The Girl in the Mirror

26790_379253246924_2837817_nSometimes I look at the picture of this little girl and think about her future.  Don’t her eyes just melt your heart?  What wouldn’t you do for that little shy smile?  I watched her grow up, so I know her story.  She’s had a good life, and she’s done well for herself, but it hasn’t always been easy for her.  You know how it is:  She grows up and realizes the world isn’t quite what she thought it was.  And looking at her picture sometimes, I want to keep her in her safe little world of innocence, keep her from the pain of disillusionment.

Because I feel helpless knowing that she will one day feel the pain of a broken heart.  That she will make wrong choices that will lead down questionable paths and end in disappointment.  I cringe knowing that one day, like so many other girls, she will take a knife to that soft, perfect skin just to watch the blood trickle down.  Looking into those warm and trusting eyes, it tears me apart knowing that they will lose their sparkle one day — that they will have seen too much of the world to shine with naive expectation.

One day she will begin to question everything she ever believed in:  Santa Claus.  Prince Charming.  God.  Herself.

This little girl doesn’t know what it’s like to feel alone.  But one day, she will.  I look in her wide-eyed, innocent face and see her future, and I desperately want to shield her, to protect her, to tell her that there is an easier way.

But as I reach out my hand, I see that I am simply grasping at a mirror.  And as I look deeply into the eyes of the woman I have become, I see that there wasn’t a better way.  I took exactly the road I had to take to end up where I am, right now, standing here gazing at my reflection and looking back on the life I’ve lived.

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I had to make stupid choices to gain wisdom.  I had to be influenced and controlled before I could discover who I really was, and I had to hate myself before I knew what it meant to love myself.  I had to doubt before I could believe, I had to be broken so that I could be made whole, and I had to experience the imprisonment of shame before I could truly raise my hands to God in freedom and victory.  I had to live the life I’ve lived, every step of the way.  I always did what I felt I had to do to get by, so I really couldn’t have made any other choices.

And realizing this, I realize that, as much as I may want it to be, my job is not to keep other girls from the same struggles I went through.  I see the same look of excitement and wonder in their eyes, and I want to.  Oh God, I want to.

Others, I see the dullness and numbness beginning to replace the sparkle as they learn how broken the world really is and how ugly life can be, and I want to heal them.  Oh God, I want to.

But I can’t — it’s not my life to live.  And I’m learning that as desperately as I want to keep them from experiencing pain, I have to love them enough to let them figure it out on their own.

I know that some of them will starve themselves to find acceptance.  Some of them will cut themselves to feel again.   Some will compromise themselves for affirmation.  Some will experience loss and abandonment and depression.  And the thought of it breaks my heart.

But…

The best I can do is to equip them to live faithfully, to make the most of their lives, to find their own healing.  The best I can do is walk alongside them on their journey and share the little I know about life.  To let them make mistakes and to cry with them when they’re broken.  To pray them through as they sort out who they are and why they’re here.  To teach them enough of the Story so that they can faithfully improvise no matter what stage they’re on or what costume they’re wearing.  And to be a faithful audience to the story they write.

This is my ministry.

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there’s something bigger going on here.

After all, aren’t we all looking for purpose?

The last thoughts of a teenager with a little bottle of white pills relate to purpose. How they never found it.

The last thoughts of a martyr tied to a stake relate to purpose. How they found it and are willing to give everything for it.

Your last thoughts will relate to purpose. Your entire life centers around purpose. Because in the end, it’s all that matters. The question is, will you have regrets?

The teenager who just took his own life may have heard at some point that God loves him. But for some reason, it didn’t make a difference. Why?

Because it doesn’t matter that God loves us if he leaves us there.

You see, we’re used to telling people that God loves them and can forgive their sins as if it’s the end of the story. But it’s really only the beginning.

Here are some questions to think about. You already know the answer because I already gave it to you. (My first draft of this post started with the questions and made me sound slightly heretical, so I thought it would have more impact if I introduced it a different way.) But think about it from the perspective of how you grew up, or what you’ve always believed. Have you ever asked these questions? Or was it too dangerous to ask these questions, in case you couldn’t find the answer?

Does it matter that God loves us? Does it really make a difference?

What is grace, anyway? What has it done for you? Or is it just some abstract concept of God’s love that you talk about without really understanding why?

If we’re “sharing Christ” with someone to “bring them to salvation”, what does that even mean? Why should they care? Why do they need the love of some intangible, invisible being they can’t fathom?

