Love your neighbor.

There was this hashtag going around on Twitter last week called #EmptyThePews, and normally I don’t like to get into this sort of thing, but I think we just need to talk about it.

The hashtag was trying, among other things, to get people to boycott church. People were using it to explain why they left the church or left their faith entirely.

Reading some of the thoughts expressed through #EmptyThePews breaks my heart. This is partially because people have left their faith, I guess.

But most of all, it’s because I fully understand their reasons why. None of it confuses me at all.

I think Christians have done a great job of following rules, regulations and doctrine and a terrible job of loving. One of the most important instructions Jesus gave is to love others as much as we love ourselves. And I think we just get it wrong.

Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that ‘love your neighbor’ means ‘love your neighbor if…’

We collectively added a silent ‘if.’

If they’re not gay, or or if they’re not addicted to drugs, or if they’re not a democrat, or if they’re not an immigrant, or if they haven’t had an abortion, or if they’re not a single mom, or if they’re not gay one more time because we tend to get hung up on that one, etc. etc. etc.

All of those little ifs after ‘love your neighbor’ seemed to replace the ‘with no agenda and with reckless abandon because we’re all human and deserve to be known and loved’ part.

If someone can commit themselves to loving that way instead, I have a hard time believing the gates of heaven won’t swing open wide for them regardless of gender identity, race, political beliefs or even struggles and shortcomings.

When I first started going to church and was still figuring out my faith, if someone told me, “I just can’t get on board with Christianity,” my response would have been: “No! That’s so sad! Why not? How can you not love Christianity? It’s just the best!”

Today, my response would simply be, “I totally get it.”

I do. And that’s what breaks my heart more than anything.

I’ve seen Christians insert ‘if’ after ‘if’ into the commandment ‘love your neighbor’ until it doesn’t look much like loving your neighbor at all.

I think we need to stop focusing on our own agenda and start following Jesus’ lead.

If our goal is to show those around us what God thinks of them, we should love our neighbors regardless of where they’ve been or where they currently are because that is exactly how God feels about them.

If our goal is to obey God’s most important instructions, we should realize that He has already given us everything we need to start loving fully: a whole bunch of other people who are made in His image just like us.

Quiet love, in my experience, has always been a lot more effective than loud hate.

In fact, one of my all-time favorite moments in the Bible is in Luke chapter 23. It’s when Jesus is hanging on the Cross between two other criminals who are also being crucified.

One of the criminals is loudly yelling obscenities, hating and spitting on Jesus and those around him.

The other criminal, believing Jesus is who He says He is, turns to Him and quietly says,

“We are being punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But You have done nothing wrong. Lord, please remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.”

Jesus turns to him and smiling says,

“I will tell you the truth – today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Jesus, asking no questions, promises to bring him straight to heaven. Why?

Because in that moment, that man chose to turn from hate and quietly love his neighbor – who just so happened to be Jesus.

That simple act got him a one-way ticket to heaven from his death bed, so imagine what other good it can do.

I think we can all do a better job of recognizing that no church is perfect and neither are any of us.

So I think Christians have a new challenge on our hands:

#FillThePews.

Show up. But as different people with changed hearts and one mission: to love and be loved.

No ifs.

#RealTalk

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Control.

screen-shot-2017-02-14-at-3-54-16-pmToday is supposed to be about celebrating love, but I think for a lot of people, it’s also about experiencing hurt.   

I know that is a pretty depressing thought, so you’re welcome for bringing you down just when you thought your week was starting to look up. It is only Tuesday after all, so we can’t get too carried away with our it’s-almost-the-weekend excitement quite yet. I’m just trying to help you manage your expectations.

But I think it’s an unfortunate reality that any holiday that celebrates love – Thanksgiving, Christmas, even birthdays and anniversaries – can also be a reminder of lost love.

I’m really bad at dealing with people when they’re upset.

I want to be there for them – a ray of hope in the darkness, a constant source of companionship, conversation and cookies. But really, I am awkward and shy, and I never know what to say.

So I give uncomfortable hugs, keep my distance and say cookie cutter things like:

“I’m so sorry – you are in my thoughts and prayers”

and:

“God knows what you need”

and:

“Don’t hesitate to reach out if there’s anything I can do.”

I try my very hardest, and fail my very hardest in some cases I think, to respond to pain from a christian perspective, and in the most loving way I know how.

I’ve witnessed a lot of people who are scared, upset, hurt or worried about what the future might hold for them in ways I can’t possibly imagine.

