Why does God have me around all the people-pleasers?

Since I have moved about a month ago, I have met the overwhelming power and presence of God over my life. Through a series of events and daily encouragements, I am so convinced that the Lord is with me, and it is certainly his will that I am here, learning to be a teacher. Overwhelming, nearly inexplicable strength has come over me despite having moved to a new city, making new friends, setting new habits, etc. I have found a wonderful church. I have people I am supposed to care for. I am being groomed for ministry through working with children and other people (and their parents). If ever God lays something so thick on your heart about the direction you should go but doesn’t explain it, listen. I would have never expected that the best training I could receive for ministry would be in a Master’s degree program for Early Childhood Education. The Lord knows all the details. I don’t yet, but it’s so obvious that this is his will that it’s hard to worry about all that.

For the past year or so, the Lord has brought friendships in my life with people who instinctively try to make everybody happy. Which to me, is madness. I am direct. I am decisive. I don’t mince words but I’ll go miles out of my way for a friend. I get the feeling that I’m supposed to learn something through all these people, and I have. I get the feeling also that I’m meant to strengthen people somehow, and model/teach about what healing is and the freedom available in Christ. It isn’t always easy.

When you are made aware of people’s needs by the Holy Spirit, that can be a heavy burden. It’s hard watching my friends struggle to parse out how to meet what they need. I often watch people pursue all sorts of paths that I can tell you from my own experience won’t serve you for nothing. I can often tell you why those paths are false, both from scripture and personal experience. I can even tell you what it feels like to be in that specific situation, because I remember. It’s maddening to know what people are going through and only be able to tell them what I know about the truth: That Jesus came and rose again so that we would not just have life, but have it to the full. That Christ is strong enough. That literally the only thing that is going to fill that hole is Jesus. It sounds crazy. It is crazy. It’s also true.

When people see where God has brought me but weren’t witness to where I’ve been, they just have to take my word for it. If you already have a hard time believing, that may be a stretch. I’m just trying to keep the same steadfast behavior and even become more kind. Shifting your heart attitude to a place to where you’re willing to believe that there could be a God takes time. You can’t rush it.

Which is maddening. I know what could heal you TODAY, but most people aren’t ready. I have to patiently wait and continue to show grace until the day comes (if it comes) where you’d be curious or desperate enough to seek Jesus. That’s hard. My soul mourns and cries out watching all of these people killing themselves for a grace that can’t be found where they’re seeking it.

God has honored me by teaching me these things while I am still young, but that’s also difficult. So few people have found God at this age. So few people of my generation believe that Christianity could be genuine. We are scattered in 1000 different directions because of the lack of integrity in the generations before us. We are desperately pursuing authenticity wherever we believe it might be, despite all of these bitter old people who want to act like we’re the most shallow generation that’s ever lived. When you criticize Millennials, you basically admit that you aren’t willing to help us, and you aren’t actually invested in growing the next generation of the kingdom of God. That’s selfish.

Lord, please teach us to bear with one another, ESPECIALLY when it’s hard. We are a people in need of healing. We believe that you are powerful. That you’re strong enough. Please come and heal us through your own name. Amen.

Amazed by the kindness of God

I just spent a lovely evening with a friend and her family, and I’m so amazed by the beauty of God’s people.

My friend is a student from Saudia Arabia who has come with her husband, 6-month old baby, and 4 year old daughter to the US. I met her while we were both working (her as a volunteer) to greet new International Students to my campus. Immediately, she has been someone who has been kind to me and very open to receive even botched translations. As we’ve spent time together, I have really enjoyed taking turns holding her baby, interacting with her daughter and asking her about daycare, and talking about the differences between our cultures. She is from the city of Hajj, Saudia Arabia, and they have an enormous mosque there. We spent a lot of time tonight talking about the differences between our faiths (her as a Muslim and me as a Christian), what it means to be modest, what it’s like to go to school and raise a family, and other things.

