Tag Archives: testimony

Man in the Mirror

So how ’bout that Beth Moore and her bible study on the book of James?

If you’ve experienced Beth Moore ever, you know that she’s a teeny little blonde lady whose intensity will scare the bejesus out of you, and that’s just through a video. I’d die of fright and fall into a puddle of my own pee if I ever saw her in person and she looked at me with her actual eyes and smiled at me with her teeth which I’m betting are sharp enough to bite right down to my bones. Not that I think she’d bite me; well, she might, and that’s a chilling thought to be sure. I know I went to a really dark place just now, but Beth Moore freaks me out, you guys.

That said, the woman can rock a bible study, amiright? The video sessions and the workbook have pretty much completed the very easy task of massacring my brains. Also, the book of James: if you’ve ever been a little Catholic girl in a swarm of hot-headed Southern Baptist youth-groupers and you accidentally may or may not have said something to the effect of: “Well, you can’t really be saved if you’re always acting like a psycho-heathen baboon on meth, can you?”…well, this particular part of the New Testament is heart-warmingly validating on multiple levels. Take a listen:

But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror. You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it.

If you claim to be religious but don’t control your tongue, you are fooling yourself, and your religion is worthless. Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

James 1: 22-27

But wait! There’s more!

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.”

You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?

James 2: 14-20.

BLAMO! I wish I had memorized more Bible back in the day. It would have felt great to whip that one out and lay it on the table.

I’m not one to get all proud and cocky, at least not in the past year of my life and between the hours of 3 and 4 a.m. But these passages do speak to me, even more so now than they would have in my teenage years. And not because they’re great verses to present to other people–I am more and more convicted by these words every time I read them.

Why is that? Beth Moore posed this question: When was the last time you were changed by the word of God? Not when was the last time you were touched by the word of God, or the last time you were sentimental over it, or felt guilty because of it, or the last time you agreed with it….but when was the last time you heard His truths and were so impacted that you actually changed?

Personally, I love to get this little baby out of my pocket: “I’m not a stark-raving alcoholic anymore. BOOM. What more do you want, God?”

And here’s God: “Every. Flipping. Thing.” My temper. My impatience. My spending. My dishonesty. My anxiety. My free time. My hands and my arms and my legs and my back. My thoughts. My heart.

So many times I pick up my Bible and I read, and I eagerly nod my head and I pray and I thank God for what He just showed me…and then I turn right around and blow up over something miniscule like my dog is looking at me cock-eyed (which, coincidentally, he does all the damn time.) I tell God that my life is in His hands one minute, and the next minute I’m freaking out because my lunch plans fell through. I say my prayers and I have my quiet time, but then I hop in my car with a to-do list and all my quiet thoughts and calm vibes and good intentions go right out the window and suddenly I’m throwing up gang signs at the morons who won’t let me get in the exit lane.

I am exactly like the man who looks intently into a mirror at his own natural self, and then turns away and forgets completely what he looked like. I pig out on the word, and then I just sit there and burp til I doze off.

We can do bible study after bible study. We could analyze and philosophize until we’re blue in the face, but still not get the point. Sure, we could mentally understand the point, but until we get off the couch and do the point? We’ve missed the point. Salvation through faith alone–it’s awesome. Know what occurs naturally with true faith? Good works. This, btdubs, is happy information for Baptists and Catholics alike.

I’m trying. I really am. I’m doing the bible studies and teaching my children and memorizing scripture and giving things to the poor and bringing food to sick people, all the while trying to remember to switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer. And if you’re like me, you’re probably asking this question: “When do I get perfect, God? Come on already!”

