Walking Together

I want to tell you a true story. Johnny was my cousin and my favorite person to hang out with as a kid. He was four years older than me, but never excluded me from what he was doing. We played in my grandmother’s attic for hours in the winter and on top of her flat-roofed garage every summer. During his teen years he turned to music. He could play anything. I loved to hear him on the piano. Once, when I was a teen, I told him that more than anything I wanted to play a song on the piano (I couldn’t read music). He numbered the keys in the order I would hit them, and I played The Entertainer!

He died when he was 30–January 1993. I lost someone very special. He died of AIDS. Yes, he was gay, but to me he was almost a big brother, a musician, an artist–he could turn any fabric into bedspreads, comforters, curtains…he died in Key West surrounded by friends and his parents. I flew down and conducted his funeral because, despite the fact that he had been a church musician before he contracted AIDS, no preacher would visit him. The church as a whole…all churches I knew of…turned away. It was that same year I met a woman in Georgia as she wept. When I asked her what was wrong, she answered, “I can’t tell my church that my son is dying of AIDS. They won’t let me return, or they won’t conduct his funeral.”

When I flew into Key West, a very kind gay young man picked me and fed me lunch. That night two gay men fed me dinner and invited me into their home as a friend. They rented a boat and a group of gay men went out onto the ocean (along with his parents) to scatter his ashes. They packed a lunch for us all. They never asked me to pay for my own meal.

The year before, I had been struggling with serious family issues. The only professor at Emory to reach out to me was a professor who also happened to be a lesbian. She helped me find a Christian counseling group that basically saved my life for the next two years.

During my lifetime, I have been friends with several people in the LGBTQ community. I haven’t thought of it much until lately, because I just thought of them as friends. I didn’t worry about their sexuality. But with all of the news about their rights being taken back away, I can’t help but want to speak up. No one in that community has ever harmed me, tried to have sexual relations with me, tried to “recruit” me, judged me for my faith or my struggles. They have just been friends.

As both a married and now a single woman, plenty of straight white Christian men have invited me to “sleep around,” let them “comfort” me, have a little fun that I didn’t ask for. Some of them were married and asked me to be discreet if I accepted their offer. I turned them down. That’s not who I am.

I get it that for some of you this is an issue of faith–you see a gay person as a sinner based on your theology. Please live out your faith! If that’s what you believe, never engage in a same-sex marriage. I live in a democracy that supports religious freedom. Many of my friends live out their faith differently. Many of my friends identify as Christians also and worship, serve on mission teams, teach, etc. I support their rights in this democracy also.

I will be hurt if my friends lose the right to love whom they choose to love after they fought for that right. They have stood by me when the church didn’t. I will stand by them out of the same friendship and love that they showed me. I am not going to try to define anyone’s theology. But I am going to speak up for someone who wants to grow old with a person they love. That’s beautiful, and it hurts no one!

This is not a theological debate on what defines sin. None of us would ever agree on that. When I was going through my divorce, I had plenty of people quoting Scripture to me and telling me how sinful I was. And for friends remarried, many Christians believe a second marriage is a sin. Divorce and remarriage are legal in this country (even though I wish divorce never had to happen–it hurts many people). I would not have survived my marriage if it had not ended.

But nowhere does Jesus tell me to legislate what I define as sin. And if I could, I would legislate most of his words that people forget to live by. Feed my sheep. And what if we legislate his words to the rich young ruler when he said the man had to give everything away? And what if we legislate turn the other cheek? Luke 14 telling us to bring in the poor? Matthew 20, lead by being a servant.

We can’t legislate our beliefs. We can only live them and in this nation we are blessed that we can share them. But this is about the secular world and democracy. I will not legislate away the rights of people I care about.

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Dear Christians…

Dear Christians, we have a long and complicated history of those of us claiming this name. I don’t think there has ever been a time when we all agreed. Even Paul and Barnabas had their disagreements. We all have to look to Scripture to find Truth, but that can be complicated because of the many ways to interpret some things. So we have to stay in community to discuss together what Truth looks like. And we look back to history and tradition to see when we have gotten it right and when we have gotten it wrong.

