An Anthem Worth Falling For

Earlier this week, Austin and I were listening to worship music when the following lyrics caught my attention:

“This will be my anthem song: Jesus we love you, oh how we love you. You are the one our hearts adore.”

You can probably guess that it was the word “anthem” that caught my ear. It is a word we have heard over and over and over again in the media, on Facebook, and from the mouths of our coworkers and fellow students all week. There is argument and harshness surrounding this word right now.

Then I heard it in this context.

The context of simply loving Jesus. The political jargon was removed. The heartache was left at the door. It was just Jesus. Only Jesus. Only adoration.

Merriam-Webster defines Anthem this way: a usually rousing popular song that typifies or is identified with a particular subculture, movement, or point of view.

All over scripture, we see believers worshiping in anthem song to the Father. In Psalm, David creates anthems that the nation of Israel uses to worship God. In Revelation, believers are united with the Father once again and we sing an anthem to Him alone. And in the following story, a woman demonstrates anthem worship by identifying herself as an unlikely child of God.

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And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

(Luke 7:37-50 ESV)

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You see, anthems are our identifiers. They are what set us apart as a member of something. It may be the alma-mater of a school or it could set us apart as a citizen of lover of a country.

Today, I want to challenge our idea of anthem–not to take a stand on the anthem argument of our country; rather, I want us to begin questioning who and what we are setting ourselves apart for.

Let’s begin with some context about what is going on here.

  1. Simon is the Pharisee who had invited Jesus into his home. Usually, when we think of Pharisees, we think of the evil religious leaders who hated Jesus and everything he stood for. However, here we see a religious leader who was genuinely interested in who Jesus was. Jesus entered his home to teach him as he did the tax collectors and sinners alike.
  2. This woman was most likely a prostitute–someone that a religious leader could spot from a mile away. Someone who was not to be touched or interacted with. Someone that religious leaders would never expect God in the flesh to touch, much less forgive.
  3. The oil, tears, and hair that she worshiped Jesus with was all she had.
  4. Jesus and the woman had most likely had some kind of interaction previously that we are not told about. And since we are not told about it, clearly, God did not mean for us to know about it.

The Pharisee and woman were the same amount of sinful.

In this story, we have two characters. First, you have the religious leader who knows he is a sinner, but cannot seem to wrap his head around how deprived of holiness he actually is. Second, you have a woman who’s sins have been abundantly made known to the world. She is ultra aware of her unholiness. She is reminded of it daily–even hourly. Sometimes every moment.

Though these two characters are from the ancient of days, are they not each one of us?

I don’t think we understand what we have been forgiven of.

Admittedly, I often fall into the category of the Pharisee. I was raised in church. I have always held roles in various ministries. Some might even call me a leader in my inner circle of faith. I know the rules. I know how I am to live.

Most importantly? I know how to hide my sin. I know how to look as if I am the perfect Christian–following all the rules and exacerbating my holiness.

Because I am really good at that, I can sometimes trick myself into believing that my sins are somehow less than the person who the world looks at as some kind of “greater” sinner.

Our faith is ALL we have.

In reality, there is going to come a day when I am standing at the feet of Jesus, and every good work I did on this earth will be just as known as every sin I spent my life trying to hide. I will stand before the Father accused by the tempter. At that point, I won’t have anything to stand behind or be covered by except the blood of Jesus. All my sin will be in the open.

It will be obvious and clear and all will be aware of it.

We won’t be able to say, “well I went to church every Sunday!”, or “I led worship for the kids,” or “well that person sinned worse than I did!”

We will just have Jesus and the fact that He has given us a faith to grasp for in the face of sin.

We will have His blood and sacrifice as our sole cover for our transgressions.

Our faith must be our Anthem.

So when we think about Anthems, let’s begin considering them as the thing in which they are: the song that sets us apart.

Am I saying we should never stand for any kind of anthem: alma-mater or national song? Absolutely not.

Am I saying we should consider what our first loyalty is? Absolutely.

I am saying that when we put God and country on the same level, we diminish that which we have been forgiven of. We forget that it is not our country that makes us less sinful or better than another. It is Jesus’s blood alone.

This post is not about taking a stand. It is about taking time to fall. To fall on our faces before Jesus and asking Him that we might be taken out of our selves. It is about recognizing our vast unholiness. It is about knowing that no matter how hard we fight for this country, it will fade. We won’t care one bit about our state of freedom when we are worshiping Jesus for eternity. We will only be concerned with the freedom He has given us.

We will be standing and jumping and kneeling and falling before the face of our Savior.

Let’s start practicing that now. Let’s spend more time in worship than in worry. Let’s put on blinders for Jesus and give Him all glory for any good thing we might have.

While we are at that, sisters and brothers, let’s ask Him how we are being a witness for him for those who are afflicted and oppressed. We will begin to hear and understand the hearts of those who we do not understand. Our hearts will be broken for the injustices of this world. 

That was His heart.

He looked at the woman who the world saw as a sinner and said, “your sins are forgiven.”

Her anthem was heard. Her heart was made know.

Her eternity will be spent forever repeating that anthem song.

What is your anthem song? Is it a passage of scripture? Is it a worship song? If it has little to do with Jesus, we have a problem. We have an anthem that is meant for this world and this world alone.

More importantly, if we are allowing that anthem to cause us to speak down to one another, to hold ourselves as higher or more holy than our fellow believers, we are putting the kingdoms of this world over the kingdom of God.

