faith, freedom and femininity

The Lord provides, you guys. He redeems. His Grace is beautiful and boundless. He gives freedom through faith.

This weekend has been freeing in the most beautiful way. It was far from what I expected or hoped for, but somehow better than I could have imagined.

One of my biggest struggles in life is the fear that I’m not enough. That I’m not pretty enough or thin enough. That I’m not doing enough or giving enough. I feel like there’s always something more I could, and should, be doing. I’m afraid that because I’m not enough, I will inevitably face abandonment in every area of my life. And when those things happen, I feel like I deserve them, because I’m simply not enough.

Well, I had a realization this weekend, and it was the most freeing thought I have ever experienced. Those fears and self-doubt, while they feel real and huge and earth-shattering, it’s really just Satan trying to weasel his way into my heart. And you know what, our God is bigger and greater than evil, so I have nothing to fear.

Lucifer fell because of his beauty and his pride for that beauty. His fall gave him this intense desire to attack beauty. He seeks to wreak destruction on the physical manifestations of God’s glory on Earth. He has a special hatred for women, because women represent the heart of the Lord in the most beautiful and captivating ways.

Talk about freeing. There is no reason for me to live with guilt or fear that I’m not enough. It is because I am a woman, filled with the Beauty and Grace of the Lord that I am attacked. Now, this doesn’t excuse anything that has happened in my life, or give me an excuse to suffer or become arrogant. Rather, it provides freedom and understanding, and reminds me that I am not alone.

Beautiful, right?

These thoughts came together even more in church this morning. The sermon was about Ruth and the ability to overcome anything with faith because faith offers redemption. Redemption through friends and family. Redemption through new beginnings. Redemption through Jesus. Sure, my life hasn’t been perfect, and I have been hurt deeply, but that’s ok. My journey and my trials have shaped me to be the woman I am today. The Lord has blessed me with a beautiful community and a new beginning. I am experiencing a joy I never knew existed. My heart and my life are for the Lord. I have nothing to fear.

I am fiercely loved by the Creator of the universe. The One who hand placed the stars in the sky. I was created to carry His glory in a uniquely feminine way. He knows my name and cares for me deeply.

The Proverbs 31 woman is certainly something. While I can’t say I’ll be spinning wool and flax or dressing in fine linen and purple gowns anytime soon, I can draw some inspiration from her. I can breathe easy knowing my life is in His hands.

she is clothed in strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.

Proverbs 31:25

What is Love?

I talk a lot about this big heart of mine because it’s something I’m really proud of. I wear my heart on my sleeve almost 100% of the time. I am motivated by my desire to love on people. I love fiercely and I love well.

Recently I have been thinking about what this all actually means. I mean, I talk about it all the time, it’s very much embedded in my identity, but do I really understand it?

If you type “definition of” into Google “definition of love” is the second option that pops up. Google defines love as “an intense feeling of deep affection”. That definition kind of sucks if you ask me.

So, I headed to Dictionary.com, which defines love as “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person” and “a feeling of warm, personal attachment or deep affection”. This is a little better, but it’s still missing something.

My next stop was Merriam-Webster.com. Merriam-Webster offers a much more in-depth definition of love, including “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person”, “attraction that includes sexual desire; the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship”.

So far, love is an intense, tender, passionate affection, personal attachment and sexual desire. Meh. I’m not entirely convinced. There is so much more to love than that, right?

I went back to Merriam-Webster and scrolled a little further. The fourth definition says “unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: as 1) the fatherly concern of God for humankind. 2) brotherly concern for others”. 4b says “a person’s adoration of God”.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

I have recently had the opportunity to get to know another believer, and she is incredible in more ways than one. We had dinner together the other night, and she asked me to tell her about my faith. It was the first time I had ever really shared my entire faith journey with someone, and it was a really beautiful experience. I tend to ramble when I get nervous, and so I pretty much rambled through my life story. As I was talking, I began to realize that the Lord has always been by my side. He has been calling to me my whole life, even after I continued to turn my back on Him. He has been with me through every struggle and hardship; protecting me in ways I don’t think I will ever fully understand. You guys, I have really struggled with life. I have questioned my worth and the value of my existence. I have fought my way through immense suffering, all the while questioning the battle. Even when I was succeeding, I wasn’t truly happy. I wasn’t really living. I shared these struggles with my new friend, and ended my story by saying that my struggles are the reason I love so hard. I know what it feels like to not feel loved or worthy or cared about. When I said this, I meant it in a worldly way; that I had struggled to feel love from people on this earth. Her response blew my baby Christian mind.