That is one sneaky bastard of a thought, and it pops up time and time again in my head, especially when I’m surrounded by awesome Godly women who have totally nailed this “doers-of-the-word” thing. My friend Libby is calm and wise. My friend Kayla is caring and thoughtful. My friend Lynette is chill every minute of every day. My friend Stephanie is a solid rock of common sense. My friend Paula has more energy than a hyperactive labrador puppy on crack-cocaine. My friend Kim could people-charm the KGB. My friend Kristy invented every craft on Pinterest. My friend Tiffanie is a beast on a bicycle–if beasts look like Kim Kardashian except way prettier. My friend Shanna’s voice sounds like a combination of Fergie and Jesus.

But you guys: Comparison is a torture device of the devil. God put certain talents into certain people for certain reasons. Separately we are limited, but together we could take over the galaxy, or at least the tri-state area.

I can’t be all things to all people. I will never ever have all the answers. I will always be striving and seeking and asking and knocking. Sometimes I will slack off and regret it. Some days I may scream out with my whole heart and tears will burn in my eyes and my body will ache from running to Him. I am not going be perfect, not here on this earth and not by my own power ever. I might read the book of James 50 times this year and still not understand every sentence, but one thing is clear: Love God, love others. The two go hand in hand.

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Lights.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

–Jesus said that in Luke 4:18-19. He really did. It shocked the crap out of all the haters. Which is awesome because who doesn’t love to shock a hater?

This morning I snarfed croissants and enjoyed stimulating conversation with a friend of mine. This chica is super thoughtful and edgy and honest; she really inspired me and my brain is still churning hours later. Seriously, you can probably smell the smoke.

So here it goes:

Church.

Church and Christianity.

Church vs. Christianity.

Christians in the Church.

True faith. True love. Honest motives. Unselfish behavior.

Family. Friends. Sacrifices. Giving. Prayer.

How does it all fit together? What does it look like to really be in love with the Lord? How much of what comes out of people’s mouths is true? Why are so many “Christians” such jerks about Jesus? What’s with those people who are really “shining”–and how the hell do they do that?

Years ago I wrote a post about why church in general is awesome and why I love and need the people in it. I will not back down on the points I made.

Here’s what I am to understand:

Church is a coming together of believers, so we can spur each other on, and keep each other accountable.

And also roll up fatties of fellowship and fun.

Church is supposed to be a powerhouse, a place where we come and gather strength and encouragement and inspiration, so that we can go back out into the world proclaim good news and junk.

In theory. That’s what we’re supposed to do. And hopefully, in general, that’s what the church does do.

But I know there’s a growing number of people who are not convinced–and not impressed. They look at us “Christians” and the only things they know about us as a group are 1. That we don’t cuss or drink as much, at least not in public, 2. That we quote the Bible when it suits our purposes, and 3. We think Obama is pretty much the antichrist.

(I do not think Obama is the antichrist.)

I’ve heard people say “I love God, I love Jesus; I just hate the church. The people there are hypocrites. Church is pointless. I can watch church on TV. I can worship God on my own.”

I get it. I’ve said that myself once upon a time. And I was asked, at that time, “If you love Christ, and Christ loves the church, then how can you hate the church?”

The church was not designed to be a bunch of meanies that stand around judging everybody. The church wasn’t meant to be a place where a bunch of self-righteous rich people come to feel good about themselves once a week. It wasn’t meant to be a place where teenagers go on Wednesday night to eat pizza, listen to a rock band, and then talk about Jesus for 2 minutes in between gossip sessions.

People are not perfect. Christians are not perfect. But God’s love IS perfect.

The church is meant to be the hands and feet of Jesus here on earth. The church is meant to be good news to the poor.

We can’t do that if we’re focused solely on ourselves 95% of the time.

And I certainly need the accountability that being actively involved with a group of fellow believers brings. I need the encouragement. I need the wisdom and advice of those who are strong in the faith and more knowledgeable than me about the teachings of the Bible.

And the church needs me. It needs me to be part of “the team”. The “team” has goals: Love others. Bring the good news. Be lights in a dark place.

I can’t bring sight to the blind or freedom to the oppressed all by myself.

I can’t even make a dent.

It’s soooo not about not drinking or cussing or bible-thumping, or even Obama.

