Reading Time: 5 minutes
I have two companions in life. Loneliness and Jesus.
Both are with me, everyday. Both fight for my attention, everyday. One leads me closer to the other. One outshines the other.
And I honestly don't know who I would be without each of them.
I don't think anyone ever wants to admit they are a lonely person. At least not to other people. It's never something I just come out and say when I meet people. "Hello, my name is Jess and I'm lonely." I play that out in my head and see everyone shaking my hand as they reply with a long, "Oookayyy." Completely unsure about what the heck just happened and if they want to even continue a conversation with me. Simply, it would throw people for a loop if I introduced myself that way.
I remember my counselor saying to me one day, "That seems lonely." It was the first time I heard someone else say out loud, what I had been feeling and experiencing. I couldn't even say the words myself, she had to say them for me. Sometimes we need help saying things.
Loneliness is the constant low hum of my life, like singleness, that seeks to make itself known in my life each day. But when I surrender over that low hum? There's Another that seeks to make Himself more known in my life.
Surrender involves opened hands, not fists clenched around things I think I want or that I think might fulfill me. Surrender means to give up or hand over. I'm emptying my hands, trusting Jesus with what I'm giving up, and standing in front of Him with now empty hands. I could stop there and think how maybe that feels lonely in itself. To have nothing in my hands, to still be without something. Because something is better than nothing right?
But when standing in front of Jesus, with open hands? The possibilities are endless to what He could now fill them with.
But, I've learned something. When I open my hands in surrender and find them empty, I must turn them back over towards the Father in a posture of praise. When I find my gaze fixed on Jesus, when I find myself in His presence, I not only find myself far from loneliness, but completely filled with the one thing needed: Him.
Psalm 27:4 says, "One thing I have asked of the Lord; this is what I desire: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and seek Him in His temple."
To gaze on the beauty of the Lord. I think of Mary, sitting at Jesus' feet when I read this. As Martha scrambled around the house, Jesus told her that Mary had chosen the good portion, the one thing needed. To be in His presence. Mary looked for Jesus and she found Him.
Something else I think about when it comes to surrender. If I'm no longer holding it, that means someone else is. Jesus holds my loneliness for me.
Holding it for me is great, but why doesn't He crush it? Why doesn't He get rid of it completely? Why must this be something I carry? Well, that happens at the end of my story, and we aren't there yet. So He keeps holding it for me. And honestly, loneliness is what is at the center of my surrender. It's the one thing that keeps me coming back to Him.
If I've surrendered it once, why would I choose to take it back from Him? We all may have different reasons, but we do...we see Him holding it, but get afraid, so we grab it back, thinking that we must hold it to have control. To have stability. To have something, rather than nothing. Empty hands scare us. Complete surrender scares us.
Another definition of surrender? To abandon oneself entirely.
It could be easy for me to choose loneliness as my only companion. To surrender, abandon myself entirely to loneliness. I could shut myself off from the world, keep the blinds close, and watch the entire catalogue of Netflix while I play games on my phone. I could. And it would keep my hands busy. But they would also be too busy to stop and be filled with something much more.
So, what's the other choice? What could I simply choose to do instead? Abandon myself entirely to Jesus. And it starts with open hands.
Jesus said if we seek Him, we would find Him. There isn't just one roadmap of life that all of us must follow that will lead us to finding Him. Perfect grades, the right job, getting married, making money, building a house. All those things might be on our map, but they aren't what must be done to seek the Lord.
The good portion is found by sitting at His feet. And if we are sitting at His feet, surely we won't miss Him. But if we think we have, when we go to shift our weight or get up from our spot on the floor, may our hands hold us up and our gaze turn upwards. To see the One we were seeking. To know and realize He was there, waiting for our eyes to lock with His. Then may our hands move from the floor to our sides, as we lift them up and open to Him. In surrender and in praise. And may our desire not be in grabbing back what we surrendered, but in gazing at His beautiful face. Until everything else disappears, until all else fades, until only one companion remains.
Reading time: 5 minutes
Henry van Dyke wrote a short story about a fourth magi, who he named Artaban, and his journey of wanting to join with the other magi as they went in search of the promised Messiah. In the story, after Artaban was alerted by the others of their upcoming journey, he tells his fellow maji that he will be joining them. All of them, looking at him “with strange and alien eyes” and “a veil of doubt and mistrust over their faces” looked at him and told him, one by one, why this journey was not for them and they would not come with him.
Abgarus, who loved Artaban the most was also very older. He said his heart would be a companion with him on the trip, but also these words: “My son, it may be that the light of truth is in this sign...or it may be that it is only a shadow of the light...and he who follows it will have only a long pilgrimage and an empty search. But it is better to follow even the shadow of the best than to remain content with the worst. And those who would see wonderful things must often be ready to travel alone.”
Artaban went to lay down while staring out at the stars. What some of his friends said was a lofty dream from spending too much time looking at the stars, that dream, that hope, was something more for Artaban. As he lay there, he saw it again, the sign in the sky and he knew he must go, even if alone.
A child was promised. One who would be a great light - brighter than what lit the sky that the magi studied.
