Monthly Archives: January 2013

Crisis

After tomorrow, I begin a new chapter in life. I’m excited.

Mostly because this chapter, the chapter I’m currently in, has challenged me past breaking point. Beyond devastation. Below the lowest lows.

I really didn’t think I was going to make it out.

And I guess I didn’t. The me that went into this chapter is not the one leaving.

I don’t mind that.

What scares me to no end is how close I came to giving up.

Not on life.

On God.

Not on the existence of God.

On the existence of a good and faithful and true God.

In the beginning, I gave Him my heart. My heart of hearts. Deepest desires, dreams, wishes.  And, one by one, they died.

Do you know what it is to see your desires, dreams, and wishes crucified? I do. I was angry.

Then my heart withered.

And I felt nothing.

I didn’t want to speak to God. I had nothing to say to Him. It was He who was to guard my heart, and He pillaged and plundered it.

Didn’t He?

The funny thing (I suppose) was that He kept saying to my heart, “Won’t you let me in?” I scoffed. “You? Let YOU in?”

Then one morning I was at a road of indecision. I wanted to do one thing, but felt like I couldn’t do it, because I thought God didn’t want me to.

Don’t You see, God? Don’t You see all of the things You asked me to give up?

I never asked you to give that up.

And He hadn’t.

That was when my heart reawakened.

The desires, dreams, wishes blossomed.

They are coming to fruition in this upcoming chapter.

I know. Don’t ask me how I know. I just do.

“This means that all of creation will be shaken and removed, so that only unshakable things will remain” (Hebrews 12:27 NLT).

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick,
but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12 NLT).

 

 

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R.E.S.P.E.C.T.

I currently have several young women in my life suffering from the same problem in varying degrees:  relationships with men who have no respect for them. This post is not from a place of judgment, rather from a place of been-there-done-that-and-not-going-back.

On one hand, this is fairly cut and dry, if completely upsetting: they are receiving the respect they have asked for. Worse, they are asking for the respect they think they deserve.

None. On both counts.

That hurts my heart a lot. I want to come alongside of every young woman in this position and say, “What are you doing here? You deserve SO much better.”  I want to train them to see themselves the way God sees them, so they won’t be tempted to settle for less than His best.

But. When it comes to the human heart, things are complex. There is no formula because we are all unique.

Sometimes, even though we know his view of us is self-centered, we like the attention he gives us. And we stand by him. Sometimes, even though we know he is all wrong for us, his badness feeds our sense of adventure. And we go along with him. Sometimes, even when he makes us feel bad about ourselves, our heart has gone before our head and we have feelings for him. And we stay with him.

But at what cost?

We want to please him, so it all becomes about him. We begin to focus on what he likes about us, and sometimes forget what we like about ourselves. We let him take what he wants so we don’t lose him. And we let him hurt us, because we think we’ve provoked it by somehow not living up to his demands.

We lose ourselves.

And we deserve better.

We deserve men who view us the way God views us. Who pursue love God and want to live their lives for Him. Who love us and build us up.

Look. If I see you heading into one of these relationships, I will most definitely tell you that you deserve better. Once you’re in the relationship, I’m probably not going to speak against it, but I will take you out for coffee a lot, and seek to affirm you through God’s Word, because I know that man isn’t doing it. And if he breaks your heart, I’ll be there with the chocolate and chick flicks. (Same for if you work up the courage to walk away). I want you to understand your worth.

UPDATE: This may even seem simplistic, so I want you to know that the longer a relationship goes on the more complex the emotions about it become. I don’t want it to seem like I’m belittling anyone’s emotions. On the contrary, I respect them, which is why I’m generally the person who will support you no matter who you choose to date. Just don’t mistake my support of you as a person for my support of a harmful relationship.

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Framework: Dating and Courtship Models

The Traditional Courtship Model

When I refer to the “Traditional” courtship model, I don’t mean that it is necessarily normal, and I certainly don’t mean that it is somehow better or more Scriptural than any other brand of courtship.  I do mean that it is the model I was raised in and that many of the people I grew up with were raised in. However, even among us, I use the term “traditional” very loosely, because there are varying degrees at which it plays out.

