Archives for category: God Stuff

Sometimes I have things to say that have nothing to do with sewing. This is one of those times.

I have two personal goals for my life that, if I accomplish them by the end of it, I will consider myself successful. First, I want to learn how to love. Second, I want to be kind. If all you ever know about me is that you felt love and experienced kindness through me, then I will be satisfied.

That is the lens I am doing my best to use as I address the topic of gay marriage.

Two more things you need to know about me: I follow Jesus Christ, and my brother is gay.

Please understand, I do not relish conflict. I grew up in a culture where it was demanded that personal beliefs be rigorously researched, and inferior arguments reflected the inadequacy or illegitimacy of the belief. The results of said arguments left the losing party feeling rejected, misunderstood, and unloved. So my reticence to engage with controversial topics is, by admission, a learned, self-protective behavior.

But when someone I love more than words could ever express came out a decade ago, I was sent on a journey into the depths of my own heart, my own fears, and my own faith. Now, in light of the polarizing nature of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling, and recognizing that behind many vehemently-expressed beliefs is real pain and some confusion, I think it is time to speak.

There are several principles that guide my perspective on the matter of gay marriage. First, each individual person does not exist alone but represents his or her family, culture, whatever groups he or she belongs to, and his or her ancestry. So as much as I am my own unique self, I am also a female, White, Southern, Christian, middle-class, university-educated, English-Scottish-Irish-German-Cherokee American 30-year-old pregnant newlywed in 2015. The values of these groups, both good and ill, have nurtured my innate genetic composition to shape who I am, and though I might not exhibit all qualities associated with these groups, I am comfortable representing them.

I believe this principle is important in addressing gay marriage because the complexities of the issue depend on the interplay between individuals and groups. As with any controversial issue, cases might be made to defend individual situations, thus allowing for the creation of arbitrary, exclusionary criteria on both sides. But such criteria only further confusion between sides, and as it is a much lighter cognitive (and, in this case, emotional and spiritual) load to generalize the characteristics of an opposing group rather than understand its nuances, an individual, case-by-case approach is seldom used. Hence the parades, demonstrations, and stereotypes.

This reflects my second principle: multiple realities exist depending on how individuals experience the same situation. What is inoffensive to one person is extremely hurtful to the other. One party may not intend to hurt the other, but the innocence of one’s motives does not negate the consequences (i.e. experience of pain) affecting the other. (I am sure that few drunk driving incidents are motivated by people desiring to cause suffering, yet no one begrudges victims and their families the right to strong emotional reactions, however penitent the sobered driver may become.)

I don’t think Christians who publicize their Biblically-based beliefs about homosexuality do so with the intent of causing pain. I would imagine they are applying the phrase “speak the truth in love” to the best of their abilities. But the motive to love can get lost in translation (ask any pregnant woman with an aversion to belly rubs), and I postulate that it is rare for a gay person to feel loved when, for example, Bible verses are quoted at them.

This relates to the fundamental question which divides sides: is homosexuality biologically based, or is it learned behavior? Each side has its reasons for believing the way it does, solid evidence and proofs based in experience and third-party input (such as the Bible, research journals, or anecdotal evidence from others). These perspectives are, I believe, both valid, for if I can say that my personal experience with the Love of God through Jesus convinced me of His truth, then I must also allow that others’ personal experiences are equally valid in drawing them to their conclusions. Beliefs shape realities. The failure to validate or acknowledge a different reality negates the possibility of relationship.

And relationship is key. It is, in the end, the only thing that matters in a Christian worldview. The phrase “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” motivates evangelists and believers to continue in their faith, to “preach the gospel”, “go forth into all the world, teaching them to believe”. The Bible reflects a resurrected Christ who has delegated authority to those that follow Him, such that, as much as Almighty God limited Himself to become a human capable of experiencing suffering and death, so He has also limited Himself to partnering with people to accomplish His will. It is God’s desire to demonstrate His love through people who love Him.

That puts the proverbial ball in Christians’ court. If we are interested in following the Father of Jesus Christ, then we are interested in loving. It then behooves us not just to love from our own perspective but to learn whether what we consider loving is actually effective in accomplishing our intent. (Does that mama really want her belly rubbed, or do I take the time to respectfully ask if my touch is welcome? Maybe she’d consider $10 for diapers a more salient means of expressing affection for her child.)

Sometimes the hardest question to ask is, “How are you experiencing me?” Does my behavior make you feel safe or defensive, accepted or rejected, happy or angry? What about my words? Trust is the foundation of relationship, so if someone cannot trust me, then there is little chance that person will listen to what I have to say. My well-intentioned Scripture quotation is a “clanging gong” – there is no love detected by the listener.

Best practices in conflict resolution often refer to making “I-statements”, but it takes a tremendous amount of courage and trust to articulate the tenderest parts of one’s heart, especially when the person one is addressing has not demonstrated trustworthiness, but often the opposite. I cannot say I have had many frank conversations with my brother about how my faith makes him feel, or even how he experiences me, but I can make an educated guess. To simplify the exchange, I like the sentence, “I feel _______ when you ______.”

I imagine him saying something like this: “I feel rejected when you tell me homosexuality is a sin.” Or he might say, “I feel hurt / confused / angry / defensive / unsafe / afraid / sad / alone / annoyed / misunderstood / misrepresented / unable to relate to you / shut down / disgusted / unloved / helpless / judged / belittled / accused / grieved / ashamed / hated / apathetic / numb…” If my expression of love – “speaking the truth in love” – is eliciting any of those emotions, whether or not I as an individual caused them (here is where group identity comes into play – I acknowledge that as a representative of a group, I appear responsible for things which I personally had no hand in instigating), then I have failed to communicate love. If I love this person, then the impetus is mine to change how I am communicating until I have accomplished my goal. And that can begin with something as simple as an apology: “I am so, so sorry that you felt those things as the result of my behavior. That was not at all what I wanted. How can I help you to regain your trust in me?” In saying so, I invite Jesus to partner with me to express unconditional love to this person. It is His responsibility to change hearts. It is mine to give Him the opportunity.

But how can someone experience love without trust? And how can I be trusted when I represent the enemies of one’s heart? And if I am not actively pursuing the demonstration of an opposite reality than the current one (i.e. “Christians hate me, so God must hate me”), then I am working against the One whom I profess to represent.