I keep reading posts quoting preachers like Franklin Graham that seem to justify seeking our own comfort and safety over the lives of others. I have a lot of respect for the Graham family. Don’t get me wrong on that—I am not calling them evil or intending disrespect to any of their ministries. But just like you and I are flawed, are sinners, so are ministers. They can get it wrong at times and history is very clear about that in the following examples that I think you will agree with:

First, look at who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote the Letter from the Birmingham Jail to—Christian ministers and leaders. It was his response to a public statement of concern and caution issued by eight white religious leaders of the South. They wanted to keep their churches safe and their white members out of harm’s way. Outside of that, these were respected ministers doing very good work in other areas. Look at the wording—the ministers were calling the Civil Rights Movement “unwise and untimely.” They were also calling for a ban of the “outsiders” (King and his colleagues) coming in to their communities. Sound familiar?

“Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid. Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea.” –Dr. Martin Luther King—History has proven this minister right and the other ministers of that day wrong.

And then there’s Dietrich Bonhoeffer—another minister like King who got it so right. He was a German minister and theologian who came to America to study. While here, Hitler began his rise to power. Bonhoeffer could have stayed safely in America and lived out the rest of his life here. Instead, he returned to Germany and spoke out against the injustices towards the Jews and eventually was executed for his stand. While alive, he begged Christian churches to hear the cries of the Jews and take a stand.

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes. There is his commission, his work. ‘The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are doing who would ever have been spared’ (Luther).”
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community

We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.

Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.

Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.

There is no way to peace along the way to safety. For peace must be dared. It is the great venture.—Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship

 Let’s be clear:  If you read the Bible from front to back as a whole, you will see that there is nothing logical or safe about Christianity. Every call to follow God’s will through the entire Bible calls for actions that don’t fall into line with human reason and logic. Nothing Jesus did was logical. Nothing tells us to worry about ourselves first. And if we put our nation above God’s will, that is idolatry. True Christians throughout history risked their lives for others in Jesus’s name–hiding Jews in their homes at great personal risk. The white Christians who finally stood with Dr. King.  Think of all of the heroes of our faith. Think of Corrie Ten Boom. Think of the people whose names we will never know. Read about Rahab who hid the spies in her house. Read about the wise men who refused to return to Herod and tell him the location of the child. Read about the people who brought Paul into their homes all of the times the authorities wanted him dead. Think of the person who hid the disciples in his upper room when everyone was sure Romans and Jews would kill any sympathizers. That is Biblical. Think of the displaced Americans on 9/11/01–their planes had to land in Canada when our airports closed. It’s a beautiful story of 7,000 stranded, unvetted travelers who landed and the people of a small town who took them in and fed them and cared for them not knowing if some of the travelers were ones who might cause harm.

Some people will confuse the facts about who is a refugee—a refugee has that name because he/she has proven to be persecuted because of faith, race or location of their home. They are wanted dead by those who hate them not because of the refugee’s actions but because of the hate in the heart of the hunter. These people undergo extensive vetting. These are not people seeking a visa to get a job. None have attacked us. None caused 9/11. These are people trying not to be killed just because of who they are. Tell me you don’t really think Jesus would say, “Now, you people over here be safe. Let somebody else help if they want to.” And Jesus never told us to just send money. He said go. He said heal. He said love above all else. He said put your life on the line, Peter, Paul, John…Christians. He said take up your cross. It may kill you, but I will reward you. That’s Biblical.

I love you and am glad we are on this journey together.

Dear Refugees…

Dear Refugees,

I can’t imagine what you must think about Americans right now, much less American Christians. You must be tempted to hate us, though we both know that hate solves nothing. You must be weeping tonight because lies and fear are putting you in harm’s way—keeping you from family members who are already here in America—keeping you in war zones where your children go to bed crying every night wondering if they will die or if they will waken to find that they have been orphaned.

