Our Super Hero

Some days I feel brokenness so acutely. I think of people without parents, without homes, without Jesus, and I am broken. This morning I sit in my little cubicle in the corner of the giant office, and the world feels so big, and the problems that fill it feel impossible. Tears gently fall down my cheeks, and I am grateful that no one sees, and that everyone is busy doing their own work. I think of these things, and the heaviness feels like too much. But I know that I can’t let it paralyze me. It’s easy to feel small and powerless in a world filled with so much heartache, but luckily I serve and belong to a God that is bigger and more powerful than the greatest pain. In and of myself I may be powerless, but through Him I am powerful. Through Him, I can make a difference. Through Him, even the greatest and deepest hurt can be redeemed.

I go to a church in Lynchburg that is in one of the more “inner city” parts of town. I do this intentionally; my heart is for the people that live there. I used to go to visit one of the ladies that lived in the apartments next to the church. She had three kids, two girls and a boy. They lived in a loft apartment, and they slept on mattresses that lay on the floor. Sometimes I would get there and I could sense the mom had been drinking, and the baby had a dirty diaper, and the kitchen sink was overflowing with dishes, and my love for them grew. I would play with the kids, and take them for walks to the local corner store to get some candy, and hug them. I hugged them a lot. They don’t get to grow up in family like I did, with a mom and dad who love me, and provided above and beyond all my needs.  Their life is going to be harder than mine was, and they have many more obstacles than I. So I question, why? Why did I get to be born into a safe place, and these kids did not? But then I am reminded that my God is a father to the fatherless. That He has not forgotten these precious children, they are indelibly inscribed on the palm of His hand. He has plans for their lives, plans to redeem them from where they are, because they are His, they belong to Him.

A little over a year ago I went to Zimbabwe. We stayed in a “suburb” which is the American equivalent of our inner city. We would walk throughout the neighborhood and see little kids playing in ditches in front of the house. They would watch us as we walked by, eyes glued, intrigued by the light color of our skin. We went to visit sponsored kids, and saw the poverty they were living in. It broke my heart. I wanted scoop them up and bring them home with me. We went to villages, and orphanages, and I carried babies with me and didn’t want to put them down. These kids had so little, but they had so much joy. They smiled all the time, and were so welcoming and loving. One little girl grabbed my hand and came with me everywhere I went. They loved our earrings, and sunglasses, and bracelets. They especially loved my tattoos. They ran their fingers over them, and kept saying “tattoo, tattoo!” My heart had never felt so full. To get to Bulawayo we first flew into South Africa, and as our guides showed us around we drove by the slums. The slums in America are palaces compared to the slums there. The “homes” were made of cardboard, and discarded pieces of tin. As we drove by this desolate scene, the heaviness within me grew. I knew it was only the beginning of what I would see during my stay. I saw brokenness, and joy. I saw need, and contentment. These polar opposites co-existed, within the same town, the same village, the same orphanage, and even within the same person. At the village that we went to, they spoke one of the native languages, and understood very little. I tried to say a few words to them in their language, but obviously wasn’t making any sense, because all they could do was laugh at me. But then we all started singing worship songs, at first they just stood there because they didn’t know the words. But then I started dancing, and they started joining in, and we were all laughing and having fun together, and though we couldn’t say one word to each other I knew we had become friends. In Africa I was reminded that God is an international God, we are all His beloved children, and it doesn’t matter where we live. I was also reminded of His love. Despite the poverty and brokenness I saw, above all that was life, and joy. I’ve never felt so loved by people that didn’t even really know me. In a place of darkness, the light was overcoming.

So on the days where it feels like darkness is winning, when the world feels too broken for repair, I remember that God is a father to the fatherless, and that no matter what is going on joy is always available to us. That I can make a difference. YOU can make a difference. Our world is broken, but Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly. The world is broken, and He is the answer, He is the super hero. Only He can fix it. But we get to join Him in it. I want to join Him. Do you?

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Worthy

I grew up in the church, and since before I can remember I was told that my identity wasn’t found in what other people thought of me, it was found in the fact that I belong to God. I would smile and nod, but in my heart of hearts, I didn’t believe it. If someone was upset with me, it made physically ill, and feeling like I wasn’t enough seemed to be a prevalent theme in my life. I tried to make up for my perceived inadequacies by attempting to earn people’s approval, and in turn by trying to earn God’s approval.