Let our anthem be our faith. Our love for Jesus. Our excitement for His kingdom alone. Other things may be important to us here and now. I do not want to deny that. But be warned, oh Christian: they will surely fade. 

When Marriage Was Not the Vacation I Imagined

I heard a line the other day in a spoken word poem that really resonated with me: …because dating feels like vacation and marriage is a job.

You could not have convinced me that this was true while Austin and I were dating–or even engaged!! I just know that marriage would be 10,000 times “better” than dating.

Don’t get me wrong, it so is. But it is a much different kind of better than I expected. One that is endlessly joyful. One that is endlessly hard. One that takes more work than I could have ever imagined.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

We sat on the couch in the aftermath of our first fight. We had only been married one month. ONE month! I had never been so mad at him for saying the things he did. I had also never loved him more. My heart had never felt these things–not within my family, not when we were dating, not ever. 

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We stood in our living room after two weeks slam packed with mourning. The first week, I sat at my grandfather’s deathbed every day while my husband drove two hours back and forth to work. The second week, we processed. We lived in my Papa’s home without him. Now we were back home. We were alone. I was angry with sin and death and he was on edge, unsure of how to speak to me. Could I be comforted? How do you comfort your wife when you have never had a wife to comfort before?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I sat on my kitchen floor while my husband sobbed on our bed. He mourned the loss of this relationship he held so dear. I mourned the fact that had we not gotten married, this relationship would still be intact. I had never seen him like this. I had never felt so one in mourning and simultaneously, so alone. 

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

I laid in bed after kissing my husband goodnight. One year ago, when we had only been married a month, that good night kiss felt new and exciting each time. It was the beginning of the best time of our lives. Now it was routine. Our love hadn’t changed–if anything, it was stronger! But the kiss didn’t feel new and exciting unless I dwelled on it. Is this what marriage is like?

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Each of these thoughts has been felt with every part of my soul since August 6, 2016. You see, when marriage happens, real life happens. You are combining your hearts. You are becoming one in every sense of the word. You feel the same and new all at once, and it is great when everything around you is great.

Then the storm hits.

Once you are facing something together, you have two choices. You can let the wind and crashing waves knock you down and keep you from walking further into the blessing of marriage.

Or you can walk together on the water toward Jesus.

There is one easy answer, and it is not the second. Here are some reasons why.

The hurting hurts worse and the loving loves harder.

I hit on this so often, but I think it is worth reminding (myself, at least) about once every week. Emotions are heightened18301557_10209090094506416_469224149126652777_n in marriage. When you give your whole self to another, everything is more. The love is more intense and the little jabs hurt like deadly wounds.

That is what intensified our fights initially.

With everything, I questioned his choice to marry me, even if I didn’t voice it.

You see, the enemy works hard to attack where we are exposed. 

He is constantly whispering into my hears my greatest insecurities. He only married you because of the timing. You’re not good enough for him. He will eventually see you for who you really are. 

Neither of us will ever be able to perfectly comfort the other.

I didn’t expect this one. In the first six months of our marriage, my grandfather lost his battle with cancer, and Austin lost a relationship that meant the world to him. We were both hurting in the midst of each of these storms. Yet neither of us knew exactly what the other felt like. It was so weird.

I felt as one with Him.

But I couldn’t feel what he was feeling. I couldn’t mourn with him in the way I wanted to.

We wanted nothing more than to comfort one another, but the tests didn’t wait for us to learn how to pass. They just came with no warning.

The sparks take intentionality.

Marriage is like any other relationship in one way: it is far too easy to get used to. You learn the other like the back of your hand. You know when their day has been bad and good and when someone rubs them the wrong way. It is easier to talk down to them.

It is also easy to forget that the physical part has to be just as intentional as the emotional part.

So here we are at the crossroads of treating a marriage like a vacation or a job. We can simply leave–mentally or physically–because the waters begin rising, or we can stick it out. We can fight and work and remind ourselves that the enemy is where the battle begins. If you’re ready to fight, start with the most basic thing you can do as a believing couple: go before God together.

Pray with one another. Pray over one another. Set reminders on your phone throughout the day to lift the other up.

It is really hard to grow apart from someone you are actively interceding for before the Father. Then allow God to speak to you together.

I always find it funny that so often, my quiet times are filled with my own babbling. The next thing I am asking you feels a little hypocritical because guess what? We have never done it.

We should be opening our Scripture together. We should be reading them aloud. Then sitting in silence. Do it for five minutes of for thirty minutes or for hours on end. Let’s open our hands to the heavens and ask God to speak to us together as one under His authority. Let’s allow Him to remind us of our spouse’s worth by the blood of Jesus that we might have more patience.

Finally, we have got to stop placing false expectations 12650796_10205769890983403_1164935111516144634_n.jpgupon our partners. The week I was walking through death with my grandfather, I almost expected Austin to know what to say and how to say it every day. He didn’t.

As he has walked through his own loss, I have stumbled over my words more times than I can count. I have miserably failed when I was trying to comfort him and trying to love him well. Do you want to know why? Because I am a sinful, fallen human who is not yet completed under the new heaven and new earth.

I have false understandings.

I have more pride than I know what to do with.

I am stubborn.

I am often well-meaning and often sinful within that “well-meaningness”

I am unforgiving of those who hurt him and sometimes down-right mean.

I am also in the process of being made holy under Jesus’s blood. So is he.

Here is the point of this whole post: Marriage is the most sanctifying experience there is. We (and the person we like most in this world) become ultra-aware of our shortfalls. Then there is all this work to do!