“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty Hero, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” Isaiah 9:6-7
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. Not ours here in America, or any other country that roams the earth. Of God’s kingdom only will there be no end. Jürgen Moltmann, a German Protestant theologian, reminds us that the “zeal of the Lord” is the “zeal of his ardent love.” “There is no other initiative we can seize with absolute assurance, for ourselves or for other people. There is no other zeal for the liberation of the world in which we can place a certain hope.”
God alone establishes peace and upholds it. He alone is the Liberator of all oppression. He alone gives justice.
“But how can peace go together with justice?” Moltmann asks. “What we are familiar with is generally peace based on injustice, and justice based on conflict. The life of justice is struggle. Among us, peace and justice are divided by the struggle for power. The so-called ‘law of the strongest’ destroys justice and right. The weakness of the peacemakers makes peace fragile. It is only in the zeal of love that what power has separated can be put together again: in a just peace and in the right to peace. This love does not mean accepting breaches of justice ‘for the sake of peace,’ as we say. But it does not mean, either, breaking someone else’s peace for the sake of our own rights.”
Are we dreaming, as van Dyke’s Artaban did looking at the stars, thinking that no way this is possible today? Are we Artaban yearning for something more? Are we Abgarus fueling hope in others and encouraging them along their way? Or are we the other magi filled only with doubt and mistrust, saying this isn’t for us and we will not go? Saying we will not change where we are and what we are doing? Saying what we believe now, what we see now, is good enough?
When actually what waits for us when we move from only dreaming to actually believing and going where God leads, is new life and freedom and liberation and justice and peace. We say to one another, “well I hope this time will be different.” But what if it is different now! The kingdom of God is near, He is with us even now! Christ was that child that was promised. While he died on the Cross, that doesn’t mean that his reign ended. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end…from this time forth and forevermore.” We are living in that forevermore! Yesterday, right now, and tomorrow, he rules. He reigns. Each day we breath, waiting for His return, his kingdom grows closer and closer to us. But that doesn’t mean we wait for his return and then do the work. We will miss it if we do this. We are to walk in and show his kingdom to others, now, today! We are called to bring others with us. We have the power of the biggest Liberator ever, present with us.
Jürgen Moltmann, “The liberator is already present and his power is already among us. We can follow him, even today making visible something of the peace, liberty, and righteousness of the kingdom that he will complete. It is no longer impossible. It has become possible for us in fellowship with him. Let us share in his new creation of the world and - born again to a living hope - live as new men and women. The zeal of the Lord be with us all.”
Like Artaban, we have seen a great light. May we tell of that Light to others, asking them to come with us. And even if we are only met with rejection and strange looks?
May we be willing to go alone.
Reading Time: 3 minutes
"...to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor
and the day of vengeance of our God."
That seemingly small space in between those two lines? That is where we live. Between a proclamation and a promised return. Look at all that has happened in that in between. A Messiah coming as a baby being the greatest thing. Years later, standing as a man in a synagogue, He says that He is the fulfillment of that proclamation. He was the Lord's favor. A man, who was born a baby just like us, but who was God all the same, His Son. A Savior, Messiah, the Lord.
And now, we live in the in-between. The already, but not yet. Watching and waiting as days grow darker, yet brighter each day. What has happened in those in-between days? Life born, then taken by death. Marriages. Wars. Famines. Empires fallen. Markets crashed. Buildings built and buildings destroyed. In the midst of pandemics and politics, isn't there also to be found joy, laughter, and happiness? The days grow darker, but also brighter. For the day of His return has yet to come. The day of our hope and faith becoming sight. For we know if He proclaimed a coming and fulfilled it, He will do the same for His return.
And what awaits us at the return? Comfort, beauty, joy, praise, splendor, and redemption. What has been destroyed will be rebuilt. What devastated once will be renewed. Shame erased. Everlasting joy will be ours. The Lord loves justice and He is faithful, so we know this in-between living is not to be forever. Look again at Isaiah 61:2, there is promise for two proclamations. One for the day of the Lord's favor and the day of His vengeance.
There needs to be no fear in the word vengeance, if we are His. Remember the things that come with His return. Joy, praise, spender, and redemption. If not His? He is still a God that loves justice and it may seem cruel to undergo punishment. Eternal separation, void of any joy, praise, or splendor. To stay in destruction and see no rebuilding. But how cruel to see the eyes of one who loves you, who came for you and chose you. How cruel to see Him come near, remember first as a baby, a light in your darkness. How cruel to have Him so near and then turn around? So not your eyes He sees, but your back?
He did not reject us, but us Him.
Will we turn around and return to Redemption?
"The shipwrecked at the stable are the poor in spirit who feel lost in the cosmos, adrift on an open sea, clinging with a life-and-death desperation to the one solitary plank. Finally they are washed ashore and make their way to the stable, stripped of the old spirit of possessiveness in regard to anything...They are not concerned with their own emotional security or any of the trinkets of creation. They have been saved, rescued, delivered from the waters of death, set free for. a new shot at life. At the stable in a blinding moment of truth, they make the stunning discovery that Jesus is the plank of salvation they have been clinging to without knowing it!