Our nation—the same one who just held a march about being pro-life—have said through our actions that your life doesn’t really matters as much as our comfort. We know the odds are that you will die of disease in a refugee camp or be killed by a bomb set off by someone who hates you just for the sake of hate. But our nation just declared that you are somebody else’s problem. My faith tradition tells me that my Savior said, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40). But my nation, my fellow Christians, just said that we will see if somebody else will help. It’s not going to be us. I am so sorry. I love you and would do anything I could to save your life. I know what it is like to be scared.

The Scriptures of my faith tradition, God’s Holy Bible, says “fear not” to us 103 times in the King James Version. There are more than 300 passages that don’t use those exact words, but still tell me the same message: just do my will without fear or worry. Walk on water. Have my Son. Lead my people. Cross the Red Sea. Stand up to Pharaoh. Take up your cross. Heal in my name. Go where you have never gone before. Yet today we allowed fear to win and rule our nation. People decided they should fear you—young mother, small child, worried father, aging grandmother, lost brother, wandering sister—because some people have done wrong. Many American men beat their wives daily, but we are more afraid of you according to people I hear declaring that you will be an outcast forever. I know your pain. I know what it is like to have no voice, to be ignored. I love you. I hear you. I am sorry.

My faith tradition reads our Bible each Sunday—the Bible that says this about love in I Corinthians 13…If I speak in the tongues] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal… If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing….Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres…And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love… But many people have chosen not to love you even though our Savior declared that He gave us a new command to love as He loved (John 13:34). He died for us. I’m pretty sure I’m not going to die because I love you enough to grant you safety, but even if I do, it is what I was asked to do by the One who died for me. If I believe Him, I must choose to love you enough to help you find life. It’s my turn to return the love I have been granted. I am sorry so many are refusing to love you. I love you. I will do my best to show you.

My faith tradition tells me to go into the world, to embrace you and tell you that Jesus loves you. How can I tell you Jesus loves you if I don’t show you? Jesus didn’t just tell me—He showed me. It’s what we are called to do.

We have Americanized our faith to believe that God wants us to feel safe and happy I can’t find those words in my Bible. My faith never asked me to pledge allegiance to my nation (but I do love my nation). My faith asks me to love, to go, to heal, to be among you, to embrace all people, to fear not, to walk on water and just do what I truly know is right.

I’m sorry many in my Church have ignored your pain and your tears, have labelled you evil instead of called you a child of God (even if you don’t know you are yet), have chosen our desire for comfort and happiness over your need for life. I love you. Hear that. I will be your voice as much as I can. I would swim to your rescue if I had a way. I would fly you to safety if I owned a plane. If you make it here, I will call you friend. I will pray with you. Just know many of us are trying to pray you to a new life until we can find more practical ways of helping.

 

 

Why do they pray?

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Last month, I released Two Frontiers, my third book—first historical fiction. The book is set during the time of the Mexican-American War (late 1840s, pre-Civil War). Three of my main characters pray occasionally throughout the book. Their prayers are not printed, but I do make reference to them praying for other characters. I have been asked by readers why I incorporated prayer into my fictional book. Here’s my answer:

First, I believe that prayer keeps us centered on the holy in our lives. Prayer keeps our focus off of fear and limited hope and empty wishes and keeps our focus on an all-powerful, loving God who truly wants us to come seeking answers and comfort. When my prayer life is not strong, I get off-track in my goals and with my emotions. My characters needed the same focus (don’t want to tell you why—too many spoilers).

Second, my characters (just like me) needed a place to pour out their sorrows and fears and hurts. When they faced fears, they needed a Holy Presence to help comfort them and grant them strength to go forward. I am not a self-sufficient person (even when I am stubborn and try to be). I need God in my life to guide me at all times and to help carry me and strengthen me when I feel broken. I wanted my characters to reflect this same need.

