The Only Way I Can Vote…

I took a walk this morning to grab a cup of coffee from the cafe across the street. I noticed that the air is getting colder, the leaves are slowly changing. This morning was the start of a perfect autumn day.

But I found myself frustrated, clenching my fists, telling God that this whole election thing has got me in knots. I know what everyone is telling me I should do, but I don’t know the right thing to do.

Just as I prepared to cross the street, I heard him whisper,

“You are not accountable for your nation, you are accountable for yourself.”

Instantly, all of my frustration fell off in the middle of that street and I knew what the right decision for me is:

I cannot vote for either of the main candidates in this election.

Believe me when I tell you that I have wrestled over this. I have prayed, sought counsel, listed the pros and cons. I have not made my choice without weighing every single possible outcome.

Here’s the thing: yes, maybe my country is seemingly going down the toilet. Either way, it’s likely that both candidates are going to make some detrimental decisions for this country. But I am not going to answer to God for those things. 

I am going to answer to God for the state of my heart when I stood inside of that voting booth. 

He will know whether or not I was pure in my choice or if I violated my conscience. He will know if I stuffed down all of the truth that stirs in my gut every single time either of the candidates speak.

He will know if I am compromising my Godliness for my Americanness.

He knows that I am not trying to be reckless in my decision, He knows that I simply cannot violate my own heart by bowing down to those that tell me I have to choose “the lesser of two evils”.

He will not hold me accountable for the decisions of Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. He will hold me accountable for mine.

I will vote. I will honor the lives given for that right. But I keep in mind that their lives were given so that I could make the choice I believe is right. Not the choice that the church tells me is right, not the choice CNN or FOX tells me is right.

At the end of the day, I live with my choices and mine alone. My ability to look at myself in the mirror is worth more to me than the White House. My personal conscience is worth more to me than the Supreme Court.

I love this country and I care about its future. Whatever the outcome, I will pray for my President. And I will continue to believe that God honors those that honor Him. So, in this decision, I will do what my conscience says honors Him.

I will write in my vote and it will count. The name I write will not become President, but it will count because I did not deceive myself into thinking it’s noble to sacrifice my conscience and the truth for the “better of my country”.

They say we have to save our country, right? We have to gain back its greatness, don’t we?

“But what do you benefit if you gain America, and lose your own soul?”

 

 

 

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Pour a little salt in the wound (forgiveness pt. 2)

I got an e-mail from one of my readers about my last blog post on forgiveness. Our stories are similar, it felt like I was reading an e-mail from myself a few years ago.

I started asking myself what the most valuable thing I’ve learned on this current road of forgiveness has been and I instantly knew.

Clean out your wounds along the way.

Keep the dirt out as much as possible.

Choose to be kind and love in the face of those who you’ve connected to your heartbreak.

Don’t pile on top of the hurt by acting rude, indifferent, or fake. Don’t embrace any opportunity to deepen the bitterness.

Start by immediately making your interactions with the people who’ve hurt you positive, loving, and pure. Even (and especially) if they don’t respond in the same way.

Keep the mess out. It’s hard, I know. It’s pouring salt in the wound. Every time you have to choose to love that person when you want just want to punch a wall, it stings. 

But you don’t want to find yourself finally healing from the initial injury only to realize you let the wound get infected by all the things that came after.

So leave your cold shoulder and eye-rolling at the door. Keep the wound clean.

It hurts now, but it will save you later down the road.

This is something that God spent years building in me. I’d be sitting with crossed arms and clenched teeth and I’d hear him whisper: Reach for a hug. Give a compliment. Offer them a cup of coffee.

I would sit there and squirm in my seat. I would tell God all the reasons why it was a bad idea. I would tell him how I shouldn’t because it wouldn’t feel genuine. But he’d say it over and over again: Love isn’t just a feeling, kid.

You love them, because it wouldn’t hurt so much if you didn’t.

So get up and do something with it. You have got to move. You have to move this seemingly impossible mountain with a little step of faith. You have to bring a stone (and it can even be a tiny one) and start rebuilding these burned bridges.

Salting that wound kept me alive.