There are a lot of things I’m still trying to figure out, but there is one thing I recently learned I can do to change my perspective.

In trying to comfort those who are upset, I’ve noticed a lot of well-meaning, kind-hearted christians say something to the effect of: 

“Just remember that God is in control.”

I know I have heard those words from my own lips many times. It’s part of my cookie cutter response to situations I am uncomfortable in.

Hypocritically though, whenever I am upset, hurt, worried or scared about something, hearing that one sentence always infuriates me. And I’m not easily infuriated.

I have cringed whenever I’ve heard myself say it. For the longest time, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why.

The intentions behind the sentiment are nice, but it never gets any easier to hear in the moment.

I always thought maybe this is because I am a terrible person. But it turns out, hopefully, that’s not entirely true.

I know people aren’t meaning to upset me when they say this. I know I am not meaning to upset anyone when I say it. And I do believe it is true.

So why did it always make me so angry?

This year, I figured it out because of how Jesus responded when Lazarus died.

I saw this tweet and decided to read back through the story of Jesus and the death of Lazarus. It is a pretty moving one.

Jesus had become close with a man named Lazarus and his two sisters – Martha and Mary. When Martha and Mary sent a letter to Jesus to let him know that Lazarus was sick, He knew God was in control. He didn’t think for a second otherwise.

Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death.”

He had the power to heal Lazarus no matter what. When Jesus returned to the village of Bethany, where Lazarus and his sisters lived, He learned Lazarus had died and was laid to rest in a tomb for the past four days.

Even then, Jesus knew God was in control.

He said to Martha, “Your brother will rise again.”

When Martha took Jesus to see Lazarus in his tomb though, Jesus didn’t say anything. He was silent.

He only wept.

But He is the Messiah, with the ability to do anything at all – even resurrect from the dead – something He assured Martha He would do.

So why was He weeping? Didn’t He know God is in control?

As I asked myself those questions, I realized something: Jesus did know. And so do I.

Being reminded God is in control when I’m upset is meant to make me feel better, but it actually upsets me even more. Not because I don’t believe it, but because it’s a disguised way of telling me to dismiss the hurt that I feel.

Jesus never dismisses pain. He embraces it.

He hurts with me. He allows it to be real.

He eventually uses it to mold me, challenge me and strengthen me. But before that, He simply comforts me while requiring nothing of me.

He is patient with me.

He sees me wounded, and at first, He says nothing.

He is silent.

He takes my hand and weeps with me.

There is always a period of healing, but first, there is always a period where I am allowed to come to Him and just be hurt.

A fun fact I learned: The word “Christian” is derived from a Greek word meaning “Like-Christ.”

I think there are certain ways that as Christians, we can work on living up to that title, and I think this is one of them.

Before you and I find ourselves criticizing someone for being upset instead of peacefully trusting that God is in control, I think we need to ask ourselves if that is the most loving thing we can do in that moment.

Sometimes our friends need us to gently remind them what is true, but other times, they need us to just hold their hand, weep and allow the hurt.

I think when you lose someone or something you love no matter the circumstances, it is hard because you are genuinely afraid of the uncertainty missing something can bring.

And while fear can sometimes indicate we aren’t trusting God fully, it most often indicates that we’re human.

God knows that. He made us human and expects us to be human.

We need to expect that of each other too.

We don’t need to dismiss pain. It’s okay to feel it. It’s okay to let it be real. It doesn’t mean you trust God less.

You are allowed to trust God and be hurt. They are not mutually exclusive feelings. God will still lead with love and reveal why we don’t need to be afraid in His own timing.

God is in control.

If we forget, He will remind us.

What we need to be reminding each other is this:

While we are waiting on God to break the silence, it’s okay to weep.

#RealTalk

33 reasons 33 is the coolest.

a71e2-unnamedHappy Birthday to my wonderful husband! Every year with you has been amazing so far, and I have a feeling this will be one of the best years yet. Here are 33 reasons why:

1

33 is the largest positive integer that cannot be expressed as a sum of different triangular numbers AND the smallest odd repdigit that is not a prime number.

That’s right. A repdigit. We’re off to a good start here.

2

33 is, miraculously, the eighth distinct semiprime comprising the prime factors (3 × 11). Its aliquot sum is 15; itself a discrete semiprime (3 × 5) in the following aliquot sequence 33, 15, 9, 4, 3, 1, 0.
(Note: 33 is the 8th composite number to descend into the prime number 3, the others outside of this sequence being 30, 26, 16, 12. Just note that.)