In their integrity the shipwrecked preserve the meaning of Christmas in its pristine purity - the birthday of the Savior and the eruption of the messianic era into history. This Christmas, may you belong to their number." -- Brennan Manning, Shipwrecked at the Stable
Reading time: 3 minutes
When I was younger, I was pretty flexible. I know most of us can say that - we bent in ways as children that we can’t even imagine now as adults. I was most definitely not the sports oriented kid, though I did enjoy the basketball goal my dad installed above our garage door. And he bought me a bat and glove once. We would pitch and catch and there were times I actually hit a few he tossed. But I was never going to be on a team. I’m much too afraid of things flying at my face ever since I stepped foot in a racquetball court with my older sisters when I was younger. People laugh when I say that, but those echoing sounds of balls bouncing and ricoheting off the walls almost uncontrollably. More than once I found myself backed up into the corner of the bright, white boxed room. Pressing myself into the glass wanting to get out of a room that seemed to grow louder and smaller with each hit. I hated it. But I don’t think anyone ever really knew how much I hated it.
I liked quiet things the most. Books, forts with canopies of greenery because they were in the bushes, riding my bike fast down a street with the sound of wind rushing in my ears and hair, pencil diving into blue pool waters and then bobbing up before diving back under and pushing water behind me as I glided toward the shallow end. Back to flexibility, I remember practicing the splits and sitting with my legs v-ed out in front of me - head and stomach to the floor. I could actually touch my toes back then. And reach past them. It was one of the parts of the Presidential Fitness Test I could actually achieve. Rope climb? Forget it. Pull-ups and the mile? Never. My arms and my endurance have never helped me with anything. Well, maybe endurance. But I think that's a lesson I've haven't fully learned yet. But flexibility? Maybe in ways I never knew.
Stretching and reaching out, past myself. I felt strong. And in a way, it took me outside of myself. Almost like an unfolding of myself that maybe felt like it had been curled up in a ball for whatever reason. The poet Rilke wrote, “I want to unfold. I don’t want to stay folded anywhere, because where I am folded, there I am a lie.” In our child self, there is a part that is our true self. And almost certainly, it gets ripped away somehow. We don’t like to think about it, but it happens. We are sinful humans, learning to love and be good, living amongst others doing the same. Life is wonderful. But also messy and heartbreaking at points. Death, abandonment, divorce, abuse. Pick your turmoil, you have it. And in learning to live, to keep going, you chose something along the way to try and protect your child self. But all it ever did was press you forward, one step in front of another they say. And before we realize it, we don’t even remember being a child. Memories lost. Forgotten. Folded up.
Now, at 31, I feel I’m unfolding for the first time since a child. I’ve started doing yoga in the morning and evenings. Say what you will about the practice, and be assured I’m thinking of no higher power than my God. And the flexibility I felt as a kid, where I felt stronger and outside of myself? It’s coming back. My stomach and head can’t reach the floor, yet. I can’t sit with my legs outstretched and reach past them, yet. But in between the deep breathes and stretches, I’m unfolding. Standing taller a little more each day. Stepping into days that seem to expand and not close in around me. Still stepping forward each new day, yet somehow looking back and the child that once felt far away? She gets a little closer each time I turn around.
NEEDTOBREATHE released a new album this week, Out of Body. One for healing and wonder they say. That it truly is. Here are two songs I can't quit.
Reading Time: 6 minutes
A few days ago I shared one of my favorite posts from the archives, The KitchenAid Mixer Dilemma: A Singleness Story. I was not prepared for the conversations I was to have with both my single and married friends. When I reposted it, I also asked two new questions.
Singles: what is something you haven't done because you feel it's something you can't do because you're single?
Marrieds: what is something you wish you would have done when single that you didn't and would encourage singles to do?
Twitter and Instagram began to buzz, with great discussion, and then to what color we have or would love to have. (Have you guys seen the hobnail one?? It's gorgeous.) And with great tips on how to not drop $300 for one, by using coupons and Kohl cash and then maybe you can snag one for $150 like one of my friends. This still amazes me.
Some were confused on how owning a mixer could be associated with being married. And that's exactly the point: it shouldn't be.
And we aren't exactly talking about owning a mixer here. The KitchenAid mixer is a mixer in my story, but it could be something else in yours. The "mixer" is whatever "it" is in your single life that you think you can't do because you are single. The goal? To do that thing, to "buy" the mixer.
I love movies. And one of my favorite things to do alone (when we aren't in quarantine) is to go to the movies. It's one thing as a single that I've never had a problem or second thought about doing. Eating out at a restaurant? That one took me a little longer, but now it's also something I enjoy every once in awhile. Traveling? Also took me a bit to get comfortable doing that solo, and I've yet to do a whole week or something longer than a weekend by myself. Yet, I heard from one of my friends who has traveled solo several times, but hasn't gone to the movies by herself! It's going to look different for all of us.
The number one thing that my married friends answered with on what they wish they would have done while still single? Travel solo. While you obviously can still do this once married (as with anything), traveling solo has so many perks. You aren't as limited in activities or places you can go. You are free to do or see whatever you desire. And if you're an introvert, it's one of the best ways to recharge. So to the singles who are thinking about that vacation? Take it. And to my married friends who still wish to solo travel? Do it. Carving out that time to still be by yourself is important and never a waste.
Other things my married friends suggested? Start the small business you've been dreaming about, go to the movies, buy a house, build good habits, invest in friends and families. No matter what it was, the sentiment was the same: don't wait, do it now. As one friend said: Buy the KitchenAid. Take the trips. Ignore the stupid rules.