If there’s one thing I’d tell myself when that whole process began is: it will be worth it. Not because it will produce miraculous and instantaneous results, but because it will teach you more about love than anything else. That passage about turning the other cheek won’t just be a nice little sentiment. That phrase will get so deeply rooted in you that before you know it, it will be the only way worth living.

But the deeper you want to be rooted in love, the more ground you have to break through. You’re going to have to dig and push. You are going to hit some rocks in your heart and in theirs. It’s not going to feel good, this loving in hard times is not a quick process.

This thing isn’t a sprint. Forgiveness isn’t even a marathon. It is more like a triathlon. It has different legs. You might get really good at one part, and then suddenly realize you’re entirely out of shape when it comes to another. Don’t lose focus. Don’t decide to stop going just because you can’t master it all at once.

It’s going to take time.

So, clean the wound along the way. Don’t let time scab this thing over while letting infection take root. Don’t deepen this thing with passive-aggressive comments, avoiding eye contact, or sarcastic stabs. Don’t let that pain become the first domino that starts knocking over everything else you’ve built with them.

It will hurt. You will want to avoid the pain that comes with keeping it clean. But when you get a chance, I promise you won’t regret pouring a little salt in your wounds.

 

 

To Be Honest

My breakfast yesterday morning was a sleeve of saltine crackers in the Publix parking lot.

I woke up with a headache that could make a grown man cry. I swallowed three Advil before crawling out of bed and slapping Icy Hot on my forehead. That isn’t something I would normally do, but desperate times and all that…

I finally managed to take a hot shower, throw on my worst outfit and drive to the grocery store. I entered with wet hair, baggy basketball shorts, and a tight grimace on my face.

And then I went and sat in my car. I sat there pitifully eating a sleeve of saltine crackers, drinking a Coke Zero, and telling God that I had officially hit an all-time low. 

I haven’t figured out what it means to have order in my life. That’s just the raw and honest truth of it. There was a time in my life that I had order, I had peace, I had a schedule, a plan, a routine.

For weeks my phone has blowing up every five minutes with demands, questions, events, meetings, plans, and I’ve been on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

I’ve realized I don’t know what it means to be honest.

Part of this comes from growing up in the South, where being blunt is somewhat forbidden (especially for little girls). It can often be labeled rude, and does not make you appear hospitable or agreeable.

You must aways find the perfect way to send your regrets, which means– the only acceptable reason for not going to something or doing something is because there is another life-or-death commitment/event that you cannot miss.

So, from a young age I learned not to say no because I didn’t want to do something, or do not have the capacity for it. I believed you must only say no if you’re saving orphans or helping old ladies at the grocery store.

And the church did very little to help me with this. There’s a notion of always having to do the Christian thing. There’s the right thing and then there’s what the church calls the Christian thing and they, I’m quickly learning, do not always coincide.

So, here I am, a bold and blunt individual who very clearly understands where she stands on most things, but who has been muzzled by “polite” southern culture and doing the Christian thing.

This is where chaos and being covered in cracker crumbs comes in. Rather than realizing that honesty will always trump presentation, I find myself making the dumbest excuses and telling everyone “I’ll get back to you” as a way to give myself ample amounts of time to figure out what the polite and Christian thing to do would be.

And then, begrudgingly, I will do that. Even if I hate it. I will inwardly whine the entire time. But at least I’ll have the false feeling of comfort that comes from believing that I did the polite and Christian thing (and knowing that Dolly Parton would be proud).

However, killing your honesty in order to make others happy is poison. One day, you’ll look around your life and see nothing but piles of perfectly formed excuses, all of them lies.

Saying I can’t or I don’t want to is not rude and not un-Christian.

This is a truth that I’ll probably wrestle with for the rest of my life. I’ve spent twenty-four years of believing the opposite, so it will probably take a while to re-learn a different way.

Neglecting our health and sanity and refusing to be honest about where we are is what breeds chaos in our lives. We find ourselves unable to say yes and no to things because we sacrifice what is necessary for what is acceptable to others. We can frequently find ourselves lying, but convinced that it’s for “the good reason” of not hurting someone else.

I’m terrified to disappoint people, to hurt them, to let them down. I am terrified of being bad at commitment.