Guys–if you love Jesus, then the church is a team you want to be a part of. You gotta get in on this. It needs you and all your spunk and talents and hopes and dreams and even your heartaches and disappointments. If you think the team sucks, well by all means, please–come help make it better.

Humanity is one hot mess. We’re warm-blooded, quick-tempered, impulsive, emotional drama-queens who strive painfully for perfection but time and time again we fail epically. But Jesus loves us, and He loves His church.

And sometimes we do get it right.

It’s about reaching out, and helping people. Feeding the hungry. Clothing the naked. Taking care of the orphan and the widow. Loving the unlovable.

Even more than all that, it’s about being human and banding together to help accomplish the task of spreading hope. And I can think of no greater hope than Jesus.


word on the street

Here was soccer practice last night: my team was running around like lunatics while they waited for their turn to shine under the bright team-portrait lights. I stood idly by watching the madness, and I guess I just look like the kind of girl to chit-chat with, and you know, share a life story–complete with political views and spiritual struggles–with.

People talk to me. Well, I talk to people. Well, actually I more or less run my mouth until I look like a total jackass, and then people feel comfortable talking to me since they figure they can’t possibly look any stupider than I just did.

It’s a gift.

Really.

I enjoy talking to people when I’m not totally wigging out (’cause I got the anxiety!) As I listened to some of these ladies talk, I realize that every person has so much baggage. We all struggle and strain and fight the work that God wants to do in our lives. Sometimes, if we’re particularly feisty by nature, we create our very own custom-made hell-on-earth.

It’s not just me.

The thought is both relieving and sad.

I’ve been there. I’ve been too tired to go to church. I’ve been so lonely I could just die. I’ve had the knock-down drag-out fights with my husband and I’ve screamed at my kids for a week straight.

I’ve also drank myself into a stupor every day by 3:00 in the afternoon for a good solid 3 years. I’ve cried in my closet partly because I was ashamed of being drunk and partly because I was too drunk to do anything else. I’ve given precious pieces of my heart and body to people who didn’t love or respect me. I’ve brought down mad dishonor on my parents. I emotionally neglected my daughter and I flat-out ignored God, saying things like “I’m just not into Jesus right now.”

But the whole time, Jesus? Was very much into Toni McClung. And He pursued me super-duper hardcore and He fought for me and when I was at my rockest bottom, He walked right in, paid the price for everything that I had done, and everything that I would do and everything that I haven’t even done yet. He redeemed me.

Say that with me: redeem.

I am worth something to Him. I don’t deserve it, I don’t fully understand it, but He calls me His own. He calls me Daughter.

I see these people, these moms and dads and these children out there on the soccer field and they talk to me and my heart hurts for them. It literally hurts, and I could cry over their pain. I know.

I know loneliness and fear and panic and anxiety and desperation and hunger and sadness and despair and depression and anger and rage and hurt and pain and loss. I know the frustration and the impatience and the feeling of being overwhelmed and powerless, and I have had the shakes for something that never fixed anything–only made it all worse, worse than I could ever imagine. Sometimes I still get the shakes, actually.

I always had trouble understanding that church term: my chains are gone. I used to think: “Chains? Really? My life is good. Really good.” (a Nacho Libre quote for the win!)

But I get it now. My alcoholism, my laziness, my pride, my sins: it was absolute slavery. Jesus wanted me to be free. And though those very human feelings still come up and temptations still rear their ugly heads, they don’t own me and they don’t define me, because He calls me Daughter.

It’s not about church or church activities or church people or the church building. It’s not about things I do or do not do or about acting right and avoiding wrong. It’s about loving Jesus with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength because He first loved me; He died for me and for all people.

And that’s…awesome. Awesome is what it is.


Fun with Salvation.

Day…11?…without Cheyenne. She’s not at a sleepover. She’s not at a band function and I’m not going to pick her up in a couple hours. She’s actually gone. And I miss her. I miss having my buddy. I miss our jokes. Not everyone gets my jokes–especially not Caleb or the under-9 crowd that lives in my house. Things are weird around here. July 27th is an unfathomably long way off.