33 is a Blum integer, since 33 is a semiprime with both its prime factors being Gaussian primes. What’s more, it’s a Størmer number, since the greatest prime factor of 332 + 1 = 1090 is 109, which is obviously more than 33 twice. (Obviously.)

Also, 33 is the smallest diophantine number which has yet to be represented in the form a³ + b³ + c³, where a, b and c are integers.

(Am I hearing this right? YET TO BE REPRESENTED? Get it together, math.)

I got all of this information from Wikipedia, and I don’t know math, so the accuracy is questionable. Okay, let’s move on.

3

33 is the atomic number of arsenic. So if you need to poison someone, this is your year. Let’s be honest. You live in New York and contemplate poisoning people on the daily.

4

A normal human spine has 33 vertebrae. So no one can call you spineless. Not this year.

5.

33 is, according to the Newton scale, the temperature at which water boils. Fun fact: At 33, you can just look at water and boil it. Hogwarts, here you come.

6.

33s are also known as long playing records, or LPs. Time to bring back your hipster beard, because this is the year of the vinyl Daya album from Urban Outfitters.

7.

The divine name of God, Elohim, appears 33 times in the story of creation in the opening chapters of Genesis.

So may you be reminded this year that the Name above all names holds your life in His hands always. (Aww look – I can be serious.)

8.

According to Al-Ghazali, the dwellers of Heaven will exist eternally in a state of being at age 33. Clearly, it is the perfect age. No matter how old you get, you can always be 33 in heaven according to this guy. Make choices this year accordingly. Just in case.

9.

33 is the numerical equivalent of AMEN: 1+13+5+14=33. So you should make prayer an even bigger part of your life this year. And, instead of saying Amen at the end, you should say: “1+13+5+14 and goodnight.” Just to switch things up.

10.

33 is the title of the first episode of the 2004 Battlestar Galactica television series in which the Cylons came every 33 minutes. Finally, Battlestar Galactica has some significance in your life besides just being a source of endless jokes for your wife about who you are as a person.

11.

The 33 Strategies of War is a book by Robert Greene. Time to memorize those for our next argument.

12.

In French, Italian, Romanian, Spanish and Portuguese, 33 is the word which a patient is usually asked to say when a doctor is listening to his or her lungs with a stethoscope. Whenever someone asks how old you are this year, you have to hand them a stethoscope and make them listen to your lungs while you answer. You can never be too careful.

13.

33 is the number printed on all Rolling Rock beer labels. Because now that you’re closer to your mid-thirties than your early thirties, you can begin your slow descent into mid-life alcoholism. Better get a head start on that crisis you have coming up. (Just kidding. Love you.)

14.

The number 33 was discovered to lead to the essential meaning of life (the Bible) in Dan Brown’s 2009 novel The Lost Symbol. It sounds like you have a big year ahead. When you find out the meaning of life, please share it with your wife so she can figure out what in the world she is doing with hers.

15.

December 2, 1983 was a Friday, and it was the 336th day of the year 1983. The next time you can reuse your old 1983 calendar will be in 2022. Both calendars will be exactly the same! Assuming you just have that calendar still lying around. I mean, who doesn’t save the calendar from their birth year for no reason at all?

16.

33 years ago on Dec. 2, Michael Jackson’s Thriller video aired on MTV for the first time. So whenever you’re having a bad day this year, you can break out that dance.

17.

33 years ago, Carnegie Mellon professor Dr. Scott Fahlman invented the first emoticon: the smiley.

Wait…what’s that you just said? “I vow this year to stop making fun of Elizabeth for being a social media obsessed millennial because the year of my birth actually also gave birth to all I constantly make fun of her for?” Oh, okay…I mean, if you insist. #emoticonsaregood #emojisaregreat

18.

Because 30s are the new 20s, according to Friends Reunited.

 

19.

Because Buzzfeed described 33 as the most “zen-like year of your thirties.”

20.

The average resting heart rate (HRrest) for a 33 year old is 73 beats per minute.
Okay, okay fine. It’s true. This list is longer than expected, and I am running out of clever ideas.

21.

This could be you! “Jennifer Aniston Adopts 33-year-old Boyfriend”

22.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi also turns 33 years old this year. So you and bae are growing old together.

23.

David Foster Wallace offers you this advice about turning 33. It’s only a little depressing.

