Dec 19, 2013

: I think I'm fat 85% of the time (& Jesus is helping me)

When I was a junior in high school, I was 5’8” and weighed 190 pounds. I’ll save you a Google search and show you my place on the BMI Scale. A few more pounds and I would’ve been in the dark orange section and everything.

I always knew I was overweight. My sisters were born skinny, and their combined waistlines equaled my upper thigh. I constantly compared myself to them and every 120-pound celebrity that gallivanted around the beach in a bikini with her Thor-like boyfriend and cute puppy. After a combination of neglected abuse and watching one too many Disney movies, I decided I would stop eating my feelings away. I stopped eating altogether, and in three months I dropped thirty pounds and three dress sizes. Going into my senior year, I felt confident for the first time in my life because everyone paid attention to me. Boys thought I was pretty, I enjoyed shopping for clothes, and the popular girls let me hang out with them. It was everything I ever wanted. I wasn’t simply accepted, but worshipped. Eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, but mine was packaged with self-hatred, self-love, starvation, and the occasional gag-yourself-until-you-vomit bit as a punishment for eating chocolate.

Adding to the mess, I fell in love with Jesus around the same time. As the months passed, God revealed the upside-down truth that I would not be satisfied until he was worshipped instead of me. I was competing for his throne by demanding the world’s worship and affirmation. After listening to a hundred million sermons on body image, I found that most teachings fell into one of two categories:

First, there’s the “You’re so awesome and beautiful and perfect and the Lord doesn’t find one single flaw in you because you’re a sweet daughter of the King” teaching. I’ve always been turned off by this because I’m flawed, you’re flawed, and we all know it. My body isn’t perfect. If I sit down, I can count on having a roll in my stomach. If I’ve had Baja burrito, a second one is bound to show up. Zits frequent my face. I have a birthmark shaped like a strawberry on my stomach. My thighs have cellulite. Sometimes a singular hair grows on my chin like an 89-year old British lady with boils on her face. I’m not trying to be unnecessarily hard on feel-good teaching, but it seems that, while sprinkled with hints of God, this ultimately ends with more unsatisfying self-worship.

Second, there’s the “Eating disorders are idolatry!” method. I’ve heard lots of people say things like, “You’re thinking of your body more than you think about the Lord and his supremacy and perfection! Stop thinking about yourself and take every thought captive, like NOW!” I don’t even disagree with this theology, but many times it lacks grace. While it is true that most eating disorders ironically stem from idolatry and pride, we cannot forget that all of us are hurting. It’s not a simple, “Stop being prideful and you’ll stop binging on Oreos” fix. People are (literally) killing themselves for acceptance, hope, and love. Is it pride? Sure. But we need to be gentle about it, remembering that the prideful are covered with waterfalls of grace.

The whole reason I started thinking about this is in the first place is because I dyed my hair purple last week and all sorts of self-hatred, self-obsessed feelings came rushing in. Then I thought to myself: If my security was drastically shaken by a bottle of purple dye and a pair of scissors, there’s a problem. I also realized how many thoughts I have that deal with my weight: my arms being too fat or my face looking swollen. It’s become normal for me to obsess over my body and myself. I’m startled by how fragile the foundation is on which I’ve built my self-acceptance. It’s an “incurvatus in se” foundation— turned inward on myself. In the midst of these emotions, the Lord reminded me of a parable in Matthew 7:

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

I want to build my identity on a foundation that cannot be moved by society, the media, or “fat days.” I want to stake my acceptance on a Rock that knows and loves based on His worth, not mine. I want to remember that there is a better way of living, generously made available by a wonderful God. I do not have to be a slave to empty self-obsession. I have been made a worshipper of Christ by the cross. I have been founded on the Rock.

Children of God, be encouraged: you do not have to be enslaved by self-obsession, pride, eating disorders, and the like. Through the power of the Spirit, you and I can turn outward and become worshippers of Christ. If you are stuck in a cycle of self-obsession, there is room for you at the cross. Turn around and run to him. He makes self-denying worshippers out of self-obsessed rebels. There is hope. Run to him.

(PS: I don’t know if you’ve ever written a blog post, but sometimes you feel confident about them and sometimes you feel like you want to vomit. I am particularly nauseated about this post because it seems scattered and sloppy. But that’s also how I feel about the subject. That being said, please be gracious with me as I struggle through a difficult area. I’m not married to anything I’ve said; I’m just in the process.)

Dec 6, 2013

: what I learned about Jesus from Santa Claus

Every year on Christmas Eve, I helped my grandfather dress up like Santa Claus in the garage so he could make a special visit to my little cousins. I stuffed a pillow in his costume for a belly, covered his cheeks with rosy blush, and pulled out the same white wig he’d been using since 1993. He made a big entrance on the outside porch, waved to the kids through the window, dropped off a few presents, and escaped just before they could get a good glimpse of his face.