You love because you accepted His love.

I struggled for so much of my life because I kept turning my back on the Lord. I refused to accept His love. Without His love, how could I even begin to understand what it means to love here on earth?

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice, but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance.

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

This verse is often used in weddings and in romantic relationships, and it’s beautiful and inspiring. It is used as a guide for relationships. But it’s so much more than that;¬†it describes the Lord’s love for us.

I know the Lord loves me. He was patient with me on my journey to Him. He never once gave up on me, and has endured with me through every fight. He didn’t demand His own way, rather He was kind and rejoiced when I finally heard His truth and came to Him.

I love because God loves me.

…God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them. And as we live in God, our love grows more perfect…

1 John 4:16-17

I love because I accepted God into my heart.

I love because God is love.

Life as a Baby Christian

God is good, you guys.

Words can’t begin to describe how much better my life has gotten since I accepted the Lord into my heart, and decided to intentionally live for Him. I still don’t fully grasp what that means, and I don’t know that I ever will, and I that’s ok The mystery of Christ is huge, and I don’t think we’re meant to completely understand.

I have recently gotten to a point where I can own and embrace where I am in my walk with Christ. Two of the most important people in my life are strong in their beliefs and are actively pursuing a relationship with the Lord. To be honest, they are the reason I came to really know the Lord. While it’s incredible to have these people to support me and to look to for guidance, it can also be quite intimidating. They know so much and seem to be so confident about their beliefs and their relationship with the Lord. They both serve as inspiring examples of what it means to be a Christian in today’s world. They constantly share the Lord’s love and light in their words and actions, and I am so grateful to know them and to live in their light. They are both also pretty open about their faith and never hesitate to chat about things, which is great, except for the whole intimidation factor.

I finally broke down and told one of them about this a while ago, and she lovingly called me a baby Christian. At first, I wasn’t sure how to take it. I knew it wasn’t a bad thing, but I really struggled to identify with it. I embraced it for that night, and asked some of the “baby Christian questions” I had been struggling with. For example, do my baptism credits transfer? What about the Lord’s Supper? Do I have to adhere to a specific denomination? What does it take to “officially” become a Christian? You guys, I felt so silly asking those questions as a 20-something. Isn’t that stuff I should know? Thankfully, my friend embraced me with love and answered my questions and engaged in conversation as best she could.

I took ownership of my walk with Christ, and spent a lot of time on Google and pouring into His word and praying for discernment. It was working out pretty well for me. I love the Lord with all that I am, and am committed to knowing Him more and more everyday. I am excited about pursuing my relationship with Him. I continued to have conversations about God’s goodness and what it means to be a Christian, but I never fully grasped on to my identity as a baby Christian.

Until Sunday.

You have been believers so long that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food.

Hebrews 5:12

This verse came up at church, and I had the opportunity to talk about it with someone after the service. Being a baby Christian isn’t a bad thing, and I’ve always known that. What I didn’t realize, however, is how much of a gift it is to be a baby Christian. I’m coming into my faith on my own. I’m pursuing God in the way that makes the most sense for my relationship with Him. Everything is new and inspiring and beautiful.

This conversation after church helped me realize my identity as a baby Christian can also be a gift to those around me. As I’m learning the basic things about God’s word, others are forced to think about things that may have become habit or second nature. I get to ask questions and have conversations about things people haven’t intentionally thought about in a long time. This gives them the opportunity to evaluate their faith and possibly become even more active and intentional in their pursuit of the Lord.

So, here I am, owning my status as a baby Christian. I need support on my walk with Christ. I need you to pray for me, and to pray with me. Show me what it means to have faith on fire. Share in conversation with the Lord with me. Tell me about His word. Share your favorite verses and stories with me. Share the context and meaning of those verses with me. Tell me what the Lord is doing in your life. Do you see Him in me? Share that with me too. Are you struggling with something? Please, share that with me too. Be open when I try to talk about my path. You guys, I’m so excited to be discovering my faith and getting to know the Lord. Sometimes I just want to gush about how incredible He really is. Hear me and gush with me!

I could continue to gush now, but I’ll refrain and simply say again, God is good.

May God give you more and more grace and peace as you grow in your knowledge of God and Jesus our Lord.
2 Peter 1:2

Experience over Cognition

You guys. I had the weirdest experience last week.

