Tuesday, September 25, 2012


A few days ago I was reminded of a conflict in my life that hasn't quite yet gone away. I saw a person that hurt me deeply and realized the wound is still there. The painful reminder of this open wound, this unresolved conflict in my relationship with this person made me want to clam up, to close myself off, to protect from further pain. It made me want to refuse to give of myself to this person who had "rejected" me in the past. Even though this person and I had reconciled, I wasn't sure I was willing to open my heart to the relationship again.

A few days ago, I heard the Word of God preached at church. It reminded me of the many, many, ways I have transgressed against Him. We corporately confess our sins each week because this is an ongoing reality in our lives-- even as redeemed children of God, adopted as His precious sons and daughters through faith in Christ, we continue to disobey and run after other "gods"-- and so I asked his forgiveness. He has promised that He will give it freely to all who ask (1 John 1:9), and so we were reconciled.

But then something more happened. After the preaching of the Word, I was invited to come forward to receive His very self given to me, His "body broken for me." I realized that week after week, He offers Himself to me fully and freely. Week after week, when I reject Him, hurt Him, ignore Him-- He not only forgives, but He self-gives. He doesn't wipe my slate clean of "offenses" but then refuse intimacy. He lays down His very life and offers it to me.

A few days ago, I realized that the gospel-- the unfathomable self-giving of God-- never stops to transform my broken and hurting heart, because Jesus never stops giving of His own. 

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Expanding Beauty

I grew up loving the outdoors. Apparently, when I was about 8, I told my mom, "All I want when I grow up is a big yard with a horse and a dog." I remember flipping through pictures of the Northwest on a calendar in my grandparents' house around age 12 and reeling with excitement because I felt that I'd found the place I would live one day. 

Now, at the ripe old age of 24, I can see that what excited me about the calendar pictures wasn't that I'd found a plot of land I wanted to buy, but that I'd come into contact with beauty and it moved me. I got the same feeling again and again-- driving through the mountains, walking on the beach, sitting on a picnic blanket under a live oak tree. When I lived in Princeton, I experienced the sensation almost year round because every season was breathtaking. My personal bias, however, is for fall:

O WORLD, I cannot hold thee close enough!
      Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
      Thy mists that roll and rise
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
Long have I known a glory in it all,
      But never knew I this
      Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart. Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year.
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

If you don't live in a place where these words make sense, let this picture give you an idea:  

Getting to live in the midst of such beauty was like my 12 year old dream come true-- I wasn't just imagining it from a photograph-- I was smelling it, feeling it, tasting it. It was like a spa for the soul.

Four years later, God called us to Dallas. Anyone familiar with its terrain knows it looks nothing like the above photograph. In fact, almost every season looks pretty much the same: like highways and skyscrapers. There's just not a lot of nature to complement the concrete here, and what is here doesn't usually get featured in calendars. In the last six months, God called us even deeper into the heart of the concrete jungle, and we now live in a highrise downtown. The few tree-lined streets and grassy knolls we had living in North Dallas have been usurped by construction cones and train stations. I was not expecting it, but my heart took a hit our first few months there. Like being dehydrated, I felt desperately thirsty for trees, sky, and the absence of city lights. A mid-summer breakdown led us to a country home for a weekend where my plan was "to stare out the window at cows" without a deadline.  

God has provided (and is providing!) respite for me from the city, and giving me ways to access and enjoy the beauty my heart longs for. But He is also expanding my definition of beauty. See, I've realized that I enjoy what God has created (mountains, trees, seasons) because it reveals His character-- His beauty-- to me. But He's reminded me that nothing reflects Him more than humanity, which He made in His image. And nothing reveals His heart more than His love for them. Lately, He's been inviting me to see and enjoy His beauty not protected and isolated in a peaceful countryside, but reaching in and making contact with the very city that is itself so deficient of it. He's invited me to be moved by the way He chooses to bathe humanity in beauty by bringing it to those who may not even know they need it. He's reminded me that He is a God who doesn't wait for us to go find Him, but who reaches down to find us-- a God who "moves into our neighborhood", no matter how dirty, noisy, or treeless it is. In fact, He's given me a front row view.

If you don't live in a place where these words make sense, let this picture give you an idea:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Music and the Death of a Father-- Beyond the Brokenness

My dad was a dreamer. When I was little, he would fill my head with stories about the world, about his plans for us to travel it together, about his love for life. 