“I am now 33 years old, and it feels like much time has passed and is passing faster and faster every day. Day to day I have to make all sorts of choices about what is good and important and fun, and then I have to live with the forfeiture of all the other options those choices foreclose. And I’m starting to see how as time gains momentum my choices will narrow and their foreclosures multiply exponentially until I arrive at some point on some branch of all life’s sumptuous branching complexity at which I am finally locked in and stuck on one path and time speeds me through stages of stasis and atrophy and decay until I go down for the third time, all struggle for naught, drowned by time.”

24.

Edmund Hillary was 33 when he became the first man to reach Mount Everest. Also, at the age of 33, Anita Dhake had saved enough money that she was able to quit her day job, retire early, and travel the world.

Talk about an “Oh shiz. Better get my life together.” moment.

25.

Wait….this is supposed to make you happy about turning 33 because it’s the coolest. Sorry for the brief reality check.

26.

Wow I am seriously running out of things to say here.

27.

Like there is not that much to say about 33. I’m sorry. You are old.

28.

I’m sorry – I didn’t mean it! I’m just getting hangry.

29.

You will always have a wife eight years younger than you! One day, she’ll be able to wheel you around when she goes out for her morning runs. Weeee!

30.

I love you.

31.

If you think about it, it’s really just the 20th anniversary of your 13th birthday. Happy puberty!

32.

That would suck to turn 13 again. So just take comfort in the fact that the worst years (middle school) are behind you

33.

Okay, joking aside. 33 is a good year. It is going to be YOUR year! It is really such a blessing to turn 33.

Here’s why:

The number 33 is connected to the promises of God.

The 33rd time Noah’s name is used in Scripture is when God makes a promise with him – the Eternal promise to not destroy the world again with a flood – and seals His pledge with the sign of the rainbow (Genesis 9:12 – 16).

The 33rd time Abraham’s name is used in the Bible is when Isaac, the child of promise, is born to him when he is ninety-nine years old (Genesis 21:1 – 2).

The 33rd time Jacob’s name is found in scripture is when he promised to give a tenth of all he had to God when he had a vision of a ladder reaching to heaven. This is commonly referred to as Jacob’s ladder. (Genesis 28:10 – 12, 16 – 22).

And finally, most importantly, the significance of 33 is also seen at Jesus’ death at the age of 33. His sacrifice was the fulfillment of countless promises concerning the Savior of man.

The same God who died on the cross for your sins and was miraculously raised to life three days later so that you may know Him intimately and infinitely, is the very same God that is by your side every step of the way this year.

Just like Noah, Abraham and Jacob, He knows you by name.

His love for you and power over your life has remained constant since He came to this earth to save you before you were even alive to know that you needed a Savior.

He knows what you need and when you need it before it’s even a thought in your mind, and He has never failed you and never will.

It’s okay to not have everything figured out. You don’t need to, because He does.

Accept any challenges that come your way this year as part of your journey, find out what you can learn from them and continue allowing yourself to grow and be shaped into His masterpiece.

I hope and pray that you can find peace, fulfillment and joy in His promises this year, and walk closer with God than ever before as you continue to know and love Him deeper.

#RealTalk

Happy Birthday, my love!

New Year’s Eve.

I used to hate New Year’s Eve when I was growing up.

It was probably my least favorite day of the entire year.  I hate endings, and time stresses me out.  I was overwhelmed by the thought of saying goodbye to everything that happened that year and starting over, and I was intimidated by the thought of another 365 days passing.  Now, this day is important to me for a lot of reasons. This year in particular, I found myself actually looking forward to it.

When I was a senior in high school, I attended a youth group at a local church a couple of times.  The youth group was throwing a New Year’s Eve party, and I decided to go because, like any 18-year-old girl, I wanted to debut my favorite new outfit I received for Christmas, I was hoping cute boys would be there, and anything to hang out with friends instead of parents on New Year’s Eve, right?  I walked in to the party worrying about my hair, worrying about whether I was fashionably late enough, and worrying about my outfit. I left the party with something better than all of that.

I was more stressed than I had ever been in my life that year (In my early twenties now, that seems like such a joke, and I’m sure it will become even more of a joke the older and more stressed that I get.) I was applying to colleges, trying to figure out what I wanted to be, dating for the first time and getting ready to move away from home for the first time too.  It was overwhelming, and I was trying to take control of all of it. I was making all of these plans and feeling like a failure every time they didn’t work out.

But when the clock struck midnight, something happened that I had never been a part of before – everyone stood in a circle and held hands, and my friend’s dad prayed for the new year.  I had never experienced a group of friends coming together to pray like that, and the love that I felt in that moment was indescribable.  It filled the room. As her dad prayed, he said something simple that I’ll never forget.

