to love and love well: grace + truth in action.

I’ve been thinking a lot about growth lately. Rumor has it, your twenties are primetime for growth and transformation, which is perhaps why it’s always in the back of my mind.

But how will I grow? And for how long? And in what way? And by what means? I’m old enough to have learned by now that growth doesn’t just happen. There are so many variables in play, much like with plants and flowers: soil, sunlight, water, nutrient absorption, environment, room for growth, depth of soil…

In college, I read snippets of Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, How People Grow, in which he fleshes out his formula for spiritual growth: a delicate, healthy balance of grace and truth experienced over time. The truth of that formula has stuck with me for years.

I recently came across this quote as well, and it seemed to align itself right alongside Dr. Cloud’s formula:

People grow when they are loved well. If you want to help others heal, love them without an agenda.

Mike McHargue

Personally, I feel I am being loved well when truth and grace are extended to me. Acknowledge that being here, in this bad place, is no fun, that it hurts, that it is difficult. But don’t leave me here.

Grace. Free and unmerited favor. A gift I do not deserve. I envision my Savior on the Cross; I hear his whisper: “Not my will but Yours.” He endured anguish he did not deserve so his blood might cover us all in grace we don’t deserve.

Truth. The way things actually are holding hands, living life with the way things can be, will be, are meant to be. Me, created in the image of God. You, too, created in the image of God. Sin and pain. Reality and dreams. The Kingdom, at hand–here, near, and now as much as at an appointed future time.

Without a doubt, these two words point me straight to love.

In John 8, we are told of when the Pharisees bring to Jesus an adulteress and ask what he would have them do. We recall the words he says to them as he draws who-knows-what in the sand: “Let he who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” But it is what he says to the woman once her accusers have left that astounds me.

“Woman, where are they?” he asks. “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.”

In one fell swoop, Jesus upends the self-righteousness, the ulterior motives, and the religious hubris that had been birthed from years of intense religious self-righteousness and legalism.  And he does so with love, with meeting the woman in the place she was living. And after extending grace and love, he speaks truth and life into the woman before she goes.

“Go, and sin no more,” he says. She has been saved from condemnation through Christ and given the freedom to live no more as a slave to sin. One might say she is healed from the damage of condemnation and shame, given the room to grow and the freedom to live as who she was meant to be.

Because Jesus loved her purely and without agenda.

To be loved well and without agenda is to be extended grace, to be taught truth, and to be given the time and freedom to become who we really are. In Jesus’ interaction with “sinners,”–those whom the religious leaders had determined to be lowly and unworthy–he spoke and acted with a perfect balance of truth and grace. He loved them well and without agenda. And that’s what moved them forward. Scripture tells us numerous times that people grew in faith as a result.

Too often, I have seen the church love others unwell. In our mad dash toward holiness and spiritual discipleship, we take a pitstop at “self-righteousness and legalism,” and we define ourselves and others by what should or should not do. We label others by what they do or do not do. We espouse judgement instead of grace, preach self-righteousness instead of truth.

We’ve taken on the job of separating the wheat from the chaff, but that winnowing fork was never passed on to us.

We can’t expect people to grow in that atmosphere. There is no sunlight, no clean air, no room for roots to grow, no nutrients or water rained down to quench thirst. There is only stuffiness and stifling and stagnancy.

The truth is, whether we are wheat or chaff is not determined by our shoulds and should-nots, and even if it were, it is not our job to clear God’s threshing floor for Him. Our job is to love like Jesus did.

Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other (John 13:35, MSG).

They will know we are Christians by our love. By our love being lived out. By grace and truth being extended and professed.

We know this is not a simple task. We know it is soul-wrenching, messy, back-breaking work. We know this because we’ve seen it at it’s purest and most potent when Jesus carried his Cross to Calgary and died for us, raining down on us the most amazing and unadulterated love we will ever experience here on earth.

