Friday, December 20, 2013

The Strength to be Weak

"When I am raw and vulnerable is when I am most fully alive."

My professor spoke it with such conviction that it immediately struck a chord in me and I quickly wrote it down in my notebook.

"When I am raw and vulnerable is when I am most fully alive. If I am not willing to be open and raw and vulnerable, others will not find freedom to go to that place."


As I finish out this semester, I look back on where God has brought me over these past four months and I am overwhelmed. From my new position as a resident assistant to my new relationship to a new floor and a new major and new job responsibilities and new ministry involvements and a new church and new friends, this semester was challenging. Perhaps "challenging" is not a strong enough word to evoke the emotions that I felt this semester during times when I was literally so exhausted I couldn't move or so sick I couldn't get out of bed. Or every day that I have been humbled in class as I realize more and more how little I know about the very things I am pursuing to do with my future. Or the times when I sat in tears as I saw the dark depths of my soul to a level I had never faced before. Or the moments when I fought with the Lord over these dark places of my heart and the tugging He had placed on my heart to share these places with others.

"If I am not willing to be open and raw and vulnerable, others will not find freedom to go to that place."

Yes, Lord. But I am afraid. I am afraid of love because I am afraid of loss.

I am convinced that to be vulnerable is the greatest act of love that anyone can ever perform, the deepest kind of love that anyone can ever give. To be vulnerable is to reveal pieces of your heart that perhaps no one has ever seen; it is to give a very tender and valuable piece of yourself to the care of someone else, risking heartache and loss if not received well by the one you choose to give it to. Yes, to risk love is to risk pain and loss and heartache; yet I believe that to isolate ourselves within the confines of the walls we build up around our hearts is to risk a life of joylessness, loneliness, and a degree of pain and loss and heartache that the one who risks love will never know.

And, so, this semester I chose to tear down the walls. To be vulnerable to a degree I had never been before. To risk being vulnerable to see if perhaps this freedom that was promised me really was the reward of a heart left open and raw before others. To see if I truly believed that Christ had come to set me free.


I sat with my boyfriend at the lake, just me and him and a boat that raced across the water in a seemingly purposeless route. Empty beer cans were strewn across the graffiti covered rocks, no doubt the leftovers from a teenage bonfire. The moon created a spotlight above us and the water crashed continuously against the rocky crags that were before us. It was the perfect place for me to share these deep places of my heart; the contrast between the beauty of the moon and lake and the disastrous mess of beer cans and graffiti around us was reflective of the disastrous mess of my heart and the beauty of God's infinite and incredible grace that was poured over me that night as my heart was exposed and God's grace covered it.


I sat before four of the women on my floor who I am in leadership over. Don't share, the Enemy sneered. They'll see who you really are and no longer respect you. Praise Jesus for the strength and courage that come from Him in the moments of greatest weakness. I laid my heart out, raw and open and vulnerable, and it was met with love and gratitude and respect. Share, my Savior pleads. They'll see more of who I really am; My strength in your weakness and My grace in your mess. He received glory and I received freedom.


I sat before eleven other women, highly esteemed women who I am in leadership with. Hide. Build up your walls. Feel shame. I was beginning to feel the spiritual battle in my flesh as my hands began to shake. I shared my testimony, this time testifying to God's grace more deeply than usual as I testified to my own depravity more honestly than usual. More grace and love were poured out on me and I left with a full heart of joy and grace and love. And freedom.


My boyfriend came running over to me, took my hand and led me to a bench down the street where I shared and he sat in silence, where I cried and he wiped away my tears, where I spoke despair and he sang words of forgiveness over me. When Satan tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see Him there who made an end of all my sin. Because a sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free. For God the Just is satisfied, to look on Him and pardon me. He sang the words until they penetrated the guilt covering my heart, and forgiveness and grace washed over it. Praise Jesus for His grace. And praise Him for a boyfriend who has shown me more than anyone else the love of Christ in offering grace where there should only be condemnation, forgiveness and acceptance where there should only be bitterness and rejection.