Third, praying does not mean that the outcome of a situation will be automatically be changed (one spoiler—one character is seriously injured in the war). I have prayed for the health of people who still died way too young. I have prayed over my life and have still had to climb mountains to survive. I have prayed for my children, and they have still made some pretty big mistakes (great girls, though—love them dearly). Prayer didn’t always change the outcome to suit my wishes. Prayer changed me, though. Prayer gave me a stronger peace of mind and a sense of comfort. Prayer helped me find insight into the situation. Prayer led me to new hope that I would have never found on my own, to answers that came in a way much better than what I had asked for.

So my characters prayed in my book. It’s how I get through life; it’s how I had them get through their challenges. I pray. It changes me for the better.

Why are “they” on the list?

Why are “they” on the list?

A friend once asked me to explain why I thought the people listed in Hebrews 11 were on the list as heroes and heroines of faith. Here’s my answer:

They are on the list because they yielded control (though quite imperfectly, as we see by their sins) to God. Granted, they did not yield control early in life for many of these on the list. Many of us hold on to part of our lives. We plan our careers or our families or the place where we will settle or travel. We think God approves just because we prayed and things are working out well. We tell God, “I’ll give you Sunday and Wednesday. That’s really doing better than a lot of people I know.” We also tell God, “Here’s the amount of money that is yours. Tell me how you want me to donate it.” We also tell God, “Here’s how I am willing to help. Show me where you want me to do the things I am comfortable doing.” We are quite pleased with ourselves when we say those things because the bar is set really low for what we are expected to do as Christians. God asks for all of us…to pray unceasingly…to follow faithfully…to give all that we have that separates us from God (Matthew 19–rich young ruler)…to witness everywhere we go… He does not ask for our lives as a slave owner. He asks so he can set us free and we can find the deep joy of loving him and being in a relationship with him.

To me, the power behind Abraham’s courage was his obedience to God. He yielded control of all of the details of his life. That’s very hard to do in reality. Abraham faltered at times, not sure about how to follow or bring about God’s plan. But he is a hero of faith because he was willing to drop all of his excuses and give God control of his life. Even when he sinned, Abraham still turned to God for the renewal and the second and third chance to keep going along the path God called him to. God told him where to travel to. God told him what all of the plans were to be. Go asked him to leave his native country and his relatives and go to a place that God would show him. That is the standard God set for us to follow. Things only became messy when Abraham tried to be in control of the planning. Look at Moses, Paul, and Peter, or any of the disciples. “Come and follow me.” It started in the Old Testament and continued throughout the New Testament. Follow me… not “follow me when it makes sense or is convenient.”

But isn’t that illogical? Financially risky? Unwise? Unsafe? Crazy? That’s why we might shun many of the people on the list, not because of their sins alone, though. I think we would shun them for the part they got right. We would say they were crazy. Leave everything you know and go somewhere that God says he will show you? Really? Have checked with your accountant first? Maybe the elders should talk to you about this plan, Abraham. Have you been feeling OK? Have you talked to your physician about how this will affect your health? We often ask for more pre-planning and a better, more secure package in this world.

Because of Abraham’s great faith, God told him, “This is what the LORD says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you. I will multiply your descendants beyond number, like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will conquer the cities of their enemies. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed — all because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:16-18). (Not because he was perfect, but because he gave God control of the plans. When he sinned, he was still trying to bring about God’s plan…he just forgot for a moment to trust that God really knew what he was doing. After he sinned, he still turned right back to God, giving God control over the mess Abraham just made by his sin.)
Not withhold even your son…we all withhold so much so that we feel secure, we feel wise in our planning, we feel comfortable. I just finished a study of Acts. Paul let God direct every part of his journey. When Paul tried to go where he thought was best, Acts tells us that God would instead lead him where God needed him next. And Paul went. Not many of us would witness as tirelessly as Paul witnessed.