The Bible asks, “What shall separate us from the love of God?” God forbid the answer be, “Christians.” So as a follower of Jesus Christ, let me take the time now to examine my heart, to make relationship my highest priority, to acknowledge and validate the pain of those whom Christians have rejected, to “bind up the broken-hearted”, and to create an experience of kindness instead.

My ability to love has nothing to do with the Supreme Court, nor whether the Bible I believe in condones a dissenting perspective. The New Testament is full of stories in which Jesus’s best friends disagree with Him, yet He continued to love, even until the very end, even this very day. How much more is He accepting of people who have every reason to dismiss Him, having no experience of the love He embodies. How dare I approach Him in any other manner than to say, “If I’m going to fall, let it be from leaning towards learning to love.”

Because this is one of my life’s goals: to learn how to love. If I do not take into account the fact that my expressions of love might be ineffective, then I have ceased to learn, and I have failed.

Jesus commands two things: love God, and love others. This fulfills the Bible. This is what life is about. Anything hindering that is not worth mentioning.

P.S. To J & A: I love you. That is all.

My priorities, they have been rearranging! I am purposefully minimizing time spent blogging because I’d rather be living this new married life. But I do want to report a few bits of sewing (I have more going, but that’s for Christmas).

This weekend, I’d had enough of sending my husband to work with his lunch in a plastic grocery bag. I scanned the interwebs and decided to modify this Purl Bee pattern.

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Husband was happily surprised and delighted. He loves what I make in general and encourages me to sew as much as I can, recognizing how important it is for me to create.

I also worked on something just for me this weekend:

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I had two charm packs of “Quilt Blocks”, the line of fabric Ellen Luckett Baker designed for Moda. I added a little black corner to each and pieced them together, then put them away for a long time. I held onto them through my pre-international-moving fabric purge, and as I was looking for my sewing mojo after the wedding, I pulled them back out. Today I finished the hand stitching on the binding. This is my soaking quilt, something to drape over me when I lie down to spend time with God, usually right after work, letting the day slide off me into a restful peace.

There are a lot of challenges to this marriage – emotional, physical, financial, spiritual – but the best constant is Father God. He who created me made me to be creative like Him, so when I sew (or paint or cook or knit or craft), I am most like Him. If I’m not very frequently blogging, that’s where I am – with my new husband and with my Forever-Loving Father. Joy and peace to you until I write again!

I’ve been meaning to write this post for awhile, but now we are one month into marriage, it seems appropriate. This is a sewing post, I’m happy to say, though art reflects life, so there is a metaphor to explain first.

You know, I remember going to weddings as a twelve-year-old and my mother pointing out the programs, guest book, accoutrements, drawing my attention to the details so I could start getting ideas for my wedding. Seventeen years later, I didn’t have an elaborate plan for a dream wedding, but I had done plenty of work designing a dream man and a dream marriage.

First was the book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. That hit Evangelical youth groups while I was a teen, newly rededicated to Christ, around the time I trashed all my faerie and renaissance festival paraphernalia, as well as my secular CDs. I took my powerful adolescent emotions and threw them head first into my religion. I wanted to be the most extreme Jesus person I knew. That meant embracing radical purity and archaic courtship practices. I was told by a crush that I was “a living testimony to the book” (though I never read it) – but that crush was not interested in courting me.

So I made a list instead! In fact, I made many “husband lists”. And I went to college, becoming involved in the most sold-out-for-Jesus campus ministry around. It was awesome! Surely I would find my mate! But then that one guy actually kissed me right after I said I only wanted to kiss my husband. I cried with the girls in my Bible study when we broke up. He really loved Jesus! I didn’t understand.

I changed my list. I heard more sermons on marriage and dating and purity. And I met someone else, someone who shared all my ideals, including the hyper-religious identity I’d adopted. Then this guy informed me that God told him I was his wife. My eager, hurting heart believed him, and I accepted his proposal, only to come to my senses three months before the wedding.

More hurt and confusion. This guy matched my criteria, but after that experience, I needed more items on my list! I could not risk repeating mistakes. I refused to gamble my heart again.

But I was needy, and I was smart. Over the next few years, more men came into my path. I adapted to become a version of what I thought they wanted. I made it seem like they pursued me, though all the while, I called the shots. Some followed Jesus, others did not. Some adhered to the rigorous rules I trusted, and when those relationships ended, my heart felt pulverized – all the worse because these men had no excuse for their bad behavior! And my list grew. And my expectations grew. After all, if God was taking this long to bring me my husband, he must be extraordinary! He must be as close to perfect as a man can get!

It looks ridiculous in print. I mean, how could I not have known I was manipulating men to get my needs met? Of course, at the time, I thought manipulation had to be sexual. I had impenetrable walls of self-righteous rule-following that supported my beliefs. I was blind to the state of my heart, completely unaware of how I used spirituality and emotion to spin scenarios so I got what I wanted – a temporary “love fix”.

But then something began to happen. I started to meet men who were everything I was looking for. I could check item after item off the list – strong relationship with God, educated, well-mannered, fond of dancing, cat-lover, financially secure, kind, passionate, single (a surprisingly rare combination, I found!) And as I got to know these men with joy and hope and expectation – because surely God wasn’t taunting me, surely He wasn’t dangling the proverbial carrot – something inevitably went wrong. Some kind of personality disconnect became apparent, some huge flaw manifested, and my hopes shattered in disgust.

Throughout this process, I did all I could to keep my heart open to God. But it was a complicated relationship because as an omniscient Creator, He ought to know how I felt, what I desired, and how I was sacrificing to follow Him. All my disappointment in men really came back to disappointment in God. I had come to believe that if I trusted God, I would never be lonely again. I would be spared from pain and heartache. And yet this is what I knew as normal, time after time. I didn’t know who to blame – was my faith too weak? Had my husband stepped outside of “God’s perfect will” and married someone else according to “God’s permissive will”? Or was God not really interested in fulfilling my heart’s cries after all? Maybe He was not as good as people told me. Maybe He was nice to others, but I was uniquely and helplessly flawed. He could take care of the weak, but I was strong. I could earn His best because I knew better.