So we take up our crosses and follow in his footsteps, uphill and downhill and through valleys of death full of shadows of evil and mountaintop experiences. Because that is our highest calling and our greatest commandment.

Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them (Matthew 22:37-40, MSG).

We extend grace: Jesus does not condemn you; nor do I.

We profess truth in love: You are more than your sin, so go on, live your life, but sin no more.

When we love others that well, we give them the room they need to breathe and become who they were meant to be. And we will see them grow in faith, in stature, in wisdom–into the person God created them to be.

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luke 14:15-14.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I love Lent. I love the kneading and prodding, the realization of my own scarcities and needs, wants. I love the expectation that in those holes in my soul–my scarcities and deficiencies–there will be seeds planted, and Living Water sprinkled, and flowers grown. Beauty from ashes.

We all have scarcities. Needs. Some of us are discontent. We’re anxious. We compare ourselves to everyone and everything, and our joy is stolen. We grow bitter. We are sick or in pain, worrying or fearful, lonely or unloved. Selfish.

On Sunday, I heard a great sermon on plenty and scarcity, as we are focusing on “the daily bread” portion of the Lord’s Prayer. When we pray for “our daily bread,” we are not only praying for provision of necessities, but also that God would enter in our scarcities and holey and unholy places and fill us up. As a congregation, we read aloud the parable of the great banquet from Luke, chapter 14. I enjoy hearing the more “worn” passages of the Bible from a different perspective, and this one struck me.

I’ve been taught that the rather narrow meaning of this parable is that the three guests who decline the banquet are simply declining Jesus as Savior (i.e., choosing not to believe Jesus is the Messiah, or electing not to ask Him “into their hearts,” to put it Sunday School style). But as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to such a broader, more beautiful understanding of what Jesus means when he describes the Kingdom through parables.

This one is about being so caught up in your own world that you not only totally miss the Kingdom, but you decline it, thinking you’ve no need for what it has to offer. The people at the banquet and the people who decline represent more than just those who believe in Jesus and those who do not; it’s about people who know they need what the Kingdom has to offer and people who think they don’t.

When the servants decline the invitation to the wedding banquet, they say things like:

“I would, but I just bought a tract of land, and I need to tend to it.”

“I just bought some oxen, and I need to make sure they’re doing okay.”

“I just got married, so I’m a bit busy.”

They are self-involved, full of hubris. They are saying, “I don’t need your banquet.” (Also worth nothing, they’re declining free food and drink, which is just silly. Stupid, some might venture to say.)

When we remember that Jesus is using this metaphor to communicate what the Kingdom of God is like, we realize that these banquet invitees are denying the abundance and plenty of the Kingdom because they proudly believe it has nothing to offer them. They think their own earthly “kingdom” of oxen and fields and yes, even a spouse, is enough. (Spoiler alert: it’s not.) As a result, they miss out on the abundance of the banquet as well as the celebration and joy that goes along with it.

What is a host to do? Well, he invites other people who won’t be so haughty! In fact, some might call them rather “needy” (and we all know how I feel about needy).

“Go out quickly to and bring in the poor and crippled,” he says, “and the blind and lame. We’ve got plenty for them!”

And we don’t hear for certain, but I’m sure it’s a grand ol’ time because the people who show up will not take the banquet for granted.

I like to think I fall into the humble banquet-attenders category. But I’m quite a bit like the first group of folks who foolishly say no and turn to their less important, less abundant things.

When I refuse to acknowledge that all good things have come from God my Father, I am saying no to the Kingdom, whether I know it or not. When I joke myself into thinking I can handle my physical pain or anxiety on my own, I am saying no to the Kingdom. When I actively choose bitterness over joy, fear instead of trust, worry instead of at peace, I am saying no the Kingdom. When I am proud instead of humble, judgmental instead of merciful, sinful instead of obedient, harsh instead of kind, hateful instead of loving… in those moments, I am saying no the Kingdom.

Truth of the matter is, I should definitely NOT be doing that. I need the Kingdom. Oh, I am so needy for the Kingdom.