I am my father's daughter. When I was little, I would fill his ears with melodies, with my plans to sing in great concert halls, with my love for music. I now realize how blessed I am to say that he didn't shush my breathy voice or my big ideas. He asked me to sing to him. He watched Les Mis on VHS with me a thousand times. He treasured my dreams and gave me more words for them. He told me about places like Carnegie Hall. "One day, I'll take you there. You'll love it." He promised. 

My father died of cancer when I was fourteen. Four years of grief recovery gave me the courage to love music again, but it was a wound. I went to conservatory to study, and I saw for the first time those places my dad told me about as a child. I experienced such overwhelming beauty-- I was right in the middle of the sounds I'd been imagining my whole life-- only, he wasn't there to experience it with me. That had been the plan. That had been the dream. While my experience at conservatory was joyful, it was mixed with deep sorrow. Throughout my years there, I wrote poems like this:

the air is full of music here
and i can scarcely breathe it in-
when it fills my lungs
they start to burst
and i think of you again.
the air is full of memory
and i can never feel the same
i see you every place i go-
even the sunlight speaks
your name.
the air is full of beauty here
but nobody seems to know
that all the beauty in the world
won't let me let you go.

Music connected me to my dad, but in a way that made very obvious and very painful the reality that he is not here. The glimpses of future glory I was given at conservatory made me feel the weight of brokenness in the present-- a taste of "the way things ought to be" kept me alive to "the way things are." There, the beauty I experienced in music was a reminder of the gaping hole in my life-- the lack of beauty that sin and death had brought. 

After graduating from conservatory, Michael and I moved to Texas to go to seminary. The music that fills the halls in my new school doesn't compare to what I left behind. We don't stand in great concert halls or shake the earth with triumphant symphonies. Each week in chapel, we sing humble songs of worship to the humble sounds of a guitar. Most of the time, I'm not enraptured or swept away by the beauty of the music, and thus not awakened to the narrative of love and loss in my life. But this past week, it happened. I felt the overwhelming connection to my dad again, only this time, it was a very different experience. Here is what we sang:

Let us praise and join the chorus
Of the saints enthroned on high
Here they trusted Him before us 
Now their praises fill the sky, 
"Thou hast washed us with Thy blood
Thou art worthy, Lamb of God"  

As I once again opened my heart to the music that went straight to the wounds in me, I once again felt the sorrow of the present reality (that my dad is not here with me) but this time, it was overshadowed by the comfort that he is with Jesus. This time, music reminded that the first half of the story-- that things are not as they should be-- gives way to the overwhelming power of the second half of the story-- that in Christ, all things are being made new. Because of Jesus, my dad is here even though he's not here. What's more, he doesn't still carry any of the sin he once did. Now, he's fully cleansed and fully new. That means all of the painful memories my family has of him-- hurtful things he might have said, unholy attitudes he might have held-- those aren't a part of him anymore. The only song on his tongue now is, "He has washed us with His blood." 

He's with the saints enthroned on high, the "great cloud of witnesses," and this time I realized, he's actually singing with me. I don't have to experience music alone the way I thought I did. In fact, the music he's experiencing beyond the brokenness is more beautiful than anything he might have missed at Carnegie Hall. As I sang about him singing God's praises with others who have "trusted Him before us," it's as if I could see his eyes light up like they always did when he had a great dream to share, "One day, we'll be here together. You'll love it." 

The pain of the present is real. Sin and death have wreaked havoc, and we are left broken and bleeding in the aftermath. But that's not the end of the story. Through Christ, we can have hope that "all things will be made new." Those who put their trust in Him get to be part of the song that is currently being sung beyond the brokenness. 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Sex and the Gospel, Pt. 7: I Don't Wait Anymore

I wasn't planning on having "guest bloggers" (it's another one of those bloggy things people do), but a few days ago I read a post that really fits into the series I've been writing about sex and the gospel, so I contacted the author and asked if I could paste it in here. I'm sure my own follow-up thoughts will come soon, but I'll save them for another post since hers is already fairly long. When you read, whether single or non, Christian or non, ask yourself if you've been taught that God is like a dealer that you can bargain with, or like Santa, who gives you everything on your list if you are "good." Ask yourself if that view of God's character has left you hurt or disillusioned, and if you're open to thinking about God in a different way. 