Because God doesn’t love us just to love us. If that’s all there is, our lives will still be…empty. If the story ends with “God loves you”, it doesn’t matter. It’s meaningless.

Last fall, I almost gave up on my faith. A lot of you don’t know that about me. Now you do. You’re welcome.

There were a lot of factors that contributed to this, and I don’t have the time to go into all of them now, but essentially I began to focus on all the little issues and to let them distract me from what was really going on. How do you interpret this passage of the Bible? How are we supposed to make it relevant for today? What was right and wrong? Was anything right or wrong? I wrote in my journal, “How is it even possible to live as a Christian in this day and age? I’m starting to think it’s not. Maybe it’s all just some big joke.”

I was totally lost. I felt like nothing mattered. But nobody could know that, oh no. I was Miss Blog Queen and the one everyone depended on for the right answers. So for several months I stopped praying, I stopped reading my Bible, but I kept going to church like a zombie and tried to feel my way through the darkness that had become my life.

In December, something clicked again. I was thinking about the 10 commandments, specifically “Do not take the Lord’s name in vain.” All of a sudden, I was like, “I know that doesn’t just mean swearing.” I wrote this blog post. Things didn’t turn around overnight, but that was definitely one of the turning points because I realized that there is something bigger going on here. In the end, it wasn’t about the little things. There was a big picture. There was a big story. There was a purpose.

There is a happy ending to this story, by the way. By the very end of December, I was desperate for truth. Desperate for purpose. Praying for God to change me no matter what it took. He answered that prayer with Passion, right after New Year’s. And without telling my entire testimony, I’ll just say that Passion radically changed me. That was the defining time that I can point to and say that I have never looked back since then. Because I found my place in the bigger story.

You see, I knew all along that God loved me. But that in itself was not enough to make a difference. I was a pretty good person anyway; did I need grace that desperately?

YES.

Because grace is far more than Jesus coming to save us from a stolen piece of candy or a swear word. In the words of Dr. Lavender, “Jesus came to rescue you from the brokenness of a misdirected life. It’s not about, you know, thinking the wrong things while you’re eating a cracker. It’s about fulfilling the purpose for which you were created.”

After all, aren’t we all looking for purpose? We’re looking for purpose because we lost it a long time ago, back in the Garden of Eden. And God won’t fit into your story because you were made to fit into HIS! This whole time God has been working to restore creation back to the purpose for which he created it. Forgiveness of sin is not an end in itself but a means to an end: God gives us grace to return us to what we were made to be.

And it is absolutely vital that we understand this. We need to understand it first for ourselves. Where do we fit into the bigger story? How do all these little moments of our lives work together to actually mean something?

And once we understand that, we have to relearn how to evangelize. We’re not just bringing people to salvation — what is salvation? We’re not just towing them into church — what is church? We’re helping them recover their purpose in God’s story — because what is salvation but restoration? What is church but the embodiment of God’s mission?

Your entire life centers around purpose. Because in the end, it’s all that matters. The question is, will you have regrets?

why I do what I do

“Babe! I am so thankful that I had you as a counselor this week. You really taught us how to trust each other and work as a team. I loved how you pushed us past our limits this week and you didn’t let our fears get the better of us. You always had faith in us, so thank you for that.”

“Dear Babe, thank you so much for everything this week. I have grown so much because of you. The trust in our cabin was absolutely unreal. I didn’t even honestly know that a group of girls and a counselor could be so close after a week! I just have to thank God for that and everything else He did for me this week. Now I can leave camp changed and ready to live out my faith more than I ever have. I am so thankful for your example and how you trust us with secrets and everything. Telling us to trust each other is just not the same thing as showing us how to trust, and that is what you did. You are an amazing person and I see Jesus in you without a doubt.”

“Dear Babe, having you as my counselor has been such a blessing. I’ve never had someone believe in me as much as you have this past week. Having all that support from you and all the other girls boosted my self-confidence so much.”

“Babe, thank you so much for helping me grow in my faith this week. Everything you said this week led up to my one big moment. I want to thank you for helping me get to that moment because I couldn’t have done it alone.”

“Dear Babe, I am so wonderfully blessed to have had you as my group leader this week. I know that God made sure He put me with someone who understands what I’ve been through and what I’m going through. Your love and support have meant the world to me. I am now fully placing all my problems with the Lord and I trust that He has the answers and will lead me through the minefield of life. ”

“Babe, I cannot even begin to thank you enough for such a memorable week. I have truly made relationships that I will never forget. I can see the love of God in your eyes, and that’s incredible. Your stories of how God has influenced your life has me excited to see what He does with me and all your other Navy Babies.”