This is not intended as a self-deprecating tirade but as a realization that I do fall short, and I’m not quite the humble, unassuming, gracious banquet-attender I like to think I am. It’s an important thing for me to realize because otherwise I’ll be stuck tending to my stupid field or walking my stupid oxen and will totally miss the banquet altogether.

The beauty of grace is that it is not fair. The invitation is extended day after day, mistake after mistake, even when I keep RSVPing no. Jesus still wakes me up every morning with another invitation to join him in the Kingdom, the celebration and the bringing of God’s will here on earth as it is in Heaven.

Here’s to hoping tomorrow I will say, “Yes,” better than I have in the past.

lent: the potter and dry clay.

I am greeted by the season of Lent amidst a week of crumbling, of dustiness, of weakness, need, and more than a couple wit’s ends. It’s arrival leaves me thankful for how soft and vulnerable the hard moments of these past couple of days have left me. I have had to loosen, become malleable as not to break.

It has been the Water of life more than my tears that have moistened and smoothed over the hard edges in and around me. The dusty cracks and crumbles of me are being filled to flowing, and the real work is to come, when He will fold in truths and graces to fill what once were cracks and crevices.

I am reminded of my own frailty; I am parched–in need, as I cannot bend at all, dried up as I am. I taste my own desperation, my own mortality. My foolishness, selfishness, weakness–rough-edged, grainy, brittle. Lord, I need you; every hour, I need you.

And I am also reminded that there is spring ahead, and with spring comes rain for this dry desert of brittle clay, and I will learn to bend and fold again under the pressure of the Potter. I’m reminded of the present, sopping truths of victory and strength, of perseverance and wisdom, of the providence and perfect timing of God the Father, of forgiveness and grace that comes from Christ, that is granted when, in expectation, I hope and wait for him to do work in my life. The dear Christ enters into the cloud of dust and ash around me, see the brittle clay that lies lost in the midst, and he washes away what I don’t need and adds life to what I do need.

I welcome Lent with the bitter, dusty taste of my own silly, struggling, sinful self still on my tongue, the beloved dust and ash of weaknesses, sicknesses, and uncertainties, and I cling to the sweet hope that it can and will be washed away by the Water.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, but beloved all the same; our God is a God who rains down on His people of beloved dust and who then dips His hands into the mire and clay He has created and does the work of the Divine Potter. May I be soft, malleable, ready for His work.

Take it all down; Christmas is over.

Oh, no more lights glistening, no more carols to sing.

This is for the ones who hate Christmas, and for good reason. You, for whom the Christmas season and all that comes a long with it is a hard, difficult time. For those of you that say, Finally, when calendar shows December 26th.

This is for you, who breathe a sigh of relief when the focus on family, fellowship, busyness, gift-giving, and general holiday hustle fades away. You, who sit in a gently lit room and retreat after holiday company leaves. You, who cry alone and unplug the Christmas lights. You, who lament your losses of loved ones and grieves the pain you’ve suffered this time of year, time and time again. For you, who spend Decembers saving face: beloved, let that weary smile fall from your lips.

To those of you who spend Christmas fighting back tears and choking back grief or guilt, I say: Take a deep breath. This season of night after longest night is on its way out the door.

I also say: rest and remember that Advent–and every season that precedes or follows–has room enough for your pain and grief. The world may tell you to stifle your sadness, to grin and bear it; you see, the world does not know what to do with the heavy truth of your pain or suffering, so pay the world no mind.

Look instead to the Christ Child.

Even amidst the Rejoice, rejoice! and the comfort and joys of Christmas, the Lord Himself has made room for your story–yes, even a story of sorrow and sadness. You see, the babe whose birth we celebrate each year will grow into the Man of Sorrows, one well acquainted with grief.

The hearts of man are bitter in winter, as cold as the snow that falls from above.

Praise the Lord that he has heard your cry, that the Christ Child becomes our Mighty Counselor, Emmanuel, and knows of your pain and grieves with you, for you. He has borne your griefs as well as your gladness, your sorrows and your celebrations alike.