And yes, that is the goal, but sometimes it's harder said than done. I think we first have to break free from the notion that life begins at marriage. It doesn't. You are alive and living now. While having a person to join in on those things may be enjoyable, once a second person is added, the dynamic changes. Today, if single, it's just you. And the only person truly telling you "no"? Is yourself. Everything else can be worked through.
Single friends say they didn't wait to upgrade their bed size (and I long for this day, because a big bed sounds heavenly) or to buy a house. Some literally got a KitchenAid mixer (or a Hamilton Beach if that's your brand). And many are traveling (seriously, take the trip). Celebrate graduating college, that first job, your first apartment. While marriage is a big milestone in life to be celebrated, if we only waited for that moment to be fun and throw confetti? Some of us may be waiting for awhile, or may never dance in it at all. Be brave, "buy" the mixer.
And married friends: Recognize when your single friends are silent, or when they say something that makes them feel something isn’t for them because they are single. Most likely that isn’t true and they can partake even if single. Listen and then affirm them to go for “it.” Whatever “it” may be.
And for both married and single friends, if you're able (and desire to), go to counseling. I'm so glad that one of my married friends added this! She began going once dating her now husband, but wishes she had gone years before while still single. What she shared with me is so true and I echo it, it's so helpful to know who you are as your own person before in a relationship. Some people don't need counseling for this, but I'm an advocate for anyone going if they can. After beginning my own journey two years ago, I can honestly say I know more of who I am now in these first couple years of my 30s, than I ever did in my 20s. Like high school, I was ready to kiss those years goodbye. And I know that I'm better prepared now, than I would have been then, if marriage had been something on the horizon.
Friends, there are a lot of "rules" we have to play to keep up with society, or who the culture thinks we need to be. Single people can adopt or have babies on their own now! We can land amazing jobs or move across the world! At the core of who we are, we are all beings made for community and relationships - and the thing we think we can't do because we are single? That could be the very thing where community is waiting for us.
Where will you find it? What will you be brave enough to "buy" during this time? If it's the copper KitchenAid mixer, get two please. I changed my mind, I don't want the retro blue one anymore.
Two book recommendations, for both those single and married:
+ If you're interested in solo traveling, check out Dream, Plan, and Go by Rachel McMillan! She's written "a travel guide to inspire your independent adventure"!
+ If you want some help in being brave, a little each day, check out 100 Days to Brave by Annie F. Downs. You can start it anytime, but a collective group is beginning August 3rd (this coming Monday) and I'm joining in again! This will be my second time and would love to have some friends join in with me. It's not too late for you to join in - she'll post the first five days on her social media, while you wait for your copy. And it's about $10 on Amazon currently or buy at your favorite retailer!
Reading Time: 6 minutes
A couple of months ago, I felt the Lord leading me to turn the pages of my Bible to those of the minor prophets in the Old Testament. Though minor, maybe in pages and prestige, they are anything but minor in their words. I've been blown away at how I see myself within their verses and urge you to see yourself there as well. The first feeling will be that of defensiveness and desire to pull away, but like I pleaded with you in the last post, don't go just yet. There is good news, there is hope, if we seek it. And we have a promise to find it, but first we must do some hard work. We have to first admit, that yes, I see myself here before something new can begin.
Hosea means salvation and was written to show us God's love for His sinful people. We may be familiar with the story of Hosea and Gomer (the prostitute he was told to take as his wife) but keep going beyond that story and we see even more ways that God's people turn away from Him, and what is to come.
The times of Hosea were filled with people being ruled under wicked kings, heavily taxed, and worshipping idols. The poor were also being oppressed and there was a total disregard for God. Hosea begins with teaching of the justice to come and ends with teaching that blessings come with repentance.
Joel (Yahweh is God) is written to warn and tell of God's judgment to come, but also to plea the people to return to God.
The times of Joel? Kings (and a Queen) power hungry and lacking spiritual guidance. At the start, a plague of locusts come and leave, and come again. Joel urges the people to grieve over their sin, to repent and lament, and then do it all over again. It ends with a promise of restoration and vindication, but not without the judgment of God.
Amos may come from the Hebrew word meaning, "to carry." His words were written to announce God's judgment, as the people had become complacent, (still) worshipped idols, and (still) oppressed the poor.
Israel was enjoying peace and prosperity at this time, but the people had grown selfish and materialistic. There were the very rich and the very poor, those in the former ignored the needs of the latter. The people were self-centered and indifferent towards God. Amos listed out the sins and judgements of the surrounding nations, his people thinking they were in the clear. But then, for Israel:
"For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god, they drink wine taken as fines." - Amos 2:6-8
They were not without sin either. And neither are we today.
So what would the prophets say of us today? What would they urge us to do?
Perhaps from Hosea, we hear how God saves and gives to us. But we cannot ignore that we have squandered and become proud. We ask for help and then say it isn't good enough. We put our trust in men and powers and stuff and circumstances that are not God.
"I cared for you in the wilderness,
in the land of the burning heat.
When I fed them, they were satisfied;
when they were satisfied, they became proud;
then they forgot me."
"You are destroyed, Israel,
because you are against me, against your helper.
Where is your king, that he may save you?