I just really appreciate her ability to laugh with me about silly cultural details. She is one of few students who understands more of what I say without as many explanations. It is as though she understands what I mean without the specific words. The time I have spent with her, her husband, and their little children has been a blessing. Like many other Muslims from my college, elementary school, and past experiences, not only was she warm and hospitable, but easy to be around. She cooked for me. As we ate rice with meat and potatoes, grapes, soda, Saudia Arabian ginger coffee, cookies, and Mint tea, I really felt free to enjoy her hospitality.

I know that she doesn’t view the world just like me, but I trust God to judge fairly. The more time I spend with people who have different experiences than I do, the more I am amazed by God. I often crave to go back to Chile and China, and I want to see so much of the world. Even if I had bittersweet experiences at different parts of my trips, I miss the people, the food, and the culture. I feel so blessed to be free to love people far from home. The ability to make the best of things and just eat what’s in front of me makes me feel equipped to grow God’s kingdom and be willing to go wherever he calls me. The way he is softening my heart is just awesome.

I spent so much time today receiving love. In kindergarten, I am getting better at discerning what kids need (as in, what they don’t ask for). Being able to spend a lot of quality time with the kids and follow them throughout the day is awesome, because then I learn the art of gentle correction. May God make it even easier for me to care for them. Today, I received a lot of little hugs.

When I spend time in kindergarten, I understand the times I have felt different from my peers. Tutoring at the same elementary school where I was raised, as I try to help them with their work, I remember how I felt doing similar equations. I realize only as an adult (with an external perspective) why I got into trouble, that I probably was fairly smart (to get bored so easily), and BEST OF ALL, how to minister to the kids who are too much like me. I know that often, the arrogance children put on is only a cry for attention. “Bossiness” is basically the desire to do something meaningful. Crying easily over spilled milk and picking fights is like wanting someone to validate how much they care for you (“Do you really see that I’m in pain?”). Being cold and somewhat self-centered is the desire not to be the same (and to not get hurt). If you can recognize it in children, it’s a lot easier to have compassion on adults.

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about what I will and will not settle for in marriage, what it means to have a ministry that most elevates children, and the kindness of God. I believe that if we honor children above a lot of our older members, we can fix nearly everything else. These days, I see a lot of my confidence in God resurrecting. The past two weeks, I have felt so vindicated at church. As I hear a living, breathing Pastor say things that I have thought for years and thought I would die before hearing discussed in daylight, I feel risen. I have more compassion on the people who I still think are wrong. The longer I’ve been alive, the more I’ve held to my convictions. Even before Christ was rooted in my heart strongly, I wanted to know God. I always used to assume that if I let go of who I was (but couldn’t be), life would get easier. Funny thing: the more I hold fast to who God made me and the woman he wants me to become, the more he sets me in a place where others will conform to my example, instead of me having to sacrifice parts of myself. I’m not sorry. This is the depth and the width and the height and length of the love of God. He didn’t make me for no reason, but he made me to live out my purpose. For me, that means living passionately, with boldness, and without much fear. I know that God can purify just about anything, even the things that the Devil tells us are too shameful to make holy. In giving thanks to God, I can make most earthly desires reconciled and sanctified to him, provided he brings fruition about.

Realizing how much people long for love but don’t have it, I have a lot of hope for my ministry. My friend Angela thinks that if she and I end up marrying husbands someday, it will be to show the world how good God is, and to demonstrate his redemption through our own immediate families. I think she’s right. I don’t need to get married, but it would be one helluva testimony of God. As I sit in my Intimate Relationships Psychology course, I am so aware of how many people long for the answers about love and don’t have them. I want to live out a compassionate response that can actually demonstrate why people need Jesus, and how much better my life is because of him. I’m not going to crucify people based on relationship sins because if people sin, they probably don’t know what it feels like to be satisfied. I’m not going to be that person who misrepresents the truth by bringing a spirit of constant judgment. If the Holy spirit convicts, he also corrects, encourages, testifies on behalf of God and intercedes for the rest of us sinners. Why can’t everyday Christians be more like that? I’m going to demonstrate what that means and if the Lord wants it, maybe that will be good for all of us. I’m not going to be afraid of this.