Oh, no more lights glistening, and no more carols to sing. But Christmas makes way for spring.

It is because of the advent of Christ that there is room enough for your cold, biting hurt, the subtle stabbings of sorrow and grief. With the passing of the Christmas season, take comfort that in the midst of your darkness and that of the world’s, the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace enters in, born to die that he might reach down into our cold, lifeless, painful winters and bring about healing and life.

Christmas makes way for spring in the midst of winter, bitter and weathered as our hearts have become. As Christmas passes, let pass with it your pain and bitterness, your sorrow and grief. The hopes and fears of all your years of silent suffering are met in Christ, and he carries all of that dankness and dark to the Cross for you.

As December fades away, let the Son of God, Man of Sorrows, comfort, warm, and envelop you. His Advent brings with it the good news that He is able.

We’ve had a good year; let’s have another.


*Lyrics in italics are from Relient K’s “Boxing Day.”

as we wait: thoughts on advent

Advent is here.

And so we wait.

It wasn’t until last year that I understood what Advent means, the arrival or the coming of. The only time I’d ever heard the word advent before last year was in the phrase advent calendar.

Jesus was born. Yes. The wise men, the shepherds. Yes. But spending a month waiting, praying, pondering, and preparing for the celebration of his birth? Huh?

I am so glad my perspective on Advent has changed. I am learning the beauty and grace found in waiting. In the waiting, I find a greater appreciation for the awaited.

John explains that Jesus “was life, and the life was the light of men.” The light Jesus brought to the world shone brightly against a dark world that was not ready for him, but was in such dire need of him. They heard, but did not believe. They saw, but chose to turn away.

Is our world now any different?

The Son of God, this Messiah, borne of Mary but conceived of the Holy Spirit, came to his own world and was rejected.

John explains in his gospel that the world did not know Jesus (v. 10). They were not ready. God’s people waited for His arrival; when he arrived, they did not accept him. They were told of his coming. They were expecting Him, yet they weren’t prepared. Jesus was born into darkness, pain, and he was greeted by an anxious, wary people. He was not born into a world at its best behavior. It was at its worst. His adventus comes in the pitch blackness of sin, pain, confusion, chaos.

Cosmos in chaos. Jesus, meet World. World, meet Jesus. Dirty and Destitute, meet the Savior for whom you’ve been waiting. Divine, meet the Dirty and Destitute who need you but won’t accept you.

May we be different.

Long before He sent His Son, God spoke to his people through the prophet Isaiah, crying, “Israel does not know! My people don’t get it!”

I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. [. . .] When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause.

Written some 730 or so years before the birth of Jesus, the book of Isaiah paints a grim picture of God’s relationship with His people. 300 years or so later, the prophet Malachi speaks similar words of frustration and doom.

And then, nada. The world hears not from the Lord for the next 430 years.

In this darkness–the hopelessness, the weariness, the anxiety, the silence–Jesus enters. John says the darkness of the world cannot overcome the light Jesus brings to the world–hope, peace, love, joy, truth, expectation, grace, mercy, and glory, glory, Alleluia.

Many of His people still did not get it. After all that, and they do not understand that Jesus was the Hope they were waiting for.

And what have we learned? The world is still dark, still doubting, still denying.

My thoughts fall on Ferguson and the narratives that so many brothers and sisters have that I will never have. Fear, anxiety, frustration. The things they have to teach their sons and daughters that my husband and I have never had to think about.

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

My thoughts fall on my parents, who live daily with pain, depression, stress, and discrimination because of their socioeconomic status coupled with the fact that they take prescription pain medication.

We wait, Jesus.

My thoughts fall on church corruption, anger and hate-mongering amidst believers, selfishness, bigotry, and false teachings flying from pompous pulpits.

How have we not learned? We are Israel, and our princes our rebels, our offerings empty.