At its most basic, this model teaches that the father is the keeper and protector of his daughter’s heart until she marries, at which time those duties are passed to her husband.  For this reason, any young man (or maybe old man, I don’t know) expressing interest in the daughter must be sent to the father. The father ascertains the man’s suitability for his daughter on the basis of maturity – spiritual, emotional, physical. If he passes the father’s inspection, and the daughter agrees, the man and  the daughter get to know each other within predetermined (by the father and sometimes the couple) boundaries. Again, it can work a little differently depending on the family or even the daughter.

I have been blessed to see my two older sisters have successful courtships and marriages based on this model. I even have a handful of friends who have courted and married. For me personally, there is something hopelessly romantic about a guy who talks to my dad about getting to know me, mostly because if you don’t know him well, talking to my dad takes courage. (And I value courage). And I certainly prefer this model to the commitmentless dating games that go on in secular relationships.

But I’m not completely sold on this model. (Shocking, I know).

My Reservations About the Traditional Courtship Model

Despite what some people believe (yes, even in my circle), the “Traditional” courtship model is not commanded in God’s Word. Trust me, I’ve been asking and looking for years. Nor can I find a shred of evidence to support the principle on which this model is based – that of the father being keeper and protector of the daughter’s heart. Don’t get me wrong. As I said earlier, I like the idea of courtship. I am so thankful to have a dad who is willing to look out for me, who desires to know who and what I am involved with, who prays with me and for me. But. The Bible is clear: I am responsible for my own heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it flow the issues of life.” The command to keep one’s heart falls to the individual, not her parents, I think for obvious reasons.

The other thing I have noticed (and it sort of goes hand in hand) is a really subtle, but harmful message being sent to some Christian young women because of the execution of this model in some circles. I was reading the courtship story of a woman from a prominent homeschooling family. She said was not equipped to discern God’s will for a husband because of her gullibility. And I just about cried. Who gave her this view of herself? This view that she cannot be trusted to know what God’s will is for her, what is good and necessary for her? Again, please don’t take this the wrong way. I don’t think it’s the “Traditional” courtship model sending this message. I think it’s the courtship model in the hands of an enemy using a fallen race to destroy each other. Still, I think it’s an issue worth considering.

Women were created in the image of God, just as much as men. He created women for a high purpose: to be helpers and companions of men.  On top of that, I am a redeemed woman. That is the blood of Christ covers my sin just as much as it covers the sin of any man. The Holy Spirit indwells and seals me, just as much as redeemed men. And as He leads and guides, I am able to discern His will, His heart for me, what I really need. Oh sure, I make mistakes, but it’s not because I’m a woman. It’s because I’m a sinful human being.

My Personal Preference

Basically, the way I want to go about a relationship involves balancing a watched-over heart with vulnerability, getting to know a guy to see if there is marriage potential, and seeking out godly counsel and accountability for the relationship. It doesn’t necessarily involve a guy getting my dad’s permission to get to know me, or letting a guy do all of the “work”, or letting someone else set up the boundaries.

Guarding my heart and being vulnerable. In terms of relationships, this is the ultimate tight rope walk for me. On one hand, I don’t want my heart to be broken by developing an emotional attachment before anything official happens, and on the other hand, I want to be the kind of girl who is approachable and vulnerable with any godly man who wants to pursue me.

I think for women it is important to know our emotional triggers so we can better watch what is going on in our hearts. There is nothing I like or respect more than when a guy takes the time to draw me out, or to ask for and listen to my opinion on something. Since it means so much to me, I have to be careful not to make more of his consideration than it actually is. If I end up developing feelings for or an attraction to him because of this trigger, I know I’m in dangerous territory. Not because my feelings are bad (because I typically am attracted to good things), but because these feelings can quickly develop into lust for me – where I get possessive and protective of someone who isn’t mine. The other option I have is being aware of my feelings, bringing them before God whenever they arise, and resting that if He thinks this is a good thing, He can make it happen, or otherwise take care of my feelings.

