On my new tattoos

Over the weekend I got my second and third tattoos. It was important to me that I got them together.

cross tattooThe first is a cross because I will always need a reminder of God’s love for me, of His ultimate sacrifice. As His word says, “…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” Nothing better has happened in human history.

We hear so often that the world was created and the world broke, shattered by the depths of our imperfections, but we don’t hear often enough of how the world was saved. We don’t question enough why the worst thing that could happen to a person happened to the perfect person. To not do so is selfish, it’s us thinking only of ourselves. We become our own idols and we can’t live that way. It’s impossible to breathe if you refuse to let the oxygen into your lungs. It’s impossible to stand while refusing to let your legs hold you up.

We were created with galaxies roaring inside of us, with stars so bright we could see all the way up to the heavens above. And when those stars burned out we died, buried by our sin, and He took His cross and used it to give them light again.

The cross is a symbol of how He saved us all. He’s not my savior because He died. He’s not my savior because He rose again. He’s my savior because He’s taking me with Him. The cross is for me, so that I may have a ladder that leads directly to Him.

Fish tattoo

The second is what’s known as a “Jesus Fish” and is often seen as a cliche in the world of tattoos. And maybe it is, but what it represents is anything but. The idea behind it is not used nearly enough.

Historically, it was a symbol used to mark a safe place for Christians in severe danger. Today it’s more simply used to label a disciple. I don’t think it should end there though. It’s not enough to call myself a follower of Christ if I don’t live it out. I can’t keep all of the air for myself.

When He rose He told us to go and make disciples of all nations. Who am I to not listen? TO not do so is to be the child who breaks their toys so that no one else may play with them. It doesn’t make sense. It is the greatest blessing to get to be a part of God’s redemption plan.

I don’t believe He would reignite our stars if He didn’t want them to shine. He’s not my savior because He died. He’s not my savior because He rose again. He’s my savior because He’s taking me with Him. And He can take you, too, if you wish. The fish is for you, so that you may know you are safe to ask me where my ladder can be found.

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Happily Ever After

The Old Testament ends with a promise, one that I needed so deeply to hear today, in a passage in Malachi that feeds my soul like no other.

“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

This promise is foretold. That’s the thing about promises – we desire them before we even know of them, like the small who doesn’t know he wants ice cream until he hears Do Your Ears Hang Low? playing in the distance. This is the promise that created us.

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.

This promise is truth. We all want to say we’d be that person, the one who would be able to stand. I believe we also want to admit that we wouldn’t be able to, because who stands when the earth is trembling under their feet, but we would be lying if we said that sin didn’t run deep through our veins.

He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.

This promise is ours. It defines every strand of our very souls. This is His gift to us, not only to give us treasures, but to make us into one. And so He came down to us, not only to live at our level, but to push us up to His.

Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.”

This promise is our offering, our ultimate sacrifice. It is the sacrifice He poured out for us, so we wouldn’t have to. It is Him giving us an offering that will never fail. It is Him turning us toward Him and teaching us how to run.

So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

This promise is courage. it is the way we are able to stand when we have the weight of a thousand stones sitting on our shoulders. It is the way He makes our eyes sparkle, like newlyweds sharing their first kiss. It is the way we dance when standing still would be so much easier. This promise is a story given to us by the Writer of the Story of all stories. And as happily ever after has followed me throughout playgrounds and freeways, throughout crowded trampolines and lonely beds, I have learned that all the best stories end with a beginning. This story ends with life abundant; it ends with a love like no other. This promise is our happily ever after: Amen.

 

Baby Names

Most days I’m content to just let the future be. I know that my future has been planned, every detail of it, so I don’t have to worry, but then there are days like today when I sit on Pinterest designing a nursery for a baby who may never exist and I’m suddenly worried it will never happen. Yesterday I didn’t care, but that’s the thing about worry. It doesn’t care about your past or lessons learned, it’s only there to eat away at whatever peace and trust you still cling to. It rots, destroys from the inside out, but there is Hope and that begins by saying this: For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

If I should ever have a daughter, I’d like to call her Esther, so that she may be a star that points to the Heavens. And I’d want her to experience the depth of the King’s guidance, to follow the light of a star much brighter than her own. But when I think about the possibility of something so important being entrusted to me by its very creator, I am petrified. Worry will always come back. It’s at the root of my sin, my deepest struggle. I worry I can’t do this thing called life on my own, and I can’t, but Hope continues: Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.

