You Love Me Anyway

Last week I was looking at the verses I had highlighted in Deuteronomy. When I was reading the highlighted verses in chapter 31, God moved my heart.

20 When I bring them into the land I swore to give their fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey, they will eat their fill and prosper. They will turn to other gods and worship them, despising Me and breaking my covenant. 21 And when many troubles and afflictions come to them, this song will testify against them because their descendants will not have forgotten it. For I know what they are prone to do, even before I bring them into the land I swore to give them (emphasis mine).

God knew that the Israelites would turn away from Him, but He gave them the promised land anyway; they were still His chosen people.

We read the stories of the Israelites turning from God and we think, “How could you be so… well, stupid?” But we do the same thing. We are in the same boat as the Israelites.

It reminds me of a line from Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it/ Prone to leave the God I love”

We have a tendency to try and fill our lives with anything and everything – just like the Israelites did. When God gave us free will in the very beginning, He knew that this would be a side effect, yet He chose to do it anyway. He knows our hearts are prone to wander, yet He loves us anyway. No matter how far we go, He’s waiting. No matter what we try to fill the God-shaped hole in our heart with, He’s waiting. What beautiful, gracious love.

To me, this kind of love makes me want to do anything but stray. It makes me want to draw near to the Father who loves me so fiercely, the Father that would send His son to bridge the gap between Him and me, the Father that sees the blood of Jesus rather than my trespasses.

Photo Credit: Cristina Gottardi

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You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

Perfectionists. People who accept nothing less than perfection from themselves, no matter the cost. We all know them. I just didn’t realize that I was one – or at least I didn’t want to accept it.

I always considered myself to be motivated, not for bragging rights, but for myself. As a child, my parents never had to get onto me about doing my homework or studying, I would push myself to get it done. Thought a C is considered average, if I made below an A I would be upset – well no, if I made below a high A, I would be upset. Yet I wasn’t a perfectionist, I was motivated.

These standards followed me through high school and into college – though I will admit I am a bit of a procrastinator at times. In the counseling theories course I took last semester, we talked about how perfectionism is a distortion of thought because it is impossible to be perfect. I sat there and agreed, all the while having the thought distortion that I wasn’t a perfectionist.

But I am. I am motivated, but I’m also a perfectionist. I hold myself to such high standards and get immensely distraught if I don’t meet them; however, I’m not perfect and I’m not going to be excellent at everything, and if I think I have to be, I’m just going to distress myself further. I think what finally made me realize it was when I started setting specific goals for school, housework, and exercise in my planner and then I saw myself not meeting them. Sometimes it is due to being lazy and not feeling like doing whatever task I have before me. Sometimes, thought, it is due to me setting unrealistic expectations. I still set monthly, weekly, and daily goals, but I’ve had to adjust them. Now if I don’t meet a goal, I try to give myself grace and evaluate why I didn’t meet the goal: Did I schedule too much for one day and I just need to move the task to tomorrow? Or was the goal itself (like doing yoga everyday) unrealistic for the season I’m in or just unrealistic in general? Or was I just lazy? I try evaluate and I move on, and I often write little notes in my planner to remind myself that I am human and I need to give myself room to breathe.

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Why did I share this with you? Because I know that I’m not the only one who often holds myself to impossible standards. I also know that I can’t be the only one who is or ever has been in denial about it. Cut yourself some slack. Be motivated. Set goals. Have standards. Get things done. But don’t expect to be Superman or Wonder Woman. Give yourself some grace. You don’t have to be perfect.

Photo Credit: Michał Grosicki

Toxic 

Lately I’ve been revisiting the past few years of my life, seeing how I got from point A to point B, from the girl I was to the woman I am. I’ve thought of the periods of grief, of joy, of growing. I’ve looked back and I’ve seen purpose. I’ve seen God’s hand in every season of my life. I see how He worked out every horrible thing into something good – even if the only good that came out if it was to relate to someone else.