And other such drivel.

So I turned my energies to cultivating faith in a fairy tale instead. I lost confidence in lists, and I threw myself into creating items for a hope chest. I took up patchwork quilting, enamored with the idea of blocks named after qualities I hoped to have in my future marriage one day. I worked on blocks like “Steps to the Altar” and “Young Gentleman’s Fancy” and “Tree of Life”, intending to make a glorious quilt depicting my domestic dreams.

I found those blocks recently as Husband and I unpacked our apartment. Truth be told, they were sort of sad. Colors I initially loved turned garish and awkward. More experience with quilting revealed my ignorance in using poor-quality fabrics. And construction was frightful! Maybe I could make them up into a wall hanging? I refused to put them into a quilt. I ought not to get rid of them, right? So much work, such a depiction of who I had been before I met my husband! (Not that meeting my husband suddenly changed me, but it is an easy place to put a marker on my timeline.)

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I tried to get inspired to work on something else, but I kept coming back to these blocks. Finally I made a decision.

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Destroyed! I took a critical eye to each block, harvested good pieces of fabric for my scrap bin, and trashed the rest. And these blocks were not the only ones. Each abandoned unfinished project got the same treatment. My scrap bin revived with new bits of favorite fabrics!

And I made cushion covers for our sofa’s toss pillows.

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Here is the metaphor: I have put a lot of effort and study into learning what makes the best marriage, but along the way, I’ve mixed a lot of poor quality fabric in the lot. I have to say, there seems to be a lot of wasted effort. My husband does not meet the criteria on my list. He is not what I was told to “hold out for”. He has ideas and opinions and ways of doing things that are unlike mine. He went through the same ministry school as me, but to my horror, he does not agree with every idea they teach. (Lord, that upset my apple cart!) There was a moment of panic, my mind reeling with the thought, “What have I gotten myself into?!?”

And then I’d look at those crazy pillows. Scraps and bits and chaos, wild and untamed, beautiful because of the mess. We sort, we piece, we pick apart, and we let go.

I let go.

I let go of my right to be defined as a hardcore God-chaser, rather than simply His daughter. I let go of my former last name. I let go of my expectation that it is Husband’s responsibility to intuit my needs. I let go of having the covers all to myself. I let go of my ideas of the roles of the wife and husband. I let go of my preference for doing things my way. I let go of control – in so many situations – and I piece trust instead.

It has been a month of sorting and choosing and saving and trashing. Moment by moment, gently or rushing all together. Not all sound teaching is universal. The best-intended rules can still hurt more than they help. And no rule – other than the Law of Love – actually draws reality and life into any relationship. (Seam ripper, scissors, scrap bin.) We have a long way to go. No marriage is without its baggage. But it is a worthwhile journey, and I am so happy to be on it. Laugh and cry and dance and learn and grow, together this time, and on down through the ages to come.

The other night, as it begins to turn cooler, Husband requested a larger blanket for the bed. (Y’all, I got a good one!) Is there anything sweeter to a quilter’s ears? Immediately I thought of my 100 City Sampler blocks. As I made calculations, however, I realized another row would be just right. Which meant:

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These are my favorite types of blocks. They are spontaneous and bold and free. They are the best of what I love, and they reflect what I want to bring to my marriage: life, effort, kindness, and freedom.

If this is the first month, I hardly dare imagine the rest of our lives! We have such a brilliant future ahead of us, and we are excited to launch into it – seam ripper at the ready! Here’s to the future! It is sure to be bright.

This is not a sewing post.

I want to talk straight about the last month. I want to process this magnificent life change that has taken my river, broken its dams, and having flooded the banks, begun to settle into a newly-created bed. Three and a half weeks ago, I married a man I’d known less than a year. In fact, our wedding date was on the first anniversary of the first time we set eyes on each other. We both attended a weekend workshop on God-given creativity, and I remember seeing him as I found a front row chair. The next day, he watched from the back as dancers pirouetted, and he heard God say, “You know you’re watching your wife dance.” I was the only young, single woman in the group, so he stepped out in faith, arranged to meet me through mutual friends, and after a wild ride of a year (wild even for a passionate pistol like myself), here we are. We married as virgins just weeks shy of our 30th birthdays.

The week before the wedding, we did not know where we would live. Between us, we had three part time jobs, none of which qualified us as renters. I was going on interviews, we were looking for housing, and I was managing anxiety moment by moment. And yet we were simultaneously full of faith, repeating, “God has a plan, we don’t have to know what it is.” We stood on a history of His faithfulness in our lives, even as we stretched to hold onto Him in the present.

Before we met, God called both of us to give up our lives and follow Him wherever He led. My husband left his home and livelihood in Northern California and moved to Nashville, Tennessee. As we met, I was in the final weeks of preparation to leave my home in Nashville, Tennessee, and move to Northern England. These big risks – following God, giving up security, material possessions, income, relationships – ultimately paid off, but they “shook everything that can be shaken”. My husband went through a year of the aptly named School of Supernatural Life, and I gave all I had into the newly-restored House of Prayer, Europe. Returning to the States after three months, rather than the promised year, I found myself reeling, confused, and very, very hurt.

We wrestled through with much prayer and good counselors. We had heartaches and breakthroughs, joys and failures. We were poor but provided-for, discouraged but tenacious, willing but at times unable to love, unable to even articulate what we were feeling or what we needed. But by the kindness and mercy of God, we returned to Him, and we returned to one another.

And so we came to the beginning of a new beginning. I went on another interview the Tuesday before our Saturday wedding. They called back within a few hours offering me a job! But the next day I was feverish, unable to pack (though we still had no home). Thursday, still sick, I moved from my friend’s house where I’d been staying, topping off a storage unit for the time being. Meanwhile, my husband secured us an apartment with my parents’ and his best man’s help and finished moving out of his friends’ home where he’d rented a room. The apartment would not be ready until we returned from our honeymoon, so he packed his things into the storage unit, too. Still, we were thankful and excited, happy for God’s faithfulness, saying, “He is never late, though He misses many opportunities to be early.”