And this is why we spend Advent preparing ourselves. So we might be ready. So we might understand. So we get it.

We spend a month acknowledging our great need so we can better understand how our needs are met in the person of Jesus. These are indeed tidings of great joy. The people who once walked in darkness have seen a great light!

The Word became flesh. The Light is here, and the darkness will not overcome Him. I read the words of John the Baptist said so long ago: “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord!'” His voice reaches from then to now, and I realize:

This is the preparation, the getting-ready for Advent. We see the dark; we feel it; we walk through it. We live it.

And we also prepare; we make straight the way. We wash our hands, seek to do good. We correct oppression, and bring justice. We lift our hands, knowing we are not worthy. We offer all we have at the Lord’s feet. Our uttered prayers come from the deepest parts of us, heart-cries. We ready ourselves to truly, wholly grasp the significance of Emmanuel, God with us in a dark, doubting, denying wilderness of a world.

The birth of Jesus is the Light of the World descending to dwell in a dark, lost, and confused world–cosmos meeting chaos. It’s a reality that is happening now just as it was at his birth years ago.

And so each Advent, we wait, expect, and prepare to experience anew and again the hope, peace, love, joy, expectation, grace, mercy, and glory, glory, Alleluia of Jesus. And we pray we are changed.

The prophet Isaiah prophesies in chapter 9, verses 2-3 the very thing we celebrate today, years after the birth of the Light of the World:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness,
on them has light shone.
You have multiplied the nation;
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when the divide the spoil.

As people who have once walked in darkness but have now seen the light, may we experience His glory this Advent season–the glory of glories that can only be of the Son from the Father, full of beauty and grace and truth, the great Light that alone increases our joy and celebration.

on yoga, worship, headstands, and being brave.

*Originally written earlier this year.

——–

This week I am keeping track of the brave moments.

/

Putting yourself out there is painful.

Your heart leaks out words. You take a stand. You express yourself. You press publish, and you wait, or you speak up and are met with silence.

Breathe in, breathe out. What will they say? Think? Feel?

Sometimes the hardest part of the waiting is the never hearing anything back.

You fling out parts of yourself, and no one seems to notice.

Breathe in, breathe out. Open up, let it out. Wait. And don’t forget to keep breathing.

//

Some Sunday mornings I am given the opportunity to lead the congregation in worship for a couple songs. I would be lying if I said I didn’t love it because I absolutely do. I love every beautiful, terrifying moment.

But it is utterly exhausting.

I’m standing in an open field–no trenches, barracks, or shields–and I’m raising my flag. Showing my colors.

Worship is an outcry of the heart, and each person I’ve ever met worships in a different, beautiful, powerful, amazing, unique way. Hands lifted high, hands in your pockets, eyes closed, eyes opened, I don’t care. No matter what you physically do, it’s your heart that’s talking.

So leading a congregation in worship to me feels like vomiting my heart all over them.

To be that open and vulnerable with a church full of people is terrific and tiring and beautiful and one of the scariest things I do on a regular basis—and not because of stage fright.

While I’m singing, while I’m raising my hands or hanging them at my side or closing my eyes or opening them or smiling or not, there is no fear there. There is stability and strength and joy. There is me, all of me, and Jesus, all of Jesus.

But the minute I have to step off the stage, I feel unsteady because I realize I was out in the open. All of me.

They’ve seen who I am, and they can now do with it what they will, feel about it what they will. I did not perform it. I did not perfect it. I didn’t even touch up the rough parts.

Some Sundays, I shake and I quiver as soon as the service is over. My eyelids flutter uncontrollably sometimes, but I try not to fidget. Sometimes my hands tremble, or my leg twitches. It’s a release of so much of who I am–emotions, anxiety, stress, joy, sadness.

Oh my. I think. I just let them see all of that?!

I let them see my heart, and I revealed emotions and devotion and love, and I wonder, what do they think of that? Anything at all?