If I were to tell you everything that God’s hand has been in, every bad situation that He turned for the good, it would take writing a book. Instead, I’m going to tell you today about just one area.

Since I was a Freshman in high school I had a tendency to get myself into toxic relationships – not all of them were, but some. It started when I got my first boyfriend. I was fourteen, naive, and honestly just didn’t know that the way I was being treated was awful.

I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to be forced to do things I didn’t want to do.

I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to be talked to like I wasn’t a person.

I didn’t know that I was being manipulated.

I just didn’t know, but when I figured out – with the help of my best friend – that the way I was being treated was not okay, I ended the relationship. And the three months that I was in that relationship impacted me for years.

I then dated someone else and he broke up with me because I stood my ground. Though I was heart broken, I moved on with a sense of dignity.

My Sophomore year of high school I got into a relationship that I was in for nearly two years. It wasn’t a bad relationship, it just wasn’t meant to be. But when it ended, I was heart broken so badly I didn’t know how I would go on; however, though I had been following Jesus for a few years at this point, He truly became my anchor at this time.

Despite that I began to trust Jesus and rely on Him so much more during this season of my life, I still wasn’t truly content in Him. Almost a year after that relationship ended, I dated someone else, someone I really shouldn’t have.

Things were okay at first and then red flags started popping up. I should have left, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to be alone. But because I didn’t want to be alone, I allowed myself to be treated horribly.

I set standards and boundaries.

He said he agreed.

Then he pushed them.

I pretended everything was fine.

The stress of dealing with – and hiding – the mental, emotional, and sexual abuse that occurred in the relationship left me physically ill.

It got to the point where I wasn’t staying because I didn’t want to be alone, I stayed because I was scared to leave.

Finally, after breaking down and telling my best friend what had really been going on, I ended the relationship.

The aftermath of that first relationship was nothing compared to this one. It left me so broken, so scared, so untrusting, that when I began dating my husband, I was terrified – even though I knew from being friends with him and knowing his character that he wouldn’t treat me like the others that came before him.

If I had to change plans, I prepared myself for the backlash – it never came.

If things were moving too fast emotionally and I told him we needed to slow down, I waited for him to get upset and tell me how stupid I was being – he never did.

He took everything at my pace. He was so patient, kind, and loving. It was amazing – and strange.

He accepted my past and took me as I was.

It was a beautiful display of selfless love.

But it still wasn’t enough.

I was still hurting. I was still scared. I still hadn’t truly given it over to Christ. So for much of the time that we were dating and engaged, I started giving Christ the pieces of my past, and for every piece I gave Him, He returned it with a peace of His own.

I truly forgave.

I truly moved on.

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I have been married to my sweet husband for four months now. I am at peace with my past. If it starts to try to work its way to the surface, I remind myself that it served a purpose.

Because of that last, awful relationship I learned what it meant to be content in Christ.

I learned to trust God with my relationships.

And, in a roundabout way, my best friend ended up dating her husband because of it!

One of the most important purposes I have found looking back on this time is the empathy I’ve gained because of it.

When I see someone in a toxic relationship, I no longer wonder critically why they don’t leave.

I look and I know that there are so many reasons why they might not, and it breaks my heart.

I look and I know what it feels like to be treated like you are less than human.

I look and know what it feels like to not know how to get out.

I look and I know that there is hope found in Jesus to heal their brokenness.

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This post wasn’t easy to write, but it’s been on my heart for some time. Though I have forgiven, moved on, and healed, it is still not easy to relive; however, it’s still part of my testimony. It’s a part of my life that screams about God’s faithfulness. So I sat down and wrote to share hope. Hope that God works in even some of the worst times in our lives. Hope that we are not alone in these dark times that we’ve gone through. Hope that someone out there understands. And, most importantly, hope that Christ is Lord even in the dark times, and He is the Healer of all broken things – including hearts.

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And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.