On a happy note, Mia got saved. My Catholic peeps might boo-hiss at that word, but all it means is that what Jesus did for us finally sunk in; she’s at an age where it’s all starting to make sense, and for the first time, it hit her right smack in the guts. She wants to give her heart to God. I have no doubt that He speaks to people of all ages, and it’s a wonderful thing being able to slow down long enough to listen–and grasp what’s being heard–at 8 years old.

(*Please know that in the following paragraphs, I am mainly addressing the concept of salvation alone–I know there’s a difference between becoming  a Christian and being a Christian, but I feel the need to write mostly about this particular part for right now.*)

When I was 14 I met some friends that asked me if I was saved. I had no freaking clue what “saved” meant, so they explained:

Them: “Do you believe that everyone is a sinner including you?”

Me: “Uh, yeah.”

Them: “Do you believe that Jesus is the son of God and that He died for your sins?”

Me: “Duh.”

Them: “Will you pray a prayer with me right now and ask Jesus to come into your heart and change your life (right before we go smoke pot behind the gym)?”

Me: “I find that highly unneccessary. I’ve only been praying to Jesus and thanking him for all kinds of crap, for 14 years–that’s like, my whole life.”

Them: “Then have you followed the Lord in Believer’s baptism?”

Me: “WTF does that even mean? I’ve been baptized–twice. I know you think I’m a clueless Catholic, but I think I got this, thankyouverymuch.”

It almost seemed to me that everyone who claimed to be Christians were some of the meanest, snidest, greediest, sinningest people I’d ever met.

inigo montoya inigomontoya

We’re sinners and Jesus died for us because God loves us. Isn’t that what we’re all taught in church before we’re old enough to walk? Wasn’t that the general message of any church? I knew the facts; I read them in the bible, I heard them in Sunday school, and I could tell strangers if they asked me. I had it all down pat on an intellectual level. I’d get sentimental about Jesus on the occasional Sunday during mass, and once for several months after a church retreat to Assissi, Italy, where I became fascinated with the life and times of St. Francis.

I thought about the concept of salvation more and more as the years went on. I tried to listen harder during mass to see if I was missing anything. I participated in the Sacrament of Confirmation–which is basically the Catholic Church equivalent of saying “Alright you’ve been learning this stuff for years–are you in or out?” Of course I was in. I didn’t want to be out. My parents would kill me.

I continued to pray. I had conversations with all kinds of people. It seemed like my head just stayed filled with thoughts of Jesus and sin and forgiveness and love.

And then one night, it all went from my head to my heart. I was overcome with guilt and sorrow over my sins. And I wanted more than anything to truly belong to the kingdom of God, and to make Jesus the single more important thing in my life–or as Mia puts it, “the boss of my life”.

If you’re interested in the cut-and-dry Protestant version of salvation according to the Holy Bible, here it is:

  1. Every human is a sinner. Romans 3:23 says “All have sinned and are not good enough to share God’s divine greatness.”
  2. God’s penalty for sin is death. Romans 6:23: “When people sin, they earn what sin pays—death. But God gives his people a free gift—eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
  3. In His great love, God has made provision for the salvation of sinners. Romans 5:8: “But Christ died for us while we were still sinners, and by this God showed how much he loves us.”
  4. Each person must put his trust in God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Romans 10:9-13 says “If you openly say, “Jesus is Lord” and believe in your heart that God raised him from death, you will be saved. Yes, we believe in Jesus deep in our hearts, and so we are made right with God. And we openly say that we believe in him, and so we are saved. Yes, the Scriptures say, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disappointed.” It says this because there is no difference between those who are Jews and those who are not. The same Lord is the Lord of all people. And he richly blesses everyone who looks to him for help. Yes, “everyone who trusts in the Lord will be saved.”

