Get Ready, Another Eclipse is Coming

All of the excitement and anticipation surrounding today’s eclipse made me think of an event yet to come that I hope and pray would stir an even greater sense of joy in the heart of every believer: The day when everyone will once again look heavenward, this time to see Jesus Himself coming back to take His people home. The day when we will need no light, lamp, or sun because Christ Himself will finally eclipse the darkness of the world to shine His glory for all to see.

As I thought over how beautifully that parallels today’s event, the Holy Spirit convicted me with a few questions:

Am I as eager to soak up Scripture and wisdom from the Lord to share it with a world in desperate need of a Savior as many are to buy up “eclipse glasses” and share them with their friends?

Am I more in awe of the beauty of the creation than the brilliance of my Creator?

How can I be so concerned about people protecting their eyes from the sun & yet so often apathetic about protecting people’s souls from spending eternity without Jesus?

Everything in heaven and on earth points back to truth about the One who made it, so today, I’m thankful for the reminder that “the Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:5)

Exchanging Comparison for Joy

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We live in a culture that’s obsessed with change. The top song on iTunes changes faster than I do when I’m late for my first class. The press can go from loving a celebrity to criticizing their every move overnight. Every advertisement that we see is trying to lure us into using a product that will totally change our lives for the better: “Try this weight loss routine and you’ll have the body you’ve always dreamed of!” “Use this cologne and all the ladies will love you!” “Use this brand of makeup so that all the guys will want to date you and all the girls will want to be you!” The media does a great job of making us feel like we always need something bigger and better in order to measure up, and most of the time we believe it, even if we don’t realize it. We work out until we’re blue in the face, bathe in cologne, and paint on layer after layer of makeup in the hopes that this is the means to discovering our true self, our happiest self, our best self. If we were honest, though, living this way leaves us feeling burnt out and empty, not beautiful and exciting, doesn’t it?

Social media is another culprit that makes us feel insecure and inadequate. Imagine this scenario: You’ve been amped up for weeks about your spring break plans. You’re spending the whole week on the beach in Florida with your best friend soaking up every drop of sun possible and diving into that new novel that you’ve been itching to read. The break finally arrives, and you feel like you have it made. Nothing could ruin this trip, and quite frankly, you’re too relaxed to care. You decide to grab your phone to scroll through Instagram, and that’s when you see it: A girl from school that you follow is at the beach, too… in the Bahamas… with the perfect tan… and expensive Ray-Ban sunglasses… and five of her friends who are equally as tan, sporting equally-as-impressive sunglasses. Your mood plummets as you begin to think, “I could never afford those sunglasses or a trip out of the country, and my tan couldn’t possibly look that good. And why didn’t I ask a bunch more of my friends to come with me?” Before you know it, you’ve over thought yourself into a funk that looms over you for the rest of the trip.

This need for change even seeps into our friendships. At times, our well-meaning friends urge us to change things about ourselves to better suit their own tastes and interests. Maybe they tell you to cut back on playing video games because it makes you seem nerdy. What they don’t know is that it’s one of the most fun ways that you and your friends bond, and some of your best heartfelt talks have happened at a game night. Maybe they suggest that you grow your hair out again because long hair looks better on you. What they don’t know is that your mom was just diagnosed with cancer, so you donated your hair to Locks of Love in honor of her. Often, the surface-level opinions that we form of others don’t begin to scratch the surface of what’s going on underneath.

No matter the source, here are some things to keep in mind when you feel like you need to change who you are in order to be happy:

1. What You See Isn’t Usually What You Get

Almost everything in the media is airbrushed. That model that you see in the magazine? She’s been nipped, tucked, and glossed over by airbrushing software so much that she probably wouldn’t recognize herself if you showed her that picture. That picture-perfect love scene in Nicholas Sparks’s latest movie that’s everything that you want in a relationship? It was probably shot numerous times because the actors didn’t do it exactly the way that it was in the script. No one is perfect, not even the most glamorous celebrities.