I loved seeing my cousins’ eyes fill with wonder. They screamed and jumped and trampled over each other to get the presents Santa left them: “I can’t believe he visited us,” they’d say, trying to figure out how he could possibly make it to the kids in China before morning. Like clockwork, my grandfather would walk in after his conveniently timed nap, stretch out his hands and yawn, then ask what all the fuss was about.

You’ll never believe it! Santa came! He really came! You missed it!
I think I saw Rudolph on the roof, too!
He gave us presents a day early, can you believe it!

My grandfather laughed and smiled and asked a hundred questions: “What did Santa look like?” “Did you see what color eyes he had?” “Is his belly as big as everyone says it is?” Hour after hour, year after year, he listened to his grandchildren talk about Santa’s visit. His eyes were full of wonder, too—almost like something came alive in him when they talked about it with such confidence. Knowing the kids were clueless about his identity as Santa Claus, my grandfather wasn’t too concerned. He knew that one day, they’d understand. In due time, they’d be in on the big secret, too. One day, they’d be the ones stuffing pillows and helping put on fake wigs to give the next generation of children wonderstruck eyes. For now, he was satisfied with being wondered at.

It makes me think of when I first wondered about Jesus. I couldn’t make out his face, but I knew he was real. I knew it was him. I remember talking to my friends, babbling on and on about the new things I discovered: “Can you believe the cross covers it all? Like right now, he loves me as I am! Not some future version of me! Can you believe it?” I bet it brought so much delight to God, for me to be asking and believing and marveling about him. Day after day, year after year, he waved from the back porch, leaving gifts for me to rip open and enjoy. I had been wondering my whole life, really, until it clicked: He is real. Like really real. It didn’t seem to bother him that I didn’t fully understand the magnitude of his identity—that he was both the Giver and the Gift, the Wonder and the Wonderful One. He knew that one day, I’d be in on the big secret. He knew that in time, I would bear the image of Wonder, too.

Let us not lose sight of the simple enchantment of the Gospel—that God has gone to great lengths to make himself accessible. He waves at all of us from the back porch, leaving presents for us to enjoy for enjoyment’s sake. Remember that he delights in your delight of him. Let your eyes be filled with wonder, knowing he is real and chose to visit you.

Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” –Matthew 18:3

Nov 12, 2013

: life of a never-been-kissed-ex-porn-addict child of God

I don’t have a catchy opening line. Sorry.
It’s probably because I feel really, really uncomfortable writing this post.

The whole thing is strange because I’ve written about sexual abuse and being addicted to pornography and having an eating disorder on this blog. Still, my hands are jittery as I write this out: I’ve never been kissed and I don’t really want to until I’m engaged or maybe even married. And I want you to hear that sentence apart from images of your youth leader screaming things like, "Modest is hottest! True love waits! I kissed dating goodbye!"

Because my story isn’t everyone’s story, nor does it need to be. It’s a bizarre sexual dilemma because I was abused and addicted to pornography for years but I’ve never been kissed. My purity has been stripped away, but my purity has also been spared. Ultimately, my sexual identity, righteousness, and holiness can only come from Christ. Still, though, I’ve found it emotionally taxing to battle shame about both the things I have done and the things I haven’t done.

It reminds me of my senior year of high school when I saw the devastating images of Hurricane Ike on television. It leveled out the entire town of Gilchrist, Texas, with the exception of one home. Soon, pictures of the “last house standing” circulated around the Internet and news shows. It was a bizarre sight: a charming white and yellow house surrounded by a wasteland of debris. For whatever reason, God preserved this place and not another—he preserved Pam and Warren Adams instead of the Jones family down the street. It’s in inexplicable act of mercy.

In many ways, this is how I picture my sexuality. There are years and miles of damage surrounding me, but God chose to preserve one particular area of my purity. And I’d like to say it’s because I’m so awesome and said no to all my gawking suitors, but it’s not true. I put myself in dozens of stupid situations with men in the past five years. I don’t deserve to have anything left standing. It’s an inexplicable act of mercy. It is something to be celebrated.

Many people instinctually say, “Bless your heart, isn’t that the sweetest thing!” when they hear I’ve never been kissed. This belittles the gravity of the situation, though, because it’s not sweet. The last house standing isn’t sweet. It’s a fierce act of preservation. It’s divine kindness. It is bit of treasure found in my jar of clay, “to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to me. I am afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4). It is humbling. It is grace.

I’m not sure why purity has become so cheesy nowadays, and I’m not trying to rally for “Virgin Lips” t-shirts. This isn’t a no-kissing revolution. It’s just my story, and my story’s all I have. I hope you find this to be an encouragement or maybe even a challenge. Really, I hope you see the mercy of God in it all.

(I’m going to press on “publish” and run away from my computer for the next year now. BYE.)

Oct 8, 2013

: my self-nomination for the Super-Christian award

Sometimes I wish Jesus sent hipster devotional videos from heaven like he sent manna to the Israelites. This one would be entitled “What to do when you’re a restless and drained Christian.”