So my dear sisters who are wives, pick up your marriage and walk toward the fire. Walk toward the hard work. For in the fire, God sustains. God heals. God redeems.

My dear sisters who are fiance’s and girlfriends, do not expect everything to become perfect when you get married! He will be just as sinful then as he is now! Plus, he won’t be able to hide it anymore–and neither will you.

My sweet single sisters, a marriage is not the thing that will fill you once again.

The only One who brings fulfillment, the only One who completes anything, is Jesus Christ. He won’t let you down. He won’t forsake you. He will only love you. He will be the only one who can comfort you. He will be the only one you will never get used to!

This is the marriage that is worth waiting for.

Our husbands here are great, but they are people just as we are.

Take heart, beloved. Earthly marriage is not the end goal. Jesus is. It is not a cake walk. But it is a beautiful blessing that takes work and effort and the love and grace of Christ. It is like any other good gift God created: something that was meant to point to Him and Him alone.

Jesus, Calm My Storm

Everywhere we look these days we are getting news of storms.

Whether it is a physical storm like Hurricane Harvey or Irma or the sudden passing of a family member or just feeling like we cannot catch up with our schedules,

As the season of fall approaches, I can’t help but consider what these months have so long meant to my family.

As a child, there was a stretch of time where every tragedy that hit seemed to hit between the months of August and November. My grandmother died. My best friend’s father died. My aunt had a debilitating aneurysm. My mom’s best friend needed a kidney transplant. In fall 2015, my husband lost relationship with some of his closest family. Last fall my grandfather went to be with Jesus.

It just seems to be a season of storms.

Right now, I am sitting at my kitchen table sipping my coffee, using the spare thirty minutes I have to jot down my thoughts. My current storm isn’t a tragedy, but rather, a continuously rotating schedule.

You see, your storm doesn’t have to be destructive to your life, but it might be disruptive. It might be your own desire to please. It might be all the commitments you have clung to. It might be a loss or a disease or a very physical storm that has destroyed your home and everything you know.

Whatever it is, when we look up, the face of Jesus is clouded gray fog. We cannot seem to look past our current situation, and eventually,  we want to just stop and look ahead. After all, our necks are tired and nothing seems to clarify Him.

These storms are what Satan uses to steal our joy, to kill our hope, and to destroy our witness. They seem to be never ending and their effects are like the shadow that blocks all light and hope.

The storm of a busy schedule.

This is my current state–the storm that is disruptive. It is the enemy’s kingdomway of stealing. This is the storm that you don’t even realize you are caught in until you sit down to rest for a few minutes. We open your scripture and immediately consider all the things that need to be done. It’s overwhelming. Overworking. We put things aside and tell ourselves we will get to them later.

Most of the time, those things include intimacy with Jesus and time meditating on Him. They include sharpening our own gifts to His glory.

We may neglect to spend intentional time with your husband or your children or to share the Gospel with our neighbors.

We heart feels pulled in ten-thousand different directions. Rarely will we choose the direction of Jesus.

The storm of loss.

This is the storm that is disabling. It is the enemy’s way of killing. He came to kill any hope of eternal life and harmony with God. It is the family member that returns to dust. It is Hurricane Irma or Harvey or Katrina that have left so many without a next move. We don’t know what to do with our heart.

We spend lots of time with God, but usually, it is to cry out in pain. We don’t understand why and we let Him know. We are tempted to walk away from Him long-term promises and chase after something that will satisfy us now. We give into lust and greediness and self-glorification.

Or maybe we don’t act out at all. Maybe we don’t do anything except sit and wonder why the world is the way it is. We may be paralyzed with fear or anger.

Mostly we wonder when life will get back to normal, dwelling in what was and longing for restoration.

The storm of anger.

This is the storm that destroys. It destroys our witness and the enemy uses it to draw people away from the love of the Father. It keeps us from sinking into the Father’s love and causes us to dwell on our own desires.

It is the storm that tears apart relationships.

It causes families to break.

It keeps us captive to our own idea of what love is.

It is the storm of abuse.

It is the storm of hatered.

It stems from pride–expecting that we deserve something we are simply not receiving.

Yet no matter how we realize that this storm is destroying us from the inside out, we cannot seem to shake it off. The littlest thing might remind us of our bitterness. We are triggered just as we begin to feel better. We know how we should be feeling, but we cannot seem to get there on our own.

The Calmer in the storm.

But that is just the point. We cannot and will not get there on our own. Even those who fled from Hurricane Irma will still return to flooded homes. We will all face our storm’s destruction. But we do not all have to be destroyed by our storm.

There were two instances (that we know of) where Jesus was a calmer amidst the winds and waves of a storm.

Once He was asleep while His disciples cried for His help

Another time He stayed back though He knew there would be a storm.

In the first instance, He came up, told the storm to stop, and questioned why the Disciples ever feared in the first place.

In the second instance, He walked upon the water to meet His disciples, and beckoned Peter onto the crashing waves.

calmer.jpgIn neither instance did He calm the storm immediately.

In neither instance did He tell His disciples that it was okay to focus on the storm.

Their eyes were focused on the waves. They were settled on the destruction. They couldn’t get past the grey clouds and the falling rain.

Or consider this: when Peter walked upon the water toward Jesus, the storm did not stop. The waves still crashed. The wind still rolled. And yet Jesus was still calming; He was calming Peter. Not the storm.