I sat with my mom, holding back tears and words that I knew needed to pour out. Hold back. You don't need to do this; in fact, it'd be better if you didn't. Praise Jesus for speaking over these irrational thoughts that were entering my mind and giving me the strength to be weak. And praise Him for a mother who has shown me more than anyone else the love of Christ in crying with those who mourn and taking on the burdens of others and making them her own. That night, she cried with me and took on my burden. Love washed over me and my burden was made light.


This semester, I have felt a greater depth of freedom than I have ever felt before. It is the kind of freedom that brings me to tears and draws me to my Savior. It is the kind of freedom that gives me the passion behind this life that I am living for Him. It is the kind of freedom that has deepened my relationships and enriched my life. The kind of freedom that has allowed others to go to the same depths and experience the same freedom. The kind of freedom that gives life.

When I am raw and vulnerable is when I am most fully alive. Fully alive. I have never felt so fully alive, so full of life and love and joy and wonder that cause me to dance and sing and worship and write and love and smile and laugh and live. 

His Grace is enough. I have opened my heart up to experience this, to prove this, to believe this. To close off the depths of my heart are to close off the depths of God's grace from being displayed, thus robbing God of the display of glory that He deserves in my life. Freedom is offered to the one who takes the risk to be vulnerable, to love, to richly display the Savior's glory and grace. Pray for the strength to be weak; for it is in our times of greatest weakness and vulnerability that His strength and grace are most vividly displayed.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Why Risk?

"At one time or another, we've all been hurt in love relationships. But if we cease to exercise our hearts by loving God and loving others, getting involved and taking risks, our hearts will become diseased and hardened." -Beth Moore

Tonight, this quote by Beth Moore has me thinking. We have all been hurt.. whether by a friend, parent, child, or significant other. When we open our hearts to love, we open it to a lot of other things as well - the risk of hurt, pain, and loss. When we allow another person to enter into our lives, we run the risk of losing them. And the closer they get and the more they know about us and our hurts and struggles and secrets and heart, the more vulnerable we are and the deeper the cut will be if they should decide to leave or if the Lord should suddenly allow them to be taken away.

By all means, then, we must guard our hearts. Barricade them with high, steel walls that nothing can penetrate. Surround them with the rocks of cynicism, sarcasm, and stubbornness. Never allow anyone through, never let anyone see past, never let anyone step foot within a hundred feet of the walls.

We can easily justify these walls with the idea of "guarding our hearts." Yes, the Lord does command us to guard our hearts (Proverbs 4:23). This idea of "guarding your heart" refers to every area of our lives - what we allow to flow into it from media, from sources of entertainment, from conversations, from friends. "For from it flow the springs of life" (Proverbs 4:23). May we keep our hearts pure for this very reason. May we do all that we can to keep our hearts pure before our holy God. With all vigilance, may we guard our hearts from all that is unclean and impure. In that sense, by all means let's guard our hearts. We are commanded to do so. No less is expected of us. "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life" (Proverbs 4:23). 

The question that is piercing my heart tonight, convicting and challenging me, is what have I found so selfless about guarding my heart from love and loving others? What have I found so valiant, so courageous, so heroic about hiding behind the barricade I have so carefully surrounded my heart with? What good do I see in the cynicism, in the sarcasm, in the stubbornness that have sometimes become my "cop-out" from facing what is behind the walls, underneath the rubbish, hidden deep within my heart? Is it not a selfish thing to guard my heart from loving others?

Yes, it is a risk to love. I am not even solely talking about the love that is found between a couple, although that is part of it. I am talking about the risk that it is to love the little girl who is a challenge to work with, the teenager who cuts you deep with his harsh words against you, the old person who has stubbornly decided their own way. What about the outcasts in society, or the AIDS orphans that no one else wants to hold, or the employee that everyone constantly complains about and no one likes? Or the parents who you never see and who have done nothing but hurt you all of your life? What about the church member who sits in the back of the building every week as an outcast because of the smell of smoke and alcohol that often permeate from her?