It’s more complicated than that, but it isn’t. We’re all guilty. We all sin. No one is exempt from this. Our sin demands payment–we deserve death. I got stuck on this the most: “Eternity in hell? Surely I’m not that bad, am I?” Truth is that yes I am. There’s good in everyone, yes. But there’s also bad: we are greedy, quick-tempered, spiteful, judgemental. The list goes on. I fight these things on a daily basis and I always will because I’m human and I’m just not holy by nature.

That badness in our hearts separates us from God. But God, being our loving creator and father, gives us an undeserved gift: He sent His perfect son Jesus, who never sinned, to pay for our sins–He lay down his life willingly–to die in our place on the cross. We cannot earn this gift and we can never repay it. No catch–this salvation is free stuff.

And here’s the actual dirt: There’s nothing textbook about salvation.

“Getting saved” is not so much an ultimate moment in time that caps off a several-year period of learning. “Getting saved” is hopefully not the greatest spiritual experience you will ever have. “Getting saved” is only the beginning of a looonnnng, and probably bumpy, journey–with God as your guide.

Being “saved” is personal. Being “saved” doesn’t make you better than everybody. It doesn’t make you perfect and it doesn’t automatically make you even “good”. But following Jesus Christ, and knowing that your soul belongs to God forever, should fill you with a peace and a love that just cannot be known outside of Him.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg. We don’t stop at salvation. We can begin to develop a deep relationship with God which involves so much more than reading a couple key verses out of Romans. This relationship is knowledge. It’s a feeling. It’s action. It’s unconditional love. It’s time spent. It’s physical and mental energy. It’s our purpose and our focus.

We live in human bodies that get tired and cranky and hungry and scared; we live on earth, a place that is often times hard and mean and unfair. The road is rough. There’s so much work to do and we can’t just sit at home and fluff our pillows and send our kids to college so that they, too, can afford to sit at home and fluff their pillows.

Our paths are all unique, and we can’t compare ourselves to others–but what we can compare ourselves to is the person God wants us to be, and God? Is unconcerned with wealth and success and wordly wisdom. Christians are called not only to love God with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength; we are called to be lights in this dark, broken world–to be the hands and feet of Jesus, who was loving, and compassionate, and giving, and merciful; who came to serve and not to be served.

My hope for my children, and my friends, and my whole family, (and for anyone reading this!) is for each person to come to know and love Jesus; to reconcile themselves with God and to make Him the center of their lives; and to reach their full potential as one of His children. Mia’s simple prayer last night was one of the sweetest things I’ll ever hear. That prayer was the start of something crazy awesome and I just know she will do amazing things for God.


Emotional Ramble About Hard Stuff.

Last night I had a nightmare that Beautiful Mom came and took my baby. Just walked right into my hospital room, and whisked that little one from my arms.

Beautiful mom is taller than me. She is prettier than me. She is skinnier than me. Beautiful mom has long straight silky hair instead of the rat’s nest that lies on my head. Her hands are soft and she does not bite her nails. Beautiful mom went to college for 100 years and she’s a doctor with a side degree in business, and a booming career in modeling for toothpaste commercials. Beautiful mom never loses her temper, never burns dinner, and never forgets a load of towels in the washing machine for 3 days.

Okay, 4 days.

I know it was just a dream, but I woke up with slight feelings of guilt and inadequacy. Did I do something wrong? It’s hard to get past this; especially after I read things like “with late miscarriage, the health of the mother is most often to blame,” in popular pregnancy books. What–did I not eat enough broccoli?

I quickly talked myself down from that cliff. I trust God; and for reasons that I might never understand while I live on this earth, He called our baby up. He or she will only know happiness and joy, forever. He or she will never ever suffer, not even a little bit. I’m glad for our sweet baby, who is safe in heaven with my grandparents and my dog. (Say what you will about pets not having souls–I will call you a bold-face liar. And then I’ll probably punch you in the face.)