"I Don't Wait Anymore" by Grace (gracefortheroad.com)

When I was 16, I got a purity ring.
And when I was 25, I took it off.
I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it — it wasn’t a statement or an emotional thing. I just slipped it off my finger that day and, before tucking it away in a box, ran my finger around the words on the familiar gold band.
“True Love Waits.” Waits.
What’s it “waiting” for, anyway?
I had my reasons for deciding not to wear it anymore. Other people might have other reasons. It’s a graveyard of hearts, this place where single church girls crash into their late 20s and early 30s. Churches see the symptoms. They scramble to reach out to the ever-growing young adult singles crowd who feels alienated by family-oriented services.
But there’s something bigger behind it than that.
Much bigger.
There are a lot of girls out there who don’t know who God is anymore – the God of their youth group years just isn’t working out. Back then, that God said to wait for sex until they are married, until He brings the right man along for a husband. They signed a card and put it on the altar and pledged to wait.
And wait they did.
And waited and waited and waited.
Some of them have prayed their whole lives for a husband, and he hasn’t shown up. They’ve heard the advice to “be the woman God made you to be, focus on that, and then the husband will come.” They’ve read “Lady in Waiting,” gotten super involved in church and honed their domestic skills.
And still they wait.
More than a decade ago, a youth leader handed them a photocopied poem in Sunday School written to them from “God” that said, “The reason you don’t have anyone yet is because you’re not fully satisfied in Me. You have to be satisfied with Me and then when you least expect it, I’ll bring you the person I meant for you.”
And the girls see it posted on their bulletin boards from time to time.
“You’re right, God,” they say. “We’re not satisfied in you yet. We will put you first and then you can bring us a husband in your timing.”
But many of them – if they’re honest – will tell you that time has passed, and it’s wrecking their view of God.
If this is who God’s supposed to be, then He’s tragically late.
So some decide to chuck “Lady in Waiting” out the window … and possibly their virginity with it. Church goes next. God might go next, too. If He doesn’t answer these prayers after they’ve held up their end of the bargain, why would He answer any others?
Whether it was the fault of the leaders, the fault of us girls, or both, a tragedy happened back then.
A lot of girls were sold on a deal and not on a Savior.
I had that poem on my bulletin board all through high school – the one where “God” was telling me to fall in love with Him first and then I would be able to fall in love with a husband later.
Who wrote that poem anyway?
Pretty sure it wasn’t God.
When Jesus was here on the earth, the crowds would follow Him because they saw He gave good things. But that’s not what He wanted. He wanted their hearts for Himself. So He would turn to them and say things like, “If you don’t love Me so much that every other relationship in your life looks like hate by comparison, you can’t follow Me.” (Matthew 10:34-39, paraphrase)
That sounds a lot different from the poem.
Christ is the source of everything we need and the giver of all good gifts … but in telling people about Him, it’s possible we’ve sold them on a solution for life’s problems and not life itself.
What if we as girls had learned early on that having Him was everything, not a means to the life we think He would want us to have.
If we had learned we don’t abstain from sex because we’re “waiting.” We abstain because we love Him.
If I’d had on my bulletin board, “Fall in love with Jesus.” That’s it. Bottom line. That’s everything you need to know, to work toward, to put your hope in.
If I’d learned who He is, what He wants, how to give Him everything, not “wait” so that one day I could give my everything to someone else.
If I’d learned that it’s not bad to pray for a husband, but that my greater prayer should be for Him to spend my life as He chooses for His glory.
If we as believers make that our message, things could be drastically different for a lot of girls wondering why the God they think they learned to follow doesn’t compute. It doesn’t necessarily stop the desire for a husband or end all feelings of loneliness, but it does show a God who provides, loves and gives infinite purpose even to our singleness rather than a God who categorically denies some who pray for husbands while seemingly giving freely to others.
It shows that while marriage is good, He is the greater goal.
Don’t think I’ve done this perfectly.
I’d be deceiving you if you thought that. I’ve had relationships where I made major mistakes. I’ve gone through angst-ridden phases where I met with friends to plead together with God to bring us husbands. I’ve planned major life decisions around possibilities.
I lived like I was waiting for something.
And that’s why I slipped off my ring that day. It wasn’t that I wanted to sleep with people – I haven’t. It wasn’t a slap to True Love Waits, or to anyone who wears a purity ring – saving sex for marriage is good and is His design.
I just didn’t want to wait anymore – didn’t want to live like I was waiting on anyone to get here.
I already have Him … and He is everything.
“Follow Christ for His own sake, if you follow Him at all.” – J.C. Ryle

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Words that Free Me

I've written a lot in the past about a variety of issues I struggle with on a regular basis-- things like "to do list" obsession, budget-keeping idolatry, and noisy expectations I place on myself-- in other words, anxiety. I worry about stuff. I wonder if I'm forgetting something. I get tiny palpitations when the phone rings ("Am I in trouble? Did I do something wrong?"). I sometimes get stressed as early as 3 sips into my morning coffee about whether or not I'll be able to "get everything done" in a given day. 