You see, Jesus is just as much the calmer in the storm as He is the calmer of the storm. Our job is not always to beg Him to take away the pain, though He may, but it is always to look through the clouds into His shining face that IS there.

While the enemy seeks to steal away our time, Jesus reminds us that nothing should trouble us except spending time with Him.

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

Ephesians 5:15-17

When the enemy is having His way with death on this earth, Jesus reminds us that he has been defeated by eternal life.

“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:55-57

When the enemy tries to destroy our witness through our own anger, Jesus’s word reminds us that the only way to fight anger is to be planted in Scripture.

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1:1-3

Do not be shamed in this storm, oh Christian. The storms are part of the fall. They define the evil, corrupt, sinful world in which we reside.

If your storm is busyness, death, anger, a hurricane that has disrupted your life, or anything else, use this time to see this world in the way it really is. Use it as a time to look to Jesus that He may be your calmer in the midst of wind and waves. Remember, the story has already been written.

The enemy and his storms do not win.

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Dear White Christian

Dear white Christian,

I am you.

I am overwhelmingly and uncomfortably aware right now that racism is still alive and well in our country.

Yet I have not always been this way.

If you haven’t perused this blog, you may not know that I have been married to a black man for a little over a year now. I am ashamed to say that my relationship with my husband is the first real, deep, interpersonal relationship I ever had with a person of color. I always pushed that fact aside, saying that it was because of where I was raised.

Yet no part of me ever sought to get to know anyone who was not like me. I sat where I was comfortable. I avoided uncomfortable conversations. I kept my mouth shut.

I said things like, “If I were around during slavery, I would have never stood for that.”

And “I just don’t understand racism.”

And the beloved, “I don’t see color.”

Yet by the same breath, I would easily say something like, “You speak so well and articulately,” and (I am so very ashamed to type this) “You’re like an oreo: black on the outside but white on the inside.”

As if whiteness is something to be desired—the goal—and blackness is just the barrier standing in the way of true goodness.

I believed that our country had truly come strides and that we were pretty good.

Then I met Austin (and all my other awesome friends of color from speech. Thank you.)

I began to hear words and phrases like, “institutional racism” and learned that “colorblindness” was not, in fact, a good thing. I listened to all my people explain how they had to do so much more to be trusted. My husband, boyfriend at the time, explained that he spends the majority of his time smiling just so he doesn’t come across like “that guy on the news.” He revealed how tired he was.

Unfortunately, like most of us are, I was questioning at first. All my mind saw during Black Lives Matter rally’s was the little bit of violence that was happening. I didn’t stop and ask myself why it was that they felt that was the option. I didn’t look into the eyes of the mothers of black children that sat in the background. I didn’t heed to the exhaustion my friends of color expressed.

White Christian, I am begging you to catch on more quickly than I did. I am begging you to look at what just happened and recognize that this is not a random act of hatred. It was methodically planned. The ideas that these people hold were approved by our leadership.

Take this for example: When the governor of Virginia was addressing the rioters, he told them that they were not real patriots. That the real patriots were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. He completely neglected the fact that these men owned black people as property. They are the ones we are so quickly to worship and also the ones who instigated the kind of violent ideas these people build their ideologies upon.

It is those kind of statements—the kind of statements that we make subconsciously—that make people of color feel unsafe in the home that people who look like us dragged them to.

I could go on for years. But I will ask that, instead, you take these steps toward being the kind ally that I believe Christ calls us to be. It all comes down to one action.

Respond.

Respond in prayer and repentance.

First and foremost, let’s ask God that He would show us our own evil hearts. Sisters and brothers, we will never walk a day in black skin. We will not know the fear when sirens sound. We will never know what it is like to have to question the choice of wearing a sweatshirt over a sweater vest. We will never know what it is like to listen to the stories of our parents and grandparents being hosed down in the streets or hung from trees because of the skin they were born in.

A few weeks ago, I attended the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. As I walked through the section detailing the horrors of segregation and Jim Crow, the man in front of me said, “Yes! This is exactly what my school looked like. I remember this well.” The man was in his 60s at the latest.

Friends, this is not buried deep in history. We have sisters and brothers who have lived and are still living in hatred that you and I will never experience. That’s what the Lord revealed to me in that moment. Tears. Instantly. This reality should produce nothing less that just that!

Christian, ask Jesus to show you your prejudices. You have them. I have them still. Ask Jesus to remind you of the injustice that He experienced. Ask Him to reveal to you the unique hatred that this land of the free freely poured out onto the backs of innocent black lives.

Then repent.

Turn! Write those prejudices down that you might remember their lies. Satan wants nothing more than for us to be divided, and he will do everything in his power to pull you away from the conviction that our Father will bring about.

Respond on your platforms.

Here is food for thought: if you posted something about how “unpatriotic” Collin Kapernick was when he refused to sing the National Anthem, why aren’t you posting about the horrendous nature of this—the exact thing he was fighting against!

Brothers and sisters, we should be horrified to admit that this is surprising on social media. It is what Black Lives Matter has been warning us about as we have been calling them a terrorist organization! When I say respond on social media, this is what I mean:

Do what I did in the paragraphs above. Admit where you have been prejudice. Let others know that you are not beyond reproach. Turn the blame off of the protestors and remember the fact that, if we are in Christ, we believe that we hold the same amount of sin they do. Let’s turn our focus to what we can do. What we have been doing wrong. How we have been slowly (and for some unknowingly) perpetuating this kind of thought.