I am honestly okay. I am sad, and I am hurting, but I have a great peace about this whole thing–more peace than can possibly be natural during a time like this. I can only attribute that to the prayers that have been sent our way. I truly believe that God knew best in this situation. He takes what was meant for bad and uses it for God. He keeps His promises.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

–2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Months ago when I said that God was on-board with making our family more awesome: He has done that. We have pulled together and leaned on each other over the past week; we’ve talked about the hard things and we’ve laughed over the little things and I have treasured every minute of it.

Months ago when I said I would be content no matter my circumstances: I am content. I trust God. This doesn’t mean I am not sad or that this doesn’t hurt–because it does hurt, more than anything. But we have not been wronged or cheated; our lives are far from wrecked.

Months ago when I said God performed a miracle by giving us a heartbeat on a day when I had nothing but my small prayer to believe in: that miracle has not been taken away. It happened. We promised God we would be grateful and we would love the life He had trusted us with–even if we only got to keep it for another week, or several more months, or many, many years. We are grateful because it was a life and it was beautiful, and it changed us.

Our faith has grown even in this short period of time. My relationship with my husband has strengthened. We have gotten closer to our church family. I’ve been able to have meaningful conversations with Mia about Jesus and trust and salvation–all subjects that may have taken years to bubble up inside her questioning young mind.

God is fair. Even last Thursday, that terrible day, God was taking care of us: Caleb wasn’t supposed to be in town–he decided not to leave. He wasn’t supposed to accompany me to what I felt was a bullshit appointment–but he decided to come anyway. We were going to take separate cars, but at the last minute we felt like riding together. We almost refused the ultrasound because we felt it was unneccessary and expensive; the doctor’s staff talked us into it. And together we learned of our baby’s passing, by the gentle explanation of a kind doctor in the quiet darkness of a private room–and not through a traumatic bloody midnight visit to the ER.

Maybe there was something wrong. Maybe our baby was terribly sick. Maybe our baby wouldn’t have made it to September. Maybe this pregnancy was meant to teach us a valuable lesson. Maybe this experience was meant to push us in another direction.

We just do not know yet.

I’ve been reading a wonderful book called “Kisses From Katie”, by Katie Davis. It’s about a teenager that moved to Africa and ended up adopting 13 kids and staying there forever. One particular quote stands out to me and I have to share it, because it fits so perfectly not just with what I’m going through but with everyday things:

“I believe that God totally, absolutely, intentionally gives us more than we can handle. Because this is when we surrender to Him and He takes over, proving Himself by doing the impossible in our lives.”

I have never, never thought about that before, but it makes so much sense. This suck-fest that is late miscarriage is most certainly not in my power to endure, at least not with any amount of calmness. God is giving me more than I can handle, way more. But He’s also provided me with about a hundred people who have enough wisdom and enough love to see our family through it. I have to choose to thank Him for what He is doing in our lives–because I know without a doubt that our future holds something more wonderful than I could plan or imagine.


Have You Asked Jesus To Wreck Your Life?

Friends, correct me if I’m wrong: when Jesus has really, truly come into your life, is it not like someone is stabbing you repeatedly in the heart? Like there’s a giant sharp knife caught right in your chest? And you can’t pull it out, and occasionally the knife twists deeper–sometimes a little, sometimes a lot?

Some things just aren’t funny anymore. Some people just aren’t as cool as you once thought they were. Some foods don’t taste quite as good. Some songs don’t speak to you like they used to.

Sad things are sadder and you’re a lot more sensitive than you used to be.

Taking it further, you don’t have to have that expensive pair of shoes. You don’t need to see that movie on opening night. You don’t care what kind of car you drive, so long as it gets you from place to place in a reasonably reliable way.

It doesn’t matter to you when your highlights are more than 3 months old. Wal-Mart make-up is a-okay. You clean up for church but you still feel slightly grubby (in your last-season-everythings) compared to everyone else, and it doesn’t bother you as much as it once did. You’re just glad to be forgiven and free, and you love being with your new family in Christ.