I recently made a temporary move to New York for an 8 week internship (I’ll fill you in on those details soon, promise!). I have been presented with this incredible opportunity to make strides toward the future I want. While I’m growing personally and professionally, I also made the decision to be intentional with my faith and really focus on the Lord. I’m delving into Luke and Acts, and I’m just really excited to learn and grow as much as I can.

While I’m excited, I’m also a little nervous. Leaving Missouri for the summer meant leaving the church I had come to call home and the small faith community I had started to build. It also meant leaving the most important person in my faith community (and my favorite person in general). Stress. Thankfully, we have luxuries like texting, phone calls and FaceTime, so we’re still able to talk through things and share our faith together. Unfortunately, it’s not quite the same as actually going to church together, but it’ll work for now!

So, with the lack of a familiar faith community and my intentionality, I was (and am) determined to find a community here. When Tom (the significant other) was here, he pointed out a sign for a bible study at a Christian center in town. Perfect! I missed it the first week, but went the second week, last week.

I was nervous because I’ve never been to a bible study before, and I really didn’t know what to expect. It started out nice enough. I was the youngest person there by a solid 30 years, but that’s ok. Everyone was really nice and welcomed me as soon as I walked in the door. There were only about 20 people there, so it was real obvious that I was new. We started with some worship, which was alright. It makes sense that I didn’t super connect with it when I didn’t fit the demographics or personality of the regular congregation, my needs are a little different.

Then things got a little weird for me. A woman sitting in front of me sat down and started sobbing and rocking back and forth while another woman behind me starting speaking in tongues. Honestly, I was incredibly uncomfortable. Growing up in the Catholic Church, I’m not used to experiences like that. I didn’t know how to process the experience, so I just tried to focus on scripture and silence my fears and biases to better hear what the Lord had to say. Unfortunately it didn’t get much better. I couldn’t focus and my mind kept wandering. The woman in front of me was still rocking and the woman behind me was still mumbling. The bible study ended, and I was ready to leave, grateful for the experience, but having decided to never come back. People surrounded me when I tried to leave, hugging me, welcoming me and asking questions. It was sweet. Overwhelming, but sweet. Through conversation, I mentioned that I’m working with Prevention and I have a passion for college students, specifically those struggling with high risk behaviors around alcohol and other drugs.

The woman who had been sitting in front of me embraced me and started crying again. She hugged me and told me that she was 9 years sober. Wow.

Nine years sober. Talk about inspiring.

I congratulated her and instead of accepting my praise, she gave it right back to the Lord, exclaiming her love and gratitude for Him and the way He intervened in her life. She went on to thank me for the work I do and want to do. She mentioned she wrote a book and walked me out to her car to sign a copy for me. She continued to shower me with encouragement, saying people like me give her hope, and all sorts of nice things, but she said two things in particular that really stuck with me. She said she appreciated me for seeing her and valuing her as a person and not as an addict or a recovering addict. She said the way I showed her love and respect doesn’t happen often and that it meant a lot to her. She said she believes I have a loving heart and the potential to make a real difference in the lives of others, especially addicts.

Woah. That’s a lot, right? Especially when you consider the fact that I just met this woman moments before and had put her into a box with an experience I didn’t like and didn’t want to encounter again.

Then she told me I was a blessing.

I was completely overwhelmed. She gave me a copy of her book, hugged me, thanked me and walked away. I got in my car, called my friend and left the craziest voicemail trying to make sense of it all. I got back to my place and told my roommates about it, and they mostly just laughed and told me not to go back. I was so confused about the whole thing. I kept trying to analyze the situation and understand what it meant and what The Lord was trying to tell me.

You guys, I was shaken to my core. This experience completely uprooted me, and I had no idea how to respond or make sense of it. I talked it through with Tom, and he told me to pray on it and really pour into the Lord. He suggested meeting up with this woman to hear more about her story, and praying on whether or not to go back to the bible study. He said the best thing I could do, and the best way to find an answer is to pray.

So I did. I prayed a lot, but it was still super confusing and I just couldn’t shake my feelings of discomfort. Then I went to church on Sunday and everything sort of fell into place.

Oddly enough, the sermon was about speaking in tongues. As the pastor was talking about Pentecost, she said a very simple phrase that stuck with me.

Experience over cognition.

You see, faith is about trusting and believing. It’s not always about analyzing or making logical sense of things. Sometimes it’s about throwing yourself into a situation and allowing yourself to feel every single aspect of the experience. It’s about letting yourself be consumed in the emotions of your faith.