Church, are we loving? Love is a verb. Are we loving those around us? Do we risk our own hurt and pain in order to love others? Why? Why would we ever risk our own hurt and pain to love those around us who do not deserve any love at all? I guess a better question would be, why did Christ risk His own hurt and pain and suffering to love us, who do not deserve any love at all? We are to love as Christ loved us (John 13:34-35) and that means unconditionally, without reserve, without favoritism, and without looking to our own needs and interests before the needs and interests of others. It's what He did for me and for you, and that is why we have no reason - no excuse whatsoever - to not do the same. We will love imperfectly, yes, but we must still love. For it is through our imperfections that the Lord's glory shines (2 Corinthians 12:9). And it is for His glory that we live and love.

So as for guarding my heart, yes, I will guard my heart with all vigilance. With all of my ability, I will do my part to keep my heart guarded from all that is impure and unclean. But I will not tolerate these walls any longer. These walls are my enemy, dressed as my friend. They are keeping my heart safe from hurt and pain and suffering and the admittance of all of these things in my life. They are keeping me safe from the risk of loss. Yet they are paralyzing me in my ability to love. Behind these walls, I cannot love. These walls may help me to look perfect, spiritual, cleaned up, and pure. Yet they are only there so that no one can see what lies behind them... the coward who refuses to love out of fear of rejection, of pain, of loss. What selfishness. What joy we often forfeit all because we do not know the reward of loving others the way that the Lord has loved us - unconditionally, undeservingly, unwaveringly. The Lord has placed those whom He has placed in my life to love, in the truest meaning of the word. This means that I will love my parents, I will love my brother and my sister and my friends and my boyfriend and my co-workers.

Will I get hurt? Yes, because no one is perfect and therefore no one loves perfectly. In my vulnerability, do I run the risk of rejection and pain? No doubt. Yet Christ, naked and broken and bleeding on the cross, is a picture of the most vulnerable love has ever been. And that love was for me and for you, and therefore I have no excuse to love any less than He has shown His love to me.

Let's love, Church. Let's break down these walls and allow ourselves to love as Christ has first loved us.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Fog

Life. The best way that I know how to describe it is as a path... a short, but windy path that I can never predict and can never plan for. There is a fog on this path, a thick fog that I cannot see through and that never goes away. I can dream about what is past that fog; I can think and pray and hope, but I can never know for sure. Sometimes, the mystery behind the fog excites me; most times, I stand on the path and stare into the fog in confusion, longing to know what lies behind it, but often too scared to step into it.

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
He leads me beside quiet waters,
He refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for His name’s sake.

-Psalm 23:1-3

Sometimes, on this pathway of life, the Lord asks me to make decisions - some small, some life-altering. If I can't see beyond the fog on my own path, then I can't expect those around me to be able to see any more clearly beyond it. Oftentimes, I cannot understand why I am making a decision except for the fact that the Lord is asking me to make it; and, therefore, I cannot expect those around me to understand, either. This is when I fall back into my Father's arms and I am overwhelmed by the peace that I have that I do not understand - and I am able to rest. Sometimes, I seek after the Lord so hard and so long about a decision, and the only answer that I get is peace. It's an excited, peaceful, "I don't understand this or how this is going to work" feeling. Yet it is a peace, and I can rest in His peace, and so I move on. I step forward into the fog, shaking and weak and scared, yet reaching out for the Hand that beckons me - and I grasp it tightly and I take a breath and I trust.

"You can't steal second base if you still have one foot on first."

I have to learn to let go of the things which are behind me if I am to move forward - with both feet - into the fog. The only reason that I can do this is because my God's Name is El Roi - "the God who sees" me right where I am. My God's Name is El Shaddai - "God all sufficient," able to provide for my every need. My God's Name is Jehovah Nissi - "The Lord our banner," and His banner over me is love (Song of Solomon 2:4). My God's Name is Jehovah-Shalom - "The Lord our peace," and this is a peace that passes my understanding (Romans 5:1). My God's Name is Jehovah-Shammah - "The Lord is present with us," never leaving me to be alone (Hebrews 13:5). My God's Name is Jehovah-Raah - "The Lord our Shepherd," and He leads me and guides me in His wisdom. And my God's Name is Abba Father - my protector, my friend, my rock, my fortress, the lover of my soul.