Where are your rulers in all your towns,
of whom you said,
'Give me a king and princes?'"
Hosea 13:5-6; 9-10
What does Hosea urge us to do? Return.
"Return, Israel, to the Lord your God.
Your sins have been your downfall!
Take words with you
and return to the Lord.
Say to him:
'Forgive all our sins
and receive us graciously,
that we may offer the fruit of our lips."
From Joel we hear and see the cycle of sin and we cannot ignore it.
"Hear this, you elders;
listen, all who live in the land.
Has anything like this ever happened in your days
or in the days of your ancestors?
Tell it to your children,
and let your children tell it to their children,
and their children to the next generation."
What does Joel urge us to do? Return.
"'Even now," declares the Lord,
"return to me with all your heart,
with fasting and weeping and mourning."
Rend your heart
and not your garments.
Return to the Lord your God,
for He is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and abounding in love,
and He relents from sending calamity.
Who knows? He may turn and relent
and leave behind a blessing...
...everyone who calls
on the name of the Lord will be saved...
there will be deliverance."
Joel 2:12-14, 32
Don't Miss the Promise After the Return
And from Amos we are reminded over and over and over how the Lord will not relent in His judgment. Yet, we still do not return to Him!
"The Lord roars from Zion
and thunders from Jerusalem...
I will not relent..."
Amos 1:2-3, and 6 and 9 and 11 and 13 and 2:1 and 4 and 6.
God urges us to seek Him and live! To seek good and not evil, to hate evil and love good. He knows our offenses, our pride, our complacency. We cannot ignore that we are to be judged for it and we will be.
But there is an epilogue that we cannot miss. A promise that follows our return. Restoration.
"Seek me and live," the Lord says (5:4, 6). Though He knows "how many are [our] offenses and how great [our] sins." (5:12) How we oppress and judge and deprive..."the eyes of the Sovereign Lord are on the sinful kingdom...I will destroy it...yet I will not totally destroy...I will give the command, and I will shake the people..." (9:8-9)
"I will restore...repair...rebuild..." (9:11)
"...I will bring my people Israel back from exile.
'They will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them.
They will plant vineyards and drink their wine;
they will make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant Israel in their own land,
never again to be uprooted
from the land I have given them."
Amos 9: 14-15
Do you see yourself here? If you don't, you may not see any need for a Savior. Oh, but I see myself here. And it makes me rejoice even more in Christ who came to usher in this new era of return and restoration. I see myself and my land all over these pages. My prayer, "Come, Lord Jesus. Restore us and repair us." All of this world will be rebuilt one day, but in order to rebuild, the old foundation must be torn away so the new can be laid.
Reading and listening to the pleas of Hosea and Joel and Amos, will you help make way for the new foundation? Make space for the Savior to come in and start laying new rocks for you to stand on. May your life be one that helps hold up the others during rebuild.
He's tearing down and tilling the ground, will you let Him? Leave behind the old foundation.
Return to God, let Him restore you and begin the rebuild.
"He who was seated on the throne said, 'I am making everything new!' Then he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.'" - Revelation 21:5
Reading time: 9 minutes
I Have Hated
I have hated.
I've hated situations, circumstances, and yes, people. Like the word love, hate can get thrown around flippantly. Yet, if there is anything I've talked about as much as singleness, it's that words matter. The ones we read, the ones we write, those we speak to ourselves, and especially those we speak out loud to others.
Our world was created by God speaking words. We were given life from breath! That alone is enough for us to know they are powerful and that they matter. But this isn't as much about the words we speak, but those we first think and believe. Which in turn, will influence how we speak out loud or how we keep quiet. And even our actions.
This morning, I listened to The Daily podcast. Put out by the New York Times, it's a podcast usually around 30 or so minutes that focuses on an issue relevant at hand. This morning, it was on the killing of Rayshard Brooks, the man recently killed at an Atlanta Wendy's. (Warning: very strong language.) Protests and riots ensued afterwards in response to the killing, eventually leading to that Wendy's being burned to the ground. When I learned of the incident with Mr. Brooks, my first thought was disbelief. That again this was happening, in the midst of one of the biggest movements of my lifetime - Black Lives Matter.
Okay listen, I know there are lots of feelings surrounding the phrase and organization of Black Lives Matter (BLM). I'm still fleshing out what it all means to me. Reading and listening and praying, doing the "quiet holy work" as one of my friends wrote me one day. Since the death of George Floyd, I've been wrestling with what to say and when to say it. Feeling caught in a damned if I do, damned if I don't moment. So, I stopped worrying about wanting to say the right or wrong thing and started listening instead. My room is full right now of books (not unusual), but almost every space is spilling over with stories and resources about the history of slavery, the civil rights movement, and racism/antiracism. Recent nights I've fallen asleep with a book or my Bible next to me, maybe even hoping osmosis will work in my favor like I hoped in college during finals weeks. Hoping that all knowledge and information would seep into my skin and through my bloodstream to my heart. It's a lot. I'm still overwhelmed every day. And I don't have it all figured out, I probably never will. But I'm listening and I'm reflecting on where I've hated in the past.
Which leads me back to this morning, after listening to the podcast on Mr. Brooks, I thought to myself two things: what is the actual definition of a hate crime and have I hated? Refer back to the first sentence of this post for my answer. Is it yours? Don't pull away just yet.