This morning, about 3 sips into my morning coffee, I read in Luke 10 about Jesus' interaction with Mary and Martha. It's a great and short story, and I recommend reading it really quickly, here. I have read this little story a number of times but this morning, for some reason, it was real to me. Jesus comes to their house, Mary sits at Jesus' feet and listens to his teaching while Martha is stuck with all the work, Martha asks Jesus to make Mary get back in the kitchen and help, and Jesus in a nutshell says no. 

It was real to me this morning because I felt like I was in the story. First, when Jesus responds to Martha. True to form, Jesus answers the question beneath the question. He speaks to her anxious heart, that was hiding behind concerns about Mary helping with housework. In other words, she comes to Him about Mary and he responds to her about Martha. And instead of chiding her for tattling and not minding her own business, He comforts her. He says her name twice, which my husband just told me was an especially affectionate and tender way of addressing someone in their culture. "Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better share, and it will not be taken away from her." 

Jesus comforts her, calls out her sin, and instructs her all in one sentence. This morning, I felt like Martha in the story, and I felt the powerful freedom Jesus' words brought to her. I heard, "Hannah, Hannah, I know you. I know what's really eating you alive and causing you to gnaw your fingers to the bone. But don't you know, you don't have to live that way? The heavy burden you carry is not one I've given you. I release you from your expectations and invite you just to sit and enjoy Me. Let Me take care of the details. That is all that's really necessary." 

Jesus doesn't have dialogue with Mary in this story, which might be why there haven't been as many "Chicken Soup for the Soul" reflections on her. But this morning, I felt like Mary in the story too. See, I've written a lot about my anxiety concerning budgets, grocery lists, and to-do lists, but I haven't written a lot about my anxiety as a seminary student. A female seminary student. 

I didn't start school expecting to feel this way, but in the last few years I've begun to notice that in many ways, I am in a man's world. Often I am the only woman in the room or seated at the table. Being fairly loud and obnoxious, most of the time I can be brave about it. But every now and then, I find myself thinking, "Jesus, am I just elbowing my way to Your table, inviting myself to sit in and listen in on something that's not really "for" me? Do you just tolerate my presence like I'm the kid sister in the corner, listening in?" Every now and then, I feel like the third (or twenty-third) wheel in the world of Christian ministry and theology. 

But then I read this story and realize Mary probably had it even worse. I read recently that the most shocking part of this whole scenario is not Martha being left to work alone, but Mary having the audacity to enter the "man's domain" of her culture and sit at the Rabbi's (teacher's) feet with the men. Imagine the eyes burning a hole in her back. Imagine the courage she must have had to sit there anyway, and the desperation she must have had to hear more of Jesus' words, no matter the cost. That is how I feel about being in seminary. It may be awkward at times, and I may feel uncomfortable or even eyes burning a hole in my back at times, but I want to hear what Jesus has to say. I must. Even if it means being the twenty-third wheel, it's worth it to me if it means I can get closer to Jesus. 

But then I see how Jesus handled Mary's situation, "It will not be taken away from her."  I see that Jesus-- Jesus-- defended Mary's spot at his feet next to all his male disciples, and I realize that it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. The Rabbi says I have a right to be here. I realize that He has called me to Himself, He invites me to sit at His feet, and He declares it won't be taken away from me. I realize, "He doesn't see me as a third-wheel. I'm not an outsider to Him."  

This morning, I felt like Mary in the story, and I felt the powerful freedom Jesus' words brought to her. I heard, "Hannah, Hannah, I know you. I know what's really eating you alive and causing you to gnaw your fingers to the bone. But don't you know, you don't have to live that way? The heavy burden you carry is not one I've given you. I release you from others' expectations and invite you just to sit and enjoy Me. Let Me defend your right to do so. That is all that's really necessary." 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Mercy Project

The last few days of my life have been unexpected, challenging, and fruitful. I'm still processing, but hope to write more about what's been going on in the Kings' world soon. In the meantime, this post is overdue: 

A lady whose blog I read from time to time featured this ministry recently. In fact, she asked me to participate in a Labor Day blog sync (or whatever one calls those bloggy things) so that 100 bloggers would share the good news that God is bringing out of the bad news of child trafficking around the world. 

