Embraces for Your Spirit · The Basics

On Submission, Choice, & Love That Stays

DSC09435God will not love me more if I obey Him. He will not love me less if I don’t. He loves me, every piece of me, completely, unwaveringly. I cannot change that.

In middle school, I told a friend that God couldn’t go with them where they were going. That was a blatant lie, and telling it is one of my biggest regrets, even after they’ve forgiven me. I believed what I said; I believed it about them and about myself. But it was a lie. He would leave ninety nine to find one that was lost.

I have been afraid of where He wants to take me. Sometimes because I’m nervous, but sometimes because no part of me wants to go there. It might make me a little angry, but more than anything it makes me confused and hesitant; it has made me scared to go to Him fully open. But then He told me:

“If you decide not to follow me where I want to take you, I will follow you where you want to go. It’s you and me. I’m not going to leave you.”

If God responded to our disobedience, to our no’s, by leaving us? It would not be love anymore. Love gives, and love allows choice. “Obey me and I’ll stay, refuse and I’ll leave” is not love– it is manipulation.

Love without choice is manipulation.

It isn’t love at all.

God does not give or remove His love or His presence in our lives based on our submission to Him.

Here’s the thing about submission: if it is forced, it isn’t submission– it’s control. In order for me to submit myself to Him, there has to be the option not to. Submission is a choice, and by giving us that choice, God also submits Himself to us. He wouldn’t ask us to love Him in ways He Himself does not love. Love is sacrifice, is generosity. And He embodies that. He is love.

He never forces me to do anything. He knows what is best for me and He has shown Himself trustworthy, so submission is something I get to do out of deep love for Him and out of that trust– not out of fear or duty. But I could always choose not to submit, because love does not force anyone to do anything; love is given, it doesn’t take. And because I see His love in the fact that He lets me choose, it is easier for me to choose to submit. I want to. He loved me first; I love Him in return. We both give, we both receive. No one has to take.

He has always said that He doesn’t want our sacrifice if He doesn’t have our hearts. Because sacrifice without love is theft; it is one-sided, duty-driven, an attempt at control. Love is given; it cannot be demanded. He doesn’t want what we have to give: He wants us. He wants to be genuinely loved by us, willingly, affectionately.

Because that’s the way He loves us.

“Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”   -Psalm 23:6

Responses · The Basics

“They’re Not a Christian Because _____”

DSC09659“That person says they’re a Christian, but it doesn’t seem like it, because they–”

Wait. Can we talk for a second?

What makes someone a Christian? We could have different perspectives on this, but I think most would agree that a Christian is someone who seeks to know and love God, and accepts His grace through Jesus. That’s a Christian at the core, isn’t it? Do we agree there? If we do–

How do we make sense of these statements that so many of us make?

“He says he’s a Christian now, but he still swears all the time.”

People said that about an actor earlier this year. He had just declared himself to be a Christian, after a long internal battle ending in an encounter with God– and we weren’t rejoicing with him. We were telling him: “Not quite yet. Change your vocabulary first. Christians don’t talk like that.” We missed out on joy.

“He says he wants to be like Jesus, but he doesn’t seem to care too much, because Jesus definitely didn’t live the way he’s living.”

People have written entire articles based on that statement after reading a recent interview with a huge celebrity. We weren’t excited that he was seeking to emulate Jesus in His life, or that he believes in the power of Jesus to forgive and transform us, or that he just blatantly shared the gospel with an infinite number of people who adore him and read his interviews. All we saw was that he isn’t perfect yet.

Because we have it all figured out?

“You want to be like Jesus? Well, I’m sorry, but you aren’t,” we said. Forgetting that we aren’t, either. Forgetting that we’re all in different spots on our journeys, and deal with different struggles at different points in time, and that love and grace are what make us who we are.

“She talks about Jesus, but she also dresses immodestly pretty often.”

I said this. About a musician I didn’t even know. I didn’t focus on the positive messages she shares through her music and on social media, and I didn’t see her as a person. I just looked at her clothes and decided I knew the contents of her heart. And I am so ashamed, and deeply sorry.

When we say, “They’re not a Christian because _____,” we are saying that something other than the love and grace of Jesus makes us who we are.

That is in direct opposition of the gospel.

The gospel tells us that our identity lies solely in the redemption we’ve been given through His love. Our identity as beloved children comes from the fact that He loves us. “They’re not a Christian because _____” tells us that our identity as beloved children is dependent on our behavior. Dependent on us.

And I don’t ever want my interactions with anyone to become a vessel for that false gospel.

If your theology is different from mine; if we don’t think the same way concerning social issues; if your lifestyle is unlike the one I live– our Savior is still no different. Christ came for all. If you know and love Jesus, we’re siblings, and I love you right where you are, the wholeness of you. And so does He.

May we never forget who we are.


An Added Evil

DSC00474This stood out to me starkly, and I tossed it all around in my mind but couldn’t figure out why:

The word of the Lord came by the prophet Jehu the son of Hanani against Baasha and his house, both because of all the evil that he did in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger with the work of his hands, in being like the house of Jeroboam, and also because he destroyed it. (1 Kings 16:7)

There were two chief reasons Baasha (a war general who killed the entire royal family and claimed the crown for himself) was brought down from the throne of Israel. Firstly, he did evil things with a heart against the Lord. But secondly– he destroyed those before him who had done the exact same things.

My recurring thought was, “Why was it wrong for him to destroy people who were doing evil things? Wasn’t it a good thing that they were removed from power?” I’d still been ruminating over this passage in my mind, and He had me simply talk it out with Him. Going to Him was a much better choice than trying to figure it out myself, by the way. I would recommend it. And maybe do it immediately instead of spending more time in confusion by yourself.