A hate crime, also known as a bias-motivated crime, is a prejudice motivated crime which occurs when a perpetrator targets a victim because of their membership (or perceived membership) of a certain social group or race. What is crime? One definition is "an action or activity that, although not illegal, is considered to be evil, shameful, or wrong.
So, have I ever directed an uncalled for action towards another person because of what they look like?
Humbly and sadly again I say, yes.
I have hated.
Where do I go from here? Where do I go after admitting this? In the direction that God, my Father, calls me to go. My response should be one that mirrors His attitude towards anything that is evil. And that is towards hating hate.
Psalm 97:10 says, "Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for He guards the lives of His faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked."
God hates anything evil and violent. It's all throughout Scripture and cannot be ignored. It's what draws out His righteous justice against people and lands - when violence is directed towards His people, but also when those who follow Him are the evil ones. What is violence? Behavior intending to hurt, damage, or kill. While physical behavior is the most thought of and the most evident after it happens, I go back to what I said at the beginning. Our words, spoken or thought, are powerful. What we hear, what we believe, will drive our actions.
We have found ourselves to be on both sides of this, we cannot confidently say there is no evil, or sin, in us. Friend, if you think you can say that, I ask you to sit and ask the Lord to show you the evil inside of yourself. Sit, ask, and listen. Again, don't pull away from it. Don't pull away from Him who wants to do a great work in and through you.
Biblestudytools.com says that, "hatred proves to be a tangible measurement of evil...it's ugliness may extend in any direction." Tangible. It can be engaged through all our senses and cannot be ignored It's felt in the welps of someone beaten. Seen by the countless videos, in our always online, always watching world. Some taste it in the blood that falls from their face or smell it as tear gas surrounds them. We hear it from the shouts of protestors or a man saying, "I can't breathe."
Align & Abide
1 John 4:19-21 says, "We love because He first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister."
Treat others the way you want to be treated. It's a lesson we are taught from a young age. The Bible goes further and says we are to love our neighbors as our ourselves and we are to not hate our brothers in our hearts (Leviticus 19:17-18). 1 John 3:15, equates hate to murder in God's sight, "Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him." We, I, cannot continue to live being hateful to brothers and sisters, if I truly desire to be in an abiding relationship with God. All of me must align with all of God.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", according to Proverbs 9:10, and, "to fear the Lord is to hate evil," Proverbs 8:13 says. What stands between us and God? Our sin, our own evilness. We must hate evil and kill it within us, and killing it means we admit that that tangible hate is indeed within us. How do we kill hate? Love. But if we are evil, where is love? It comes to us a person, Jesus Christ, who died a tangible death for us. His death was seen by both those who followed Him and those who mocked Him. It was felt by the hands of Joseph who prepared His body for burial and by the hearts of those who loved Him. Tasted in the tears of His family who watched in the shadow of the Cross and smelled as the vinegar wine soaked a sponge. Death was and is felt deeply. It hurts. Evil hurts.
And love heals.
What keeps us from hating evil and jumping into love? Fear of what others might say? Our families? Those who follow us on social media?
John 7:7 says the world cannot hate us! "The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil," Jesus said Himself. If we are standing against evil, fighting to kill it within ourselves, hating what is hated by God, our response is mirroring God's response because He hates hate! He alone kills it because He is love. And if we are mirroring Him, the response of others to us and our response against hate is not against us, but God Himself!
Evil is not ours to repay, that is God's job alone, because He is the ultimate judge. Proverbs 20:22, "Do not say, 'I'll pay you back for this wrong!' Wait for the Lord, and He will avenge you." God hates evil, He will not just let it go. And His judgment will not look like ours, but we can be sure that is right because He is righteous. We cannot repay evil for evil, but we can fight it. We must fight it and we will want to fight it if we wish for no separation between us and Him.
So, how do we fight hate and hate hate? By love.
Remember the command of Leviticus, reiterated by Jesus, "love your neighbor." Love is shown in many ways, but what is it? "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs." 1 Corinthians 13 tells us. Don't miss this part, "Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres." Always. And verse 8 of chapter 13, one of the greatest declarations of all time, "Love never fails."
It is a promise worth holding tight to, but one we will not fully see here. It's what makes the promise and hope of Heaven also great. Think of your greatest love here on earth right now. Got it? That is but a mere taste of the love we will fully know in Heaven.
Love always protects. Trusts. Hopes. Perseveres.
Perseveres. Keeps going. Stays the course. Fights. Against what the world is saying and against what we may have been taught all our lives and especially against what the enemy may be speaking into our lives. We are saved by God in order to do His good work. I'm reminded by believers who've been doing this reconciliation work a lot longer than I have, that as believers aiming to fight the good fight, we are to no longer live as we once did. Titus 3 says, before saving, we were foolish and disobedient, "we lived in malice and envy" and were "hated and hating one another." There is no place for that when we have truly been saved through the kindness and love of God, and Paul urges us as believers to remember this, so we are careful to devote ourselves "to doing what is good...things that are excellent and profitable for everyone." (Titus 3:8)
In the way that death is tangible, my love for others needs to be tangible. Felt with gentle hands that hold others up, heard by words or shouts against evil, tasted and smelled over meals together with people once seen as strangers. Ultimately all seen by a repentant life.