A bridesmaid rode with me to pick up my wedding gown and head to the state park lodge where family and friends were already gathering. As I gingerly laid the gown in the back seat, I caught my cheek on the edge of the car door. It struck a vein and began to swell, and I could not control the tears. We turned back to where we’d gotten the gown, received an ice pack and first aid instructions. My bridesmaid then drove my car out to the park while I kept pressure on the bulging bruise. As we talked about our lives and our work with children, she mentioned a recent bout of hand, foot, and mouth disease. Later, finally settling into our suite, I found red sores in my throat. Sores appeared on my hands and feet the next day, and a quick googling confirmed the diagnosis. I cried.

Or rather, I mourned. All the preparation, all the excitement, all the waiting, and here it was, almost my wedding day, and I had a black eye forming and an infectious, painful virus with no treatment, just an imperative to keep away from people. Impossible! This wasn’t bridezilla drama. I loved my dress, didn’t care if everything was perfect. But this mattered! I wanted to be well, I wanted to be beautiful, and I wanted to freely hug and kiss friends and family, not to mention my husband! I had waited and fought the hard fight to have this day, to be a “pure and spotless bride”, only to be literally spotted with sickness that would quarantine me any other day, and to top it off, I looked like I’d been punched in the face!

But The Lord, my sweet Daddy God, spoke to me. He understood. After all the prayers and declarations and expecting Him to heal, I stood in the shower claiming Scripture and praying promises, forgiving and blessing, following every Godly principle I could – but still the sores and sickness remained. And God said, “Welcome to the prophetic.”

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but with God, I think one word is worth a thousand. I had four thousand to unpack in understanding, but my heart knew immediately what He meant, and it took the anxiety and disappointment and drained their power, putting them in perspective.

I looked through Scripture for the phrase “pure and spotless bride”. Shockingly, I could not find it. There are references to New Jerusalem coming down as a bride (Revelation 21:2), and the Spirit and the Bride saying “come” (Revelation 22:17), but that particular phrase, which I’ve heard for years in Christian circles, was nowhere.

What I then understood is this: first, Jesus knows what it is like to marry a diseased bride. His Bride, the Church, is covered in the symptoms of contagious illness. These may be hypocrisy, judgment, religiosity, ignorance, gossip, bigotry, racism, idolatry of a political party or idolatry of a healthy lifestyle. He understands the pain of disappointed hope. To know there in that moment, on the eve of my wedding, that I was perfectly understood by the One who made me and loves me more passionately than words can say was – and is – tremendous.

Second, while He is there for us in our pain and takes us on a journey of healing our attitudes and behavior, still God chooses us in the moment. There seems to be an expectation in the Church that Jesus is waiting for us to be “pure and spotless” before He returns, as if our sinlessness, or at least our earnest striving to become so, will finally prove to Him that we have enough faith to satisfy His criteria, allowing Him to hold up His side of the bargain. In other words, as long as I sin, I am not worth Jesus returning. If I am not pursuing radical holiness, Jesus is not pleased with me – or not as pleased as He could be. So while I do not believe it is the intent of those who preach such messages to burden listeners, my heart somehow understood it that way, and here I was, supposed to be representing the Church as a bride, utterly failing at spotlessness.

Later, as it turns out, I learned that I got sick from my interactions with children at my new job. Essentially, what God used to provide for me also made ill. There is a metaphor there, too, about God accomplishing His perfect plan through imperfect circumstances and imperfect people. There are no guarantees that following Him will not have side effects, and there is no promise that those effects will fit my sense of fairness – as if by choosing to follow Him, He owes me comfort and ease.

But coming to the point: I followed Him to the best of my ability – not only in giving up my life for Him, but also in choosing to follow Him in sexual purity, trusting Him to open doors for me and provide for all my needs. And I might even say that had I been less stressed, I would not have gotten sick. Had our apartment been in place sooner, or my job secured earlier, my wedding would not be on the verge of ruination (I mean, can you imagine no hugs and kisses at your wedding, for fear of infecting others?)

All this hit me in those simple words, “Welcome to the prophetic.” The truth is, He doesn’t choose us because He hopes one day we will be pure and spotless. No, He knows life is messy and ugly and we will experience negative effects we cannot control. But none of that negates His love. It is the same simple truth as salvation, yet it means so much more now we have history together.

And I realized I have committed myself for eternity to One of whom I still know so little. We have been together for eighteen years, and He surprises me with His tremendous love. How freeing to be understood, how freeing to have peace, no matter the storm, disappointment, or fear.

Not a person got sick from me, I’ll have you know, and I hugged and kissed freely. My bruise was pale enough to be covered by makeup for the wedding, too, though it darkened into accusing purple on the honeymoon.

The wedding night was a memorable adventure, and we spent our honeymoon mostly off the grid, watching the lake rise from almost incessant rain. I discovered poison ivy on the arches of my feet, presumably from taking pictures in the woods in my sparkly sandals. After dealing with hand, foot, and mouth, this old nemesis was annoying, but not powerful, so I wore socks to bed à la Flight of the Conchords. We came home to a whirlwind move-in, barely getting a mattress into the apartment before returning the truck. It took us three days to fully move, and then I started my new job.

Without belaboring the point, it was “not a good fit”. I could feel it in my guts, and my intelligence was continually insulted by the company’s practices, which contradicted all the training I was receiving. Poor husband listened to me rant and vent each evening. Still, I was shocked when, four days in, they let me go. As the tears cleared, husband suggested I follow back up with a school that called on the honeymoon. I started new hire paperwork with them last week, and husband just got promoted as well. To say the least, we are thankful. Credit where it’s due – this is His plan, we just don’t know what it is!

So we are settling in to make life happen. Name changes are processing, our apartment is free of cardboard boxes. We bought a desk for husband to work on writing and film, and God led me to a yard sale where I got a table for my sewing machine (more on that to come). We have close neighbors and are part of a loving community. We are excited about life and enjoying marriage. It’s all a story I wouldn’t wish on anyone, but it’s a story I love to tell, because it’s ours. Here’s to the future – we’re smiling at you!

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I love answering the question, “What is God doing in your life?” I love that the question implies that God is active and energetically busy, and He is involved in my life as an individual. It implies that He is interested in connecting with me, and that He is not ambivalent or far away. It implies that He communicates with me in a way I understand, and He understands what I say back to Him.