“Every year, we make all of these resolutions on New Year’s Eve, and they’re all about how we can make ourselves better – how we can lose weight, get better grades, be a better person.  They’re all about us.  But this year, I pray that it would be all of our new year’s resolutions to have less of us, and more of You.”

Less of us, and more of You.
It seems so simple, but it made me realize that less of me, who has no idea what she’s doing, and more of God, who knows exactly what he’s doing all the time, is what I needed to find the peace that I couldn’t seem to get my hands on that year.

That night, I knelt by the window in my bedroom and talked to God. It was my favorite spot to talk to him because you could see the moon and the stars. I had done this so many times, but this time, it felt different.  Until that point, God had been an aspect of my life just like school, friends, family and youth group were aspects of my life.  But that night, as I knelt by my window in tears, I asked him to become the center of my life.  And that made all the difference.

Since then, this day is one of the most important days of the year for me. It reminds me that I can let go of the year before and don’t have to worry about the year ahead, because I am loved and I am His, and that is enough.

This year is particularly important because tomorrow on New Year’s Day will be the first day of the same year that I get married.

My fiancé Vince and I met at a church called St. Mark’s in Florence, Italy. We were both in Florence studying for four months and attending St. Mark’s while we were there. We met one afternoon on the outdoor terrace above the church where everyone usually gathered for coffee and tea after the service.

I still remember the radiant smile on his face when he walked in, and I remember turning to my friends and saying, “I call that one.” (We were always calling dibs on cute boys.) We became friends right away, and I guess the rest is history.

After we were together for about two and a half years, we took a trip back to Florence, and he planned to propose to me on the terrace in the same spot where we met.  He had all of these elaborate ideas.  He bought a guitar and had it shipped so that he could play a song he learned for me.  He planned to decorate the whole terrace with candles and ask me to marry him after playing the song.  To top it all off, the day he planned to propose at St. Mark’s was a Sunday – the same day as the feast of St. Mark.  It seemed too good to be true.

That morning, I went out for a run, and he started making preparations.  The guitar still hadn’t arrived, and the church didn’t have any extras.  None of the stores were open in Florence because of the holiday, so four months of planning and learning to play that song were probably not going to work out after all. Halfway through the morning, it began thundering and pouring rain.  He waited for it to clear, but as I came back from my run and the thunderstorm still hadn’t let up, he realized that decorating the terrace with candles and proposing in a monsoon would probably only be romantic as described in a Nicholas Sparks novel.

Despite everything working against him, so much planning and preparation had gone into this moment that he decided to just go with it anyway.  He told me we were meeting some friends for dinner later and to meet him downstairs in the church in about an hour. I showered and began getting ready, and Vince and our friend Jason hurriedly scrambled around the church to dig up any candles they could find and light them throughout the sanctuary and all along the staircase.

I was running late (as usual), and when I ran flustered to the top of the steps, I stopped to see Vince standing at the bottom of a staircase glittering with candles in a tuxedo and his grandfather’s bow tie, with the same radiant smile as the day I first met him.

I immediately felt nervous and thought to myself, “The day I have been dreaming about since I was a little girl is really happening!” I was too shocked to even cry, and Vince hasn’t let me forget that.

He took my hand and led me laughing through a dark broom closet. Not exactly how either of us pictured the proposal to begin, but hilarious all the same. He took me straight to the altar at the front of the church and began explaining all of these elaborate ideas he had.  He told me there were so many ways he wanted this day to go, so many plans he had pictured in his head, and he watched each one of them get stripped away until all that was left for this moment was us and God.

The whole process made him realize that’s all there ever needed to be.

He learned we are constantly trying to make plans and take control of them so everything goes our way.  But if we let go of the control and let God be the center, He’ll strip away the excess and give us what we truly need – which usually amounts to what that midnight on New Year’s Eve in high school made clear: less of us and more of Him.

Vince held my hand, knelt on one knee inside the empty church and asked me to marry him. I said yes, of course.

A lot of changes in plans led to that moment with me on my knees in front of my bedroom window six years ago, and a lot of changes in plans led to that moment with Vince on his knee in front of me at the altar last year.

Vince is always apologizing that the proposal wasn’t perfect and didn’t go quite as planned.  But I’m thankful for a God who disrupts our plans so that something greater can come together in his perfect timing.  And I’m thankful for a man who reflects so much of God’s heart by reminding me that there is beauty in imperfection, perfection in simplicity and true love to be found in letting go.

#RealTalk
3c562-photo
 Happy New Year 🙂