The other night I found myself with a tired heart and tears in my eyes while talking to a dear friend about my relationship with God. Honestly, I’ve been so busy for the past two months I haven’t had the time to sit or process or be with other believers. And I’ve known something has been wrong because my heart feels restless in a way I’ve never experienced before. My soul isn’t at ease. I’m tired and abnormally stressed. It’s like I’ve switched to autopilot mode: I’m not living my own life but watching someone else live it for me. It reminds me of a verse in Psalm 39: “Everyone goes around like a mere phantom; in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth without knowing whose it will finally be.” I’m going through the motions and surviving, but that’s about it. So basically, I’m a super-Christian and I’ll give away autographed copies of my biography later this week.

Seriously though, I’ve never been this overcommitted, so I didn’t even know how to respond at first. From a practical standpoint, the way I’m living is harmful because, at best, I am doing an average job at life. Everything is a muted version of what it could be. Really, I’m not even living in the truest sense of the word. I’m surviving.

This isn’t the kind of existence God calls us to, is it? To simply survive the next eighty years until we die or he returns? It reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 10: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” God calls us to live abundantly, to live fully. This doesn’t mean unicorns will burst into song when you wake up every morning, but it does mean that you and I can experience true life, peace, and joy through the power of the Spirit.

Something needed to change, so yesterday I talked to my manager and asked to go on a nine-week work break so I could focus on school. She didn’t stone me. I cancelled some coffee dates, set aside time for writing, and bought Christmas lights to decorate my room with. I watched the Red Sox game in my pajamas for no other reason than the fact that I like watching baseball in my pajamas. I texted some friends and apologized for being absent. They didn’t stone me. I repented and asked God to forgive me for being stupid (poetic, I know) and disregarding his command to keep the Sabbath. He didn’t stone me. And no lie, I feel significantly more rested even today: spiritually, physically, and emotionally.

I don’t know why I’m surprised, because God promises to give us rest if we turn to him. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

If you’re tired and barely surviving, be honest with yourself. Cut things out of your schedule that don’t need to be there and create space for your relationship with God. Do not be ashamed. Repent, ask for forgiveness, and move towards life (and life to the full).

Sep 25, 2013

: shame (and other things I've been controlled by)

Recently I've been reading a book about the shaming effects of sexual abuse. Going into it, I thought to myself, "Luckily I don't have any shame so this should be a quick read" but now I'm in tears after every chapter and on a Jesus-music-only diet until further notice. This book defines shame as the belief that if people really knew who you were, you would no longer be acceptable. Shame drives you into a living a life of secrets, dishonesty, and numbness.

I can't remember a time I felt ashamed before I was abused, but I have vivid memories of shame and embarrassment from every year afterwards. In fifth grade, for example, I was so nervous to say the pledge of allegiance in front of the class I made myself sick and threw up in the trashcan by our lockers. I legitimately felt like it was the end of the world. In sixth grade, I remember the look on everyone's faces when I told them I wasn't allowed to listen to the Spice Girls. In seventh grade, I remember running into the bathroom and crying after all the boys nicknamed me "Savage." In eighth grade, I remember when I cut my bangs too short and a girl in science class said, "Why did she do that to her face?" This was also the first time I remember someone calling me fat. In ninth grade, I remember the shame I felt after realizing nobody was going to ask me to homecoming. In tenth grade, I remember when a boy said he was too afraid to play basketball with me for fear of getting trampled on. In eleventh grade, I remember how embarrassed I was when I didn't get asked to prom. My senior year of high school, I remember feeling ashamed that I didn't wear a bikini on our class beach trip.

I became so wrapped up in toxic shame that I was afraid to do or say anything out of the ordinary. If I'm being really honest, I spent an entire decade of my life creating versions of myself that I believed to be more acceptable than who I really was. When that girl in science class made fun of my bangs, I pinned them up every single day until they grew out. Why? Because I wanted to be more acceptable. When everyone started wearing UGGs, I made my mom go to the mall and get me a pair because I was terrified of standing out. They are seriously the worst, most ugly boots in the entire world, but I still wore them with every outfit in order to be accepted and avoid shame.

It reminds me of a man that Jesus encountered in Matthew 8: “Behold, a leper came to Jesus and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.’ And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, ‘I will; be clean.’ And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, ‘See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.’”

Lepers were marked by shame and rejection. They had to yell, “Unclean, unclean!” if they approached anyone in the town. After Jesus healed the man (by touching him, which is a statement in itself) Jesus told him to go to the priests and offer a gift as proof of his cleanliness. How terrifying would it be to go to the very people who shamed you most and say, “I am ashamed no more. I am accepted. I am clean.” This is what Jesus does, though. He looks at the rejected and says, You are rejected no more. He touches the ashamed and says, You are accepted, there is no condemnation for you. He reaches out to the dirty and says, I have made you clean. While the world has marked you with a scarlet letter and commanded you to stay outside the city walls, Jesus invites you into the center of his Kingdom. Child of God, this is your new identity: accepted, unashamed, known, and loved.