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

When I tell people that I’m going into youth ministry to work with jr. and sr. high, I often get a response of, “Wow, you’re brave.” And they shake their heads as if they feel sorry for me. When people found out I would be working at Deer Run this summer, it was the same reaction. “Ten weeks? Working with kids in the summer heat? How much are you making?” I would answer, “Not much.” But the truth is, although the dollar sign is minimal, I’ve “made” far more than they. I’ve made friends. I’ve made memories. I’ve made myself a stronger person. And, most amazing of all, I’ve made disciples.

Yes, I’ve been exhausted and completely spent both physically and emotionally. Yes, there have been struggles and those kids that drive you crazy. Yes, it’s difficult. But the payoff is far greater than the investment.

I do what I do because of the pride on a kid’s face when they conquer their fear on the Leap of Faith. Because of the laughter and the inside jokes. Because of the way it feels when they trustingly slip their hand into mine. Because of the look in their eyes when something clicks. Because of the hands raised in worship. Because of the confidence they build. I do what I do because of those deep late-night conversations that end with a teen deciding to give her life to Christ. I do what I do because there is no greater feeling than laughing and crying and watching one of my girls be baptized. I do what I do because of what my girls wrote in those notes.

And mostly…I do what I do because Christ loved me first. How can I not share the incredible joy I’ve found in Him?!

Published in: on August 5, 2012 at 11:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Value of Life

What determines the value of life?

Think carefully before you answer.

Can the value of life increase or decrease?

Is a life’s value determined by situation? By circumstance?

What is life, really? Life is everything we are. It makes us human. It is the core of our existence.

Can you say, “I’m worth more than you”? Maybe you’re a greater ‘benefit to society’ — but you’re no more  alive than they are, are you?

So to say anything but “no” — to judge the worth of another’s very being — would sound ridiculous. But what do your beliefs say? What does your ballot say?

Here’s another question: does every life have a purpose?

Would God really create something useless?

Consider carefully here. Because in taking a life for any reason, you are undermining the innate (for worth is innate, not situational) value of life AND denying them the opportunity to fulfill their purpose.

That’s some pretty serious stuff.

It’s easy to say, from a political standpoint, what would be “best” — for people, for society, for the country.

But when impersonal pen and paper determine what happens to living flesh and blood…I tremble. I can’t make that call.

Like most conservatives, I used to be against abortion but for capital punishment. Obviously there’s a difference between taking the life of an innocent unborn child, and taking the life of a hardened criminal. And from society’s standpoint, yes, there is. But from a truly pro-life standpoint, when you consider the innate value of life — if its worth is not determined by circumstance — is one so much better than the other?

The criminal had a chance, and the baby didn’t, you argue. That’s true.

But regardless of chances, there is still purpose, and you cut it short either way.

What about people like the BTK killer, you ask? They’re sick. They’re obviously insane. Granted.

But is their life any less valuable? God had a reason for giving them life; if He didn’t, they wouldn’t exist. But He purposefully, intentionally breathed into them the same value — the same gift — the same life — He breathed into you.

Demanding the right to take someone else’s life into our own hands, for any reason, is a dangerous thing.

A frightening thing.

Because if we give ourselves the “right”…

One day, when you’re too old to benefit society and the system is even more corrupt than it now is…

Who might give themselves the “right” to take your life?

Someone else will determine that your value has decreased. Someone else will decide that you have no purpose.

You won’t agree.

But you, who voted away countless lives, will be unable to vote for yourself.

Published in: on February 14, 2012 at 6:44 pm  Comments (3)  
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Strength in Adversity

No one feels strong when overwhelmed with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle. But when adversity comes, in that period of waiting, of helplessness, we sense purpose. Sometimes that purpose is to accomplish nothing more than merely to survive, to push past, to conquer — but whatever it may be, with knowledge of purpose comes a dogged determination to face whatever it takes to fulfill that purpose. With purpose comes life. And when you’re determined to do anything to reach your goal, you’ll find that your life has more meaning than ever before. It’s not the adversity itself which makes you strong; it’s the purpose it plants in your heart and the direction it gives to your life.

Published in: on May 27, 2011 at 10:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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