Romans 8:28

 

Photo credit: unsplash-logoKristof Rasschaert

Husbands Are Human Too

My husband and I started dating in August of 2015. In the beginning, he was a flawless human. Then, as time moved forward, little quirks started popping up. All of a sudden he chewed his food and breathed too loudly. Other bumps in the road showed up, too. We had arguments, I got angry at him, he made me cry. What was wrong with us? What happened to the man who hung the moon? (Disclaimer: Getting married didn’t revert him back into that flawless human, either; he just became a human who chews and breathes too loudly, argues with me, and punches me in the face in his sleep.)

The man who had hung the moon is still there, but he is exactly that: a man. I don’t mean that in a “He’s a male so he’s detrimentally flawed” way.  I mean that he’s an imperfect, messy human being. Things got a lot easier when I realized that. Oh, he still gets on my nerves with the best of them, but it no longer bothers me that he does. We still argue and have our problems, but once I stopped holding him to an impossible standard, it all became easier to deal with. I realized that we’re going to annoy each other, we’re going to disagree with each other, and that’s okay. It’s okay because we have come to realize that the other person is not perfect, nor will they ever be. When he does something that gets on my nerves, I – most of the time – just get over it. When it’s something bigger than just getting on my nerves, we talk about it.

So, I still sing Hung the Moon to him. There aren’t words to describe how wonderful and amazing he is, flaws and all. My husband is imperfect, I am imperfect, our marriage is imperfect, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. We have to work hard, harder than I imagined, but the hard work is oh so rewarding, I promise.

Give your partner room to be imperfect and give them grace upon grace. Don’t ignore issues – conflict needs to be resolved – but don’t think that the ship is sinking because the sea isn’t perfectly calm all of the time. Let each other be human.

Until next time, lovelies.

 

Photo Credit: Cherish Bickel Photography

 

Grace Wins

I want to talk about something that all of us know about but few of us seem to embrace: Grace.

It is sufficient for us (2 Corinthians 12:9).

We are justified by it (Titus 3:7).

It is given freely (Romans 3:24).

It has saved us (Ephesians 2:8).

God is enthroned upon it (Hebrews 4:16).

It frees us from the bondage of sin (Romans 6:14).

Christ is full of it (John 1:14).

 

Nothing is too big or too small to be covered by grace, so why don’t we embrace it more often? With me, at least, I know that sometimes I feel unworthy and unable to change. I forget the truth that God’s grace is sufficient and He is made strong in my weakness. I forget that I am a child of God and grace is given freely to me. I forget that I can approach God when I am in need of His grace. I forget that grace has broken all my chains.

I forget that grace wins. Every time. And I shouldn’t forget this: I got “Grace Wins” tattooed on my arm for a reason!

When we accept Jesus and choose to follow Him and have a relationship with our Creator, grace covers us. It covers our mistakes, our shortcomings, our sin. Freely. Grace is not an excuse to keep on sinning, but a reminder that God loves us and wants us to do better. It’s the sweet whisper that says, “Yes, you fell, but get back up again.” Grace is receiving second, third, fourth, fiftieth chances that we don’t deserve but God gives us anyways because He loves us.

We need to live like grace has broken our chains. We need to live like grace is sufficient for us. We need to not get discouraged when we fail but say, “Thank you, Lord, for Your never-ending grace,” and get back up again and fight the good fight. Because you know what? Grace wins.

Thoughts from my Devotional

Hello lovely internet people! I’m doing a really cool devotional called 52 Weeks With Jesus by James Merrit and I had a pretty cool realization this morning while I was reading so I thought I would share what I wrote in my journal.

“God wants our lives to be a masterpiece of His goodness and grace.” – James Merrit

I love that. Our lives are meant to be a testimony of God’s goodness and grace. That wouldn’t be possible if we were perfect! If we were perfect people, there would be no room for grace – so that takes some pressure off of us. We don’t have to be perfect because we never will be, and that’s okay. That doesn’t mean we should walk around intentionally making bad decisions because we think God hasn’t had a chance to exercise His grace in awhile. What it does mean is that when we do stray from God’s best, His perfect plan (a.k.a. sinning), His grace will cover it because of His goodness. Ephesians 2:10 says that we are God’s masterpieces. Think about how crazy that is:  God knew that the fall would happen from the beginning, He knew that we were going to be messed up people, yet we are still His masterpieces! Despite our shortcomings, God loves us dearly. We are not to let our flaws and struggles destroy us, we must let God mend us and work in our lives so that our lives are beautiful testimonies of God’s goodness and grace.