If I should ever have a daughter, I’d like to caller her Eden, so that she may learn of Perfection. I’d want her to know, to always know, what it’s like to have the Giver of Life breathe into her. I’d want her to know what it’s like to look to Him for comfort when she stresses like I know she will. As much as I want to pass on my faith, I know that sin is inherited, too. I am learning to trust, however, that Hope is stronger than fear and it continues: You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

If I should ever have a daughter I’d like to call her Eve, not so she would be stuck in hiding but so she could know what it’s like to be found. She’ll experience insecurity, she’s my daughter after all, but she’s His even more so. He’ll find her as He found me. She will experience imprisonment, she will know what it is to be broken. But Hope will continue and she will experience freedom and redemption: I will be found by you and will bring you back from captivity.

I plan. I worry because I forget I don’t have to. I either trust or I dream and I’m learning that it’s okay to do both. Before I should ever have a daughter I’d like to learn to call myself these things, always and forever. If I should pass on Hope and Love, I pray I’d pass them together. I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.

If I should ever have a daughter I’d like to call her His, but first, that’s what I’ll call myself.

Just Us

God blessed me with an amazing opportunity to start sponsoring a darling little girl through World Vision this week. I’ve been having a hard time deciding how to start this post and I think that’s it – the good that God creates where I cannot find any. There is a girl, a family, a community who will be shown the love of Christ through tangible good deeds and I get to be a part of that. I am amazed at how great He truly is and I think that’s what I am coming here with, what I am placing on the table to share, and what I am keeping all at the same time: He is good.

This post feels late to the party and I’d like to start off by saying I’m okay with that. I needed to take some time to process through the events of this week before sharing my thoughts with you. I think that’s fair. This is not me jumping on some sort of bandwagon. This is me still trying to fully understand what I am feeling and being vulnerable in sharing those feelings with you, so bear with me, please.

Earlier this week World Vision released a statement saying that they would not take a side in the Homosexuality vs. The Church issue and that they would allow their American branch to hire employees in same-sex marriages. I think that sounds completely reasonable. The evangelical world, however, was up in arms. It was deemed unfair for World Vision to do this to their sponsors. People began pulling sponsorships left and right and well known evangelists rallied for others to join them in doing so because heaven forbid we serve alongside people with whom we disagree. Thousands of children who were counting on these sponsorships for various life necessities were caught in the middle of a battle that shouldn’t exist in the first place and is in no way their fault. That is not fair.

Like the few other bloggers I have been able to find that are on the same page as me, I feel like I am reading a different Bible than these people. My Bible teaches unconditional love and faithful giving and it is so much better than what I am reading online this week. It brings a hope so much stronger than I think people are willing to share.

When did homosexuality become the end all be all of sin? That’s a boat I don’t recall getting on and I want off. I’m not even convinced it is a sin, but that is almost irrelevant at this point. The point is that there is no such thing as a sinner that cannot be redeemed, there is no such thing as a sin that Christ did not die for. The point is that this is not an us vs. them issue. At least, it shouldn’t be. This should be an us issue. That’s it, just us, because there is no them. This should be us, the Church, reaching out to the world and welcoming it with open arms, welcoming the world, the whole world, to be a part of the us.

Here’s my hope in this: God is unchanging. He knows every single person who has become involved in this issue – the people pulling sponsorships, the people adding sponsorships, the children they’re impacting, you, me – and He is working in all of our lives. I truly believe that.

He sent His son to die specifically for this issue. He died for the people on both sides and those caught in the middle. I truly believe that.

He brought His kingdom down to us so that we may have hope. He is good and loving and faithful. I truly believe all of that.

So this is not me abandoning my faith in any way. I want to make that clear.

I want the evangelism described in my Bible. I want the Church coming together, through disagreements, to reach the world, the whole world. I want us to work as one body to expand our family in Christ. I want to see people remembering who and what God died for. I want to see myself remembering that. I want to see myself actively praying for those who make me so angry. I’m at fault here, too, after all.

If this is how we’re going to react when we disagree, I’m not sure that’s something I can be a part of. If we are going to isolate people, if we are going to look past or over someone because we disagree with who they are, that’s not something I could ever be okay with. If we are going to continue to create a them where there isn’t one, I no longer want to be a part of the us.