Of the two of us, He is the smarter. He is the wiser, the more capable. As Reinhard Bonnke says so gently,

“…The Christian God does it the other way around. He spreads the table for His children. And in the other religions, people always seek God. In the Christian faith, God seeks man.”

My heart needs to know I am sought-after. So many circumstances would try to convince me otherwise. Having followed God to England this past autumn, having given up life as I’ve known it and embraced to the fullest of my ability what I felt He was asking of me; having faced the unanticipated consequence of heartbreak when I left England sooner than expected, walked through the tears and challenges of putting life together again, and even as I crossed the Atlantic realizing I was coming home to begin a new life with the man who is now my fiancé – coming home a different person, the transformations accomplished bluntly as well as gently; and going from one promise to another, like leapfrogging through a gauntlet, catching a breath before engaging with the next challenge of the heart; having finally found a car but repairs are expensive; having a part time job but a check lost in the mail; having an idyllic living situation but being unable to hide from my heart; I take off my shoes at the door of this truth: the God in whom I trust is active on my behalf. He holds my heart and my every circumstance. I am His responsibility, and it is wisdom to trust Him.

And with every bite of chocolate and every flip through the Netflix catalog, my heart searches for connection with Him. With every tear of frustration and daunting situation, every misplaced expectation on the fiancé or the friends, every pick at every pore, every impulse to control, my heart cries out for Him.

And I am finding Him in my pain. It’s as if my pain were contained in a whiskey barrel, and having purchased it from me, He is content to sit in that barrel until I am ready to address it. There seems to be a difference between ownership and possession. By rights that pain belongs to Jesus, but He waits for me to unlock the storeroom, lead Him in, and give Him possession. Legally, the paperwork has been signed, and in a court of law, His title holds up. But gentleman that He is, He does not press His authority. Rather He waits for me.

I say I’ve given Him the keys to my heart, so in order to unlock it again, I ask for them back. And we unlock rooms together. We shine light into unlit places where the bulbs burned out long ago, places even the rats have abandoned because of the stench. But as much as He goes with me into those places, I find He has been there before me, waiting.

I wonder if all those tears in bottles are spent tears, or tears waiting to be spent. I find I cry to the bottom of the barrel sometimes. I cry out all that pain I denied – how it really did hurt, although I wish it hadn’t. All the pain I avoided by forgiving too quickly, as if forgiveness were a skin graft over an infected wound, rather than the cleansing and restoring it actually enables.

I’ve been forgiving too quickly. I’ve acted as if forgiveness is the antidote to pain.

If I forgive quick enough, I won’t have to feel the pain.

But in the quiet, in the long stretches of nothing; in the draining of the bank account, in the frustration; in telling the story, in the beauty of friends from whom I can’t hide, who draw out truth from me like iron filings to a magnet; in the guilt for avoiding big church meetings or not reading my Bible daily or avoiding the music room or over-sugaring my coffee; I find the truth. I find that it hurt. I find the cuss words and the names of emotions. I find He is there. I find He is helping me. I find the barrel is much deeper than I thought, but as I’ve gone this far, I might as well find the bottom. I find I’ve tipped over the edge of the slippery slope, and I’m falling head over heels down the stairs.

And there at the bottom, where I thought I would land, where the floor is hard and the corners sharp, I find I am caught. I find the safest arms I’ve ever known. I find I’m enveloped in my favorite scent. I find the most absorbent shoulder, the most gentle hands wiping mucous and tears.

I wouldn’t say faith is a crutch because it’s a challenging road to walk. It’s a river that has many put-in ramps but very few take-out points. Once you’re on it, the options are limited: cling to the boat and let the current take you; paddle to the side and refuse to go further; or address that man in the back of the boat, the one with His paddle down in the water, sitting confidently erect, yet at rest, steering with gentle precision that comes with knowing a river intimately. And as a child, or a happy Tiger Lily princess, I can sit in the front, looking ahead, looking back, looking all around. Rapids and storms and gnarly-looking critters, overhanging branches set with spider webs and abandoned bobbers, shallows and litter and slime and stench, the bits of the river that no photographer cares to capture, the un-pretty effects of a life of exchange, the refuse and fear and challenges and uncertainties, these all comprise the view.

But behind me there is Someone steering, and His eyes are up. Confident in His hands’ ability, He steers without looking. And I follow His gaze to see what He sees: the eagles circling, the kestrels in the trees, the heron on the shore poised to take flight.

And someone asks me what God is doing in my life. I pause to sort through the melange of stories, which one to tell. This beautiful infinite complexity all boils down to a kind and tender truth: He knows me, He loves me, and He is passionately seeking my heart.

I love how painting so often reveals my heart. Although I feel things deeply, I tend to address the world through my thoughts and actions, and subsequently I am not always aware of the emotions I experience or why. Painting – especially asking Holy Spirit to connect with me as I paint – helps me close that gap. Sometimes I come away with the name of the emotion I was experiencing. Sometimes I gain insight into the message God has for me concerning my circumstances. But somewhere in the process I connect with my Daddy. He is a beautiful artist, too, and my soul and spirit come into proper alignment again when we spend time together doing something we love. It’s a favorite form of quality time, and I am so thankful for the opportunity (time, energy, resources) to engage with Him. I feel His pleasure when we paint together.

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The following addresses a mature topic and is inappropriate for children under 15 years of age without parental supervision.

I was 23 years old and a graduate student when he came to read to my class. He had arranged it with my mentor, so she caught the whole thing on film. I remember as he held out the ring thinking, “Is this what this is supposed to feel like? This anticlimactic?” But I said yes, and I went on through the stages of planning.

Four months later I called it off, finally having come to my senses. Not knowing what I really wanted, I went along with the plans we had made together. They were really my ideas anyway. He didn’t have much direction and was riding my energy and ambition. That was the problem. He needed a mother, not a wife. So it wasn’t betrayal of my values or holding onto the past that kept me moving towards my goals, waiting out the interim at my parents’ house. Out of pure necessity I plugged in at a local church. And of course my tender heart was susceptible to the kindness of a worship leader I met there.

One evening, after an emotional conversation about our hearts, sitting on the church lawn under the floodlights in the warm summer air (lightning bugs had long since retired), he looked at me gleefully and said, “You know what I’m excited about?” I didn’t even have time to formulate the thought of being his girlfriend when he blurted, “No more secret sin!”