I have hated. Am I now hating hate? Killing it within me? If not, may I fall before the throne of God, and ask Him to search my heart. Are you hating hate? If not, ask why not. What is keeping you from killing the evil within you? Commit a hate crime against your own hate.
Speak against evil. To yourself, to your family, your friends, your co-workers, your local governments. May we find ourselves only on the side of love. Speaking it. Living it.
And hating hate as we do.
Reading time: 7 minutes
Never Uttered Before
A well-known verse (that's actually about church discipline) brought me to a new realization about singleness this morning.
Matthew 18:20 says, "for where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them."
I mentioned this verse is actually about church discipline - and it is within the context of Scripture that it is found. Jesus is speaking with believers to tell them how to treat a fellow believer who sins and that as they are dealing with the issue of sin in another believer's life, He is there with them. It's another example of how Jesus provides strength and peace in a situation that may not be peaceful at all when we invite Him into it. He is affirming believers holding other believers accountable.
I've heard this verse quoted many times, particularly when talking about believers being together in community as the church, or when believers are collectively praying together about one thing. But it stuck in my head this morning, because the enemy tried to twist it - to try and get me to hear something else entirely. The scheme he used on Jesus, quoting Scripture to try and tempt Him, he tried on me this morning.
He wanted me to hear that if I wasn't with another, me being one and not two (with a spouse) or three (in a building with other believers), then I wasn't being seen or heard by God.
So I read the verse in it's context and then sent the enemy on his way with a simple statement that I don't think I've ever uttered before: Jesus has redeemed my singleness.
Mountains and Valleys
My singleness was never going to be redeemed by marriage. I was never going to be redeemed by marriage.
As a believer and follower of Christ, there is no way I would want to believe that marriage was the thing to save me. For what if it doesn't happen? I'm lost forever...literally. Yet, for certain seasons of my life, I've been buying into that lie.
Here's the thing with me and my singleness (and perhaps for other single folks if you ask them): it's been a series of mountains and valleys. For years, maybe more than half my life, marriage was something I never thought of, even through college. I was always surrounded by great friends who I had fun with and kept me laughing. Even when watching friends date, it was never something I felt like I needed. Wanted? Sure, but not needed. I loved my spot at the tables we pushed together in the dining halls, where we would sit and laugh for hours. Sometimes relationships circled around the tables, other times not, but it was never the core of who we truly were. Of who I was. Those times around the tables filled with friends, that was a mountaintop in my single life.
The valley of loneliness didn't catch up with me until after college. Graduation happened, I moved across the country, and for close to a year, I was still doing well. Looking back, I was slowly sliding down the side of the mountain (in one way literally, as I attempted to learn how to ski during this time and it did not go well) into a valley I hadn't quite found myself in before, as I was going to this time. My time in California came to an end and I remember as I was flying back to Alabama, thinking about driving to my apartment. Only, that wasn't where I was going because my apartment in Tuscaloosa, the city that had been my home for five years, wasn't mine anymore. If I had pulled up into that parking space in front of the patio on the left, I wouldn't have seen my things, but someone else's.
After California, I moved back home, rested a little and then started searching for a full-time job (which is a full-time job in and of itself but with no benefits and almost only rejection - another metaphor for singleness, but that would be a whole other post). I eventually found myself in my current home, Mobile, and started settling into a new life here. In a city that I knew I could enjoy, but only had a few people that I knew. My people, my college family, now at this time was spread throughout the state and around the country. Long dinners at long tables were no longer. And loneliness started etching its way into those now empty spots of my life.
Seeking the Summit
As time kept moving for me, a single, it did for my friends as well. Some single, some actively dating. My texts were full of conversations where friends and I talked about trying to find contentment in Christ alone and navigating adult life as a twenty-something. Then slowly, our conversations began to change. Friends were dating, they had a guy and it was serious, what are you doing on this date? The fridge become a collage of announcements and invitations. Weddings allowed reunions that got us all back around big tables again. After one wedding, I remember walking the streets of Tuscaloosa with friends and we talked about how we missed this life. Us together, laughter, let's all move back and be in one place together again. We jokingly, not so jokingly, agreed. Saying we were down for it, but knowing that even if we did, it wouldn't be the same as it had been before. Those small reunions were tiny mountains for me, or at least me walking up the incline from valley, trying to leave it below.
I never quite reached the top, and I never was going to, unless I changed what was at the summit waiting for me.
As birthdays passed and I found myself late into my twenties, I tried to find more ways to get out of the valley. Still thinking the only way out was a relationship and eventual marriage, like a good Christian millennial, I looked to church...and dating apps. Remember the looking for a full-time job analogy? No benefits and only rejection? Here again it applies all too well. Between friends "who only love you and want to see you happy" and apps where conversation lags and drags, the story became the same over and over. Interest, maybe-perhaps, no? Okay, never mind.
I still hadn't changed what was at the top of the mountain, so why did I think this cycle would be any different? There was only one way to finally get out of the valley and beyond the halfway point of the incline that I felt completely stuck on. To change what was waiting for me at the summit.
Single, Saved, Redeemed
So I did. I told friends who loved me (and I do know they love me) that I just wasn't feeling it, that I wasn't in a place ready to or wanting to date. And I deleted the apps.