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Photo Credit: Anastasia Zhenina

God Says

My, oh, my. The Christian walk doesn’t always feel easy, does it? There are some days that I just get so fed up with myself and my inability to do what I know God wants me to do. Some days I am just too tired to be nice or to go out of my way to help someone. Sometimes I get so overwhelmed by guilt and shame because I deliberately go against what God says. I feel like a dirty, broken sinner.

And I am.

I am a sinner with blood on my hands and lies in my heart.

But I am also so loved by God.

The other night I was talking to someone about letting go of guilt and shame and embracing the love of God. I remember saying something along the lines of, “When we wallow in the fact that we sinned, when we let the guilt chain us down, we are focusing on ourselves. We get this self-righteous attitude because we’re making it all about us. We ignore God’s promises in favor of our self-pity. It’s so hard to face God with blood on our hands rather than running the other way, but we have got to stop making it about ourselves. Jesus didn’t die so that we could get caught up in ourselves and our inability to live the life we are called to live. You see, it’s not about us, it’s not about what we can’t do, it’s about what He did. Jesus died to cleanse us, to free us. We need to take the focus off of ourselves and put it on the One who saves us, the One who set us free, the One who loves us despite our sin, the One who died knowing already every act of treason that we would commit against Him, the One who said ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do’ as He was dying.” 

I finished speaking and I sat back. I said, “That wasn’t me. Those were not my words. I needed to hear that so much.”

God put words into my mouth to say to someone else that I desperately needed to hear. It’s not about me.

When I look at myself, all I is that I feel worthless, undeserving, broken, tainted.

But when I look at God, all I see is mercy, love, grace, forgiveness.

I stopped in the middle of writing this post to go to church. Tonight we sang – and I heard for the first time – “Who You Say We Are” by Steven Curtis Chapman. The song really resonated with me and paralleled so well with the message in my heart that I had been writing about just 3o minutes before; I smiled and praised God about how amazing His timing is.  While I was singing I just thought about the words, “Hallelujah! We are who You say we are.” God says we are His forgiven, clean, and loved children; hallelujah indeed

I encourage you to embrace God’s truth:

 God is calling you to live outside of guilt  (Hebrews 10:22  “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”);

He has made us clean (1 John 1:7 “but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”);

He gives us peace (Romans 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”);

All because He loves us (John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”)

And wants us to live for Him (1 Peter 2:24 “‘He Himself bore our sins’ in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; ‘by His wounds you have been healed.'”).

My brothers and sisters, do not turn your face away from God, He loves you despite all you have done, all you will ever do; turn towards Him. He loves you so much.

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Steven Curtis Chapman – Who You Say We Are

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Photo Credit: Christopher Campbell

For Real

I mentioned in last week’s post that I began the book of Matthew.  The past few days I’ve been in the Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7).  I’ve read it before, heard sermons on it before, but this time I noticed a common thing as I studied.

  • Jesus says that we know that God told Moses to tell the people not to murder and those who murder will be judged and punished.  He then goes on to say that those who are angry with their brother will be judged (chapter 5).
  • Jesus again says that we know that God forbade adultery; however, He says any man who lustfully looks at a woman has committed adultery in his heart (chapter 5).
  • Jesus says that we are to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors (chapter 5).
  • Jesus says that when we give, do not do so in front of other people where we will be praised, but to do it secretly in front of the Lord (chapter 6).
  • Jesus says not to pray in front of others as if it is a show or to ramble on, but to pray privately and concisely (chapter 6).
  • Jesus says to forgive or we will not be forgiven (chapter 6).
  • Jesus says that when we fast, do not make a spectacle of it, do it quietly (chapter 6).
  • Jesus says not to worry (chapter 6).
  • Jesus says not to judge others, because how we judge, we will be judged (chapter 7).
  • Jesus says that those who seek will find what they seek, that we should continue to ask for what we need (chapter 7).
  • Jesus says to treat others as we want to be treated (chapter 7).