Way to kill the mood, I thought. He went on to talk about how he and his friends got together and confessed their deepest, darkest sins and prayed for one another, about the healing that brought, about how shame, defused of its power, left entirely.

That conversation and concept stuck with me. God was pressing my buttons in more ways than one. As you can imagine, my engagement had left its mark. However, the fact that I entered into it in the first place was an indication of the pain in my heart. Since leaving the denomination of my childhood as an adolescent, my relationship with my father had suffered. Disconnected from him, the young man who had pursued my hand in marriage held more sway. Now he was gone, and I was under my father’s authority again, but the rifts in our relationship remained. The last thing I wanted to do was be vulnerable with my father.

So I knew it was God when the thought ran across my mind, “I want you to confess masturbation to your father.”

Ugh. Some things are so traumatic that you remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when they happen. This was one of those times. I was in the kitchen getting a snack or a glass of water or something after dinner. My mother had gone to bed, and my father was in the living room. Silently, I swore at God. But I knew it was Him, and the more angry I became, the more convinced I was that there was no getting around this one.

Finally I made up my mind to just get it over with. I walked into the room, explained I had something to tell him that I felt God wanted me to say, but by no means did I want commentary on it or even response of any kind – and before I lost my nerve, I blurted what could be classified as confession. My father began to respond, but I stopped him and hightailed it out of the room.

All these years later, I go back to that story because it marked a turning point in my understanding of the power of sin and shame. I figured if I could confess my most shameful act to the man I trusted least in the world (at the time – God has since done remarkable things in our relationship), then there was nothing so terrible that it merited the effort it takes to conceal it from people I do trust.

Confession: I have masturbated since I confessed to my father. I’ve masturbated since I confessed to my pastor. And you own what else? I’ve overeaten. I’ve judged friends. I’ve let my temper loose. I’ve thought of myself more highly than I ought. I’ve run from facing my pain. I’ve withheld love knowing others would suffer, knowing others depended on me. I’ve broken commitments. I’ve talked behind people’s backs. I’ve been disrespectful. I’ve voiced my opinions of other drivers.

But you know what’s strange? I’m not ashamed.

It’s not that I think any of those behaviors are wonderful or useful or do any good. It’s not that the actions have no weight, don’t matter, or have no consequence. I am not actively pursuing them, nor am I making them part of my life. But when they occur, there is a distinction: they are actions, and I am me. I am not my actions any more than I am the clothes I put on.

It is easy to say, “I am not my career”. By that I am declaring that my identity is independent of my profession, salary, benefits, or status. My identity is deeper than my education and university degrees. Rather, my identity consists of my relationships, my values, my passions, my personality.

I don’t believe actions indicate identity. They are the effect, rather than the cause. So when I masturbate, I do not say, “I masturbate – therefore I struggle with masturbation.” I say instead, “I masturbated. That is not something I struggle with, not something that is part of me, so I wonder what is really going on here?” The sin strikes me as odd, an aberration. I know there is nothing good that comes of it, so logically, there is no reason to invest energy into something that has no payoff. While I am not saying the action is neutral or has no power, I am saying that the action, when treated as a symptom or an effect instead of an indication of personal weakness or flaws in my identity, is useful in revealing something true.

When I masturbate, I do so because I feel the need to be in control. I feel disconnected, powerless, perhaps misunderstood or lonely. My needs for intimacy are not getting met.

More often than not, I find sin – actions – reveal the heart. My heart surprises me. I am not as aware of it as I’d like to be, and if I am aware of what I’m feeling, I may be clueless as to why, or to what extent. How useful and how kind that God allows circumstances which have the potential to show us what’s really going on.

Are you sick of the term “masturbation” yet? I hope I’ve not desensitized you to it. For me, every time I type it, every time I go back over autocorrect’s inaccuracies – yes, I really do mean that word again – I am punching shame in the face. There is absolutely nothing shameful about needing love, needing intimacy, feeling powerless, feeling out of control. But that is not who I am. The reality is I am loved. I am intimately known. I am powerful, and I can make powerful decisions that impact my life and the lives of others.

Ultimately, every sin is just a symptom of needing more love. Logically, no action can create love. Only a person can love me. And only one Person knows me well enough to know how to love me. If you haven’t guessed it by now, my preschoolers on a Sunday morning could tell you – the answer is (usually, always) Jesus.

Jesus knows what it feels like to be misunderstood. He knows what it is like to feel disconnected. Or powerless. Or out of control. He knows what it feels like to need love, to crave intimacy. And that’s all well and good to have someone who can relate to you, but it’s another thing entirely to have someone willing to do something about it. And that’s the bit I can’t speak to. That’s the bit where it takes a choice to believe in the goodness, kindness, gentleness, graciousness, mercifulness, powerful capacity and passionate motivation of a perfect Father God to do something about meeting our particular needs. That’s the faith bit. And in that journey comes greater confidence of identity. It is at times like fighting a shopping cart (or “buggy”, as we say in the South) with a wonky wheel that wants to keep sending you to the left. There is a wrestle to turn the ship in motion as it prefers the deep channel of habit to the untested course that would have you veer towards God. And that’s where accountability and community come in. Often we need others to remind us of who we are, to keep us from being victims of the shadow puppet that is shame, thinking we are these godawful creatures when really we are magnificent beings. We need to remember there’s nothing so terrible that it’s worth the effort required to conceal it, and in the end, even if we are rejected, even if we are abandoned, even if the expected repercussions occur, we spoke in faith that it is better to err on the side of truth because that’s the side God is on.

It is okay to count the cost. Truth is costly. Taking ownership for actions has a price. But my analysis goes like this: if I lose my friends, I still have a Friend, so I win. If I lose my job, I still am the daughter of the King, so I’m provided for, so I win. If I lose my family, I still have a Father who loves me, and Jesus is a ridiculously fabulous Brother, so I win. If I lose my reputation, I am still accepted and endorsed by my Father, and He is still proud of me, so I win. If I lose my health, well, Jesus paid for my healing, and if it’s my time to die, I get to be with Him, so I win. If I lose everything, I still win.