Unfortunately, I'm both forgetful and technologically challenged so I both forgot and didn't know how to get this video on my blog. But as I was about to give up trying, someone walked into my office who knew how to do it. And so, here it is.

Here is a quote from her blog post about this:

"Today I'll watch my kids with loving wonder and ask myself the same question I've asked more times than I can count.  What if my children were enslaved?  My answer brings an uncomfortable dissonance because I know what I'd do if these were my kids. I'd wage an all-encompassing, bloody, sweaty fight for them. Real life as we know it would be over until they were free.  All hands would be on deck.  Until my kids were safe and sound - in my arms - exactly where they belong, there would be no rest - for anyone.

So what is it about the ocean that causes my resolve to weaken?  If I want my children to live in a world free of injustices like child slavery, child labor, and child trafficking, what am I personally doing as a mother to fight towards that end?  These questions siphon sleep from me at night.         

Today I'm grateful for the many voices (many of them women) who are raising awareness about child labor, child trafficking, and what Mercy Project is doing to free enslaved kids in Ghana.  I know I've talked a great deal about the work Mercy Project is accomplishing in Africa.  Being a modern-day abolitionist is closely linked to my faith, and I'm grateful to personally know the people behind Mercy Project. I'm thankful they allow many of us to put feet to our faith and join them in bringing freedom to children in slavery."

One thing that stuck me is-- these Ghanian boys and girls may not be her children, or mine, but they are God's-- and all we have to do is look at the Cross to see what kind of an "all-encompassing, bloody, sweaty fight" He put up to set His children free. 


Sunday, September 2, 2012

Sex and the Gospel, Pt. 6: Competing Narratives

Over the past few months, I've heard a lot about the hit series "50 Shades of Grey" and I've talked to a number of women about why they like it. Since I haven't actually read the book and don't want to give an oversimplified synopsis, here's what Wikipedia says about it:   

"An erotic novel...it is the first installment in a trilogy that traces the deepening relationship between a college graduate, Anastasia Steele, and a young business magnate, Christian Grey. It is notable for its explicitly erotic scenes featuring elements of sexual practices involving bondage/discipline, dominance/submission, sadism/masochism."

As a woman who has experienced the true horrors of abuse and its pervasive fall out, I was particularly dismayed by the idea of glorifying and romanticizing that kind of behavior in a relationship. Now I'll admit that some readers of the book told me that the man ends up changing his ways to some extent-- but they also admitted to me that his "dark side" is what attracted them to the story to begin with. In other words, one some level, they are attracted to the abuse dynamic. 

This isn't just a "fictional" phenomenon. When celebrity Chris Brown was indicted for hitting his girlfriend, the public's shocking reactions were all over the news. Everything from comments like "why should we judge if he makes Rhianna happy" to "Rhianna needs to quit complaining. Chris Brown can hit me any time he wants" flooded the internet.

These are real life examples of abuse being normalized, joked about, and even welcomed by people in the name romance and sexuality. But it's one thing to rant and rave about people "out there" making such distorted judgments-- it should be so easy to see and reject, right?-- but it's another thing to admit that the same dynamic has been at work in my own life. 

In part because of the abuse I experienced, and in part because of the narratives that were "normalized" for me, even growing up in a Christian culture, I learned to think along parallel lines with the "abuse" culture.

I'll just give two examples. First, I went to "Christian" school for most of my life. I was brought up in an environment that openly celebrated sex as a beautiful and holy act between husband and wife. But in addition to that (there wasn't much else taught on it other than, "so don't do it until you're married"), my Christian friends and I all listened to rap songs that openly celebrated sex as something very different-- something more along the lines of 50 Shades of Grey-- and nobody really took the time to deeply evaluate the difference. And so these two very different narratives were both accepted and both normalized in my Christian culture. 

Why then, should I have been surprised to find that one of them grew to preeminence in our lives? Especially when that narrative gave us far more information and far more invitation? Why should I have been surprised when my peers and I were truly, actually, confused about sex? On paper, we believed what our Christians teachers taught us. But in our minds, in our affections, in our experience, we believed what the radio taught us. Women are objects. Men are crazed. It's "sexy" to not be married. In fact, it's "sexy" to not even be me, but a stewardess, a librarian, a Catholic school girl. This is stuff we drank like Kool-Aid, whether we were aware of it or not.