I want off of this boat; I feel like it’s going under and I hate the ocean. I’m getting on the boat my Savior is steering because I feel safe in His control and this can’t be it.

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“The Bible” when translated from its original Greek literally means “The Books.” These are the books, the ultimate books, the ones that define the heavens, the earth, and everything in between. These are the books that define me, that have my name written between the lines because they were written for me. These are the books that, together, make up the ultimate love letter. I can’t imagine better words; I don’t know why I ever tried.

I don’t strive to even touch the beauty of the words that reside in that love letter, but I dream of God taking my hand and using it to build worlds. I want to write something that matters. And there was a period of my life when that was all I wanted to do. I loved writing and I got a lot of praise for it; it was just good. I auditioned for a creative writing program in my city. Long story short, I didn’t get in. And that was it, I was done. The negative thoughts began to creep in.

I am a failure.

Why did I think I would be good at something? It didn’t matter that, for years, people had told me my writing was good. It didn’t even matter that I had liked my writing before this point. That one rejection letter was a tangible reminder that I had failed. It didn’t matter that I had pretty much no control over the situation.

Abram’s wife, Sarai, tried for years to give him children. It wasn’t until she was ninety years old when God finally told them that she would bear a son. And she laughed. I imagine it was, at least somewhat, a nervous laughter. It was too late. And I imagine that she had shared my negative thoughts all those years in between.

I am a failure.

I based a lot of my value on the things I can’t control.

I had writer’s block for the next four years. I would take pen to paper, I would stare at it for a couple minutes, and I would leave it blank. I had lost my ability to even try and it was absolutely ridiculous. Staring at blank journal after blank journal – the ones that lined my desk because people thought I would use them – I looked into my inability to try and there it was again.

I am a failure. I think I’ll always kind of regret those blank years.

When Abram took his wife with him to Egypt he made her tell the Egyptians that she was his sister. Pharaoh took her to be his wife and when he realized what Abram had done he sent them away. At this point, if Abram and I were anything alike, he would have thought about how stupid he had been. And he, too, would have shared my negativity.

I am a failure.

I based a lot of my value on my mistakes.

When I finally could actually think of words, I wrote them down. But it wasn’t the same. I couldn’t share these words. If people read them, surely they would also realize I had failed. I have journals – a lot of journals – filled with thoughts that will never be shared, locked away by my fears. The same fears that accompany the negativity that has haunted me all these years.

I am a failure.

When Peter started to, by the grace of God, walk on water, he got scared and started to sink. He had one simple task, Take courage! Do not be afraid. But he wasn’t able to rid himself of the fear that comes from trying to remain in control. I imagine that after this experience Peter thought about renaming himself Simon because I imagine that he, at least for a minute, also shared my negative thoughts.

I am a failure.

I based a lot of my value on my fears.

But I am not defined by my struggles, my mistakes, or my fears. I am not defined by my failures. I am not defined by the pain of this world, but by the Kingdom that is coming down to it. And it’s that Kingdom that is helping me trade out those old thoughts for new ones.

I am loved.

I am beautiful.

I am worthy.

I am His.

There’s a lot I still don’t know. I don’t know why one letter held the ability to knock me down so far. I don’t know why I can’t do some things. I don’t know why I still have fear lingering in my mind, just waiting to attack. I still don’t completely know all of whatever lesson I was supposed to learn from all this.

God renamed all of them – Abram, Sarai, and Simon [Peter.] He redefined them according to what he saw in them. And he’s doing the same for me. There’s no turning back, even if I don’t exactly know what it will do to me.

I don’t know my name, but right now, that’s okay.

 

The Tower of Babel

They said to each other, “Come.”

The world’s people, all moving as one, came together and they built. They built their own thrones.

Then they said, “Come.”

They named themselves. They defined their very souls. They reached and they reached and they reached. The sky seemed like it was always getting closer, as they made themselves higher. It was beautiful, right?

The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” – Genesis 11:6-7

Come, let us go down and confuse.

Why?

That’s where I always get stuck.

Why?

Why was it necessary to tear down the tower we built for ourselves? Why erase the beauty we created?

Because maybe there is some truth in a few cliches. Maybe beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Maybe in a world full of blackness any shade of grey would be blindingly bright, but that doesn’t make it the sun.