This became clear to me when I was in a season of attending three churches in the same day. I would go to a 10 am service, drive twenty-minutes and go to a noon service, and then eat lunch and then drive thirty-minutes and go to a 6 pm service.

This went on for months. I spent so much money on gas and so much time sitting on pews that it’s a miracle I didn’t end up homeless and in a back brace.

All because I didn’t know how to disappoint people. I didn’t know how to accept my limits. I didn’t know how to be human. I didn’t know how to say I can’t…”

What I’m seeing is that running away, making excuses, and just being polite aren’t my only options and they’re certainly not the best ones.

Learning to be honest, humble, and human is what’s required of us. We are to be loving in our responses, but that doesn’t mean lying to spare feelings or to make others happy. It means sometimes simply saying, I can’t or I don’t want to and knowing that our reasons won’t always expand beyond that.

I’m also realizing that all the hiding and the time spent making up excuses will drain you from actually doing the things you need to do.

I’m trying to become a person who answers honestly. Knowing that it might not get praise, it might be disappointing, and it might not be agreeable, but I’m learning that loving people by granting them my honesty truly is the best policy.

You Won’t Outrun the Pain

The most frustrating part about my life lately is that God took running away from me.

He took the one thing that I was clinging to.

Which He should have, because I was clinging to something other than Him.

Because I swear, there were days at the gym that I’d be gritting my teeth and muffling a scream at the pain in my back and leg, but still pushing through. Just one more mile. One more. I was tough enough, I could do it.

When I finished I always felt invincible (which is just foolish to feel while limping all the way to my car). But I somehow convinced myself that I had shown the pain that it didn’t win.

That’s likely what landed me in the state I’m in.

Pain is there to warn us, to tell us when something is not as it should be.

Pain is not something to beat. It’s something to listen to. 

Tearing down the street sign doesn’t change where you are, and fighting the pain doesn’t heal you.

You won’t outrun the pain.

People are going to make it worse. They’re going to tell you fifty-million solutions for how to fix it and cure it. They are going to ask you a million questions. They’re going to tell you about their twice-removed-aunt’s-sister’s-cousin and how she miraculously recovered. And they will have the best of intentions.

But they are not you and this isn’t their pain to carry.

God didn’t cause your pain, but He allowed it. But He allowed it to be your pain, not theirs.

So while you can listen to wise advice and consider people’s opinions, you’ve got to make decisions for yourself and you’ve got to own those decisions. Then, you have to accept where God has you.

You don’t need to believe that He’s going to keep you or leave you there. But you have to accept that for whatever reason, He has you there now.

That isn’t the end of the world and it isn’t the defeat of your faith. Admitting reality isn’t lack of faith.

Faith is not denying your pain. Faith is not fighting your pain.

Faith is admitting your pain. Faith is remembering that you are not God and you cannot defeat pain. 

Faith points to the one person who did defeat pain, but did not deny its existence. If we deny pain’s existence, we deny His victory.

Pain is real, but it is temporary.

And the more miles you try to run through the pain, the longer you’re going to be sidelined when you finally break.

He took the thing I was clinging to. I’m frustrated, but I’m thankful. Because believe me when I tell you, the miles you run won’t be there for you when it all comes crumbling down.

In the end, I think I’d always rather be sidelined than clinging to anything but Him.

God, My Questions, and a Stranger

I stared at the foam of my cappuccino as her words broke through the thick fog I’d been walking through since we first landed in Israel. This woman, who just an hour before had been a total stranger to me, was telling me her story and showing me some pretty raw places of her past.

She sighed, but sat with such peace. “I was struggling so much. I was believing so many lies… but God still used me, you know?”

I leaned in and watched the corners of her mouth turn upwards in a smile,

“God is so big, He doesn’t mind.”

As soon as they hit my heart, I knew those were the words I’ve been waiting years to hear.

It took me back to a few years ago, to a day that I’ve heavily carried. My face was soaking wet, my eyes were bloodshot; I was angry, I was afraid, I was barely breathing. I was five bodies deep in grief, and the sixth was being prepared to be put in the ground. I remember standing in that church building with clenched fists and shouting to the top of my lungs, “If God is so big, He can handle my questions!”