My head knew that it didn’t matter what people thought of me, but pleasing people became like an addiction. I began to find my worth in whether or not I was liked. But I came to the end of my rope. Pleasing people was (and is) exhausting. I couldn’t go on anymore, and so I began to become intentional about finding my identity in Christ, and not making it my personal mission to please everyone in my life. Now I’m a recovering people pleasing aholic, and it’s definitely a work in progress. Most of the time I can keep it under control, but sometimes it likes to rear it’s ugly head.

Like one afternoon after church. I was talking to Steven about how a person in leadership at our church had made me feel. It wasn’t the first time I had had allowed this person to get under my skin. I felt looked up, and unimportant. I felt like I was not making a difference, and the efforts I had made felt forgotten. I allowed the way they viewed me, or didn’t view me, to dictate how I viewed myself. I was beginning to allow them to define my worth. And I was beginning to be bitter.

So we sitting there, and I was telling him why it bothered me that they had forgotten me again. That it made me feel useless, and unworthy, and incapable. After I stopped talking, we were silent for a moment, and then he said to me, “It’s a good thing that other people don’t define our worth, huh?” Those words hit me like a ton of bricks. The truth contained in that statement overwhelmed my heart, and reminded me how easy it was for me to go back to my old ways. To go back to looking to others to tell me who I am and what my value is. But they don’t have the power to tell me what I’m worth. What they think of me doesn’t give me more or less value. The only one who gets to tell me who I am, and what I’m worth is God. That’s it. And He’s already decided that.

I am a daughter of the king. I am redeemed. I belong to Him. He has a plan for my life, and He loves me. I am worthy, because He has made me worthy, nothing and nobody can change that.

Maybe you are doubting your worth. Maybe you have allowed a co-worker, or boss, or friend, or boyfriend, or girlfriend, or wife, or husband, or pastor, or family member to make you doubt that you are valuable. Maybe they have spoken lies into your life, lies that you’ve told yourself before so they’re easier to believe. I’ve been there too, and if I’m not careful it’s easy for me to go there again. But that isn’t truth. We need to intentionally fight lies with the truth of God’s word. The truth that you are loved by Him deeply and fully without condition. The truth that Zephaniah 3:17 tell us is this, “The Lord your God is in the midst of you, a mighty one, a savior [who saves]! He will rejoice over you with joy; He will rest [in silent satisfaction] and in His love He will be silent and make no mention [of past sins, or even recall them]; He will exult over you with singing.” God loves you, that is where your worth is found. He rejoices in you, and exults of you with singing. He sent His one and only son to pay the ultimate price; His life for yours. The creator of the world made you, and redeemed your for Himself. If you can’t think of that and know how valuable you truly are, than nothing will convince you.

So I’m going to say to you, what has been said to me: It’s a good thing that other people don’t define our worth, huh? Find your identity and value in the unchanging, unwavering love, mercy, and grace of your Savior. After all, His opinion is the only one that really matters anyway.

Darkness Passing

I am a self proclaimed Lord of the Rings NERD, especially the Two Towers (If you’re not a Lord of the Rings nerd, that’s the second one). I was watching the extended edition a few nights ago, which is really really long, even for a nerd like me. I’ve seen the movie probably like 50 times before, but for some reason the end really hit me.

Sam Wise Gamgee, the faithful side kick of Frodo Baggins, is a very wise hobbit. It’s close to the end of the movie, the world looks grim, the odds are not in their favor, and Frodo is beginning to doubt that their journey is worth it. It is in that moment that Sam spouts some serious wisdom, “It’s like in the great stories Mr. Frodo, the ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn’t want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow, even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines it’ll shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something to you even if you were too small to understand why. But I think Mr. Frodo, I do understand, I now know folks in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going because they were holding on to something.” Then Frodo asks, “What’s that Sam?” and Sam, the oh so very wise, replied, “That there’s some good in the world, Mr. Frodo, and it’s worth fighting for.”

There have been times where I have felt that way. I am sure there are times where you have felt this way. Times where life has had a shadow of darkness. Where I didn’t want to know the end, because how could the end be happy? “But in the end it’s only a passing thing this shadow.” The darkness will pass, and soon the sun will come with all it’s shining. And the sun reminds you that the journey, no matter how hard it is, is worth it. To be a part of your story, the unique story that God has for you, is worth the darkness that might come. Think about it, the stories “full of darkness and danger” are the ones that stick with us because they are fighting for something bigger than themselves. They are fighting for hope and goodness.