2. It’s Called a Filter for a Reason

You’ve probably heard the saying “all that glitters is not gold”, and that’s especially true of social media. Our Instagram pictures, Facebook statuses, and tweets are a highlight reel of our lives that show only our best and brightest moments. On Instagram, we agonize over picking just the right filter, which does exactly what its name implies: It takes a real, raw moment and filters it through the lens of what we want people to see that puts us in the best possible light. On Facebook, we re-word our statuses time and time again until we’re sure that they will get plenty of likes and even a few shares if we’re lucky. On Twitter, we squeeze our experiences into 140 characters or less, watering down the beauty of a moment for the sake of a retweet. Don’t compare your everyday moments to someone else’s mountaintop experiences and think that your daily life isn’t worth celebrating. One day, we’ll be able to look back and realize that lots of our ordinary moments aren’t ordinary after all if we would only learn to appreciate them.

3. Celebrate Your Differences

The more people you meet, the more you’ll begin to notice just how different we all are, and that’s actually a really good thing. We all have things in common with our friends, of course, but none of us are going to be cookie-cutter versions of each other. That would be pretty boring, wouldn’t it? When you start comparing your life to others’ lives, it robs you of your joy and chips away at the beauty of who you were created to be. You’ll never be able to use and appreciate your own gifts if you’re constantly wishing for someone else’s. You can admire what someone else has while still finding value in what you have. Someone else’s success doesn’t mean that you’ve failed.

I know that I was put on this earth for a unique purpose that only I can fulfill, and I was given a circle of people that only I can influence, so I’m not changing who I am, and neither should you. Let’s stop worshipping at the altar of image and embrace the freedom that we have to be ourselves, flaws and all.

Resolving to “Love” Less

Friends-Hugging

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a pretty complex person. (I AM a woman, after all. Being hard to figure out is in my job description, right?) One thing that’s easy to figure out about me, though, is that I’m a lover of life and most of the things in it. I’m an eternal optimist and encourager, and trust me, I am NOT afraid to let people know it. My conversations usually turn out like this: Oh, you got a new shirt? “I LOVE that color on you.” You want to know what I thought of the new “Hunger Games” movie? “I loved it! Jennifer Lawrence? #goals.” What’s my go-to drink at the campus coffee shop? “I seriously LOVE the Mele Kaliki Mocha. Whoever thought of mixing chocolate, coffee, and coconut is a genius.” Oh, look! My best friend is walking this way! “I LOVE YOU SO MUCH.” Are you noticing a trend here? Because I’m starting to. While I’m being genuine in my love for these things, I can’t help but wonder if the fact that I say it all the time makes it start to lose its meaning. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I don’t ever want my friends and family to think that my enjoyment of coffee could even begin to measure up to the love that I have for them (although it might be debatable when I’m waking up for my early morning classes). The new year is quickly approaching, and while I don’t normally make a New Year’s resolution, I think that I’ve finally found a reason to do so. I’m resolving to “love” less in 2016. Before you think of me as a horrible, heartless person who is anything BUT encouraging and optimistic, let me explain what I mean…

The English language is absolutely beautiful, and we have lots of different ways to say what we think and feel… Except when it comes to the word “love”. I’ve studied a bit of Greek in the past, and one thing that I appreciate and admire about the language is that it has different words to distinguish between different types of love. “Eros” is used for passionate, romantic love, “philia” refers to the deep love shared between family and close friends, “ludus” is the kind of playful love present in bantering or flirting, “agape” describes a radical, selfless love for all people, whether they are complete strangers or family members, “pragma” means longstanding love that implies a level of commitment found in married couples or lifelong friends, and “philautia” encompasses a healthy kind of self-love, a sort of self-assuredness that enables us to love others well. In a society where we’re quick to declare our undying love for our favorite celebrity, our go-to comfort food, and our significant other all in the same breath, I definitely wish that we had a clearer way to express ourselves in English.