Sep 18, 2013

: on the cusp of eternity

Think for a minute on the sober reality that one day very soon, the credits of your life will roll and you will stand alone before God as Judge. You will have nothing in your hands. You will not be able to point your finger and blame this person or that disadvantage. You will not be able to empty your pockets and show records of your tithing or church attendance. You will not have a world map available to mark every country in which you built a well. It will not matter if everyone on earth revered you as a philanthropic world-changer. All that will matter on the cusp of eternity is how God views you. 

You lift up your head and lock eyes with the Judge. His gaze overwhelms you with the colors of holiness, and now, maybe more than ever before, you understand just how small you are in comparison to Him. You are asked to give an account for your life. Rushing through the first decade or so, you finally get to the part when you were eighteen and listened to that sermon from a pastor in Texas. That was when your eyes were opened and, long story short, you trusted Jesus for your salvation. The Judge smirks and waves his hand for you to continue.

You tell him about the nights you spent on your knees, begging for wisdom. You talk about all the adventures and connections, moments of faith and moments of doubt. Countless celebrations, weddings, birthdays, and memories flash before your eyes. Clear as day, you see how every second of your life- every fiber of your being- shouted hallelujah after all. You cry out, Nothing in my hands I bring, only to the cross I cling, as the old hymn goes. Everything is accounted for and your eternity is staked on the love of Jesus, on the love of the Judge himself.

His gavel drops and thunder runs through your body. Accompanied by the roaring celebration of angels and saints, your life truly begins:

"Well done, my good and faithful servant."

Sep 3, 2013

: trust him when it hurts

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
-Proverbs 3

Trust in the Lord with every bit of heart you can manage to muster. This won't be easy because you've probably been hurt by someone that once held your heart, but still the command remains: Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Trust him with your future. Trust him with your dreams. Trust him when it's easy. Trust him when the entire world screams that He is untrustworthy. Trust him when it hurts. Trust him when you're well. Trust him when you don't understand. 

Trust him when you find yourself at the foot of a sea with an Egyptian army behind you. Trust him when there's no way out. Remember that the One who made the sea and sky and even those Egyptians is with you.

Do not lean on your own understanding because you have a small understanding after all. You cannot predict when the sea will split open and defy the laws of nature in obedience to the will of God. Look for paths in the water, for open doors and burning bushes, and run to them. These are the fingerprints of God in your life: he has given you access to Glory. He has given you access to a new way of understanding.

He has given you access to Himself, cracking open the sea of our transgression and shame and rebellion with his bare hands. He defied reason, time, gravity, and space by wrapping inexhaustible radiance in a hundred and seventy some odd pounds of skin and bones and blood and water. This is a wildly unpredictable solution hailing from a wildly unpredictable God.

This is the One in whom you can trust, the One on whom you can lean.

Aug 20, 2013

: one year later

The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad. 
Psalm 126:3

One year ago, I shared my story of sexual abuse for the first time.

In that moment, it would've been impossible for me to understand the significance of telling the truth- impossible to grasp the amount of change and grief and growth I would experience. For nine months, I cried and yelled at God, then cried about yelling at God until my eyes were swollen shut. I started going to therapy. I lost relationships with half of my family. I gained a new family with my church. I took school seriously. I fell in love with the book of Lamentations. I got really good at making cupcakes. I stopped reading my Bible. I started reading my Bible. I watched more movies than you can imagine. I apologized. I forgave. I listened to fifty-two David Platt sermons. Then I decided he was too heavy and listened to Louie Giglio for a while. I dyed my hair 10 times. I wrote a few dozen songs, all of which have the same "BUT SERIOUSLY, JESUS, WHERE DID YOU GO?" theme. I memorized Psalm 139. I had good days, but mostly bad days, until my 22nd birthday happened and God lifted me out of the desert and threw me into the Pacific Ocean. I can't really explain what happened/ why my 22nd birthday marked a new season of life for me, it just did. Something changed and God brought me into a time of joy and laughter and rest. 

A few months after telling the truth, I wrote this prayer in my journal:

"Although I try to control you with rituals and disciplines, I pray that you'll provide for me mercifully simply because you are God and you are good. When I refuse to acknowledge and recognize you at work, I pray that you manifest yourself even more powerfully. Not because I am good, but because you are good. I pray for a moldable heart. For a pure, childlike heart. For humility and sensitivity, for a heart that pleases you. I pray that I desire you above success and acceptance and security and happiness. Not because I am good or deserve these things, but because you are good."

One year later, I praise God for answering these prayers. He delivered me from being enslaved to abuse, neglect, and acceptance. He is healing my heart. He gave my childlike eyes and a sensitive spirit. He has been faithful to me.... and not in the God-was-faithful-to-the-Israelites kind of way, but in the God-was-faithful-to-Savannah-Ellis kind of way.

One year later, I praise God for fulfilled promises and answered prayers.
He has done great things for me; I am glad.

Jul 2, 2013

: humility leads to joy (i think)

Not that everyone's been on the edge of their seats just waiting for me to write an update on my English adventures, but...