My other struggle is that I’m sort of unapproachable. I’m not intentionally this way, I’m just quiet until I’m comfortable. I’ve been praying about being more approachable in general, and last week, God convicted me to smile more. So simple.  I’m also not very good about initiating vulnerability. I will share when I’m asked, but I typically don’t volunteer information. Sometimes, I’m pretty self-centered and don’t think of other people’s needs to be vulnerable. Availability is important.

The objective of marriage. For the record, I do want to get married. I believe that someday I will be married. If I didn’t want to get married, and I wasn’t ready to be married, I wouldn’t be interested in being in a relationship right now.

So what does an objective of marriage mean to me? It means that throughout the relationship, we will get to know each other within the context of, “Could I be married for the rest of my life to this person?” If yes, we will go from there. If no, the purpose of the relationship has been fulfilled and we can hopefully move away from it amicably. Obviously, a lot of prayer will go into it.

Godly counsel and accountability. I want to have an open relationship. Not just openness between the guy and I, but an openness that makes people feel comfortable giving us advice and keeping us accountable. These people include parents. I think our parents typically know us well, and can offer insights that our feelings may be blocking. And older siblings who have been there before. And other couples who have relationship experience. Proverbs says, “In the multitude of counselors there is safety.” And I believe that.

And this is the approach I will use when discussing dating and relationships from this point forward on my blog.

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Framework: Authority

I look at authority this way.

I ultimately answer to God, and will someday give an account to Him of what I have done (or not done, as the case may be), as will all believers.

In this life, however, God has provided me with an authority structure in the form of my parents. Mostly they just provide counsel, but occasionally, they will tell me what to do.

I am an adult. I do not like being told what to do. Furthermore, I do not have to do what I’m told.

But, when my parents tell (not advise) me to do something, I generally do it. I don’t always like it, but I try to listen to and respect my parents.  When I get married, the authority will be transferred from my parents to my husband. My husband will then have the final word. And I’m sure there will be times when I don’t like it, but I will listen to and respect my husband.

This is why I had to talk about perceptions of gender. To an egalitarian, what I just described sounds oppressive, even abusive. To someone within patriarchy, what I just said was disrespectful, and I should get off the computer and learn to keep house. It might not even sound great to your run-of-the-mill complementarian.

Here’s the thing. As believers, we are all called to submission.

I submit first to God. I recognize His Sovereignty and I long more than anything to do His will. He has placed me with my parents on purpose. If I ever get married, He will have orchestrated that as well. When I disagree with what my parents tell me to do, I commit that situation to God. I ask Him to either change their hearts, or change mine, knowing that if He chose to, He could change my circumstances in a heartbeat.  If He doesn’t change anything, I accept that this is where He wants me to be.

I say all of this because the authority I am under has determined the relationship model I will follow.

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Framework: Gender

Since I’m going to be talking about romantic relationships a lot on this blog, I think it is important to address the different perceptions of gender that exist among Christians as a sort of framework for future posts, and where I come in on that debate. To be clear, I don’t think one’s perception of gender is a salvational issue, but how I view gender has certainly informed the views I’ve developed regarding romantic relationships. Since this is not a salvational issue, I don’t expect you to go away questioning your faith because you disagree with me, nor will I question my faith because I disagree with you.

I have been exposed to three views concerning gender in Christianity: egalitarianism, patriarchy, and complementarianism. According to Theopedia, egalitarianism ” is a movement based on the theological view that not only are all people equal before God in their personhood, but there are no gender-based limitations of what functions or roles each can fulfill in the home, the church, and the society.” Conversely, complementarianism “is the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, they are created to complement each other via different roles and responsibilities as manifested in marriage, family life, religious leadership, and elsewhere” (Theopedia). It is harder to nail down a definition for patriarchy (in other places known as Biblical patriarchy). Wikipedia says patriarchy “sees the father as the head of the home, and responsible for the conduct of his family,” and I think that is fairly accurate. I would add that traditionally in patriarchy, the woman’s place and purpose are in the home.