But what if I DO have other ways to show my feelings of affection or enjoyment without constantly throwing around the word “love”? What if I decided to show my feelings of fondness by going out of my way to be kind to others and to talk about my emotions and opinions in more unique ways? Oh, you got a new shirt? “Wow, it looks amazing on you! It really makes your eyes pop. Where’d you get it?” You want to know what I thought about the new “Hunger Games” movie? “I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and Jennifer Lawrence gave a flawless performance as always. Are you Team Gale or Team Peeta?” What’s my go-to drink at the campus coffee shop? “I’m obsessed with the Mele Kaliki Mocha right now, but I should probably branch out and try something new! What’s your favorite?” Oh, look! My best friend is walking this way! “I LOVE YOU SO MUCH (for real). How’s your day going?” It makes such an impact when we take the time to get to know others on a deeper level by asking them questions. Besides, we have the whole of the English language at our disposal, so why not use it? Love is so much more than an overused word. It’s a way of life, and this coming year, I’m resolving to prove it.

Single and Thankful

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Ever since I was a little girl, I have dreamt of being the leading lady in my own fairytale. You know how the story goes: The princess meets Prince Charming who rides in on a white horse, he sweeps her off her feet by writing her countless love letters using words like “always” and “forever” and “soulmate”, and the two gallop off into the sunset with a lifetime of bliss ahead of them. Roll credits.

Let’s come back to reality, shall we? I’m a twenty-something with no Romeos throwing rocks at my window and no prospects of a date on the horizon (unless you count the hot date that I’ll most likely be having with Joey, Chandler, Monica, Ross, Rachel, and Phoebe this weekend… Also known as the cast of “F.R.I.E.N.D.S”, the sitcom that I’ve been binge-watching all semester). I attend a small, Christian university where everyone seems to be pairing off and getting married, so suffice it to say that I often feel like the odd one out in the wonderful world of relationships. Now, hear me out: I am in NO way dissing those people who are in relationships, especially if they are stable relationships centered on Christ. In fact, that’s a reason to celebrate! What an honor it is to be surrounded by many couples who are demonstrating a glimpse of the way that Jesus loves us by the pure way in which they love each other. That being said, I would be lying if I said that there weren’t times when I struggle to stay secure in my singleness. Lately, I have found myself asking the Lord what His plan is for seasons of singleness in our lives, especially since our culture tends to treat the label of “single” as an unfortunate diagnosis to be cured by being in a relationship. As always, He has been abundantly gracious in giving me a renewed perspective on some of the blessings that He has in store for those of us who are single:

  1. Remember my identity. My identity comes from the fact that I am a daughter of the King. My worth is not defined by my relationship status, and I was beautiful before a man ever told me that I was, simply because God made me that way and He doesn’t make mistakes (Song of Solomon 4:7).
  2. Look for the “Best Yes”. For every “no” that I receive in life, whether that be a break-up or any other kind of disappointment, God has a greater “yes” in mind for me that will be better for me in the long run. He tells us “no” or “just wait” because He is protecting us from less than His best. ALL things, even things that are upsetting & frustrating, work together for our good and His glory, especially if we are willing to be patient and trust that He doesn’t let anything in our lives go to waste. (Romans 8:28)
  3. Focus on becoming the right person, not finding the right person. I need to focus on becoming a godly woman whose heart looks more and more like Jesus’, rather than being consumed by seeking out a godly man. Chasing after a person is never attractive, so I need to trust that God will lead me to the man meant for me in the right way because “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
  4. Pour into my friends more. I’m thankful for my singleness right now because not only can I focus on God with an undivided heart, I can also pour into my friends more intentionally. I would much rather remember my college experience as being spent with tons of friends than with one guy.
  5. Live for today. “Single” does not mean “useless”. I will not wait around to find a man and THEN pursue God’s calling for my life or “get started with my real life” or serve the Lord and His people with passion. We aren’t promised tomorrow, and every day that we are on this earth is a gift from God, so I will choose to believe that “this is the day that the Lord has made, and I WILL rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24) regardless of my relationship status.