As soon as those words left my mouth, I broke. I fell straight to my knees and sobbed on the floor. Countless people passed by me, but I didn’t care how it looked. This was me and God on the battlefield and this was me slinging every last shot I had. I was firing all of my ammunition, this was my win or lose moment. This was the moment when God would either walk off and leave me or lean in and grab me tighter. I was giving Him every reason to finally turn around and walk away, I was pushing Him with every bit of force my tiny fists could muster. I thought for sure that He’d leave, if He hadn’t already.

So flash forward, years later, sitting in Israel across from this stranger. She whispered those words with such peace, such certainty: God is so big, He doesn’t mind.

It felt like I was finally hearing Him respond to that moment, “You were right, I could handle it. I didn’t mind. I didn’t mind that you were weak. It didn’t change anything.”

He’s that big. He isn’t the least bit altered by my anger, weakness, frustration or questions. I’m not a big enough bully that I could make Him walk away.

I think that was Israel for me. All throughout the Bible we see that Israel rejected God, gave Him a million reasons to leave. They hated Him, they pushed Him away, but He stayed and He still stays. He’s there and He has such mercy, even in the war and chaos, even in the grief and in the misunderstanding.

Everywhere I stepped it was a reminder of Him saying, I don’t leave my people. 

I think most people were expecting some kind of post about adventure, climbing mountains, walking on water, exploring ruins of an ancient city. Maybe you thought I’d have some kind of life lesson about enjoying every moment, about living an exciting and free life.

What this post is about is God pressing the play button, after feeling like I’ve been on pause for a really long time. It was His reply to the banging of my fists all those years ago. It was the moment of me finally looking up from weeping on the floor and seeing that even though so many people left, He stayed.

I walked down the Via Dolorosa last week (the road Jesus walked to the cross). I thought a lot about the men who were beating Him, swinging over and over again while watching His body crack and tear. Later I realized that some of the swings they made were for the day I fell screaming in that church floor.

He handled my questions, then. It was finished on that day. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t yet rammed my fists into the floor or shouted furiously, He handled my questions long before that day. God is big enough, that He didn’t mind. He didn’t mind my questions, because He died to give me the answer.

He doesn’t leave, that’s really what Israel gave to me. The reminder that we all have years spent in the desert, years of giving Him a million reasons to go. No matter how long we spend wandering around and walking in circles, He’s big enough, He can handle it, He stays.

What Have I Lost Along The Way?

I was up to my elbows in household cleaner and water when God said something that nearly sent me to the floor,

“It’s good to see you in sweatpants again.”

It sounds so ridiculous, but I knew exactly what He meant.

I practically ran out of the building. My chest started pounding, my eyes were about to spill over. I drug the hem of those sweatpants through the mud and got quickly into my car.

The next two hours were spent with me driving, crying, and my ears filling with all the things that I’ve forgotten about over the last eight years.

All because I asked him one simple question this morning, “What have I lost along the way?”

I never expected Him to answer me. I never thought He’d come that close again, sound that sweet, I never expected him to not condemn my sweatpants.

That was one of the things that had gotten lost along the way: the belief that He would always come, and that when He did He would have something good to say.

I’ve been waiting for that exact moment for the last three years.

I waited for that moment in the darkest nights, in places I never should have gone to, with people that I don’t even know anymore. I waited for Him, I waited for one little sentence that I could have never formed on my own.

I didn’t know it, but I wasn’t waiting for some earth shattering revelation. I wasn’t waiting for the right things to line up. I wasn’t waiting for a person or a place. All this time, I was waiting for Him to talk to me about my sweatpants.

Because a few years ago someone stood in front of me and told me that it was a terrible thing to see a human wear sweatpants. They said it was lazy, unattractive, they said it made a person look worthless.

Though they probably didn’t intend for it to, that idea dug itself inside of me. Not because I have a love obsession with sweatpants, but because the words the enemy made me hear were, “it is a terrible thing to be comfortable with yourself.”

This was said to the girl who lived most of her life in jeans, t-shirts, with her hair pulled back. For me, it had never really been due to laziness. Honestly, I was just child-like for most of my life and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me exactly as I was. I thought I looked just fine. I thought I was pretty cute (and I was).