I wish that I could bottle up the last seven weeks and drink them like water. God has been immeasurably gracious to me and I wouldn't even know how to begin saying thanks. I know that I probably sound like an annoying hyperactive hamster, but it's really refreshing to be happy and not want to claw my eyeballs out (see all blog posts from 2012). 

Something God has been teaching me this summer is the relationship between humility and joy.* It's still a baby idea, but I've seen it worked out in two particular ways over the past few months:

1. The desire to control my life- past, present, or future- ultimately steals the joy of living a life controlled by Christ. And I know I feel really warm inside after reading verses like 1 Peter 5:7 (Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you) and Matthew 6**, but these passages are commands to unclench my hands, give over my burdens, and live humbly under the lordship of Christ. To cast my cares on God is to say, "You are able to handle my life, dreams, and future better than I am." 

There are oceans of joy available for those who will jump in the water instead of trying to tell the Captain how to steer the boat.

2. It takes humility to receive a gift from God without compulsively trying to pay him back. On a macro level, this is seen on the cross of Jesus Christ. It is an unmerited, undeserved, and un-repayable gift. Even still, many people spend their entire lives trying to re-earn a salvation that's already been bought because some part of them believes the cross was ultimately ineffective. On a smaller scale, this gift of grace is seen in the air we breathe or having bright blue eyes or getting a parking spot right next to the door or running into an old friend and laughing with them for hours and hours. It's humbling to think that God continues to lavish his children with gifts even though we could never, ever repay him.

There is joy to be found for the child that rips open his present on Christmas morning, hugs his father, and spends the rest of the day playing with it. Unfortunately, though, many of us opt to open the gift, say, "Father, how much do I owe you", and spend the rest of the day doing dishes in order to pay him back.

Once again, this is a baby idea and I'm still processing through it. Meaning, I might disagree with myself in two weeks. But it's interesting to think that humility is a wellspring of joy and pride is a thief of joy. I'm sure that someone who is smarter than me has already written a book about it, so if you know of one let me know.

*I'd even say this in relation to humility and happiness...but I know the word "happiness" has such a bad reputation nowadays. It's okay to be happy, though. Promise.

**Matthew 6 (Paraphrase, but go read it!): If God clothes the grass, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not clothe you, oh you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying "What will we eat or drink?"...your Heavenly Father knows you need them all.

May 20, 2013

: smoking pot at church on a Sunday afternoon

A few days ago, our team encountered a group of teenagers that listen to screamo music and dye their hair black and wear skull-patterned clothing and have piercings and tattoos everywhere. They drink and swear and smoke all sorts of things. Lots of them have babies. And criminal records. We’ve spent several days with them in the past while, listening to all the scary songs they want to play us and inhaling as much secondhand smoke our lungs can handle. We asked about their families and answered a billion questions about America. We’ve tried to show them that they are valuable and bring something to the table; that they have voices worth listening to.

Yesterday there was a huge cookout for all the churches in town. We invited our new friends to come and eat free food. Fashionably late, the first five trickled in, and before we knew it there were twenty teenagers sitting around us, cigarettes in hand. They kept reiterating, “We’re only here because there’s free food, you know…” but to my knowledge, none of them ate a bite the entire day.

One of the boys (we’ll call him B) looked across the way and saw a baptismal: “Can I baptize my bike? It’s got dirt on it” he said. The other boys snickered and looked at my face for a response. I just smiled and nodded my head because if you approached B two weeks ago and told him he’d be sitting on a church lawn listening to worship music and watching people get baptized on May 19th, he would’ve laughed in your face. But for hours and hours, he sat there. Hungover, high and loved by God, he sat there.

It is similar to the famous tax collector, Zacchaeus, who, seeking something he did not fully understand, sat on the top of a tree to watch Jesus walk by. Despised by men, lost as anyone, and loved by God, he sat there. It was only a matter of time before Jesus looked up and said, “Hey you. Yes you. I’m going to your house today, so hurry up and come down here. I see you. I choose you.” People gasped and mumbled, “Can you believe Jesus is going to eat with that guy? If he only knew what Zacchaeus was doing last night...”

Knowing they had missed the point altogether, Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “Don’t you see? I came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:1-10).

Many times, I am guilty of trying to find semi-righteous people to share the Gospel with— people that have grown up in the church or at least know that doing drugs isn’t a good idea. I shy away from the really rough crowd because “people in the suburbs need Jesus, too.” But Jesus seemed to be on a different mission many times, choosing to disciple a bunch of misfits and criminals and punk-rock teenagers from England.

My new friend B, and the rest of his motley crew, are watching from a distance at the top of a sycamore tree. Our team is jumping and pointing and lifting up the name of Jesus, but God is the only one who can draw them to Himself. Please join with me in praying that our friends will hear Jesus’ call from the crowd: “Hey you. Yes you. I am going to your house today, so hurry up and come down here. I see you. I choose you.”

May 8, 2013

: how to get on an airplane even when you're afraid

(This post assumes the knowledge of my story that I shared last month. Here's the link to Part One in case you've not read it.)

