Thoughts on my first year of marriage

Last week my husband and I celebrated our first anniversary. It felt like it went by really fast and I wanted to make sure I intentionally reflected upon the last twelve months.

Everyone says that the first year is the hardest. If that’s true, then we are in really good shape! We have had fights and we’ve hurt each other’s feelings…but our first year was not as painful as many people project it to be.

While I was engaged, I remember seeking advice from those who had decades of marriage under their belt. What works and what doesn’t work? What should I know? How can I prepare myself?

The best advice came from a pastor who told us to pray together every day. Upon first hearing this advice, I was a little skeptical and even dismissive. Really, every day? I thought that was too unrealistic and burdensome for a couple. But I have been surprised by how simple and powerful it is. Each night before we go to bed, we pray together. I’ll pray one night, Charles will pray the next night. Sometimes the person not praying falls asleep. Sometimes we both pray. Our prayers have been short, long, generic and specific. Either way, we have made it a routine and a discipline to come together and thank God for another day.

It’s amazing how hard it is to pray with someone when you’re mad at them or hurt by them. My stubborn will resists and hardens but the moment I come before God in prayer, I can’t help but become vulnerable and weak. We have witnessed the power of God bring about connection, forgiveness, humility, and love in our marriage this last year.

Moving into our second year of marriage, we have some potential challenges ahead of us. We will be apart for two weeks while I’m in Israel. I will graduate from seminary and it will be the first time Charles will get to know the not-in-school/not-stressed-out Bethany. There are options for the “Dual Income No Kids” life…which sounds really nice. But there may also be the option for babies…which also sounds nice.

So the next year could be challenging or it could be adventurous. We remain thankful to God and all the support we have received from family, friends, and community.

Here’s to year two!

Advertisements

Liar, Insane, or True?

Who do you say that I am?

Jesus asked his disciples this question and I think he asks me this question quite often as well. Usually I spit out my quick, church answer but every so often I reflect a little deeper. What I confess with my lips is sometimes far from my heart.

In the last few months, I’ve heard CS Lewis quoted several times about this very topic.

“You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God”

His point is that we cannot just call Jesus a great moral teacher and refuse to accept his claim to be God. It’s foolish and patronizing to do so.

Each day, I have to recognize my need to make a choice. Do I believe that Jesus is who he said he is? Or do I believe that he is a liar or insane? When I realize that I do believe Jesus to be God, his teaching and his instructions become weighty and imperative. I can no longer waiver on whether or not I should forgive someone. I can no longer look away or deny the struggles of the poor. I can no longer live just for myself, feeding the insatiable appetite of my own ego.

This I know: I once was blind, but Jesus made me see. I once was bound, but Jesus set me free. I once was despairing, but when I called on the name of Jesus, hope filled my lungs.

know he is God. And for some mysterious reason, this God has loved me enough to forgive all my junk and have mercy on me. I can never fully understand but I’m so thankful. Not only is Jesus GOD but he sees me, knows me and loves me.

This song has been on repeat in my head today. Enjoy some worship for the next seven minutes and thank Jesus that he is a God who forgives and delivers:

I am human

In case you didn’t know, I’m human. Sometimes I have to remind myself…is that crazy? I’m not a savior, I’m not immortal, and I’m definitely not perfect. I am needy and unable to fill myself…no matter how much coffee I drink, no matter how many books I read, no matter how good I am.

Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz Webber says in her book Pastrix, “being good has never set me free the way truth has.” How profound to realize that Jesus didn’t say that you will know how to be good and it will set you free…he said that you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.

I started 2018 with a month of fasting. So many people asked why…and I think it’s a valid question. But now that it’s over, I feel like I have to show something for it, prove what it produced in my life. But I didn’t have a purpose that seemed to satisfy those questions. I wanted to begin the year acquainted with truth. I wanted to embrace truth and drink deep of the freedom from fear, striving, perfection and performance. Could I have done that without denying meat, bread, sugar and coffee? Sure. But there is something about the discipline of saying no to something with the intention of reminding myself to seek truth that sets me free. In doing so, I did become aware of some things in my life.

I realized how desperate I am for Sabbath. I realized that my hesitance to help others often comes from my attempts to self-protect. I realized how bent I am to believe lies about my worth and purpose which causes me to distance myself from truth and love. I realized that it’s better not to speak if I have not spent time bathing in truth.

And I remembered that I am human. And the depth and intensity of the human experience requires fierce emotion and intentional reflection. It deserves more than religious platitudes that are uncomfortable with the reality of struggle and pain. It deserves brutal honesty and relentless truth. I’m ready for the church to be more interested in truth than being good and having right answers. I’m ready for Christians to be the most honest people in the world, not trying to impress people by looking and sounding really spiritual.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot survive in this world by just being good or looking good. I need truth to pierce my soul and soften my heart. I need quietness to make room, inviting and welcoming truth because the lies are rudely intrusive and insolent.