As a processor, that’s real hard for me to wrap my head around. I want
things to make sense. I want there to be meaning and a reason for things. I want to gain meaning and tangible value out of my experiences. I’m also a huge feeler, empathy is one of my main strengths, so you’d think I would be able to just accept an experience for the feelings it provokes, but it’s such a struggle.

In thinking about all of this, I’m drawn back to one of my favorite verses.

Trust in The Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding.

Proverbs 3:5

This verse guided me before I became fully in touch with my faith, and I find myself turning back to it now. You see, my life is in good hands; the best hands. The Lord, our God, is incredible, you guys! He blesses us and guides is and cares for us when we least deserve it. Now that makes no logical sense, but I believe it and I trust in His grace. Faith is a feeling. A good feeling. A strong feeling. I don’t try to make logical sense of His love or grace, so I don’t need to make logical sense of all of my experiences. I can just trust in His ways and relish in the experiences He gives me.

I don’t know that I’ll go back to the bible study. I will reach out to that woman. She is very much a blessing in my life. I want to know her and her story. I want to pour into her and let her pour into me.

I don’t understand my experience at the bible study, but I’m forever grateful for the experience. That bible study taught me to live in the moment and appreciate every feeling that comes with every experience, whether it’s comfortable and familiar or not.

Experience over cognition.
Trust over understanding.
Faith over logic.

Faith like Mary

Mary responded “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.”

Wow. Talk about unwavering faith and trust.

Here’s Mary, just doing her thing and then this angel appears before her and casually says, “hey! You’re pretty special. The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28), and then goes on to tell her that despite being a virgin, she’s going to have a kid.

Normal, right?

Woof.

As if that wasn’t enough, this angel goes on to tell her that not only will she have a baby, but he will be called the Son of the Most High and his Kingdom will have no end (Luke 1:31-32).

Talk about intimidating. I don’t know about you, but I’d be panicking at this point. I mean, really. You’ve just been told you are going to conceive a child, and not just your average baby. Nope. You are going to give birth to the Savior. Mary is pretty chill about it though. She responds by confirming her faith and is just like ya know what, I’m here to serve The Lord. If this is really His plan for me, I hope it comes true (Luke 1:38).

Super casual. No big deal.

I’m sorry, what?! I mean, sure, I pray for guidance on what to do in my life. I hope for signs that I am where I should be and that I’m doing what I should be doing, but I don’t think I would react so calmly if an angel showed up at my doorstep one day and just laid it all out there for me.

I guess that’s part of what faith is though, right? It’s about trusting that God has a plan for you and believing that His will will be done. If I truly live my life as a servant of the Lord, then I know it’ll all be ok. Mary doesn’t falter in Luke’s account of the announcement of the birth of Jesus. Sure, she was confused about the logistics of the Lord’s plan for her, but she didn’t question or deny it. She embraced it, and hoped that it would come true because it was God’s plan for her. How cool is that?! It was such a selfless and faith-filled reaction.

While I have never had an angel show up at my doorstep, I am blessed in that I have experienced my own “God moments” that give me the confirmation that I am where I should be. Sometimes it’s as seemingly insignificant as a text from the right person at the right time. Other times, it’s way bigger and in my face, like a sermon at church. I have really had to work on my response to these “signs”. I’m challenging myself to take a page out of Mary’s book. Rather than questioning the meaning or over-analyzing what I “should” do, I’m going to do my best to accept them with grace.

Luke depicts Mary as a pretty solid believer in his description. She takes God’s word for what it is without questioning His plans. She believes in the Lord and worships Him (Luke 1:46-47). So yeah, she’s great and all, but it’s important to recognize that God chose Mary to bear Jesus out of His grace; not because of anything Mary did. Gabriel tells her she found favor with God (Luke 1:30), which really shows that God acted for her and not because of her. Mary is the object of God’s love and grace and unearned goodness. I think Mary understood that; she realized that God acted for her (Luke 1:49). God really stepped into her life and pulled her into His service. Her unwavering faithfulness was an asset; not a payment.

I think Luke depicts Mary in this way so that we can identify with her unwavering faithfulness. It’s important to recognize that Luke doesn’t want us to worship Mary as a person; but rather to identify with her example. She was fully committed to the Lord and His plans for her. She was open to serving the Lord in whatever way He called her. That’s pretty cool.

I want to have faith like Mary.