Maybe your life is filled with darkness. Maybe you have a hard family life, or you are miserable at work, or maybe you’re lonely. Maybe you are experiencing a darkness caused by feeling distance from God. It feels like the darkness will never pass, and like even when it does, life will never be the same. But I am here to tell you, take heart, the sun is coming! Even the darkness must pass, and when it does the sun will be shining clearer than it ever has before. Don’t turn back, keep pushing forward. Your story will be remembered. Keep fighting, there is still good in the world, and my friends, it is worth fighting for!

Before and After

Let me begin by saying I am not athletic. Just take one look at me and you would know that. That being said, I have been going to the gym with my boyfriend. We try to go two times a week, and we have a schedule. We do 15 minutes on the elliptical, 10 minutes on the treadmill, and then we do abs.

Yesterday, for some reason, we had a really difficult work out. I was on the treadmill, and Steve looked over at me, and I think he could see in my eyes that I wanted to give up. Or maybe he could tell just by looking at me because I was out of breath, sweaty and red. He looked at me with a smile on his face and said, “you can do it! Keep going!” So I kept going, I ran and ran and ran, until the little machine told me that 10 minutes was over. And then I stopped, and I looked at the screen as my “workout summary” passed across the screen and I had burned more calories, ran further, and at a higher level than I had before. In that moment the sweat and lack of breath in my lungs was totally worth it!

We walked away from the treadmills over to the abs section of the gym, and we rested for a few minutes. Then Steve said, “You know, it’s interesting. Pretty much everything good and profitable is hard while you’re doing it, but then when you’re done it feel great! But everything that isn’t good for you, that is tempting and alluring, feels good in the moment, but as soon as your done you feel awful.”

I thought about it for a moment and then said, “You know what, you are so right. The hardest things to do are usually the things that are the best for you.”

“Yeah,” he said, “Like eating a cake is way easier than eating a bowl of spinach, but when I’m done with the cake I always ask myself why I did that!”

“That is so true! Spinach is good, but certainly not better than cake.”

I couldn’t get that thought out my mind. I started thinking about how this applies pretty much across the board in my life. For example, I’m ashamed to admit it but sometimes I watch movies that aren’t really filled with things that are good and pure and lovely, like “I Love You Man”, or “Juno”, or “Easy A”, and while I’m watching the movie I think it’s hilarious, but after I’m done I know that I didn’t just make a good choice. On the opposite side of the spectrum, sometimes reading my bible is a hard thing to do. I know that sounds bad, but sometimes I don’t want to do it. But when I push through those feelings and spend time with God, and I read His word, I ALWAYS feel good. I never regret spending time with Him like I regret watching those movies.

The things that are good for us are usually hard. The things that are bad for us are usually easy. It’s a fact of life. Eating a burger from Wendy’s is way easier than eating a bowl of quinoa. Reading a text book is harder than skimming your newsfeed on Facebook. Reading your bible is harder than watching a movie. Being still is harder (for me) than being busy. But the thing is, that which is difficult is more rewarding. They are better for us. They cause growth in us. That which is easy is usually brings death of some kind.

You can usually tell whether or not something is good or bad by the before and after.

It’s easy for me to indulge my emotions. When I feel sad, or mad, or frustrated, it’s easy for me to act on them. It’s the most natural thing for me to do. Before I think in my head, “The answer to fixing the way I feel is to act on the way I feel. It will be easy.” But when I do act on them it always brings death. Acting on my emotions is never and has never been productive. After I always feel awful. Practicing the “art” of self-discipline on the other hand is really really hard. Before I have to pray and focus on filling my mind with thoughts that are good and pure and lovely. I have to tell myself to trust God. I have to tell myself to be a woman who is quiet and peaceful. I have to tell myself to be still. But after, when I can do that, when God gives me the grace and strength to focus on Him, and not my emotions I always feel good when I have won that battle.

The hard stuff is always worth it. My natural response is to coast, but I know that God is always calling me to push closer and work harder. He’s always calling me out of my complacency. He’s calling me out of laziness, and into the growth and freedom that He can bring through embracing the difficult before and the wonderful after.

Anything worth having is hard. Anything worth having takes work. How do you know if something is worth having? It’s found in the before and after.