Respond in your conversations.

Look for opportunities to talk about how God feels about racial injustice. Remember that when John looked into heaven, he SAW people from every tribe, tongue, and nation—meaning they looked different! Color is not the problem, friends. It is beautiful. Our skin tones are exactly what God has given us. They are unique and strong and give us platform for His glory.

Let’s talk about some ways to respond to some specific phrases you might hear.

“The only race is the human race.” Or “I don’t see color.”

You could say, “I know that you mean that we are all one in Christ, but by saying that, we are neglecting the unique, horrible, recent hardships that most of our friends of color have had to experience. Yes, we should absolutely treat all people with respect no matter their skin color. That point you make is correct! But part of treating someone with respect is understanding and recognizing the struggles they face because of their skin color.”

“Black Lives Matter just needs to get over it.”

You could say, “What makes you say that? Would you look at someone who has faced any other hardship and say that? What if a widow who had lost her husband years ago grieved him actively right now? You would aid her. You would come to her side and love on her. You would listen to her.”

“They have just as much of an opportunity to be successful as anyone else.”

You should say, “Now that is not true. I am not saying that white people haven’t had to struggle for success, but I am saying that our great grandparents weren’t considered 3/5’s human. That is recent! The African American community is just now seeing a generation that actively seeks out school. There has been a lot of catching up to do that people who look like us haven’t had to deal with.”

“I am just so shocked that white supremacists still exist.”

Please ask, “Why? There have been lynching’s this year. Our black brothers and sisters are crying out in pain all around us, and our first inclination is to push aside their frustrations (see above statements). We didn’t listen when people of color were heart broken when Trump won the Presidency. They saw this coming. They warned us over and over and over! We should all be pushing our jaws back up and looking at the warning signs we have been ignoring by people made in the image of God.”

Respond in your listening

Finally, brothers and sisters, let us listen.

If you have a friend of color, buy them a cup of coffee and ask them to educate you. Refrain from the words, “yeah, but…”.

Look up Christian authors and pastors who are excited about racial reconciliation. Log onto the website, The Front Porch, and just read and read and read.

You might be skeptical, but I ask that you please, please set that aside and open your ears. We preach over and over that “there is neither Jew nor Greek,” and believe that by saying that we are pulling races together. Sisters and brothers, we are pushing aside the concerns of our sisters and brothers! We are saying, “the only perspective that matters is mine, and you should just conform.”

I am not saying that any one person is always right, but why do we have such a hard time with giving someone the courtesy to share their heart?

This weekend opened my eyes.

It opened my eyes to the fact that yes, most of us can agree that this extreme kind of racism should not be tolerated. But what about the subtle racism? What about when someone says to my husband, “I don’t usually like black people, but I like you.” Yes, that has been said to him. What if it is just something as simple as the things I said before I was educated? Those phrases, those words are hurtful, and when we use the, we misrepresent our Jesus.

We don’t want people made in the image of God. We want them made in the image of us.

How to Road Trip from Nashville to LA (Or Just Across the Country in General)

At the beginning of the summer, my husband approached me about a little vacation he wanted to take–and I am ALL about vacation. However, this one freaked me out a little bit. He wanted to travel across the country and visit his siblings in Los Angeles. LOS ANGELES. It’s a whopping 1,800 miles away, plane tickets are SO expensive, we would have had to rent a car (and neither of us is 25 yet), and we just got a puppy.

Needless to say, I nixed the idea.

Almost immediately, I felt conviction. I know what you’re thinking. “Conviction? That seems a little extreme.”

But it was straight up, no question conviction. You see, we had the means and we had the time. The only problem was that I wasn’t comfortable with spending that kind of money. On anything. One day, while Austin was at work, the Lord almost audibly reminded me that this was about something bigger and better than what we would spend. It was about giving my man the chance to see his family. It was about spending time with Him day after day without home’s distractions.

It was also about being good stewards of our money.

So without hesitation, I texted my siblings-in-law and asked for their help. How could we make this happen without breaking the bank? After weeks of research and a little bit of guessing, I had a game plan and we were jumping in the car–yes, we decided to road trip 1,800 miles. Here’s what I learned so you can do the same.

Break your travel up. A lot.

The trick to a road trip is not becoming exhausted by spending too much time in the car. You’re gonna get car-crazy. I may have made that up, but trust me, it’s a thing. When I plugged our destination into maps, it gave me two routes. To keep the drives from becoming boring, we decided to go the long way on our way to LA and the shorter way on the way home.

Our first journey was broken up into four days: Dallas, El Paso, Phoenix, and finally LA!

20031630_10209598111126514_8561381891233274563_nOur second was suppose to be broken up into three days: Williams (Grand Canyon), Oklahoma City, then home! (That actually didn’t happen. We booked it home after the Grand Canyon).

Our first trip was AMAZING. We took our dog with us, so we explored the dog parks of each city, discovered the hidden secret that is El Paso–and now my favorite city in the US–and got to eat different types of Mexican food all over the country. Our longest day was ten hours, and our shortest was six.

Our second trip was much harder. Clearly, we were tired from all our excursions, and we were ready to get back to our own bed. The 20-hour ride from Williams to Nashville was right for us, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend it if you are the least bit uncertain.

Choose cheap hotels.

Okay so if you are staying in Hiltons all the way to across the country, you probably aren’t gonna save a ton of money. We went the under $70 route. Also, (again) we had our dog, so we had to take that into consideration. Our favorite chain we stayed in was the Quality Inn. It was super clean and perfect for our pup!