But it gets worse.

Your eyes start opening up. For me, it was like God was having to pry them open a little at a time, because I was so afraid of what I might see. And then when your eyes do open up, you throw your hands over them because you are scared to death of change–or worse, a call to action.

For a while, you pretend that just about everything Jesus says in the Bible only applies to other people–nuns or missionaries or college students with dreadlocks. That your calling is to live a Godly life (see also: less cussing) right inside your cozy bubble with a select group of friends and family members.

You read the Bible and almost nothing in your world sits right anymore. Not the amount of money you spend on food, clothing, and entertainment. Not the amount of time you spend at the ballpark, or jacking around on websites like Pinterest and Polyvore. So-called “normal, everyday stuff” (see also: typical day-to-day life in the U.S.A.) seems like a waste of time.

A giant, soul-sucking, waste of time.

And then someone tells you that those new shoes? Worth more than a year’s worth of schooling for a half-dozen girls in Uganda. The impact an education would have on the lives of these sweet children who God loves? Would last a helluva lot longer than the crappy new shoes.

And you will never buy shoes again.

Well, not any pair that costs more than $10.

(I will not even discuss the guilt-fest that my long-time dream of granite counter-tops has induced.)

You read the Bible and you get a cold feeling in your guts because “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God,” according to Mark 10:25, and? Newsflash: we are so rich, it’s ridiculous.

The world will tell you to chill out. The world will tell you that you’re more than good enough already, and that you’re taking this faith thing too far, and that you’ve been riding the Jesus train a little too long. The world might even get pissed when you don’t agree–and this world includes Christians and non-Christians alike.

You read the Bible and everything convicts you. Occasional emotional outbursts and temper-tantrums, overly self-indulgent shopping trips, big fat meals every night, little white lies everyday–all things that your mom or your best friends would excuse, all the things that society encourages–become to you what they really are in God’s eyes: sin. Sin, sin, sin.

Then God tells you to deal with this sin. He tells you to own up to it, ask forgiveness, and repent of it–which means you have to stop it, which means you have to stop other things that lead to it. Some of it is easy. And some of it is really difficult and you are forced to stop being proud and self-reliant. And you beg tearfully for God’s help.

Some days your heart is absolutely soaring on a Jesus high. And on those same days, you will have an anxiety attack from hell and you’ll want a drink so bad, and you can remember the smell, and the taste, and the feel of beer in your mouth. You will long for the buzz and the numbness it brings. You’ll cry because you know it is no good for you or for the people around you; and you’ll actually be so bold as to be mad at God for showing you the light.

Sometimes you will consumed with a sense of urgency, all kinds of on fire to tell your old friends or family about Jesus and how He works in your life these days. And when you do actually have time to talk with them, you chicken out and say a cussword or two just so they won’t think you’re one of those Crazy Christians.

Sometimes you will be overwhelmed with the desire to help the poor. And later on that afternoon, you will physically recoil at the sight of a homeless man on the street. You’ll purposefully retreat to your area of serenity, be it your room, or your house, neighborhood, or in my case–your entire town. But you’ll know it’s wrong, and that there’s still work to be done and there’s still people left to love.

And you will once again ask God for forgiveness, and direction, and courage.

And He actually gives it to you.

Along with patience. And hope. And joy. And love. More than you could dream of containing all at once in your own little human body.

And people who used to make you angry? They don’t make you so angry anymore.

And people who you used to avoid? You seek them out–and you find them.

And people who you never thought would want to talk about God with you? They bring up the Bible on their own.

And a wiser, older man calls you one day out of the blue to tell you a story that brings tears to your eyes and renews your hope and purpose.

And you attend a conference or you hear a radio sermon that tells you you’re not alone in your thinking.