Now, of course, God calls us all to different paths. Paul had many friends in each city who were called to help him and minister with him, but were not called to journey with him or be as abused as Paul was. I am not saying that we should all pack our bags and sell our homes and get on a camel or a boat and head out. But are we really willing to do whatever God asks? If we are in prayer and we have truly turned our entire lives over to God, he will use us in miraculous ways. Do we listen for God’s call? When he does call, do we respond with complete obedience and faith? We don’t get to choose the call.

Take Rahab as another example. Wasn’t her life complicated enough without some strange men coming in to take shelter? Wasn’t it illogical for her to let them in and hide them? If God sent someone to our door, would we listen to what he was asking us to do or would our human logic take over? Would we have handed them a few bucks and sent them on their way? Rahab put her entire life at risk for a plan that she could not have fully grasped at the time, though she did have an understanding about God’s ways. She followed faith rather than logic and “good sense.”

In Joshua 2:9 she says, “9. And she said unto the men, I know that the Lord hath given you the land, and that your terror is fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land faint because of you.”

Her house was apparently part of the wall of the city. She had a questionable reputation. She raised and/or bought flax and had it drying on the rooftop. Her house must have also doubled as an inn at times since the guards naturally thought visitors may know to go there or be sent there. Others in Jericho had news of God and his miraculous work and the conquests of the nation of Israel, but we are only told that this one person stood on her faith. Many people wouldn’t even risk their lives for friends, but she risked her life for spies for the “enemy” of her people because she believed. She had no guarantee (at the beginning) that she would survive. Are we willing to serve without guarantees? Do we have the courage of Rahab?

It takes an incredible amount of courage and faith to look for solutions outside of our own experience and comfort zone. Rahab had to look past her heritage, past her comfort, past her own traditions, past what common sense as a Canaanite woman told her in order to do what God asked her to do. Rahab knew that she could not serve two masters–she had the choice to make of which side to stand on. She chose God/Israel.

Sometimes the answers are outside of the boxes we construct through our traditions and through our education. But if we daily read God’s Word and pray daily that God use us as He desires, then we can open our minds to His answers and His way. Sometimes nothing we have done or learned in the past prepares us for the answer we need to give.

Yet, also, sometimes God uses our past sinfulness for his good when we say yes to him and are renewed. Part of her past did prepare her for this night. She had flax drying on the roof. Rahab had the nerve to defy authorities. Hadn’t these been part of her past? But now God was using this for his glory.

That brings me to my second point of this list of Heroes of Faith…who are willing to minister with? Many of us would easily minister to the people on the list…an old man wandering around the area…a harlot with questionable business practices…a drunk man…an adulterous woman. But many of us have, as you said, set the bar too high for people we will minister with. Will we teach a class with a recovering alcoholic whom everyone knows drank away his family savings? Will we join a mission team with a former adulterer who is really trying to find where God is leading him?

Do we talk behind their backs, an act that sabotages the effectiveness of their witness? Do we make a list of accomplishments they have to achieve or milestones they have to reach before they are “reformed enough” to join us in ministry? As men and women are released from prison that we have ministered to, do we invite them into our pews and into our programs, hoping that they may lead one day?

Who would have joined Rahab’s Bible study group? Not many of us, I am afraid. But Matthew’s genealogy list puts Rahab in the lineage of Christ. Christ does not hold the past against any person, but opens the door for a full restoration of each sinner who believes and repents. We get a new life. But do most of us really allow everyone to get a new life. We gossip or mistrust or give a small task to a person so they will “be busy and stay out of the real work.”

Rahab had two strikes against her… she was part of the Canaanites and she participated in questionable sexual and business practices. But when she was called by God, she responded in complete faith. God responded with love and acceptance. He sought her because he knew her heart and knew she would respond. Her faith and her actions are tied together. God saw her through his eyes, not through our perceptions.

This is what makes the list in Hebrews 11 so powerful…these are people who had faith and who acted on that faith–who listened for God and responded when God called. And God renews. It is God who makes us courageous enough and wise enough and strong enough and patient enough to serve. It is God in us that makes us able to respond in faith as Rahab did. She was not just a woman … but she was a woman filled with God. That made the difference.