Don’t think about it too much.

If you have made it this far, you’re thinking one of two things: they’re crazy or sign me up! Here’s the thing: it is a lot of hours in the car, but those hours don’t seem so bad if you’re with your favorite person. Over the last two weeks, I have gotten to know my husband more intimately and intentionally than I have before. Had I focused on hours in the car or strange cities, I would have missed on an experience of a lifetime.

Air BnB (the smart way).

So we tried Air BnB twice: once in Phoenix and for our stay in LA. I’ll start with the bad.

The first Air BnB we stayed at looked great on paper! It was in the heart of Phoenix, spacious, and an awesome price. However, when we got in, the AC was working–but only a little–and the ceiling fan was about to come down. Oh, and it was 115 degrees that day.

Needless to say, we called that money a loss and headed to the local quality inn.

The second Air BnB was awesome! We splurged a little on it, but it was so worth it. The host also owned a dog resort where we let our puppy play during the days while we 19961103_10209608895876126_7788495055228055254_n.jpgwere exploring. It had plenty of room for hosting our siblings to come hand out, and there was a washer and dryer so we could catch up on laundry throughout the week.

The best part is that it only cost what the cheap hotels did for each night. The moral of the story is this: if you go for Air BnB, stick with ones that you KNOW are legit. No looking at the price before triple checking that the basic needs will be met.

Be realistic about eating out.

Y’all, food is the best part about traveling! We ate at Vietnamese Cajun, Korean BBQ, all the taco joints, and had gluten free snacks everywhere. I would absolutely recommend that you spend more money on the food you enjoy than the place you sleep (just be safe).

See all the stuff. This is not a vacation. It’s an adventure!

When you’re in a city of that size, there are more things to do than just lay around at a beach. Don’t get me wrong, I am the world’s best beach layer, and we did spend a couple of days in the sand. But my favorite experiences were the ones where we hiked up the hills of Hollywood to look out over the city. They were getting up at 4:30 am to see the sunrise at the Grand Canyon. They were driving an hour to eat at a BOUJEE restaurant on the beach at Malibu and biking down three miles of beach on janky bikes and spending a little too much money to tour the Warner Brothers set.

Remember, the point of this trip is the memories you will make.

But seriously, go to the Warner Brothers set. Did you know that Rosewood from Pretty Little Liars and Stars Hollow from Gilmore Girls are the exact same set?! Like the gazebos in the middle of the towns are the same thing. And you get to sit in the coffee shop from Friends. Mind. Blown. Go see the stuff.

Take your dog.

19989269_10209608880195734_4722093571426662502_n.jpgOr don’t. But we did, and we didn’t have to pay to board her or miss out on loving her for two weeks. My vet recommended a great calming tablet to help her out with the first little bit of the car ride each day, but she acclimated beautifully. Enjoy this baller picture of her owning the back seat of our Corolla.

Put social media away.

With the exception of snap chat. I used snap chat to document each thing we were doing and posted some of them to my story. Mostly, though, I just saved them to my camera roll. A few days after we left, I let the world into the highlights of our journey in a Facebook album.

Yet throughout the trip, we decided to keep our joy to ourselves. We decided not to focus on likes or page views or anything in the virtual world. I even hopped off here for a week or so! A trip like this should not be about how many times someone looks at your picture and wishes they were in your shoes. It should be about enjoying one another’s presence and experiencing the world in a new way.

Just do it.

The point of this post is not to say that everyone needs to get up and go across the country randomly. It is not to convince you to take the vacation we did. It is to remind us all, myself included, to get up and do something. Get out of your house and take an adventure with your spouse–or family or best friend or whoever.

Spend this year putting money back.

Choose not to upgrade your car. 20108212_10209593812219044_1204732789275693872_n.jpg

Don’t buy the new iPhone when it comes out.

Trust me. Time spent with family is of much more value than the next gadget or a new rug or whatever the world is telling us we need.

We need to get out of ourselves for a little while. We need to lather our loved ones with intentionality. Responsibly, of course. But none-the-less, regularly.

Don’t copy our vacation verbatim, but do let our adventure inspire an adventure of your own. Maybe it is a cabin an hour away or maybe it is a twist on your usual time at the beach. Get out. Go see the world.

For all my believers out there, there is so much creation beyond the hometown you love. There are mountains and valleys and prayer to be done in every crevice of the earth. Be a good steward of your money while being a good steward of your relationships. Value the experiences that build your love rather than the new couch that your friends will see. I am stingy. I am learning to open my hands. This was the first step. We will be saving up quite a bit over the next year, but you better bet that a portion of that will be going to another intentional get away with my man. And probably my dog too.

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Almost But Not Yet

It seems like from the age of seventeen on, we are continuously in the “almost but not yet.” Almost graduated from high school or college, but not yet. Almost working our dream job, just not yet. Almost dating, almost engaged, almost married, but slow down, not yet. Almost parents or homeowners, but not quite yet. Almost here, but not here. Almost there, but not yet there.

Not yet.

Imagine that you can see your future. You see the next few years of your life. It is filled with newness, wonder, and adventure. It has been promised to you your whole life. You have been waiting for it. You have been working for it. And now, you have been given some kind of sure knowledge that it is coming.

And just like that, you are placed in waiting. But not just any kind of waiting: desert waiting.

The kind where it is hot and sticky, where there is no food and water is scarce. It is the kind where your legs grow tired and the beating heat seems to suck all of the energy from you.