Even though sometimes I cringe at my bad haircuts, high-water pants, or rolled socks, I was a darling little child. I was innocent, pure, and beautiful, as all children are. I was unashamed of a plain face, I was unashamed of the clothes that I chose. I liked them and that was really the only reason I needed to wear them.

I let the enemy tell me that was a terrible thing, and that line grew until all the little demons whispered and said, “oh you, you have no value for yourself.” 

So, I stopped wearing sweatpants until about six months ago.

You should have seen the first pair I chose to put on. They are the most atrocious pants that have ever existed. They are frumpy, oversized, covered in paint, and an awkward length.

My friends (as they should have) told me they were terrible and I should never ever wear them again.  I waited for pain, but the only thing that came out of my mouth was laughter. I told them that I was going to keep them forever and wear them shamelessly.

Because it wasn’t about the pants. Even this morning, scrubbing that countertop, it was never about the pants.

It was about picking back up all the things that I’ve given up, that I once so deeply loved. It was about the years I spent changing myself to please someone else.

It was about that moment that I let someone try to make me a whitewashed tomb. That I let someone tell me my outside was more important than the inside.

It then became about the times that people told me to shut up when I spoke the truth; when people told me to skip past the pages with the Jesus who turned over tables.

It became about all the times that I believed sweatpants made me ugly or that telling the truth made me cruel.

God never said or thought those things about me.

While that shouldn’t have surprised me, it did. Though it seems like basic Christianity to know better, I had never realized it before. God never hated my sweatpants and He loves when I tell the truth. 

This morning, God did the thing I’ve been waiting for. He did a miracle, one He promised me years ago that He would do.

A bush did not catch on fire today. I did not walk on water. No lepers were healed.

But today, some things that were dead came back to life. Early this morning, a girl who’d been wrapped the grave clothing of expectations, condemnation, and words of hatred finally heard a loud voice. And He called her forth and unwrapped from her all the things the darkness tried to make her wear.

I am Tired of Praying for Things

“It matters where you stand.”

Ironically enough, I remember exactly where I was standing when God said that to me. I was about to go into a meeting that had me wringing my hands and fidgeting with loose threads.

I had no idea that meeting would alter the course of my life. I was also entirely unaware of how that one sentence from God would continuously save me over and over again.

“You are a person who gets what you pray for, but not without a cost.”

When a friend said those words to me, I knew they were the truth. I’m always asking for bold things, for specifics, and many times God grants them. But then He shows me what all the things that I’ll have to say “no” to in order for Him to say “yes” to that thing.

There’s a price for big prayers. It isn’t because God is punishing us, or because His love isn’t free. Answered prayers aren’t proof of God’s love or affirmation, they’re just a door that leads our heart to see how much we have always been loved.

I wish I’d understood that when I asked Him for that one thing. He gave it to me, but only for a season. He didn’t give it to me because it was the best thing for me, but because it would break my heart in a way that would cause me to become the best version of myself I’d ever been.

It was never about the thing, it was about the process that led to a permanent and beautiful change.

It’s not about the thing.

We want all these things, all these blessings, but it’s not about the thing.

It’s about who we are when we get the thing, while we have the thing, and when we lose the thing.

Believe me when I tell you, it can never about the thingBecause things are just things, they aren’t stable, they aren’t constant. They can be right in the winter and wrong for the spring.

Things change.

The way a heart beats,  the weather, the strength of your bones… they all change. Nothing stays the same here on earth. The thing you’re so desperately begging God for, if it’s a thing, it won’t last.

Maybe you’ll have it for eighty years. Maybe you’ll have it for a day. But at the end of it all, the thing was and can never be the point.

What it points you toward, how you grow, the person you start to become, your focus: those are the point.  The thing is just the door that takes you to those rooms, that shows you why God ever gave you breath to start with.

How that thing builds love in you, and the truth it helps you echo, that was always the point.

I don’t always get what I pray for, but either way, I’m learning to pray less for things and more for processes, for truths, for God to make me who I need to be. As far as the things, well it seems best to let God choose the ones most suited for the process.

It matters where you stand. Maybe you’ll get some cool shoes while you stand there. Maybe you’ll have good stories about what passes by. But those things will never be the point. It matters where you stand simply because of who you’ll be if and when God asks you to stand somewhere else.