As I reflected on my childhood vision of finding my Prince Charming, I was hit by an incredible realization: What if my Prince doesn’t ride a white horse, but a donkey? What if my Prince wrote me the most enticing and beautiful love letter in the form of the Bible? What if my Prince knows my heart more intimately than any man ever could because His hands were the very ones that formed it? What if the Prince Charming that my heart aches to love and my soul longs to know and be known by goes by another name: Prince of Peace? Of course, it’s not wrong for me to desire the earthly love of a man. After all, God Himself was the one who placed that desire in my heart. However, it is crucial to genuinely believe that Jesus’ love is enough to satisfy me, and nothing is sweeter than loving and being loved by Him. I have faith that God will honor my trust in Him because He promises us that when He alone becomes our source of delight, He will then give us the desires of our heart (Psalm 37:4)… But even if He doesn’t bring a man into my life, He is STILL good, and being the child of a good Father is always a reason to be joyful.

 

 

Street “Preachers” at Asbury University: A Reflection

Street Preachers

An antsy crowd huddled around the crosswalk near the apartments on Asbury University’s campus could have only meant one thing: Campus Ministry USA was back. This group consists of street “preachers” who use antagonistic tactics, such as yelling about how girls are whores damned to hell if they wear yoga pants, as their preferred method of “evangelism”.  As I passed by the swarm of students and the angsty instigators of the chaos, I was immediately overcome with harsh, bitter thoughts toward them: “How do they think they have the right to come onto our campus and hurl insults at us? What a miserable life… Going from school to school to demean and belittle students and then trying to bully them into believing a gospel of hellfire and brimstone… These people are the reasons why Christians get such a bad reputation these days.” The longer that I dwelled on these negative feelings, the more intensely the Holy Spirit began to convict me of my attitude towards them. I began to pray that He would wash through my heart and mind even in that moment and help me to view the situation through His eyes. Here are just a few things that He began to bring to my attention:

  1. One positive thing that I took away from the whole ordeal was those people’s commitment & dedication to their cause & their beliefs, although they were heartbreakingly misguided. I was reminded of the fact that God can change anyone’s heart & use them & the abilities He’s given them for His glory. It made me think of how Paul, one of the greatest human reflections of Christ’s love, started out his life killing Christians & mocking Jesus, but an encounter with the grace & mercy of the Living Jesus literally changed his life. Just think about how powerful those people’s boldness for their beliefs would be if they used it to speak the truth in love. No one is outside of the love & redemption of God, so it’s my prayer that their hearts would be transformed just as Paul’s was.
  2.  When Jesus was on the cross, He did not retaliate against His accusers, rather He had compassion on them & asked God to forgive them because they didn’t know what they were doing. In the same way, even though it goes completely against human nature, we should not act out against those trying to antagonize us. Arguments don’t change hearts, especially for those who don’t really want to listen to reason; only genuine, godly love can do that. We can’t change hearts because that’s the Lord’s job, but we can love people with the same power that raised Jesus from the dead.
  3. Satan would like nothing more than to tear down our faith-filled campus from the inside out by trying to plant seeds of resentment, doubt, & insecurity in our hearts, but we can be encouraged by the fact that if we truly know Jesus, then we know that He & His character never change, so our identity as His loved & redeemed children & our hope of salvation doesn’t change either, regardless of insults that are thrown our way. Jesus wants to take that offense & criticism from us so that we can move forward today with the freedom to forgive & the grace to love unconditionally because of the way He loves all of us.

Scripture says in John 3:17 that God didn’t send Jesus into the world to condemn it, but to save it. While it’s easy to throw that verse at those people & tell them to stop condemning us, we shouldn’t be so quick to condemn them either. Instead, let’s try to see them through the eyes of Jesus as His children who are not disqualified from His love, no matter what they’ve said or done. Let’s be the set-apart people that we are called to be who love our oppressors so radically that they can’t help but to be drawn into the presence of Jesus. And finally, let’s count this time of suffering as joy, grateful that it gives us a chance to put Jesus’ command to love our enemies into practice.