I know of two places that this occurred in Scripture: the Israelites wandered for forty years and Jesus wandered for forty days.

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They were just on the other side of their promise land and He was just on the other side of His ministry. Yet these two scenarios represent two very different kinds of almost but not yet. The Israelites represent flesh.

 

Their story is filled with groaning and complaining. It is what our desert periods often resemble. Jesus’s story is filled with grace and resistance. It is strong and beautiful and what we so want within our waiting. It is also what we are least likely to do.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

(Matthew 4:1-4 ESV)

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

While they went begrudgingly, He went faithfully.

The Israelites clearly and rightfully did not want to wander the desert for forty years. Yet they had to because of their disobedience. Their lack of faith. Jesus, on the other hand, went into His forty because He needed it. He needed time alone with the Father. He desperately desired that there would be no distractions before Him and that He would only rely on God’s glory to sustain himself within temptation.

Most of us have been in both of these situations. We have been disobedient and made to wait. We have listened to the call of God and stepped into a time of waiting obediently. No matter the reason, let us remember that we have a choice. We have a choice to either go with the knowledge that He will provide or be pushed into a desert. We can either drink of the Living Water or spend years searching for the waters of this earth.

They moaned.

He prayed.

They feared.

He prayed.

While they distanced themselves from God, He communed with God.

Which brings us here. The Israelites–though they were being punished–had a sweet, sweet opportunity to cling to God and grow with Him. They had forty years of seeking His presence.

Yet they searched for other idols. They complained about where they were. They wanted more from Him though they prayed to everything except Him.

And yet Jesus fasted. FullSizeRender 38.jpg

He could have walked back into the city and eaten whenever He wanted, but He chose to stay. He chose to wander. He knew that His Father would provide. He was God, and yet He still prayed earnestly. He could have made Himself full whenever He wanted, yet He chose hunger because He wanted to be filled only by God.

While they sold themselves to temptation, He resisted the Devil.

As the Israelites wandered, they took the jewelry they had from Egypt–the gifts God had given them–and melted them down to make a new god. They took their riches and flung it toward empty promises and vast sin.

Jesus faced Satan Himself and still didn’t budge.

He used His knowledge of God and Scripture to stand firm against the temptations of the Devil. You see, Satan understands the concept of weak spots. He gets that humans will be swayed by human things. He knew Jesus’s physical body thirsted deeply for food and water. But what He didn’t expect was His supernatural power to overcome. He didn’t see that that power is the same power that the Holy Spirit brings during times of temptation. He didn’t plan that Jesus would use His own words to push away His human desires.

While they cowered with fear, He moved with confidence.

And then God said, “Go.”

He showed the Israelites the way to the promise land. He showed Jesus that it was time to begin His ministry. He gave the go ahead. He whispered, “Now is the time.”

Just as you might expect, the Israelites responded to go with no. They were scared. They didn’t trust God to overcome what looked like barriers and bring them to the luxurious milk and honey that He had been promising for so long.

Jesus, on the other hand, knew what He was getting into. He knew that He was going to begin the three-year journey that would eventually lead to His cruel death. It would lead to His torture and betrayal. He would soon be without a home or any sort of consistency. He would be called horrible things and spat upon. But He went and He did not look back.

Now you are probably thinking, “Of course Jesus did all of that! He’s Jesus.”

To which I respond, then why do we doubt His Spirit in us to do the same?

Screen Shot 2017-06-07 at 4.53.49 PM.pngHere is the difference between God’s people pre-Jesus and post-Jesus: His dwelling place. Before Jesus died and rose, God dwelled in the inmost part of the temple. Post-Jesus, God dwells in the inmost being of His children. If you have confessed with you mouth that Jesus is Lord and believed in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you have His Spirit living within you.

The same Spirit that went faithfully.

The same Spirit that communed with God.

The same Spirit that resisted the Devil.

The same Spirit that moved with confidence.

Our waiting time may be forty days. It may be forty years. It may even just be forty minutes! But we can choose how we sit within them. Do we give into our flesh? Or do we let the Spirit within us take over?

Do we question Him? Or do we trust Him? Do we spend our gifts on our own success? Or do we save them for His glory? Do we cower in fear and sit in our waiting? Or do we move when He tells us to?

We can choose the second because He chose the cross.

So choose the second, Sister. Always the second.

I imagine that if you are reading this, you are in an almost but not yet phase of your life. Can I just encourage you for a minute? Can I just remind you that what He has for us is beautiful? That He has granted us a hope and a future? That His presence is our promise land?

I am not saying that He will give us exactly what we think we want. I am saying that He will give us what is right and what is good. I am saying that He will fill our cup and be our Living Water and Bread of Life. I am saying that He will make you look more like Himself if you give your whole self to Him in this desert. I know it feels dry. I know it is hard and your legs are heavy. I know your lips thirst. Mine do too, and that is all the more reason to drink of Him. Sip His grace, Beloved. Drink His goodness.

Let Him teach you about Himself and let His Spirit guide you through this. He has already promised to.

To My Little Sister (And All Other High School Graduates)

Congratulations! You have officially worn the hat and turned the tassel. You have closed your locker, walked down the grand staircase in the front lobby, and said goodbye to some people who have impacted your life even more than you even know right now.

You have made it past some drama.

You have been forced into creating time management skills.

You have gone from child to adult in only four short years.