“Breathe in, breathe out. Be brave,” I wrote in my notebook. “Reach inside, grab the heavy things, the thoughts about their thoughts, the fears about their thoughts, and toss them out. Release them.”

And so I breathed in, breathed out, reached, released. Because I’m worshipping and I’m loving God with all I am, and it’s some form of art and heart that I’m sharing with people, and that is something worth sharing.

Breathe in, breathe out.

///

Today I did a headstand for the first time since I began yoga and Pilates. I used no wall for support. It was just me, head on the ground, cradled by clasped fingers and sweaty palms, a yoga mat, and legs in the air.

Yoga really is all about the breath. They’re not lying when they tell you that. It’s not about beauty, brawn, or even brains. Guts and breath.

Breathe in. Reach my toes into the mat. Grasp, steady, ground, cling for a moment.

Breathe out. Be brave. Know that you can topple over, fall, fail. Do it anyway.

Breathe in again. Grasp what you know. Right leg in the air, toe pointed to your goal: high.

Breathe out again. Release, push, press. Left leg up in the air, not too quick but not too slow. Committed. Balanced.

Breathe in, breathe out. Stillness, balance, breath, core-shaking quiet.

When I came back down, I was refreshed. I have wanted to do a headstand unsupported for years, but I’ve always been afraid. I cannot commit. I prepare myself for the stand, I lift my right leg in the air, and when I push off the floor, I find a way to push myself back down.

C’est la vie.

Today I was brave enough to commit, which really means I was brave enough to fall.

And when I tried a headstand again, I did fall (sideways, too, all contorted–who knows how someone can fall incorrectly, but I did) because I forgot to breathe in and out with confidence.

I smiled when I whacked my foot on the coffee table because I realized: the falling was not nearly as bad as the fear of falling.

I know now that I can’t forget the breath. It’s all about the breath. Headstands, worship, vulnerability, perseverance. Life. It’s all about the breath and what you do with it.

Breathe in, breathe out. Both legs in the air. Steady your core, find your ground. And when your legs want to push you back down, you breathe in (reach) and breath out (release) the fears and the shaking and the hesitancy, and you just commit.

You will come back down when you’re good and ready to come back down, and you’ll either fall or you’ll fold gracefully, and that’s the truth.

A Meditation on Identity

Nick and I volunteer/intern with our church’s youth group, and occasionally, I get the opportunity to lead a lesson. I decided to talk a bit about identity because that’s something that I have been thinking about a lot during my “quarter-life crisis.” Who am I? What makes me who I am? Since school starts up soon, and a handful of our youth groupers are heading off to college in a couple weeks, I wanted to make them think long and hard about who they are and where they’re putting their value and worth.

These words came organically and out of nowhere, to be honest, and I needed to hear them as much as anyone else in the youth group may have needed to. It was one of those things that just suddenly wrote itself. After sharing a bit of my story and talking a bit about identity and what it means, I read this meditation aloud to them and asked that they sit still and quiet for a moment and really try to listen.


 

Let’s begin with a series of questions, shall we?

How do you feel about yourself REALLY? Who are you REALLY? In what are you placing your value? Your worth? Who are you trusting to tell you who you are?

Things like your passions and skills, your abilities and inabilities, your likes and dislikes, what kind of friend you are, if you’re a brother or sister, wife, husband, mother, father. If you’re a musician. If you love science. If you hate spinach. If you love pizza. If you’re good at soccer but terrible at football. Those are all things ABOUT you, and they’re true and wonderful things that make up a unique you that is enjoyed and cherished.

But what happens when those things fall away? Who are you then? What do you think of yourself when it’s just you, yourself, and God? What sort of things do you hear you saying to yourself?

Listen, and listen well.

It’s quiet in here, isn’t it? Still. Silent.

Does that make you uncomfortable?

That’s okay. But don’t let it get to you. Don’t go into hiding, don’t retreat. Stay right where you are. Listen to the silence, and tell me, how do you feel? Right now, alone with your thoughts and alone with God’s whisperings, how do you feel?