My second example is I think a more important and more holistic "fall-out" (which I mentioned earlier) of the first: how this affected our relationships. Again, on paper, we knew we were to hope for husbands who would actually want to be that-- husbands. Committed, loyal, self-sacrificing, tender, shepherding, and loving. We knew-- on paper-- that we were precious daughters of God, made in His image, not sexual objects. On paper, we knew to want men who believed that too. But in reality, that had not been our experience. We'd learned in the school of life that the other narrative at play  was more real than the one our Christian teachers had given us. And so, while we consciously "wanted" respectful, mutually honoring relationships, we subconsciously wanted the abuse. 

You might think I'm just theorizing here, or talking about some weird dysfunction of a few people-- but have you ever heard a "good" guy lament, "every girl just wants to be my friend?" Have you ever scratched your head and asked, "why is she still with him?" These sentiments have become almost comical Western expressions because they are such a widespread phenomenon. The competing narratives about the nature of true love and sexuality have taught us to call bad good. At least some people (like the author of 50 Shades of Grey, for example) are aware of it. I was not. 

Until I read a book called The Wounded Heart. There was nothing special about this book in the sense that it alone corrected my thinking or changed my affections, but it was the catalyst God used to bring the light of the gospel to the hidden lies my heart had clung to. It wasn't a magic wand, but more like a flashlight. It exposed to me patterns and belief systems I'd operated out of-- things that caused me to ask repeatedly, "Why do my relationships not work? Why do I keep ending up in this rut? Why am I attracted (for example), to men who don't fully value or see me? And why am I OK with that? Why do I not feel totally comfortable unless I'm dressed a bit seductively? Why don't my affections actually line up with what I say I believe?"

During that season of my life, there was a man expressing consistent and respectful interest in me. He met all of the alleged "qualifications" I was supposedly "waiting for" as a woman with high standards-- as a woman who "wanted" a good man. But guess what? I just wasn't attracted to him. There was something unexciting, un-sexy, uninteresting about him to me. Sound familiar? 

Well, this guy bought his own copy of the book I was reading because he wanted to know how to best care for be a friend to me during this season. He wanted to understand some of what I was going through and be a help to me. In other words, he knew about my "vulnerability" and chose not to take advantage. Instead, he chose to respect me and love me as a precious daughter of God, before I knew how to treat myself that way. I had only ever known how to be an object, but he refused to interact with me on the basis of that narrative. 

About a year later, things began to change. The effects of the gospel-- that God sees me as His beloved daughter even before I do and that the heinous sin of objectifying me is outrageous, not sexy-- had broken in and shattered those hidden lies I'd lived by. I began to realize that it's not enough to accept the Christian narrative on paper-- it was never meant to be just some box I check at church, nor was it meant to be accepted along with whatever other narrative controlled me. I began to realize that the Christian narrative is meant to transform my own. I began to truly believe for the first time that what God says is actually more real than what the radio, or my peers, or the guy I worshiped in high school, or even my own family says. And so, for the first time, I began to believe Him. 

And guess what? That nice guy who had cared for and respected me and treated me as a person, suddenly became really attractive. But he is not the hero of my story. He was also only a catalyst-- used by God to help model the truth for me and show me what life could be like if I let go of the lies that had defined me. The hero of my story is Jesus, who looked on me with love and gave His very self in order that I may be rescued and brought into a new narrative-- called by a new name, given a new life-- in the midst of my deepest rejection of His love. Even when I called bad good, He called me His own. 

I wrote most of this post before church this morning. On the way to my car, a girl got into the elevator with me who had seemingly been the object of someone's momentary pleasure the night before. She was now letting herself out, alone. I thought of what I had just written and thought about how much more God sees in her than the person who used her last night. I wondered if, after the excitement and passing pleasure of the night before, she was thirsting for something she couldn't even name, but knew to be better. I wondered if she would have the courage to ask, "is this all there is? Is this all I can hope for?" 

Do you have the courage to ask that? To ask how the patterns in your life might reveal what you believe about who you are and how God sees you? And would you have the courage to listen to what He says and believe it's more real than what you've been told by others? It just might change everything. 

After all, that's what the gospel is meant to do.