I. Still. Win.

Because every step away from shame is a step towards God, and every step towards God is a step of faith, and every step of faith is a declaration of allegiance to the Truth that my identity is found in my relationship to my Father, not my actions. I am not what I do or what I’ve done. I am me, and I am His. He belongs to me, and I belong to Him.

He paid for my shame anyway. He bought it when He bought me, so I’m just giving Him what already belongs to Him anyway. It’s no big deal. He is not perturbed by it because He already disassembled it, removing the mechanism empowering it. So if it’s not a big deal to Him, why do I allow shame to make it a big deal for me? That doesn’t make sense. Furthermore, He gave me His identity, so if it’s not something inherent in who He is, it’s not inherent in who I am either.

Last week I heard critters in the attic above my bedroom. I’d heard them before, but as they scratched for a minute and then were still, I didn’t think anything of them. At the time, they weren’t here to stay, just popping in from the cold. But last week they were incessant. I endured the scritching, the scurrying, the gnawing. It was early in the morning, and even soothing music couldn’t drown them out. Finally I was annoyed enough to turn on the light, fumble for an appropriate whacking device, and drum on the ceiling. The scuttling stopped. I whacked a few more times for good measure and waited. Within a minute, those obnoxious varmints started again! I climbed up on the bed and banged loudly with my hands. This time I heard them retreat. The next morning, my father set mousetraps in the attic, and before the day was out, he got one. A few days later, a second trap caught what I imagine was the mate. Since then, there have been no annoying midnight wakings.

Whatever it is that is covered in shame is nothing more than a mouse in the attic. I can tolerate it, but it’s annoying. It has no place there, no right to disturb my sleep, and lord knows what treasures it’s gnawing and ruining while I let it go unchecked. But at the end of the day, it’s a mouse. It’s not endangered, not high on the food chain. It is not worth my lack of sleep. And beautifully, my Father has already set a surefire trap for it – named (all the preschool children together now!) Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the Father. Consider Him who endured such trials so that you will not lose heart and give up. (Loosely, Hebrews 12:2-3)

I’m not saying it isn’t costly, this wrestling out of the grip of shame. It takes effort and risk and some pride-swallowin’. But it is worth it. The truth is far sweeter – taste and see that the Truth is good – and the actions are not who we are anyway.

In any way I am able to bless you with wisdom, boldness, courage, strength and resolve, I do so now in Jesus’ name! Grace to you and peace, and may you fly higher on the fresh, bracing wind you were born to ride!

I get frustrated reading Christian perspectives on being single. There’s certainly a market for the literature, and some platitudes are supported by experiences. But I am nearing my 30th birthday. I’ve followed God for 18 years, and I am a virgin. I’ve been called “a walking testimony to kissing dating goodbye”. I’ve listened to sermons on dating and applied their principles (still left heartbroken). And I’ve mentally catalogued love stories for years, looking for patterns on what a godly romance looks like, trying to figure out what I needed to do to position myself for the blessing of a marriage partnership.

Yesterday my boyfriend had The Talk with my father, and my father gave his blessing. So I’m nearing the end of this period of my life, and while a few clichés could apply to our story (“see, he came along when all you wanted was Jesus and you really weren’t looking for someone!”), I’d like to add my voice to the discussion based on how my heart processed the years.

Before I begin, please hear my heart. I have lived many wonderful adventures as a single person. I have fulfilled multiple childhood dreams, had several careers, traveled extensively, and experienced things that delight my heart. I have lived the past few years in particular saying daily, truthfully, “a year ago today I never could have imagined this would be my life!” I’ve grown in relationship with my family and been established in my identity both as a part of them and as an individual. I’ve been satisfied with singleness. I’ve put time and energy into ministry and service. I “sowed where I want to go”, received many, many prophetic words about my spouse. I kept faith, fought to keep my heart alive, fought to experience emotions rather than suppress them. And life was good. I wasn’t moping, wasn’t waiting around to be rescued. I loved the independence, the ability to make powerful decisions, the lack of responsibility. I truly loved being single, and I completely validate and honor those who want it.

But in the course of all the joy, there was the agony of an unmet longing. As a teenager I was told that God would meet my every longing for love with Himself and to “fast from the desire to date”. This brought a sense of failure and shame. Try as I might, the desire to be married (and precede marriage with dating) never died. So while that advice was motivated by a truth, over time I came to the conclusion that God designed our desires, and as the Bible is in full support of marriage, it seems it is a desire He is interested in fulfilling. My desire for God and my desire to be married are two separate things, just as my hunger for food cannot be satisfied by water or my thirst cannot be quenched with pizza. So faith is believing God is good and kind, willing and able to satisfy both.

And yet we all know people who are single for life, though they’d prefer otherwise. We read statistics on marriage and divorce. We try our hardest not to let the culture’s focus on youth and marriage age influence our emotions. There is opportunity to doubt that God will meet our desires for a spouse, and that doubt is rational based on the evidence of people’s experiences. So in writing my thoughts, I offer no guarantees. There is no formula, no absolute, no password or vending machine or series of steps. There’s just a Person.

In the fight to keep my heart open, the fight to understand, the fight to have faith and believe God wasn’t dangling carrots in the form of handsome, godly crushes, I had an “ongoing discussion” with God. Journals filled with lists. Lists about specific guys. Incidents and implications and interpretations. Tears and frustration upon frustration. Screaming at the top of my lungs. But in the midst of those experiences, and now as I come to a chapter change, I have two conclusions.

1) Being single is an injustice.

2) All pain belongs to Jesus.

The impact Point 1 has had on me is tremendous. The logic goes like this: in Genesis, God made man. Man hung out with God and animals, but eventually God determined that it’s not good for man to be on his own, so He created woman. Eve didn’t have one-on-one time with God. Her existence was in context of her husband and God. There has never been a woman in the history of humanity that has known what it is like to be the only person on the planet. Therefore, for a woman to be alone, she is living outside her original design. Or put another way, woman was made to be in relationship with her husband and God. And that idea opens up a whole theological discussion – when things happen which are outside God’s will, and is He sovereign or not, and why doesn’t He intervene, etc. – because it implies that there are circumstances in our lives that are not God’s perfect plan for our lives. And I’m not just talking about women, either. The Bible is clear that God doesn’t think it’s best for men to be single, either. So the injustice is rooted in the idea that, whatever the reasons behind it, when someone with a God-given desire to marry is prevented from doing so, that circumstance is counter to God’s original, good design.