And here you stand. I imagine you are excited to take on this world. I also imagine youScreen Shot 2017-06-01 at 4.13.34 PM.png are a little terrified as you enter the following chapter. You know what is funny, I just graduated college and I am too. It is a feeling that never really goes away when you are stepping out of a season and into the next, but it is also that feeling that is going to drive you to make moves–and lots of them.

Sister, I tell you this, because you I know you love Jesus with everything in you. I know you want so desperately to do what you can to glorify His name, but you don’t know where the balance between His kingdom and the world coincide. Take heart for His word has given us the answers.

Do not be persuaded by the luring of the world’s success.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him… The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.

1 John 2:15, 17

For the past four years, both test scores and the dreaded GPA have defined your success. Fashion sense has dictated popularity and friend groups determined invitations. You are going to enter a season where success is defined by paycheck and possessions. You will look at other people and be able to guess what they are doing with their own lives. You will fear that they will look at you. That they will see right through you. That they will question your choices. You will be pressured to find the perfect answer when someone asks, “so what do you want to do with that?”

Your major might sound great now, but you will be done with school before you know it. You may walk into the sweetest of jobs, but one day you will retire. You may make more money than you can even fathom, but you can’t take it with you.

Begin resisting the temptations and desires of this world now.

Don’t allow your success to be defined by the number of activities you can take place in because that will lead to believing your life is defined by a tax bracket. Define your life by relationships, yes with people, but more importantly, with Jesus.

Beloved, it is so much easier to resist desire for the world before you are in love with it than to push it away afterward. This time is integral. Use it to foster desires that matter, that place others before yourself, and that impact the kingdom of God.

No one has their life together–no matter how it looks.

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

Colossians 3:2

I don’t think anyone would have been able to convince me of this one when I was a freshman in college. When you are young, everything seems so much bigger and better than what you have now. College seniors are about to start their lives. Many are planning for marriage, some even have their own dog.

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 4.16.39 PM.pngHear me. If you do not have a family or career plan by the time you think you should–and you are seeking The Lord–you are not behind. The girl who gets married right out of college (or during if you’re me) is just as clueless about the next step as anyone else. Your friend who has internships every summer still worries about her competitive career realm.

Do not fix your eyes on a person you want to be like. Fix your eyes on Jesus: the Founder and Finisher of our Faith.

Fix your eyes on the one who made you, fearfully and wonderfully.

Walk in His ways, and He will give you His desires. He will make His will the only thing you want to run toward. The comparisons will diminish. His word and way will endure. The anxieties about the next step will fade because you will know that He is holding you. You will rest in His timing alone.

Create goals and implement discipline.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:13-14

As young adults, our brains are entering into the final stage of development. This is our last chance to take advantage of that sweet gift God has given us: the gift of easily developing habits. I have never, never spoken to a mature Christian who did not encourage getting into scripture and prayer regularly as a teenager or young adult.

Here’s an example.

It took me absolutely zero time in school to develop a habit of drinking coffee. I don’t even have to think about getting up in the morning and brewing a cup. I developed the habit of going to the gym in the early morning when I was preparing for my wedding. I developed the habit of turning on Netflix before I go to bed and calling my boyfriend (now husband) when I was frustrated and all kinds of things.

It was easy. It was easy because everything is new, so why not this?

Screen Shot 2017-06-01 at 4.18.11 PMSet goals. Yes, goals for your career and grades and logistical things. But first set goals for your relationship with Jesus. Set goals for your time with Him. Commit to reading scripture more than you read for class. Memorize a verse before you have your morning coffee. Pray for twenty minutes before bed instead of watching Gossip Girl.

You may regret your discipline in drinking coffee. You will very likely regret hours binge-watching TV. I can promise you, however, you will not regret spending time with Jesus. He promises to bless that time. He promises that those blessings will be eternal.

Know that the best is yet to come.

And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.

John 14:3

Finally, do not be swayed by the voices that tell you that this is it. That this is the last time you have in life to have fun. That these days will be the greatest.

Remind yourself, over and over, that the best and greatest of days have not been reserved for this earth. They are on the other side of eternity. They will be known for harmony. There won’t be compatition or comparison–only worship.

We were placed in this time and in this generation so specifically by our God. Not so that we can make the most money or even make the most difference, but so that we can proclaim His name in this place. Sister, in this place, in this time, you have been set apart by God. He knows the names of the people you will encounter. He knows the organizations you will take part in. He knows the sin you will struggle with. He knows the moments you will choose Him as well as the moments you will stray.

Dive head first into these years, but do it because you know that they will make an eternal mark on this place. Know that you are here to share the Gospel and everything else is just a stepping stone to that.

You may change your major 10 times.

You may struggle to find the right friend group.

You will probably have to re-learn how to eat healthy your sophomore year.

You will change. You will grow. It won’t be a walk in the park.

Make every decision, not for convenience, but for the Kingdom of God. Share your testimony with the one who struggles. Teach yourself about His word. Be disciplined by someone who will walk you through the struggles. Do it because you know that there is a world that will be far better than this one. Do it because you do not want to make a home here for it is only temporary. Be present where you are for the sake of Jesus–not worldly success.

I pray that this time is the most life-giving, joyous experience of your life. And I also pray that the next is greater. I pray it’s better because you love Him more and know Him better.

I pray you fall in love with your Bible.

I pray you can’t talk about Him enough.

I pray that He gives you strength to stay up later studying because you just couldn’t stop telling Him about your day.

I pray that others might know Him because they knew you.