I’m thankful that truth is available to me in Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of humanity. Though I am poor and lowly, the God of the universe has mercy on me and offers me life and freedom if I’m willing to receive it.

Closing out another year

It’s that time again…to reflect upon this last year before I start planning out the next one. I can be so quick to move on that I don’t always take the time to remember and reflect. 

When I think about 2017, I think about my wedding and beginning a new season of life that I had hoped for and dreamed of for so many years. This year has many reasons to be celebrated and remembered. Promises fulfilled, hopes and desires satisfied.

But when I really challenge myself to think about what transpired in 2017…I remember a lot of pain, a lot of courage, a lot of fear, a lot of injustice. The ugliest and dirtiest side of America was exposed this past year. Stories of hate, sexual harassment and abuse, senseless acts of murder. And it wasn’t only in the media that I witnessed this. I had long conversations with dear friends about sexuality, women’s rights, and white privilege. I learned of another friend taking his own life. I heard surprising stories from close friends  when they found the courage to say “me too”. I recalled painful memories of my own though I never came out and said “me too”.

This week I watched the movie Spotlight for the first time. It’s about the exposure of child abuse and pedophilia in the Catholic Church in Boston. Obviously, the movie and the true story are disturbing and disheartening. There is one quote that I will always remember: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse them.”

To me, that means we all play a part in this story. All of our stories are interconnected and we are each impacted by the other. I cannot look the other way because injustice is happening in places of power, religious or political. When I remain silent or desensitized, I perpetuate the system of abuse, racism, and injustice.

So even though some nasty things were exposed this year, I am thankful. Because now we can no longer pretend it doesn’t exist. My prayer is that I do not become so overwhelmed and absorbed by these stories that the weight and significance is lost. My prayer is that I am angry rather than indifferent toward injustice and my response is active rather than stagnant.

By the end of 2017, it is safe to say that I have steadily withdrawn any hope in worldly institutions or power. I have been reminded again and again who truly holds all power and who truly has the final say. I have been convinced that God is my only hope and my only refuge. And God’s ambition is to be a parent to the parentless, to defend the weak and powerless, to bring justice and healing to those who are broken.

His law is love and his gospel is peace.

 

If God comes to you, let him in.

Today I cried in church. Not just like a single tear that I could quickly wipe away before anyone noticed. But a cry that bubbled up from within me that I couldn’t control.

It was the first time in a while and there was nothing special about the music or the preaching. Instead it was God’s presence that came so close to me.

I was overcome with God’s goodness. I can’t describe the way I catch my breath or how my insides begin to feel warm, but all I know is that God is so beautiful and so kind. His hand like a sword cuts through the exterior, the ego, the shields, the barricades and reaches directly to the rawness of our hearts.

Jesus sees the heart.

I don’t know how to say that in a way that sounds as profound as it was to me this morning. I don’t know how to communicate that Jesus is not weird or rude or exclusive or confusing or condescending. Jesus sees human hearts. And he loves them. He loves me. This love is not the kind of love that comes with conditions or benefits. It’s completely self-giving, for the sake and integrity of love.

Not only that, but God came to find me. No matter what accusations were thrown at him or what perceptions were given to him, he still came for me. And the presence of his goodness filled me with light and love and peace.

When I remember how I lived before I knew the goodness and kindness of God, my heart winces with painful memories of trying to prove myself or earn my worth. When I think about beautiful people who do not know God or believe that God is boring or malicious or patronizing, I’m overwhelmed with sadness.

If there is anything that I want people to know it is this: God’s love is better than anything in this life. It is worth giving everything for and receiving. If God comes to you, let him in. 

Law & Grace

Lately, there’s been a passion in me to faithfully read the scriptures of God. I say that because it is easy to get swirled up in hype and forsake the beauty and power of an ancient, sacred, and holy scripture.

Last night I was at an amazing worship event where God spoke deep revelation to my heart and I basked in his presence. Then a pastor from LA with ripped jeans and a strange Southern/hipster accent spoke about Jesus and grace coming near to us. I was on board with that. YES, God came near to humanity, God came to earth and lived with us and among us. It is powerful to know the initiation and the pursuit of God coming to us out of love.

But then he began to paint this picture of the law of Moses as something at odds with grace. The teacher and preacher in me starts to rattle a little because it just does not do the scriptures justice.

I don’t doubt that God still met people there because probably 50-100 people accepted the grace of God in their lives. That is amazing and I’m so thankful! My prayer is that those people seek to know the goodness and holiness of the ancient texts instead of discarding them as the “old law”.