Happy things are happier. Forgiveness is greater and love is deeper. Little blessing are huge deals. Everything has meaning and everyone has purpose. Life isn’t as terrible as you thought it was, and dying isn’t a scary thought anymore. The shedding of this earthly body, with all its shortcomings and mistakes; the leaving behind of this world, with all its pain and drama and uncertainty; and the being united with our loving Father in Heaven–that is how you view death now, and that is why it is exciting.

But during our time here, however long or short it may be, we are called to love God’s people; and since He created you and me and all the bazillion members of Earth’s population and He knows each hair on each person’s little head, I can only assume we are not to hold back with anyone. We’re not necessarily meant to be well-liked and popular in this world. We might not be meant to be comfortable and safe here. We’re definitely not meant to stay here at all.

I am so, so, glad–that no matter what happens to me here–Jesus has overcome this world. In this place I will struggle and my heart will break, and I will get so many things wrong. Oh, but because of Easter…the cross, the resurrection…we will see Him again.

“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” –John 16:33


My Apologies

People.

I am so sorry.

I’m sorry for coming off as judgmental. I’m sorry if I sound pushy or snide or arrogant or condescending.

I’m sorry if I ever seem to be trying to shove religion down throats. (It only makes people gag.)

And most of all, I’m sorry if the things I say and how I actually live don’t line up; I’m sorry if my faith has not manifest itself through my actions, because that gives off a most terrible impression of a God who I want to honor with my life to the best of my abilities.

And I’m so dreadfully sorry if that terrible impression has turned any of you off to God, the salvation He offers, and the peace He wants you to have.

I am sorry.

I am sorry if you are my friend or family member and I have not shared with you why I have the faith that I have. I’m sorry for my selfishness, my fear, and my apathy and complacency.

I’m sorry if you don’t know my God. I’m so, so sorry. Because you are really missing out.

And I can’t explain it to you, not really, and still come off as rational or sane. I can’t promise that by knowing God that you’ll stop drinking, or have an awesome marriage, or well-behaved kids. Life’s not guaranteed to be easy or understandable; you won’t have all the answers. No matter how much you pray. No matter how much you go to church. No matter how much you learn about God. No matter how many good things you do in the name of God–life here on Earth is freaking hard; there will always be confusion, frustration, and pain. You might go hungry. You might suffer. You might be killed.

I can only tell you what I know: God is love. He is forgiveness, grace, mercy. Peace, and hope.

I know that I am weak, weak, weak. I know that I don’t have in me to battle my own demons. I know that I rebel for no other reason than I don’t like being told what to do. I love to go against the grain just to be different (and difficult). I love to irritate the crap out of Caleb just to get a rise out of him. I love the taste of alcohol, and I crave it, and if left to my own devices I’d be drunk all day every day.

I know that I was struggling. I was actually drowning and I was in total denial. I was fighting and I didn’t even know why. I was making bad choice after bad choice, knowing that I’d pay for it later–and I didn’t care. I wandered. I hit rock bottom. I broke. And I almost took my whole family down with me.

I’ve never had all my shit together. I’ve never been strong enough or smart enough to do life on my own, at least not with any significant amount of happiness or success.

I’m weak.

And I’m grateful. Because that weakness? Has shown me my need. It points me to God. It reminds me of what I am without the hope that He provides. It gives powerful testimony to God’s healing power and love.

God is faithful. He forgives, and He lifts and He restores.

That is my humbling experience.

My friend.

My heart hurts for you. Everyone has a different journey. Maybe you’re on the right track. Maybe you’ve made all the right decisions and maybe you don’t need any help. Maybe God has let you down. Maybe His people have let you down. Maybe people claiming to be His have turned you off. Maybe you’ve found something different. Maybe you just can’t make sense out of it.

I’m not talking about mindlessly following a certain set of rules, carefully avoiding anything that would burst a carefully constructed Christian bubble. I’m not talking about being good just so you can go to Heaven. I’m also not talking about heading straight to your local Baptist church, walking down that green-carpeted center aisle, and reciting a generic prayer.

But I promise you, I promise you: a relationship with God is worth pursuing.

job


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