It’s a lukewarm truth if it’s not coming out of love. I really do believe that Jesus has power unlike anything else, and I’m going to live my life as a fulfillment of that love. To love people is to fulfill God’s expectations for my life because how else should I testify? Without love, I am a poor steward. My actions will not invalidate the truth.

 

Care on a short term basis

Surely I am not the only person out there who passes through some seasons of life with less company than in others. In this state of preparing for major life transitions, I sometimes feel a little guilty for desiring to make the best of it.

If you genuinely care about people in a way you can’t escape from, it can be easy to care about strangers. Potentially the biggest saving grace of a new season is when you can care enough about people to love them in passing. It’s not as though if you care for strangers, you avoid longer term friendships. But sometimes in the absence of the ability to stay very long, it’s okay to really just enjoy right now and cut your losses.

I know that there are a lot of people who primarily invest in select long term friends. I admire the loyalty of those people. They seem to know what they want.

But I am not like those people. I am glad the world has them. I am glad that maybe for some people they make very good long term friends. My goals are more to play well with everyone. To be able to enjoy the company of a wide variety of different people. I no longer see friendship as a sort of contract, and I guess I’m at this point where I’m okay letting go. You kind of have to be. I see relationship quality as an intentional function of time. If a person wants to stick around, they will. Sometimes it’s not entirely a personal choice. In general though, I’m happy to accept the time I have and try to have really lovely adventures with what’s there. It means a lot more when someone sticks around because they are enjoying your company. If you enjoy the time you have when you only have a little, when that time builds up, it really means something.

Arbitrary codes of morality

In most of what I do, I try to remain as “middle-of-the-road” as possible. With this 2016 election year becoming more of an eyesore everyday, it’s a weird time to be alive.

Strategically, I think it’s best to remain capable of working with people on either side of large, hysterical social divides. Whether differences are cultural, political, philosophical, etc., it is better to extend grace to people who need it, regardless of personal opinions. When you work with young kids, you constantly expect to be the grace-giver. When a kid wasn’t listening and needs the instructions said one more time, or got paint all over the table, or slapped his partner right across the face, it’s generally a better game plan to be patient. These days, I notice so few Christians leaning into grace-giving moments and providing sound teachings. Whether you are dealing with an older human or the young ones (who are sooooo much easier to forgive), every mistake or disappointment is an opportunity to respond with Christ’s indefinite love. Which is awesome.

I see a lot of Christians blaming people for brokenness instead of stepping into other people’s situations. In a purely strategic sense, it makes sense that Christians would lose their credibility with a mindset like that. I have heard Christians complaining about how much the world hates us, but given how political Christianity has become and how little grace so many Christians seem have, I know for a fact that relationship is a two way street. You can’t exactly complain that your neighbor slapped you across the face when you pinched him first.

Part of the bliss of remaining moderate is having the ability to act like a grown adult. Instead of viewing one side as more philosophically/politically advanced than the other (aka partiality), I can just reason that both sides are wrong, because both sides are fighting about issues in which both sides have legitimate perspectives. It’s a lot easier to sit on one’s high horse and critique [insert name of political group/religious entity/whatever here] because one wants to win the altercation, but could it be that if people are fighting to begin with, they’ve already missed the point?

Just like when you have to separate two kids, I don’t want to hear what your justification is. Hearing the words we use to justify ourselves in moments where we haven’t brought glory to God are more useless than even silence. Maybe it’s time to take a step back and regroup.

The problem with privileging one side over the other is that we forget that God cares about both sides of an issue. It is my belief that he cares a lot more about how we work with one another than who gets that adrenaline rush of victory. When we create absolute realities with ourselves as much more morally advanced than our opponent, we essentially create idols and enlarge rifts in how we see others in a way that dishonors God.

