one straying away again. He won't let me fall away forever in my times of forgetting and discontentment.

I can finally say that I believe that I am righteous to Him. I am right with God. He sees me and is glad to call me His child, and is excited to do good works through me. He trusts me to carry out a small part in fixing our broken world in His vision, and promises to take care of the things that I can't do alone. He made me the way that I am and loves me, flaws and gifts combined into the crazy weird combination of soul and body that I am.

This last part was so crucial for me to embrace, too. As evidenced by my last entry into this journal, I have had to work through being resentful about my gender as a whole. It's not that I didn't want to be a girl at all, but that I resented bitterly how we are treated, and the problems that we seem to face uniquely. I have gone through life thinking that God must have to hate me to make me so much weaker and prone to special abuses, from mere rude catcalls to wondering if any rustle in the dark is more than an animal, and that it was only natural for me to feel this way if God wanted the world to be this way.

Maybe it was only natural that I felt this way because I was designed with an idea of how I should be treated and viewed, and that idea has been so corrupted in the world we live in.

At Fall Retreat, we had a women's seminar that sounded kind of sketchy at first. The speaker was our speaker for the weekend -- a guy. I've never been in a lesson specifically designated as "just for women" led by a man. It seems counterintuitive to set it up this way, because who knows more about how a woman should live than a more experienced woman? However, Steve set us up for some amazing new ideas by preceding his talk with the idea that he would know what's good for us as a father, just as God is a father too. And what followed this statement not only reinforced his authority on the position, but changed the very foundations of who I believe I am.

The world tells women so often that we are the least creation, and the church sometimes erroneously conveys the same message. We were made weaker, having only beauty as a bargaining chip to get anything. We see commands in the bible about standing behind men, the leaders, as helpers to their glory. Our femininity makes us something light and useless.

However, he helped me learn that our femininity makes us light and airborne. We are images of the beauty of God, which is something sought after and desired by men, and is endlessly powerful. Men lead because their job is to point to the beauty of God, and protect it. They are escorts for the embodiments of His loveliest creation, to ensure that they reach the end destination to the fullest. We women crave to share our beauty with someone else, as a gift. When we are robbed of it or resort to bartering it, we lose the joy that it can give. Our hearts grow callous with distrust and self-loathing when our ability to give this gift with joy is hindered. We hide behind a front that says we don't care if our beauty is cherished or not, because it's easier than exposing ourselves to the potential hurt of that gift being abused, or growing lonely in waiting for it to be the right time to give it.

But nothing compares to how it will be to reach the moment when it is not only safe, but glorious, to give the gift of feminine beauty to someone else, someone who will guard it with his life and delight in all its qualities -- especially its selflessness. Just as God rejoices in our willing choice to love Him, so the right man will rejoice in our love being from within, not coerced or manipulated.

He will not boast of his strength over me. He will not delight in exposing my innermost being only to pierce it. He will not stand before me and expect me to love him out of duty. He will not ignore my desires and wishes.

He will use his strength to protect my heart and spirit. He will revel in the special privilege to see more of me than any other person. He will gladly receive my loving actions and words, knowing that I mean them. He will pursue what's best for me with everything he has.

What could possibly be more contrary to what the world offers through traditional lenses of masculinity and femininity, and yet, what could possibly capture my deepest longings and beliefs more perfectly?

Such a vision of the future gives me the strength to walk the path the Lord intended for me with a grateful and patient heart. To look for such a partnership on my own would lead to the destruction of my God-given, beautiful spirit.

This beauty isn't the kind that has me pinching my stomach obsessively, counting the calories I put into my mouth, fixing my hair every time I step in front of a mirror, poking at blemishes on my face, and feeling nauseous when I see what I look like at whatever hour this obsession chooses to strike. It resides in my heart, from a deep contentment and joy in the Lord, and echoes out in a palpable way that cannot be ignored.

All of this would sound like complete horse-hockey to me if it weren't backed up with growing friendships with godly men, for the first time in my life. I am not the object of sexual jokes, or treated like a weakling. I am the recipient of compliments, opened doors, a seat where there wasn't one before, and carried luggage. They tell me to my face in all seriousness that they're sorry for what other guys do, and what they have done before, and that I should expect better.

How many different ways does the Lord have to show me that I am now worthy of every blessing He can give?

How many times will I stand in front of the Lord, pointing frantically at myself and yelling all of the things that He hasn't given me into His face, before I realize that I have everything that He wants me to have, and that if I had anything more or less, I would not have the fullest life that an omnitient, omipotent God has planned?

These are too many questions for me today. I'd rather sit in His radiance and smile with the knowledge that I now treasure in my heart.