They said to each other, “Come.”

But there was no movement. They didn’t come together, they were stuck together, and they attempted to piece together Comfort and Joy where they were foreign. They built their own thrones out of the golden lies that sheltered their childhoods.

Then they said, “Come.”

They defined themselves by who they were, not who they were meant to be. They never knew a difference. And I think that alone answers any why.

I build my own tower and He knocks it down before it’s tall enough to fall and hurt me. I get angry. I build it again. He knocks it down again. Again, I am furious. I question Him, “Why do you do this?” And he answers, “They never knew.” I realize the difference between them and me: They never knew.

They never knew the peace that is sitting in the arms of Someone enthroned in Truth.

They never knew their souls were called beloved.

The sky never moved for them, they just couldn’t comprehend its vastness.

And they never knew because they never questioned.

There it is. A question. The one thing we were never meant to have to face, that now guides us through every darkened alley. We were created in a world full of answers – a world full of so much truth the questions didn’t need to be. Sometimes I forget that things can be better, that things are supposed to be better. Sometimes I forget I’m not home.

How do I go home if I don’t know I’m gone? I don’t.

He comes to me and invites me back, but I stop to question Him before I go. “Why are you here? Who are you?”

That’s a question they never knew they could ask. They never knew their Savior; they never knew their way back home. They never went with Him because they never understood they were lost.

Confusion stops to greet me and I try to ignore it. It seems a little rough around the edges and I wonder what it wants with me. I expect it to attack me and it doesn’t, but it also doesn’t leave me alone. With every wrong turn I make it is there, pestering me Where are you? Confusion never seems content until everything lost is found.

We are beings made in a world full of possibilities, yet lost and wandering through the dark. Maybe, in this house we have built for ourselves – the one we forget isn’t home – confusion isn’t something God did to us, but rather something God did for us. Because He didn’t just leave it on our front porch and run.

No, the Lord said, “Come.”

The Olive Branch

In the same way the ocean’s waves don’t make it new but they drastically change the way we experience the waters, God’s word is never changing but it is always moving. That’s the amazing thing about God’s word, it is actually His living, breathing Word. God is always giving us something new to see and as I am rereading through Genesis, the beginning, I am experiencing a new beginning for myself and as much as this kind of terrifies my introverted, human heart to say, I cannot walk this journey alone. I am understanding things I never understood before. I’m seeing one God move throughout time and space, never contained and never changing but always moving.

I just read through the story of Noah’s ark, a story I thought I knew backward and forward. I mean, this is basic Sunday school stuff, right? Yet God still found something new to show me. I don’t know why I’m surprised when He does this anymore. I am like some of the smalls I work with – He could write my name over and over and I would still be amazed at the sight of the letters. In fact, God has written my name over and over. It has been written in His heart, in Heaven, in the book of life. And that will amaze me every time I think about it. It’s not that I see myself in this story, it’s that I see God working in my life. It’s that I see God caring about my name, about who I am.

Today, as a I read this passage, God kept bringing me back to one verse – Genesis 8:11:

When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth.

Have you ever seen a tsunami? The way the waters are carried in and everything in its path is destroyed. Entire trees are knocked over. The floods in this story were great enough to destroy every human and animal on earth. It is greater than any tsunami we could ever imagine which means this: The amount of water that covered the earth should have destroyed plants along with everything else. I think it’s important to note the exclamation point in this verse because this truly is something worth exclaiming: That olive branch was impossible, yet there it was!

Hebrews 5:7 says this:

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.

The word supplication in its Greek form, ικεσίες, carries with it the meaning of extending an olive branch. I don’t think God would have used the same symbolism in both of these verses if they were not somehow related, so I have to assume that they are.

The olive branch symbolizes peace, specifically the peace offered to us by God. In the story of Noah it represents the mercy God had on Noah. It tells him that he is safe, that he can be at peace. It foreshadows what Jesus did on the cross for us and in Hebrews it reminds us of who we are in Him: An heir to the Kingdom, a child of God. He died so that we may have peace with the Father. He, the Prince of Peace, became the olive branch that extends between the heavens and the earth – between our brokenness and His perfection. The olive branch is there, waiting where the waters have receded for us to find enough faith to pluck it and know that we are safe.