Baasha destroyed people who did evil and had hearts that sought it. But, in the same moment, he also was doing evil and had that same heart. He was no different from those he destroyed. It was never about justice; it was about getting rid of the people in his way, so that he could do the same things they were doing.

He was destroying them not because they were evil and deserved it, but because he wanted to build himself up.

This feels too familiar.

We tear down people who do wrong. We pick them apart with our words and our actions. But are our hearts ever in the place of doing so to bring goodness into the world? When we tear people down, two evils are being committed. Because we do wrong things, too, and we’re acting as if we don’t, even if we know otherwise. The destruction of people no different from us is an added evil, not a removal of evil.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr.

There have been a lot of topics and issues raised in our world recently that everyone believes they have the answer to. The problem is, everyone seems to have a different answer. That makes it difficult and noisy and confusing. We begin yelling at each other, and tearing each other apart, and sharing our strong opinions, about people we may have never even spoken to.

When maybe we should focus on bringing the beasts inside ourselves to the Lord instead. And realize that there is no such thing as a good excuse to not be kind.

“The only violence we’re ever called to inflict upon the world is the violence against our own sin.”  –Mike Donehey

Blossoms of an Artist

On Creative Drought & Faith

I baked cookies in the heat today.bowl of cookie cookies and bowl ovenready cookies

Why? Because I feel completely dry of creative juices.

I have written the same blog post nearly all day for two days now, and I don’t even know if I’ll end up posting it. I’m not passionate about it, I feel like I didn’t convey things the way I wanted to, and I don’t know if anyone else could even benefit from it.

“What’s the point?” my inner critic asks me bitterly.

I sketched out the beginnings of a painting I wanted to work on yesterday. The lines are there now, but I don’t want to fill them in. Because I can’t shut the thought out of my brain that it won’t end up looking the way I want it to look.

“Why would I waste so much time on something that I’ll end up finishing with the words ‘good enough’?” my inner cynic asks, a whisper of sadness in her tone.

I love my friends. I don’t get to see many as often as I used to and I’m trying to cope with that. I’ve been writing letters with a friend back and forth, but it’s been a while now since I’ve received her letter and I still haven’t written back. Because I feel like what I write her has to be uplifting, and I just don’t know if I have the right words.

“Why is it so hard to just make something heartfelt and be happy with that?” I whisper, hugging my legs in my desk chair.

That’s why I made cookies today. I want to– have to– create, but I am terrified that what I make isn’t good enough.

Cookies are easy. As long as they’re golden brown and taste like a cookie, they’re successful. There’s no pressure; I don’t view them as an expression of my soul. They don’t have to be unique, expressive, interesting. But what I write here, what I paint onto a canvas, what I say to someone else… it matters to me. A lot. I want it to be good.

I want to be able to create things that don’t get in the way of what I’m trying to express to you. I want to make something that captures what’s inside me and speaks into your life. And I’m being completely honest with you: I feel like I just can’t. I feel like I don’t have a voice to match my soul. My soul has so much in it, so much I wish I could share. I wish I had that ability. But, today, I don’t feel like I do. There are days like this that are just hard.

This is so hard for me to handle, because creating is what Jesus has asked me to do. I left college because He wanted me to create. I can’t express how weighed down I feel by the thought that I can’t do what He’s asked of me. If I can’t do it, what else can I do? Is anything left?

Phew. I’m sorry. Thank you for listening to my ugly.

I wrote a poem about a month ago when I was feeling like this.

Do you ever feel like you fail before you start?
Because it’s not what you do–
It’s you?
I am telling you, soul: this is your design!
You were created for this.
And the only person who can truly get in your way?
It’s you.
Believe in who you are;
Trust Him who made and is leading you.
There is so much beauty here, and–
It’s you.

And it makes me think maybe I should just keep creating, even in the slough. It’s not my best, but it’s not my worst, and I think I said what I wanted to say through it for the most part. If it helps no one else, it’s helping me.

After I wrote it, I realized that doubting my ability to create was a symptom of doubting the Lord. Knowing He asked me to take some intense risks in order to create, and knowing that all He’s been saying to me lately has been to express and create, what could make me think that I’m not able? This is His will for me. I am on the path I followed Him onto. Nothing is going to stop Him from accomplishing His good purposes, not even if I am lacking. This is His. He is in this. He has strength for my weakness. He has prepared these things in advance for me. I can create expressive, interesting, unique, meaningful art, because He wills it be so.

When I don’t trust that I can do it, it’s an indicator that I don’t fully trust Him. Creating great art seems impossible because I’ve been trying to trust myself for it, and put all my stock in my own abilities. And the truth is–

I don’t have what it takes. I can’t do this alone.

But Jesus?

He can take me there. And He’s told me He will. And when He does, it won’t be because I’m wonderful and talented; it will be because I am swimming in His grace. It is hard to sit back and wait, but it’s even harder when I find that I’m not trusting Him. When I don’t trust Him, I end up not even trusting what He says about me. And He says that I am chosen, royal, holy. He says that He does all He does for my good. He says that I share in suffering in order to become more like Him.

And He says that He loves me. He loves me enough to give up His life for me, to call me His friend, to walk with me every day.

I am growing in believing Him deep in my heart.

I haven’t believed You.
But it’s more than that.
I haven’t believed You because…
Because You believe in me.
And I don’t.

May we have so much faith in you, Lord, that we will have faith in your promises, too. May we seek to glorify you in what we do and may that be enough for us, because it is enough for you. May we feel deep in our souls that you are our reward, and that you understand our depths even when we can’t express them. And may we see an inkling of what you see in us. We love you.