My flight takes off at 1 something and by the time you read this I'll probably be sitting by myself in a random terminal at the airport, wondering why I'm about to leave the comfort of Nashville and my friends and family and Baja Burrito. Then I'll tell myself that I'm being dramatic because it's only for two months and some people move to Africa and don't see their friends or families or Baja Burrito ever again.

It's just that I'm simultaneously excited and afraid to go to England this summer.

Because while I'm enamored with cute accents and the thought of a Jesus-loving British Asian, the next two months would be much easier spent in my 1,200 square foot apartment in Hillsboro Village. Maybe I could get a part-time job at the ice cream store on 21st. Or write twice as many songs as I normally do. Or really start running and eating healthy food.

It's funny because last year, almost to the day, I jumped on a plane to England and didn't look back. I guess it's because I didn't realize my entire life was about to be broken and shifted and shaken and slowly restored. If I knew that God was going to have me share my story- that he was going to have me learn my story, really- I would've dug a hole in the ground and buried myself in it until he changed his mind. But I didn't know what was going to happen, and he didn't change his mind, so I left for the UK with a smile on my face and butterflies in my stomach.

And now, after eight I'm-going-to-die months, and two I'm-okay-now months, I'm going back to the place where it all began. It's like a less intense version of The Shack except I've not received a letter from God in the mailbox yet.* 

I don't know.

I'm excited, I really am. But I'm also afraid.
And I have a ticket that cost $996 in my wallet so there's no turning back.
Here's to my next adventure in all its terrifying glory!

In fact, I will go as far as to send you on this adventure. Very amusing for me, very good for you - and profitable too, very likely, if you ever get over it. -Gandalf, the Lord of the Rings

*Maybe God will write me a letter and cook me dinner and show me a beautiful garden and explain pain and suffering like he did in The Shack. I'd receive.

Apr 15, 2013

: in the wake of calamity, heaven stands.

My heart sinks deeper into my chest with every news report from Boston. Images of bloody streets and horrified people flash on the television like a progression of surreal nightmares. Whether it was an international or domestic act of terror, a crime or conspiracy, yesterday was certainly a tragedy. Again, evil has claimed the world’s attention and darkness shook its fist in the face of Light. Millions of eyes turned to heaven for answers: Why did this happen? How could a loving God…?

Tragedy shatters humanity’s great illusion of control. With one act of terror, one phone call, or one plane crash, everything changes. All the money and fame in the world cannot stop these events. Tragedy reminds us that we are all vulnerable beings at the mercy of something, or someone, else. We cannot protect ourselves from suffering in the same way that we cannot protect ourselves from the sun or rain or laughter or tears—it is simply a part of existing.
Why did this happen? I do not know.
How could a loving God let this take place? I do not know.

But this much I do know to be true: God’s grace runs through every building, sewer, and road in the city of Boston—it reaches into every crevice covered by bloody remnants of yesterday’s tragedy. His love goes deeper than any fear invoked by two bombs on Boylston Street. His ability to heal far outweighs any person’s ability to destroy. His peace can soothe the thousands of weary souls in despair; give rest to questioning minds. Though we tremble in the wake of calamity, heaven stands. God stands.

Death and evil do not have the last word. They may rant and rave like lunatics in the streets, but they will not prevail. God has the last word, the all-encompassing voice of triumph, and he has already spoken: “I am making everything new… It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End... Yes, I am coming soon!” (Revelation 21-22).

Come, Lord Jesus, come.

Mar 18, 2013

telling the truth, part four (the end)

I won’t experience the fullness of redemption until I die or Jesus comes back (HOW COOL WOULD THAT BE), but I am being renewed day by day. Sometimes I get tired of crying, which only makes me cry more, but God has been so faithful to supply every need.* After posting the first part of my testimony, I was shocked by the amount of people who had similar stories. I felt burdened for days because I seriously, actually hate that sexual abuse is so common, especially within the church. There is a comfort in knowing I’m not alone, though. Most people who contacted me hadn’t shared the truth yet, but felt empowered to do so after reading my story. I couldn’t help but cry after each message, bewildered that God would use me to bring about freedom in another person’s life. I’m honored.

A lot of people have asked what I personally need prayer for, so here’s where I am:

1. My life still feels a little fragile and chaotic. I’ve found that I can only process things for three or four days at a time before going crazy. I’ve taken up watercolor painting and cupcake making, though, which helps my brain from spontaneously combusting. I’m tired (and look tired) almost always, because it turns out your body is physically affected by the sudden surfacing of a decade’s worth of emotions. This is part of the process but it can get exhausting, so I’d love prayer for joy and energy.

2. In the past months of book-reading and life-processing, I’ve realized how much resentment and distrust I have towards my family and consequently the church. I’ve joined a congregation that I love and immediately connected with, but there is still part of me that anticipates being harmed and rejected by the leadership. I am confident that God has placed me underneath healthy leaders that will nurture and support me, but I’d love prayer for a healed, trusting heart towards the church. I’ve found myself trying to impress them and earn their approval, but God has been faithful to let me trip and stumble through it all. I think I ugly-cried in front of the teaching pastor within a month. And one of the first weeks I led worship, I accidently slept through the entire morning service. Walking in for the next three gatherings, I expected everyone to roll their eyes and shove a microphone in my face. Instead, the worship pastor gave me a fist pump and said, “I’m happy you’re alive.” YOU CAN’T BE SERIOUS.