After we’ve made diverse personal realities because we couldn’t just get along with one another, something fascinating happens. In order to stick with the things we’ve already decided we believe, we invent frivolous reasons to hate one another than extend way past any substantive issue. Just like getting Tarot readings or discerning tea leaves, we hunt for evidence that will drive us further and further away from “the unrighteous”. Sure, we retain our Christian theology, but we no longer understand it. We have our systems and our rules and our formulas for who deserves acceptance, but at the end of the day, it’s all garbage. In trying to crucify one another, we forget what grace is.

Grace is inextricably free. It’s one of those happy accident, “didn’t-have-to-but-he-wanted-to”, “allow-it-to-just-be-a-gift” kinds of things. Forfeiting our satanic birthright of always assuming we know everything and that we are the sole bearers of the truth, we allow other people to be broken as we look to God for help and healing. Whether it’s forgiving a friend, being a good neighbor, or simply showing up, grace is the part where you stop paying attention to what a person deserves, and just try to do what is in your power (or prayerfully in Gods) so that they can receive healing. Grace is as good as it gets.

Might it be a good thing to remember that we do not have the perspective of God? Might it be a healthy, holistic thing to notice that we don’t have to be right about everything? Might somebody’s salvation be more important to the body of Christ than proving our moral vindication? Without free and spontaneous forgiveness, we’re losing the point.

I believe in a Savior who infinitely knew how bad the situation was, and was still willing to die to fix it. I get that the world may not understand right and wrong the same way as the Son of God, but I’m not willing to bet that I fully understand what he’s saying to me either. I’d rather be a sister of someone and come to God together than act like a bankrupt moral authority that doesn’t know my place. That strategy isn’t working. Let God let it be what it is.

If you want any more proof that every single person under the sun has their own personal agenda, answer me this riddle: How can everybody’s ex-significant others/bad friends be worse than the individual human being you might be talking to? After a while, if we were always right and those people were always wrong, might the people who were wrong start overlapping the people who were right in a way that left us all right and wrong, good and bad, healthy and broken? Then why for the love of God do we act as though people are this 100/100 purely pure or demonically demon kind of creation? If we can’t all be sinners, can we understand grace? If we can’t all be saints, how can we hope to ever learn from God? We are wasting our time in trying to superimpose our opinions onto a sense of “divine morality”. Divine morality puts us all beyond the power of the cross. With perfectly divine black and white thinking, we’d all be infinitely screwed.

 

Reclaiming the importance of Scripture

In the church in which I was raised, we have so many people who like the idea of God, but don’t draw close to him. Fanciful about the concept of God but not willing to be steadfast believers, we retain spiritual immaturity and intellectualize God into a dark, damp hole.

I realize now that I have never really understood the importance of the Bible. I’m in discipleship with a couple currently who pushes me to achieve the best God has for me, and they actively encourage me to grow in the knowledge and godly discernment of the scriptures. Never before have I understood that in the word of God, we have the mind of Christ. Instead of reading Bible stories, I have begun to pray that I can commit scripture to memory, and begin to think more like Christ.

Most things in my college classes aren’t hard for me. I have always loved school and loved learning, and whether or not it’s helpful, I can skate by on very little. Being raised in a church where so many people were lukewarm about Jesus, we were often encouraged to make up our own version of the truth in subtle ways. The college group ran out of this same church were glorified drinking buddies. Not the best attitude for your soul.

I want to know what I know because of Jesus and what he said about who he is. I can make up false philosophies all the live long day, and as a Psych major, I can even be good at it. I don’t want to live my life for the sake of destruction. I’d rather let my words and views be informed by the immense and immeasurable love of God.

I am letting go of my hypocrisy and the hypocrisy of others. Maybe I can get along with everyone. If being true to myself in my word and action isn’t something I am called to sacrifice, then I can probably better accept others. To be honest, I have been officially saved for almost two years now and it’s nuts that I can draw so close to God within church, but silently distrust a lot of my church’s people (based off of personality differences and nothing else). God is living and active in my church, and this is a season of growth for us. He is knitting together people you’d never think would learn from one another.