So that is what we are called to do… have faith and act on that faith every time God calls. We are also to know that we are forgiven when we stumble … forgiveness gives us a chance to get back up and respond to God once again. And we are called to serve with others whom God calls … we aren’t the keepers of God’s call. Paul was a murderer. Peter was a coward and often confused at times.

I am a divorced woman … a former victim of abuse. I have been homeless. I have sinned. I have been a coward at times. I have been confused. Somehow, God called me. I understand why it is tempting to be my judge. I have heard the whispers behind my back. I have known people who were willing to minister to me, but not with me. I am not their judge. I am not the keeper of their call from God. I am just a person who must respond when and where God calls me. I blog. I write. I teach. I speak. I go. I listen. I pray. I read. I study.

It is all about God, though. It is about God acting in and through us. That is what Hebrews 11 is about to me…being a vessel carrying God’s will, God’s love, God’s mercy, God’s grace, God’s hope.

I picture Rahab when she first felt renewed by God. Can you imagine the feelings that swept over and through her when she felt God’s cleansing and renewing and empowering love…when she first understood what God was about…when she felt God embrace her in a pure and loving embrace that didn’t use her or degrade her or shame her, but rather built her up and made her feel whole. That empowerment and love soaked into the depth of her being…that feeling of renewal stayed in her memory. It was from that feeling that she was able to draw the courage and wisdom needed to serve and go forward in life. It was her personal relationship with God that allowed her to seek his path for a dilemma, for life, for our journey. She had to think fast. If we aren’t in tune with God and his power, we tend to make lousy choices when we have to think fast. But Rahab knew what God could do–God was miraculous. He could take these Israelites and make impossible things happen. God can also take a harlot and turn her into someone that eventually points to Christ in the lineage, someone who is held up as a heroine of faith.

So we have asked, do we obey God’s call? We have asked, who will we minister with? Now we have to ask, who can minister to us? I think about the spies here…obviously they were servants for God, willing to take on a dangerous mission. What would have happened to them if they had said, “I’m not going to ask for help from her… a harlot, a questionable businesswoman…a Canaanite. I’m not going to be in her house! She’s a sinner!” They would have died, no doubt. They were saved by God through Rahab. Wow! Would we allow her to minister to us? Would we go in her house, follow her directions, seek her advice? Great question!

Do we hear God’s voice when it is spoken through someone we are judging too harshly? Can we accept that God speaks through these people on this list of heroes in faith? She had a bad reputation at that moment…we are not talking about years later. We are talking about right then and there when she was considered bad news, a bad example, an outcast. Didn’t God get the memo about using good people first? Well, we forget that God writes the memos and his message said that she’s the one he called. She listened. She responded. Can we handle that in today’s world? God is God…his character and nature has remained the same throughout the ages. So if he called Rahab then, he would call her now. If she taught a class, would we attend and listen? We would seek God’s Word though her?

This list is about God’s renewal and his power and love. He loved these people. He loved Rahab! He put the seeds of his love inside of her. She felt them growing even in her sin and imperfections. She allowed God’s Word to grow inside of her to the point of it overflowing into action!

www.chrispepple.com

 

To the tween and teen girls “chasing” boys

I’m a Mom. I spend a lot of time waiting for my daughters at school, church and other youth events. I see many of you in the halls or getting off the buses or coming into the room. I can see it in some of your eyes and hear it in your conversations. You are “chasing” some boy and seem almost obsessed with the pursuit. I’ll agree with you about two things I hear you say. First, you and your friends think he is cute. We can all see that. Second, you will make some of the girls jealous who are pursuing the same goals in life: date and date someone who is popular enough to make others wish they were in your shoes. But past that, I can’t agree with you on much else.