3. As of this moment, I think I’ve forgiven the boy who abused me. But it’s a daily choice and steady struggle, so I’d love prayer for a forgiving, humble heart towards my abuser. I’ve written this before, but I’ll say it again: my offenses against God are infinitely greater than my abuser’s offenses against me. Because Jesus radically forgave me, I am compelled to extend that same forgiveness to others.

4. Digging deeper, it seems that I’m more damaged by the spiritual abuse that allowed for unresolved sexual abuse rather than the sexual abuse by itself. It’s all pretty dreadful, but I’ve found it most difficult to walk in forgiveness in this area. That being said, I most need prayer for a forgiving, humble heart towards my extended family. I think I’ve cognitively forgiven them, meaning I know it’s the right thing to do…but this reality hasn’t seeped into my heart yet. Some days I pray that God would bless them. Other days I pray for a meteor attack. This kind of bitterness only harms me, though. I continually go back to the truth that nobody has mistreated me more than I have mistreated God. While I have been wronged, I am ultimately a wrongdoer. Clearly I’m still working through things and can’t say I have the attitude of a saint yet… but I’m getting there, one day at a time.

Honestly, I'll take all the prayers I can get. I'm not picky even a little bit. Really though, thank you for caring and reading and reaching out to me over the past few weeks. I literally jump around my room at every message because I know God is doing something here, way beyond my story or circle of friends or blog posts. He is on the move, I'm certain of it.

In many ways, I feel as if I’m finishing the introduction chapter of my life. History has been accounted for and the stage has been set. There is a wonderful adventure ahead and I know good days are coming.

The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places. But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater. –Tolkien, Lord of the Rings

*When I say I cry all the time, I’m not even remotely kidding. I teared up during a Publix commercial the other day and realized it was a problem.

Mar 12, 2013

telling the truth, part three

(This post will only make sense within the context of Part One and Part Two)

I spent the summer of 2012 in northeast England, living and ministering with these awesome people. At this point, I had only shared the story of my abuse (and addictions and rebellion that ensued) with three different friends. Upon arriving in England, though, God clearly spoke to me and said I was there to share my testimony. I literally (out loud) said, “NO THANKS,” but within a week God got his way and half of England knew my story. It was strangely liberating to share the worst things about myself with a room full of strangers, but with an understanding of God’s sovereignty and unconditional love, I was able to point to the darkest, most wicked areas of my heart and confidently claim that Jesus was greater.

It was helpful for me to verbally process my testimony because I hadn’t yet recognized that the sexual and spiritual abuses were intertwined with my addictions and insecurities. It’s odd that something as awful as abuse can turn into a haze after being ignored for long enough. While it was always there, I often asked myself, “Did that even happen?” But every time I shared my story, God revealed another connection to another dot. I left England with an assurance that God was doing a great, redeeming work in my life, but I also knew it was time to share the truth. Everyone thought they knew me, but I was really just a stranger.

I told everyone in my family separately. This was in an effort to share the necessary details and nothing more. Nobody knows everything except me and him* and God, of course, but I’ve shared enough that it doesn’t feel like secret anymore. My parents and siblings experienced a million different emotions after I told the truth. There was guilt and anger and sadness and loss mixed with a joy of knowing that God had both spared my life and would redeem it. Those first days were special and the presence of God was tangible.

The next five months are undeniably the hardest to write about. I seriously cried like seven times a day because I felt so confused and broken. Night after night, I questioned whether I should’ve said anything in the first place. And I want to be really careful with my words here because it’s still a sensitive situation… but this is part of the truth and I’m so sick of keeping secrets it’s not even funny.

When I came back from England, my entire family (extended and immediate) was still in ministry together. Because the person who abused me is a relative, though, everything was bound to get messy when I told the truth. I only want to share details that prove to be valuable, so I will simply leave it at this: After more than thirty years of functioning in a specific way, my entire family structure fell apart. Some thought it best to remain storefront mannequins for the sake of ministry and blood loyalty. I don’t think anything was done maliciously, but it seemed as if I blew the whistle to call a foul and everyone continued to play the game like nothing was wrong.

I wish I could talk to you in person and explain the implications of this. The entirety of my life revolved around ministry. Loyalty to the cause was of primary importance, and within a few weeks, the foundations shook and everything fell apart. The relationships I had with my extended family—people I had seen every week for twenty-one years—were severed. Of course I felt guilty, too, because everyone else was affected by the truth. I saw my mom and dad and sisters and brothers lose relationships with their uncles and aunts and cousins and grandparents. Everything changed.