I looked up the incline still ahead of me, but now eager to take it on and dig my heels in. Because at the top of the mountain now waiting for me? Jesus.
Have I reached it? No, but perhaps today I did reach the next basecamp closer to the summit. Because when I felt the enemy try to twist Jesus' words and use them against me, to make me feel alone, I rejected it and heard Jesus speak instead, "I have redeemed her singleness."
Jesus saved my life many years ago and ever since then He's been redeeming bits and pieces of my story. The empty spots of my life are being filled and not with loneliness or grief or fear or anger. But filled with the life-giving blood of Christ. Slowly, each empty, desolate place is being turned into an oasis of life. One that cannot be ignored or unseen.
My singleness was never going to be redeemed by marriage. I was never going to be redeemed by marriage.
But, praise God, I have been redeemed. May my single self say so.
"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story -
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
Some wandered in desert wastelands,
finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things."
Reading time: 3 minutes
The book of Hosea is well-known for its story of Hosea and Gomer, the prostitute who Hosea is told to go and marry. But, do you realize that after chapter 3, Gomer is not mentioned anymore within the book? Beyond the rocky love story of a prophet and a prostitute, this is a story about us today. Of how we, like the Israelites, have wandered away from God to other lovers.
I’ve been wanting to rest and sit in the idea of God pursuing me. And the more I sit in it, the more uncomfortable I get. Because I know, like Gomer and the Israelites, I’ve found myself attracted to other “lovers” that claim they can love me back in bigger, better, bolder ways.
So there I run, ignoring the promise of an eternal betrothal of righteousness and faithfulness from God (2:19-20). I choose disgraceful things over glorious ones (4:7) and forget that my stubbornness doesn’t allow me to be led to pastures (4:16).
I am doomed (5:4), when I’m running this way, forsaking Him who does not forsake me and hoping these other “lovers” will help cure the loneliness inside (5:13).
But they will not.
I must return to the One who truly loves me, with the eternal betrothal. The One who leads to wildernesses, we see.
And it seems like a trap at first! What good can be found in a wilderness?
“What good can come from Nazareth?” the apostle would later ask.
Don’t we unknowingly ask this question every time we step into a desert place? Nothing good is what our eyes see first, but then they begin to adjust. Blinking harder as we continue to walk, the ground around us changing before us.
But it can’t be! Water in the desert? And it’s coming from the ground!
The dusty dirt turns darker as the water rises and flows. Our eyes follow the swelling stream and we look ahead. It is pooling together. Now large enough for us to wash ourselves and our dirty feet. Now large enough for us to drink! We can make it, we begin to think.
And what is that pricking our heart? Hope.
This desert wilderness that once held us captive is now turning into an oasis. New life, not certain death.
And we were led here all along.
We must resist going back.
Gomer, it’s believed, finally stopped resisting. Her silence for the rest of the book of Hosea seen as a sign that she stayed and remained faithful to the husband who bought and brought her back lovingly.
I wish to be Gomer and get it right within three chapters, but like the Israelites, I take a bit longer. Israel repents in chapter 6, but it’s not a faithful repentance. Their love has no substance (6:4) and they continue to say all the right things, but don’t do them. Very reminiscent of me today, confusing obedience and sacrifice.
So I ask myself, does my love for God have substance?
There are roots there, but how are they doing? Are they planted strong by the water that pools together in the wilderness or are they rotted?
“As surely as the sun rises, he will appear; he will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.” (Hosea 6:3) As surely as the sun rises...
Will my repentance be empty like the “lovers” I chase after, like that of the Israelites? Or will I see the way in the wilderness that springs forth hope and eternal betrothal and never look back?
Reading time: 2 minutes
Something strange has happened the past couple of days. I have felt peace. Specifically, peace pertaining to my singleness. It's not like the "I-don't-care" attitude I had in college or the always "wondering-when-marriage-is-coming" obsessiveness that seemed to dominant my late twenties. But peace.
Yes, still mixed with some cynicism (it's hard to get rid of this) that maybe it's just easier to go this road alone for another 31 years. There is a question that still creeps into my mind every once in awhile, either asked by my counselor or just curious minds, "What is it that I want? What do I desire?" And for the first time in a long time, I can answer truthfully when saying, "Jesus."
He has known me always, but I've known Him the past 23 years. He has walked the path beside me - hills and valleys - every step of the way. And when I'm tempted to quote Green Day by declaring, "I walk a lonely road...but it's only me, and I walk alone...", I know I haven't. There were only some paths I walked where I never looked over for Jesus' face. I know if I had, that I would have been met with kind eyes. Now, when thinking about those times I rejected His invitations, and went ahead of Him on my own, I see a different picture. One of me standing behind Jesus as He looks at me walking ahead of Him, determined to make it by myself. And those kind eyes are filled with tears. Yet, by His grace and because of His love, He kept coming after me. Always with me wherever I went and always ready with an invitation.
I wish I could go back and tell myself to take Him up on all of His offers. To not be ridiculous and selfish, thinking I could do this life alone. But because I didn't accept those, it has made accepting the invitations of today so much sweeter. And I know, that whatever my next 31 years look like, I won't be walking alone.
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