Yet the snare that often wraps itself around me, causing me to stumble, is the fact that the Lord often says "no" to things that I have thought were so right for so long. Sometimes, I ask Him why He says "no," why I can't have what I have longed for for so long. And then I realize that maybe I have been asking the wrong question all along. "In all your ways submit to Me, and I will make your path straight," He says to me (Proverbs 3:6). He may say "no" to something that I have prayed for, longed for, and sought after for so long - but He never says "no" to His Plan, to the way that He has shaped my path before I was even born. His Plan has been and is and will be forever... it has never changed, is not changing, and will never change. It is eternal, and it is best - best for His Kingdom purposes and best for my life. When I come to truly believe that and completely trust Him in that is when I will realize that the right question is not, "Why have You said no to this thing that I have longed for?" but, "Why am I so loved by You, so covered in Your grace, so held in Your hand that You have chosen to protect me from the things that only You can see?" Sometimes, the Lord gives us a glimpse into His reason for things; every time, He has a reason more perfect than any we could ever have.

I can't see past the fog on this pathway of my life. I am not supposed to. I am only responsible to be faithful to the Lord with every step of my life - to obey Him every step of the way, even when I do not understand. I am not supposed to understand. I am only responsible to trust Him when He asks me to move forward, even when I cannot see what lies ahead. I am not supposed to see what lies ahead. I am only to reach out for His hand that is already reached out for mine, and to cling to it with my life, knowing that I can trust Him with everything.

And, when I view the fog in that light, I am able to rest. When I see God for Who He really is - a God whose Plan has not changed, is not changing, and will never change, a God who keeps His promises forever, a God who loves me so much that He desires to protect me from the things that I cannot see - when I see God as the God that He really is, I am able to rest. And so, tonight, I am resting and thanking God for the fog.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The Climb

This post goes out to my dad, because I know without a doubt that I would not be who or where I am today without him:

     I climb the small hills that surround the creek, one slippery rock at a time. It was my favorite part about going fishing with Dad. Whether or not I caught a fish did not matter in comparison to the sense of adventure that I felt when walking through the woods with Dad. Except for the morning that my brother came along with us, and I caught a fish before they ever did. Dad’s face lit up with such a sense of joy and pride, and my little eight-year-old heart could not have felt prouder. I always made Dad put the worm on the hook, but as soon as he got the line ready for me, I would fling the line out and it would land on the water with a smooth plop. I would stare at the bright orange bobber that sat calmly on the surface, listening to nothing but the water as it calmly ran downstream, the birds’ early morning song, and the occasional woodpecker that would try in vain to interrupt. Most of the time it was just me and Dad, and we often sat in silence as to not disrupt the fish. After a few hours, we would climb through the woods and over the rocks, back to his grey Chevy pick-up truck. Whether or not we caught a fish, we both knew without a word that it was a successful day.

     Ten years later, and I am again climbing. This time, it’s the small slope up the ramp that leads to the airplane that promises to take me three states away from Dad – Dad and Mom and my brother and sister and all that I knew and loved. Whether or not I got a window seat or sat uncomfortably in between two overweight men did not matter to me in comparison to the weight of overwhelming desperation that was lying heavy on my heart – desperation for things to be back to the way that they always were. I looked back and saw Dad standing at the top of the stairs. His face lit up with such a sense of joy and pride in the woman that I had become, and tears sprang to my eyes because my eighteen-year-old heart could not have felt prouder. Dad had gotten the line ready for me. He had done his part in raising me to become the woman that I was, and now it was time for me to fling the line out – to step out into the unknown, to walk into the adventure that was before me, to “put the worm on the hook” for myself as Dad had taught me to do. Looking back at Dad, it was clear that we both knew without a word that these eighteen years were a success. Now it was my turn to pass on what he had taught me, and to step out into this season of life that he had been preparing me for all these years. Early Saturday morning fishing adventures were only just a part of it.