All three of these belief systems are more like spectrums: people vary in degrees of liberalism and conservatism in all of them. Because of this, there are fringe groups between egalitarianism and complementarianism and between complementarianism and patriarchy. (But never between egalitarianism and patriarchy – they are pretty much opposed).

I was raised on the borderline of complementarianism and patriarchy, but as I’ve developed my own convictions about gender, I am squarely complementarian.

Unlike egalitarians, I do not believe that God created males and females to fulfill the same roles in life. As a woman, my fundamental design is different from that of a man – physical, emotional, spiritual – and therefore my purpose is also different. My purpose may include anything God has laid on my heart to do, but rest assured, God does not call anyone to do anything outside of His revealed will (the Bible).

Unlike those within patriarchy, I do not believe I am a lesser being because I am a woman, more susceptible to temptation and sin and thus incapable of making  my own decisions. Granted, I have made bad decisions in my life, but that’s not because I’m a woman; it’s because I’m human. Nor do I believe my father or future husband will be held accountable for my faith. I have the same access to God as any man and am responsible for my own response to Christ’s salvation and following Him.

What does any of this have to do with romantic relationships? The way we look at God’s design for gender will inevitably determine how we look at authority. How we look at authority will determine how we look at potential mates.

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Finding Mr. Wright

One of the reasons I started this blog was because I wanted to talk to girls and young women about romantic relationships.  I have noticed that there is so much misguided information out there concerning romantic relationships being applied by girls and young women, and I want to counteract it with what God says and thinks.

I will admit up front that I may be the least qualified woman in the world to tackle romantic relationships. After all, I am still single, and my personal relationship experience is limited.  I only have a burden to see girls and young women viewing themselves the way God views them and expecting what He expects for them. So I press forward with that burden.

It is my prayer in Jesus’ name that in exploring God’s Word about romantic relationships and sharing my experiences, girls and young women will be encouraged to wait on God for their romantic relationships. That they will place their hearts and desires in His hands and rest in His care and keeping of them. And that they will be empowered to expect nothing less than God’s best for themselves.

 

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Flavorful Living

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor?” ~Matthew 5:13a, NLT

My dear fellow believers in the United States, we are losing our flavor. We live in a society captivated with the idol of self. I am sad and burdened to say it, but this attitude has seeped into the Church. The glaring result is that modern Christendom adds little flavor to our lost and dying society.

Brothers and sisters, we should be different. I’m not talking about being different just for the sake of being different. I’m talking about being different because we are changed by God and are so motivated by His love for us that we no longer live for ourselves, but for Him.

We need revival. I’m not talking about a big meeting where someone preaches “hell fire and brimstone” and we all recommit our lives to Christ as a result. I’m not talking about a spiritual high where we all say and do the right things. I’m talking Holy Spirit-orchestrated change in our hearts to make us more like Christ, individually and collectively, where we live in love, grace and humility.

I think three things need radical change in our lives: the way we think, the way we speak, and the way we behave.

The Way We Think

“Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8 NLT).

I know I sometimes don’t give as much attention to my thought life as I should. I suppose this is because since no one else can see my ignoble thoughts, others are not able to be affected by them. According to God’s Word, this is simply not true: “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7 KJV). What I think about someone else will inevitably come out in my actions toward them. My intangible thoughts can absolutely have tangible effects.

So I have to focus my thinking. I have to be objective and look for truth (i.e. what in reality is) in people and situations, I cannot be swayed by my personal opinions or experiences. I have to adopt right thinking, that is God’s way of thinking: what are His thoughts towards these people or situations? I have to dwell on good things, pure things, beautiful things in order to counteract the constant influx of negativity from my sin nature and the world around me.