I want everything I do or have or say to be to the credit of God. As much as possible, I want to be living to give him credit. I’ll die and be with him eternally, so this life is basically in order to celebrate and bring people to Jesus. The last of the Psalms (150) ends with all things under creation praising and giving glory to God. If that is the ending, why not give it all away now?

For so long, I thought that only bigots/mean-spirited fundamentalists/hypocrites thought the Bible was fully legit, and that they generally disregarded cultural details and other important considerations. I thought that people mostly used the Bible as an excuse for their false prophecy. While some of that can be true, you don’t have to love the Bible AND be a hypocrite. God gave scripture to us for a reason.

I have focused so long on the sin of taking things away from the scriptures that I never recognized that adding to it is just as bad. Coming from a church were you had to basically invent your own God experiences to explain to anyone why you actually cared and actually wanted to pursue God, I’m glad that cup of stumbling has been taken from me. God can unravel the answers. I’m going to wait, sit, and read.

 

Are you satisfied? A post trying to understand marraige

Because I am not willing to disconnect from the rest of the world, I want to take a moment to explain sexual sin in a way that is respectful, but also respects the gospel.

The reason sexual sin is wrong is because it represents the inability to be satisfied within a covenant that God designed to reflect his own image (Genesis 2:22-23). Like most things that are designed for honorable use, sex becomes sin when people look for it outside of a spouse, and ultimately, when they don’t recognize that sex is an act of worship. Sex outside of marriage reflects the same spirit that lead God’s people to worship false idols (everywhere, but especially Isaiah 57, Revelation 17).

Like getting baptized for the sake of a shower or taking communion as a meal (1st Corinthians 11:20-34), people substitute physical desires without honoring God. Like any kind of earthly desire that involves the body, sexual appetite is akin to eating, drinking, and the like (this one I learned from Neuroscience, and the mesolimbic dopamine rewards system!). And go figure: when we seek sex outside of marriage or without understanding the significance of marriage through faith, those relationships don’t accurately represent the Creator.

For one, there is no trace of permanence in casual sex/sexual sin. If two people get married, God wants them to marry one another in the same way that the Church will be united with himself: permanently (Isaiah 62:5, Matthew 5:31). With Christ as a bridegroom, God wants us to surrender our lives to him in the same all-giving, unselfish way he provides us (1st Corinthians 13:4-7). He wants us to remain fully faithful, and share the best of ourselves with our spouses, in the same way that we share the best of this life with him (http://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Firstfruits). By putting him first, we put one another first. We are changed by love, and we celebrate God’s goodness by marriage. Marriage that relies on Jesus (the Bridegroom himself, who fulfilled that Divine love story) reflects God’s love in a way that redeems Adam and Eve, transforming humanity’s story of pain, waiting, and longing into beauty. Marriage is a place to be cherished, in the same rich, fat with joy life that God commissioned us to enjoy through worship. Marriage isn’t just sex, or companionship, or competing with  your college roommates on who can get into an un-fulfilling union first. It’s always striving towards the truth in “true love”, and orienting your life in a way that you need Jesus to get there.

Which is why it’s worth it to wait: because marriage is an act of faith. Why would you get married apart from God’s image, if you are a Christian, feel called to marry, and want to experience his love fully? Marrying outside of Jesus and having sex outside of marriage are just not as rich as they could be.