Do you notice a common theme? All of these things have to do with our relationship with God (e.g. are we praying just so others will see us or do we have a true relationship with God?) and the spiritual condition of our hearts (e.g. yes, murdering is bad, yet God says so is harboring anger at someone).

If you’re like me, you look at this and think that this is impossible. When you’re having a terrible day it’s hard to treat someone how you want to be treated, when things are hard it’s difficult to trust God and not worry.  Yet these things I have listed (only some of the things that Jesus says in this sermon, there is plenty more!) give me hope.

I have hope in the fact that Jesus lived a sinless life.  Hebrews 4:15-16 in the Voice translation says, “For Jesus is not some high priest who has no sympathy for our weaknesses and flaws.  He has already been tested in every way that we are tested; but He emerged victorious without failing God.  So let us step boldly to the throne of grace, where we can find mercy and grace when we need it most.” Isn’t that amazing? Jesus knows these things are hard to do, yet we have the Spirit to guide us and the free-flowing grace of God at our fingertips (for more on this topic, check out a previous post: Victory in Jesus).

I also have hope because I know that my relationship with God is what’s important.  I don’t have to put up this charade that I have my life together so that other people will see.  I also know that when I have a real relationship God  I am filled with the Holy Spirit, and Galatians chapter 5 says that the Holy Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  When you have a real relationship with God these things will start to become a part of who you are, and when these things are a part of who you are, doing what God wants you to do instead of what you want to do becomes more natural.

We will always struggle, we are human, but when we take part in a real, intimate relationship with God and allow our hearts to change, we find it is easier to live like Jesus.

Check out the Sermon on the Mount for yourself if you haven’t before, or if you have, read it again.  The Word of God is alive and relevant.

Photo Credit: Cherry Laithang

Victory in Jesus

I woke up this morning with “Victory in Jesus” stuck in my head, which is no surprise because it’s one of my favorite hymns and often ends up rolling around in my head for hours.  This morning, however, the words were really just resonating with me.

Hebrews 4:15 in the Voice says, “For Jesus is not some high priest who has no sympathy for our weaknesses and flaws.  He has already been tested in every way that we are tested; but He emerged victorious, without failing God.”

Jesus was completely human yet completely God.  He walked, breathed, and lived on our very Earth.  The verse says that He was “tested in every way that we are tested.”  Jesus was tempted as we are, but He defeated temptation, as the verse says “He emerged victorious.”

After Jesus is resurrected but before He ascends to Heaven, He tells the people in Luke chapter 24 (NLT) that He is sending the Holy Spirit to them.  In Matthew 28 (VOICE), Jesus tells the disciples that He will be with them “to the end of the age.”

When Jesus left this Earth He didn’t leave us all alone, He left us with the Holy Spirit to guide us, to give us the strength to fight temptation just as Jesus did when He was living among us.

Jesus’ death didn’t just give us the ability to find victory over temptation, but over the everyday situations in life.  Because Jesus died and sent us the Spirit, we now have a personal connection with our Creator.  Philippians chapter 4 tells us that we don’t have to succumb to the harmful clutches of worry and anxiety; we can go to God and exchange our worries for peace.

There is definitely victory in Jesus, and I am so thankful for it.  I do not have to live my life chained to sin or circumstance.  I know that Jesus understands my struggles, He understands my pain, He wants me to come to Him with my problems – and my praises – and He wants to give me peace that can only come from Him.  Such a sweet message my God gave me this Saturday morning.

“So let us step boldly to the throne of grace, where we can find mercy and grace to help us when we need it most.” Hebrews 4:16 (VOICE)

Photo Credit: Japheth Mast