Are you feeling worn out? Spread thin? Stressed? Tired? Are you suffocating under the intense pressure to please everyone around you? To say yes to everything and everyone to make them happy? So they’ll like you? If only I could get everyone to accept me, you say, then I’d be okay. If only I could be MORE–skinnier, prettier, more handsome, smarter, more athletic, more funny, less awkward, more outgoing… I bet you’re exhausted. But what do you whisper to yourself when you’re alone? When you walk through the door after work or school or a party, what do you hear inside your own head? Are they kind, loving things? Or are there hateful, negative, vengeful, nasty things being said to you, things that you would never say to anyone else?

Stop saying those things. Stop it right now.

I want to replace those nasty words with truth. You were knit together so wondrously, and there are so many good things in store for you. Hard things, sure. But also good things. Jesus says, “Come to me. Let me the Savior that I am. Let me douse you in compassion and drown you in love and mercy. Let me practice patience with you, and you can learn to practice patience with others. Let me accept you where you are, and you can learn to accept yourself where you are, to accept others where you are. Let me whisper truths, and for once, please listen. Let me be your safe place. Let me tell you I love you, and this time, BELIEVE IT.”

Maybe you’re not stressed at all. Maybe you feel wonderful. You’re on top of the world, and nothing can stop you. You’re talented. You’re smart. Gosh darnit, people like you. You’re successful. You’re popular. You don’t need no help from nobody because the sky is the limit. You’ll think about God and love and Jesus later, maybe when you actually need some help. Right now, you’ve got it good. Keep doing doing doing, going going going. Just look at all my trophies and treasures, you say! I got this!

Oh, foolish builder. Your foundation is on the sand, and a storm is coming. They sky may be the limit for you, but it’s about to heave itself all over the castle you’ve been building. Do you really think it will stand on the sand in the midst of a hurricane? Pride comes before a fall, after all. Please hear Jesus when he says to store up treasures in heaven because you really can’t take it with you, and trust me, it’s gonna all fall away in the end. “Besides, beloved, you are so much more than all of that anyway,” he says.

He’s whispering that to you; do you hear it?

Maybe you don’t hear it. Maybe you’re choosing not to hear it. Maybe you’ve filled this silent moment up with noisy thoughts so you don’t have to listen. Maybe you’re afraid of what you’ll hear from yourself or from God in the quiet moments. Maybe you picked up your phone during this time of silence, and you’re texting or playing a game. Maybe you’re humming yourself a song to fill the empty silence. But, oh, child, that’s where you’re wrong–this silence is not empty, and your noise isn’t filling it. You’re drowning it. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Swim in the silence for a moment.

Sometimes you need stillness to hear the truth.

Maybe you’ve been building yourself up brick by brick with the noise around you. Maybe you talk yourself up, seeking words of truth or affirmation from others so you can start to get an idea of who  you are. Maybe all the noise and business and talking and chattering makes you feel more secure in who you are. But who is that, anyway? And what are you trying to prove? Maybe you chirp and chime loudly for someone to affirm you, to tell you what you’re good at, to tell you who you are, and you’re building up an identity that isn’t even really you in the first place.

Want to know something? Jesus has been trying to give you exactly what you need this whole time, but you can’t hear him because you’re talking over him, you’re letting others talk over him.

Stop striving. Stop clawing and grasping all the noisy things, and stop blocking out silence because you’re afraid. Your identity is not in the words of those around you. It’s not even in your words, but in the words Jesus whispers to you in the quiet moments, whatever and wherever those are. You’d hear them, I promise, if you’d shut-up long enough.

Here they are: You. Are. Loved.

Doesn’t matter what you love or hate. What you’re good at or bad at. What you have or what you lack. What you look like or don’t look like.

Listen to me. Stop thinking, stop talking, stop trying, stop excusing, stop lying.

You. Are. Loved.

What would happen if you walked away and you truly believed that who you are is LOVED no matter what?