Here is the thing. People love to hate the law and love grace. This exposes a deep misunderstanding not only of God’s word but of God’s heart! How can the law of Moses be summed up? When Jesus answered this question he was quoting directly from the law. “Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut. 6:4). Jesus adds “and love your neighbor as yourself” but that is also a summation of the law. The law teaches to not withhold your help from your neighbor and to look out for the stranger, the orphan and the widow (Deut 10:17-19; 22:1-3).

The law was not given to enslave or put God’s people into bondage. It was a gift, an identity received after their liberation to remember who they were and who their God was. This is how the world would know that these were God’s people whom he delivered and rescued from the land of Egypt. This is how a bunch of slaves would become a nation and that nation would be a blessing to all other nations. Again and again the law says “remember.” Remember that it was the LORD who delivered you. Remember that you were once slaves, but now you are free. The law served as a remembrance of identity, belonging and purpose.

It’s clear through history and felt-board Bible stories that sin was crouching at the door, corrupting us and vandalizing the shalom of God – the way God intended things. The law was good and pure, but it wasn’t strong enough. We were tempted, seduced and led back into the chains of slavery by sin.

So my point is this…don’t hate the law, hate sin. It is sin that brings death, the law only reveals that. And what the law could not do, being weakened by our flesh, God did…by coming to us in the flesh to battle and overcome the power of sin and death.

The law could not save us from sin and death, but grace came near. Thank you Jesus for coming so near to us, for clothing yourself with flesh and suffering at the hands of your own people. You conquered the sinful flesh with its death sentence and you shared your victory with all of humanity. My life and my freedom is found only in Christ.   Amen.

To fight or To make peace?

That’s the question I’ve been tossing around and somewhat wrestling with lately. You might think you’re reading a blog about war or civil rights or a rant on Trump. But no, this blog isn’t about any of that. (thank God…am I right?)

It’s a little more spiritual. It’s a little more personal.

First, let me start by saying that I believe in a God of miracles and supernatural activity. I have seen ankles, knees, and deaf ears healed right before my eyes. I have met people who experienced real miraculous healings of cancer. I have seen people tormented by evil spirits get set free by the name of Jesus. I have seen and heard story after story about the power of prayer and the intervention of God in the lives of humans. I know that God loves to heal and that his mission is to set us free.

But what about when he doesn’t heal? What about the prayers that have been prayed for 25+ years? What about the suffering that envelops the lives of good, honest, faithful people?

Is it always God’s will to heal and deliver RIGHT NOW?

There are some circles of thought (that I’ve been a part of) that would gasp at that heretical question and be quick to answer YES! And if you aren’t experiencing that healing or deliverance, you just have to believe that you already are healed.

I won’t mock or belittle that belief. Because I am convinced that our modern minds often keep us from seeing any possibilities apart from our own reason. Yet, the postmodern mind isn’t convinced by such an absolute answer and wonders about the uniqueness in each individual story.

I’ve heard it said that Americans (maybe Westerners) have a poor theology of suffering. I would add that this is partially due to a poor understanding and practice of faithfulness. One of my favorite quotes comes from the book, The Heavenly Man. It is the story of Brother Yun, who experienced severe persecution in China for being a following of Jesus. He says, “Don’t pray for the persecution to stop! We shouldn’t pray for a lighter load to carry, but a stronger back to endure! Then the world will see that God is with us, empowering us to live in a way that reflects his love and power. This is true freedom!”

So where do we begin to engage in a dialogue that may unlock fears, anxieties, and doubt? Do we fight or do we make peace?

My “suffering”, if it is even appropriate to use the word, is physical and emotional. Emotional because I struggle with extreme highs and extreme lows. Navigating through those seas of emotion can be exhausting and discouraging. Physical because my spine is curved and causes consistent discomfort and pain in my back, neck and shoulders. I cannot count the number of times I have received prayers of healing, prophetic words, and even experienced the power of the Holy Spirit on my back. Yet, still I am not healed.

It’s left me in a vulnerable place asking: Do I keep holding onto the belief that God will heal me, fighting to remain faithful in my request? Or do I lay down all my efforts and quiet all my pleading, making peace with God and my body?

I’m not sure if it’s possible, but I have landed somewhere in the middle. I’m not mad at God for not healing me yet, but I continue to hope that he will. I don’t think he is maliciously withholding something good from me, but I know that I’m seen and loved. Sometimes I battle furiously for my emotional and physical health. Other times, I find peace in the unending streams of grace and mercy that wash over my broken spirit and body.

God is far too mysterious for me to know exactly what he will do. I am far too limited to know what should be done.

So if I fight, I will fight to be faithful despite my circumstances. And if I make peace, I will make peace with a God whose love gives me a hope far greater than this world.