Here’s what I wish I could tell you:

  • You are missing so much of life around you because you are focused on a boy and only on a boy. You are missing the songs being played around you, the games with the group, the speakers sharing some really great thoughts, and the fun times with the girls. You are missing quiet moments without your social media. You are missing a chance to find out who you are—not who you could be if you dated the guy you are currently chasing.
  • You are missing out on trusting God. God tells you throughout Scripture that He loves you and has a plan for you that includes many blessings, much love, and joy. Find out who you are in God’s eyes while you are young. When you know who you are in God’s eyes, you can trust Him to bring the right people into your life. You will make sweet, wonderful friends (guys and girls). While making friends, you will eventually also find a person who is the perfect one for you. This person will not make you feel whole—God already did that for you. This person will make you feel special and loved and safe and happy. You won’t have to worry about what outfit you are wearing or how your hair looks. You won’t have to text often or post questionable photos to get his attention.
  • You are worth more than the stress of the pursuit. You are not incomplete without another human. You have gifts and talents to share with this crazy world. Share them. Laugh with friends. Quit competing with the other girls around you. Life is not a competition to be won or lost. Get off social media and just hang out with friends. Your friends will be by your side forever if you build solid relationships. You actually become a stronger person when you help build each other up through encouragement and kindness.

This is a challenging time in your life. It can be so hard to be a young woman in today’s world. There are so many voices competing to be heard by you. So many images flash before your eyes every day through TV, movies, YouTube, and all of the social media sites. But try starting and ending each day with asking God to keep the image of who you were created to be before your eyes. You don’t have to create an image for yourself—just grow into the image God created in you. It’s not easy, but it brings lots of unexpected blessings.

Nothing is Wasted

I have been listening over and over again to Jason Gray’s song “Nothing is Wasted.” It touched my heart a few weeks ago, and it has been my worship song ever since. “Nothing is wasted in the hands of our Redeemer.”

What a beautiful picture this song paints of God using everything—everything! The tears we cry seed the ground for joy to grow. Deepest wounds allow beauty to bloom. Glory shines from the ruins, from the ashes. God’s grace and love transform every single thing into something that can shine for His glory when we turn it over to Him.

Oh, turn it over to Him? We have a hard time with that, don’t we? I know I do sometimes. I tend to want to hang on to things (problems, challenges, confusion, tasks) so I can handle them in a way I think is best. I trust myself to handle things, so maybe I should just keep control. Less fear and worry that way. If I am holding on tightly, I know what is happening.

Sometimes I get it right. I can make something somewhat beautiful at times through my own creative efforts. I can find ways to be happy. That’s what I used to tell myself. Then I gave control of something personal to God when I ran out of options. I was amazed.

What I had called satisfactory before was nothing compared to the beauty God created from the mess. What I considered happiness was nothing compared to the joy I found in God. But more than that, I realized how many times I waste things. I waste tears. I don’t shed tears for people or situations that break God’s heart. And when I do, I don’t turn those tears over to God to seek His plan. I don’t ask if I am part of the solution. I waste money. I waste resources. I waste gifts.

I waste time when I forget to turn my days over to God. I often set my schedule, then give a few leftover minutes to God. What would happen if I prayed over my calendar before I wrote anything on it? What would happen if I asked co-workers to do the same? What would our days look like if we seriously asked if we were making the best use of our time for God’s glory? I think based on Scripture that God would give us plenty of time for rest and for fun fellowship with others along with other work to spread His grace and love. But our joy would be deeper, and no minute would be wasted in the hands of our Redeemer.

And no person would be forgotten by God. Don’t we sometimes discount the life of a person, forgetting to see gifts present? I have been the “forgotten one” before. It hurts. So this song reminds me that my life is not wasted when I place it in the hands of my Redeemer. God can use my deepest pains to bring beauty into my life. He can use my tears and your tears to bring joy. He can use my minutes for His glory. He can used the person I walked past or gave up on to change the world. He can use everything we give back to Him to transform this world—our communities—our homes—our lives into places of deep beauty and joy. May we stop holding on so tightly…that is my prayer…hold on so tightly only to God and watch what happens next.