When the walls around you begin to collapse, you’re forced to discover what you really believe about God and what you thought you believed about God. I particularly questioned his goodness and sovereignty.** Being obedient to him immediately resulted in a broken, angry family and like 20239 days of crying. Why would a good and sovereign Father let this happen, right? Even still, I learned to reconcile my circumstances under the umbrella of God’s character. This was the only way I could maintain sanity. If my circumstances dictated the character of God, he would constantly be changing from good to bad to kind to mean to loving to hateful. If the character of God determined my circumstances, though, even the worst of situations could be a foundation for joy—knowing that all things work together for my good and his glory, and in suffering I am being molded into his likeness. I’ve found myself planted between these tensions:

God is absolutely good, absolutely sovereign, and absolutely loves me.
Also, my family is absolutely broken, I was absolutely abused, and my face has absolutely aged prematurely due to the stress of it all.

It’s not pretty, but it’s true.

This feels like the most scattered post to me, I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because everything’s not wrapped in a sparkly pink bow yet. My therapist*** thinks I’ve not fully processed through my bitterness and rejection issues and frustration towards the “family ministry” mentality. And that’s probably true, too.


*The boy who abused me. I tried to structure that sentence in a hundred different ways but it still sounds ugly. Sorry.

**The past few years, magnified in these last months, have taught me that God is big enough to handle my questions. If I hadn’t ever questioned or doubted or struggled with God, there’s no way I would’ve gotten to the point of telling the truth. Instead, I would’ve continued to mindlessly play the game of lifeless religion. God isn’t intimidated by me or my questions. That being said, I’ve also learned to shut my mouth and raise my hands. I’m not as good at this (SURPRISE) but I’m growing.

***You need one, too.

Mar 11, 2013

telling the truth, part two

(If you've not read Part One yet, you probably should so this will make more sense)

As soon as I got my own car, I went to Starbucks almost every day after school. I became fast friends with people that worked there and had a crush on all the boys because they were musicians with cool tattoos. One day, a friendly barista asked me if I had ever listened to Matt Chandler. For all I knew, Matt Chandler was a rockstar or maybe a classical violinist… I didn’t know he was a pastor. Furthermore, I was baffled that someone would purposefully listen to a sermon outside of church on Sunday morning. But because this barista was a cute musician with cool tattoos, I responded back, “I don’t know who he is, but I’ll listen to almost anything!” He sent me a podcast from Matt Chandler entitled “2009, part 2.” I listened to the first thirty seconds, realized it was a sermon, and didn’t touch it again.

Six months later, I found myself crying my eyes out with a broken heart. The details aren’t terribly important, but this is the first time I can remember being depressed. Keeping true to my dramatic personality, I locked myself in my room for days until my eyes were puffy and bloodshot. One night, while continuing to weep like a pathetic little puppy, I thought about the podcast I got from the cute barista at Starbucks. Looking back, it’s clear that God was orchestrating this entire thing...but at the time I was like, “WHY AM I THINKING ABOUT A SERMON WHEN I JUST GOT DUMPED.” About to be forever changed, though, I wrapped myself in a blanket and listened to “2009, part 2.”

I’m not totally confident in how to explain the next hour of my life. It was as if God opened up my eyes and shouted, “You’re mine!” And that was that. I couldn’t have stopped it even if I wanted to.

Within minutes of listening to this sermon, I fell in love with Jesus. Something shifted in my heart and God’s grace and love and redemption made sense. At one point in the message, Chandler talked about how God’s affections for me are not wavered by my shortcomings because of the cross. I remember crying and crying because I never realized the grace of God freed me up from trying to earn the grace of God. I couldn’t work enough or hide enough or wear enough costumes and masks. His death paid for me in full, covering every ounce of addiction and shame and rebellion. It reminds me of the famous verse in Romans 5: “But God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If this kind of love doesn’t make you drop to your knees in awe, nothing will.

For the next year or so, I found myself continually coming back to this truth: I cannot contribute to my own salvation. I cannot reconcile myself to a Holy God. Even if all of humanity’s good deeds were put into the same lot, it would not be enough to pay for one person’s salvation. I can either humbly submit to the mercies of God or spend the rest of my life enslaved to self-righteousness and religion.*

What a concept, right? To think that you and I do not split the cost when it comes to salvation? It’s not like God contributed 50% on the cross with the expectation that we would cover the other 50% by means of good deeds and mission trips.** I had been living in a vicious cycle of dead religion: doing everything I could to suppress the anger of God, just to fall short and earn the anger of God, just to work even harder in order to suppress it again. That night, though, Jesus called me out of chains and into mercy; out of darkness and into light.

I’ve laugh-cried like six times while writing this because I still can’t believe Jesus saved me through a podcast from a random pastor in Texas while I was crying over a goofy boy. And the only reason I had the podcast was because I was addicted to venti iced passion tea lemonades from Starbucks. COME ON.

*I really hate the “It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship” fad because there are many ways in which Christianity is a religion. In the context of this post, though, I mean religion in the negative sense—man trying to reconcile himself to God by means of good works.

** I call this the “halfsies mentality” in case you were wondering. Sometimes it feels good to use complicated theological terms, you know?