The Way We Speak

“Let your conversation be gracious and attractiveso that you will have the right response for everyone” (Colossians 4:6 NLT).

“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (Ephesians 2:26 NKJV).

I’m not trying to be a hater, but I think this is an area where women especially struggle. We have this terrible to compete with each other and tear each other down. I see it at work in my secular job, and I see it in the Church. It’s ugly. And in the life of a believer, it’s inexcusable.

I am growing in this area, but it’s been a struggle. It used to be that when I saw another woman going after something (or someone) I wanted, I had to build myself up enough and tear her down enough to make myself seem more deserving of what we were both pursuing. I am learning to speak highly of women (like myself) who are completely worthy of earning what we pursue. Where I still have difficulty is with people who have done me or my loved ones harm in their own speech, because they don’t deserve my kindness. And that is where gracious speech comes in – favor when it isn’t merited. I am learning to speak kindly to and about my enemies.

The Way We Behave

“Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.  Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4 NKJV).

Talk about counter-culture. This is a completely foreign concept in our “to each his own” society.  We are taught that “I” and “me” are the most important people in the universe. I often catch myself thinking, and speaking, and behaving in ways that state that I believe this to be right.

At the end of 2011, God convicted me to pray for a year to die to myself, that is, to live a Christ-centered life with the goal of serving and loving others. I prayed this prayer for two months, and it ushered me into trials that I had never even imagined possible throughout 2012. I was tested in my love for God, trusting His love for me, the basics of my relationship with Him, my relationships with His people, and long held assumptions, opinions, and preferences. As everything in my life as I knew it, as I desired it to be, was pried away from me, I realized.

This. Life. Is. Not. About. Me.

And it’s not about you.

It is about God. Taking pleasure in Him and making Him known. It is about Him taking pleasure in me and conforming me to the image of Christ. About Him working in me to “will and to do His good pleasure.”

When we adopt Christ’s attitude, we are able to humble ourselves and consider and love others. We don’t do it because we’re getting something out of it, or even because we feel obligated. We do it because we love people.

Maybe they don’t deserve your love. Maybe they are completely unworthy of any kind thoughts, words, or actions.

But we’ve done nothing to deserve Christ’s love. In fact, on a daily basis, I sin and spurn that love. And I’m certainly unworthy.

And we are to have the mind of Christ:

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God,  but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5-8).

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Confessions of a Recovering Church Hopper

Nine times. In my twenty-some-odd years, I have changed churches nine times. I have only been in seven different churches, though, because I revisited one of them twice and another one of them once. That makes it slightly better, right?

I realized a while back much to my devastation that I had been a church hopper up until that point. You know, one of those people. I would out at the first sign of trouble. Even if there was no trouble, I might have left because of a doctrinal issue or music style. Church was all about me. Every pastor’s or elder’s nightmare.

For a long time I blamed it on the trouble and the differences of opinion.  After all if Christians would just behave the way they are supposed to, there wouldn’t be tension. Because we would all be perfect. And madly in love with each other. The end. And if Christians would just read their Bibles, surely they would come to the conclusions I had. And we would all agree all of the time.  And then we come full circle to that whole “no tension” thing. With this mindset of it being someone else’s problem and out of my control, I quickly became a victim. And I remained one for years.

So I was kind of a lame church hopper.

A few years ago I realized that if I was only loving people the way I should have been, I wouldn’t have my church hopping problem. As everyone will tell you, love is not a feeling. It’s a verb. Love involves self-sacrifice, like what Christ did for us.

This is so counter-cultural. We have this human mindset that our feelings and opinions matter more than anyone else’s. I’m telling you, though, as a recovering church hopper, I’ve had to set that mindset aside.  I’ve had to adopt a mindset that says instead, “We are a body. We are to be interdependent, looking out for each other. How can I effectively love my sisters and brothers?”

I’m still growing in this. After a game of hopscotch last year and an ensuing church sabbatical, I am back in church. By God’s grace, I will respond to tension and differing opinions with love. Because leaving is not an option.

 

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