What this idea did to my heart was validate years of pain. It wasn’t wrong for me to long for a husband, it wasn’t an indication of the sin in my life, the lack of discipline, the places I needed to grow and improve and strive to overcome. It wasn’t faithlessness. No, with the term “injustice” came the gut-wrenching revelation that I was not to blame. The pain I experienced wasn’t my fault, and its origins were on a DNA level. As such, I didn’t bring it on myself. I had no control. No, a loving Father God did not design me to be the victim of loneliness.

I don’t like the term “victim”. I don’t particularly like letting emotions get out of control. But to deny the pain of singleness was to deny the way I’m made. Half the frustration was rooted in powerlessness. What is a virgin girl to do? I was committed to holiness (still am) and am aware of the immense amount of grace I’ve received to maintain purity through various relationships, but dang if my body hasn’t told me for years when it wanted to get pregnant! Spirituality aside, every month there’s a fight against God-given desires, influenced by healthy hormones and eggs ready to be fertilized. Thirty years’ of virginity waiting for a godly husband to have the good sense to chase me down is a rough road, and there’s an injustice in that, too. My body was made for my husband to enjoy! I want him to have the best years of my life! And as a woman pursuing Jesus, I was taught time and time again to let the man pursue, God will bring my husband into my life when it’s time, just as God brought Eve to Adam. So another month would pass, and my body would mourn another baby that never was. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick,” and all that. Injustice.

I say all this because I haven’t seen where it’s been said so bluntly, and I want to do my sisters a favor by validating their pain, anger, powerlessness, and frustration. As I said earlier, there is no easy solution, no guarantee, no answer.

But there is a Person.

If I know anything, it’s this: the best place for your pain is with Jesus. Someone once said, “Press your pain into the heart of God.” Whatever that looks like, whatever that means, the phrase has resonated with me since I heard it a decade ago, and it seems to fit most situations. This means the pain of not understanding. This means the pain of delay. This means the pain of loneliness. Injustice. Broken-heartedness. Emotional abuse. Manipulation. Physical abuse, sexual abuse. The Bible says there is coming a day when God will wipe away every tear from our eyes, where those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy and carrying a harvest with them. And I am struck by the tenderness expressed in these ideas. As any parent knows, babies aren’t babies for long. There is something precious and profound about holding your child through her pain. God can only comfort us while we have need of comfort. We are only His babies for so long, and come eternity, we will never again have opportunity to experience His tender comfort. Or if we do, it won’t be through wiping away tears.

I’ve asked God “why” on several occasions in the heat of emotional breakdowns and gut-busting pain, why is He allowing it. Infuriating as it is at the time, His answer has been, “Because I want you to know I’m here for you in this moment.” I’ll never have another opportunity for God to demonstrate His character and nature for me in that particular pain than in that particular moment. And one experience of love and tenderness makes it easier to come back to Him on the next occasion. And pretty soon we have this history together, where I am learning He is safe, He really is kind, He really is the best Dad, He really cares. I can trust Him, even if it still hurts, even if I don’t understand.

We know theologically that Jesus who knew no sin became sin on our behalf. We know that by His stripes we are healed. He took all our pain and sickness upon Himself. He took responsibility for sin, and that includes its consequences. Injustice is a consequence of broken relationship with God, so in Jesus’s sacrifice, He paid for my pain. He bought it from me, and it’s not mine anymore. But just as the Kingdom of God is here and is advancing, just as the Israelites both took the land all at once and also one town at a time, there is a journey of giving Jesus what belongs to Him.

And you know what? He’s waiting for His wedding day, too. He doesn’t know when, but in the meantime, He holds us in our pain, because truly, truly He understands.

It is an honor to choose Him in the face of many options. I have the privilege of stoking those flames of love by my response to Him. He longs to be one with us even as we long to be one with our spouses. Words fail me attempting to describe the feeling you get when the object of your unrequited love suddenly has a change of heart, calls you by name, and says, “I choose you.” To know that I have the capacity to move God’s heart by choosing Him like that is tremendous beyond words. Would I wish anyone else have my journey, with all its pain and heartbreak? I’d like to think I’d hope better for others. But the intensity and intimacy I have with Jesus now, coming as a result of all those chapters – well, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Any good thing I’m able to give or impart to you, reader, I do so now. Fly higher, eagle-eyed soul-searcher. You were made to live on the heights.

On occasion one might find a reason to lie down at church. Some find themselves on their face before God, others on their backs with eyes closed. In those times it can be nice to have a cloth or blanket on hand as a light cover.

With that in mind, I am making a dozen “soaking quilts” for my church. Each are about 36×48 inches, lap-sized and not too heavy. Here are my first two completed earlier in the week!

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I am really enjoying these smaller quilts! It’s a pleasure exploring design while still making beautiful, useful pieces of art.

Last week I attended emanate, the young adult service that couples with the School of Supernatural Life and of which I’ve been part since it began (4 years ago this coming month!) I’ll admit, it has been a very rocky transition coming back from Sunderland, but in that meeting, I connected with God again in a way I hadn’t since I’d been abroad. Although He talked about many things, there is one I can share: He asked that I would invest my heart here with the same abandon I invested in Sunderland. Then He asked that I would invest my art here as I did there. I had to repent of withholding my heart and refusing to engage with the present circumstances – for being offended that God would have things His way rather than meet my expectations. And then I said, “yes.”

So yesterday I pulled out the last pad of watercolor paper I used before leaving for England. There were still some blank pages left. I found the last painting was from 17 August 2013, and of all things, my Mister watched me paint it – though we’d not been introduced at the time.

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I took that pad with me to emanate, along with a second, brand new one. And I painted my heart, and I painted a new beginning:

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Truly, I don’t know which is which. I don’t even know which way is up. But that’s okay. My life is a painting I’m making with my Papa, and even though I don’t know where I’m going or how it’s supposed to look or turn out, I know two things (maybe three): it’s full of life, it’s full of hope, and it’s beautiful.