At the same time, not all people are meant to get married. While a lot of people just assume that by being born human, they should have plenty of opportunities at sex (because it’s a “human experience”), that’s not true either. Although we have made various idols out of sex in US culture, not every person is meant to get married (1st Corinthians 7). Not all humans have the need for marriage, or desire intimacy, or need it to grow by the ways that God has called them. So many people have become sold out on the notion of sex in the place of God that they blindly assume that sex will complete them, or can bring the same kind of joy that is a worship thing, instead of simply a sex thing. By being afraid to be alone, afraid of what deciding not to get married will mean, afraid of disappointing our parents, afraid of not being good enough, or afraid of missing out, we miss the beauty of being satisfied in God alone. If you are really consumed by love for God and really in love with the promises you receive through the gospel, it is possible to live a well adjusted and happy life without the panic, single or married. While we have thousands of romantic comedies in hundreds of languages that reflect human’s desire for intimacy, if we recognized that our earthly need for intimacy was a God thing and not a sex thing, we’d be a lot happier. To be honest, sex without a spiritually solidified covenant connection is going to be just like it sounds like: earthly, un-fulfilling, based on fitting bodies together, not based on love.

I realize that the world’s definition of “love” isn’t what Christian’s acknowledge as love, and that is a good thing. Love isn’t just having a lover, but being loved permanently by an infinite God who is perfect. Being loved by a God who loved you (individually you and collectively us) so much that he sacrificed part of himself through his son Jesus so that everyone could know better. The goal here is to be satisfied, and that is entirely, infinitely possible in Christ. If we make our goal sex and call it marriage, there are going to be a lot of broken hearts.

Body image related to getting closer to the worst year ever

Over these past 7 years, I have been in the process from not only recovering from clinical depression, but learning to thrive. Though it’s been a couple years since I’ve been depressed, coming to faith and using grace as a means to change everything has been a surreal. Because I talk about my experiences with depression a lot on this blog, I’m going to leave the lengthy explanations at that (just search the “mental health” or “health” tags if you want more subject matter). Just know that in my experience, recovering from mental and physical illness were interwoven and resolved solely through faith.

I spend a lot of time outside these days, when I can. Getting better and becoming happier means that I exercise for fun (what a joke), usually by walking all over the place. Because I walk, I have gradually been building more muscle tone concurrently with the process of being spiritual strengthened by grace, which I don’t think is a coincidence. By growing into the person God wants me to be, I’ve been pretty thoroughly blessed.

Getting more into shape sounds fabulous, but there is a nasty side of it that up until recently, has been hard to identify. Due to taking a variety of antidepressants, bipolar meds, and anti-psychotics over years, I ended up gaining weight thanks to the only drug of many that worked. Coming back down in weight and into shape is like rewinding the hands of time, and the closer I get to the place I was at the skinniest and ironically, the worst mental health time of my life, the more anxious I feel to lose weight.

Weight gained and lost from you will externally recycle you into your past self. Looking in the mirror and seeing what I used to see when life was hell is a really complicated set of emotions. On the one hand, I’m happy because I’m healthy. I’m relieved that being skinny is no longer such an idol of mine, like it was during and before my depression. I’m angry that my health is only seen in a positive light now that I have external physical proof instead of by just telling people I feel better, and that that proof is tied to fleeting stereotypes of beauty which ultimately damage everyone. I’m annoyed that this process is feels so complicated, and to be honest, I’m somewhat terrified because I never want to return to the place again. It’s like returning to the ground zero of my life. Both disturbing and unsettling in the same glance. And honestly? Being overweight wasn’t nearly as bad to me as fixating on being skinny. My mental health issues were linked to my body, but depression on it’s own was a lot more detrimental to my well-being than my physical health alone.

Getting skinnier isn’t a glamorous thing in my memory. Suicidal thoughts, a verbal lexicon of ways to describe crying, and wishing I was anywhere but home comes back when I remember what I once cared about, and how complicated body image as a whole has been for me. I know that God will continue walking with me through this particular bump in my path, as he has been faithful perpetually. And yet, the memories of today will never allow skinny-ness to hold quite the same amount of appeal as before I was sick. I can never truly go back to that place, even if I look more like it by the image in the mirror. I don’t have to like it, but there is strength in going back to the beginning of pain and overcoming the fear there. This is one of many things that can be overcome, even if it’s not comfortable. It’s gonna be okay.