I Can Only Imagine

I’ve heard the song a hundred times, listened to it sang at least five different ways, and yet have never been at all curious about the lyricist. “I Can Only Imagine” is the best selling Christian single of all time and arguably the song most beloved by followers of Christ. When I found out a movie was being made about the backstory of the song, I was immediately intrigued. I wondered What did someone have to go through to come up with the lyrics:

“Surrounded by Your glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for You, Jesus
Or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine.”

On its own, the song depicts perfectly our wonderment of what it will be like to experience the glory of God in heaven. Yet, the context of the movie unveils a less apparent perspective. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I do want to share my takeaway from the film.

The movie “I Can Only Imagine” broadens the character of the song. It puts the spotlight on the linchpin of Christianity. Faith. It’s easy to preach and pray about, but it’s not always easy to have. Pleadings to God can become tedious when we are forced to live in the now. Our situations don’t yield to our prayers in our timing, but in God’s. A hackneyed phrase, I know. God’s perfect timing can sometimes feel like an eternity.

Imagining our prayers already answered is faith. The areas in our lives and in our world that we wish were different, can be. But praying isn’t enough if all we’re doing is speaking the words we’ve been taught to say. Belief is what anchors our prayers. I know it’s not always easy, but it is necessary. The next time you pray for something, question yourself. Do you actually believe- can you imagine- that what you’re praying for can be a reality?

I have a friend whose salvation I’ve been praying for for years. This friend once told me that Believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus. Talking to him about my faith is like trying to explain long division to a rock. A few months ago the holy spirit challenged me to change the narrative of my prayers: Instead of making requests for things you believe have the potential to happen, begin to picture everything you pray for as if it’s already happened. I started with my friend. Now when I pray for him, I imagine him kneeling at the altar of God, both hands raised to heaven, praising the Father. I do the same for all my prayers. Picturing my requests have made my prayers more fervent, more believable, more hopeful.

So just as the Holy Spirit challenged me, I challenge you: imagine. Paint a picture with your prayers and hang it up on the walls of your mind to create a reference point for your petitions. I will never forget the scene I created the first time I prayed for my friend’s salvation using my imagination. I pictured my prayer as if it were real and since then, for me, it has been. It’s simply a matter of waiting for it to come to pass. 1 Corinthians 13:4 tells us that Love suffers long… Don’t give up on your prayers. Imagine what you already know to be real by your faith in God.

Advertisements

Running to God, not from Him

As a child, one of my first lessons in morality was honesty. My mother put an unusual emphasis on telling the truth. I know it’s standard for any half-way decent parent to instill veracity in their children, but my mother really hammered it into her four kids. She’d tell us, “There’s nothing you could ever do that would make me stop loving you.” To further drive her point, she’d give us these insane scenarios in which her love would abide: “If you killed twenty people, you could tell me and I would still love you.”

So growing up (and even now) it was rare that I lied to my mother. When I did, the guilt would gnaw away at me until I ran to her confessing, “Mommy I’m sorry! It was me who drank your root beer!” Of course, swiping a soda was a minor offense, but I was always astonished by how easily she forgave me. My apologies usually ended with my mother enclosing me in her arms or gently grasping my face in her hands and looking into my tear filled eyes to remind me…nothing.

That seed of unmitigated love ingrained in me as a child was the blueprint I stumbled around trying to comprehend God’s infinite love for me. Even now, as a somewhat seasoned Christian, I still find myself tripping over God’s love. An ineffable love so overwhelming, that at times I flee from it. I feel guilty for being on the receiving end of such a limitless affection.

It seems like my relationship with God is constantly on the rocks. There’s always something to fix or improve. I hardly ever feel satisfied with my contribution to the union. When I take too many steps in the wrong direction I think Oh no, I’ve done it this time and hide my face in shame. There I stay for days, sometimes weeks or months, until God coaxes me out of my hiding place and back into his presence.

00a1919a813e4dabcef1ad06e1836689

  Recently, God placed a pause in my heart: anchored it in order that we might have a conversation about my distorted idea of his love.

God’s love for us far exceeds the potential of any human affection we could ever hope to receive. There’s no shame in his love and it abounds in grace and forgiveness. There’s nothing we can do, no sin we can commit that would diminish his love for us.

bce2cf60e47689e6fa045ea9e6a5a3b4

It’s much easier to read those words than to walk in them. When we give in to sin, it’s sometimes easier to stay there than to confess that we messed up- again. But it’s in those moments that we should be running into the arms of God, not from them. God knows our sinful nature and he knows that we are not capable of resisting on our own. He invites us into his arms when we feel burdened and overcome by sin. His hand is gentle and yearns to correct us with the love of a father.

There is no better feeling of relief than knowing that we can disclose all the messy, ugly, and sinful parts of ourselves to a God who will transform our faults into his glory. Trust him. Trust that God can paint our pain with his love. When we feel most vulnerable, most confused, most tempted, most carnal, God is inviting us to hide in him and let him fight our battles. Our hearts cannot be hidden from God and there’s no hope of refuge in running from him, only to him.

fbcf332c153a1f14b17392f13dc8af21

Note to self.

 

We’re a lot like Snow

Another winter storm is racking the northeast with high winds and heavy snow. Concerned for our safety, the company released us from training early. Most flights to and from Newark have been canceled. Luckily, I made it back to the crashpad just in time to avoid getting stranded by the inclement weather. Before settling into the rocking chair with a missing arm cushion, I drew back the curtains and made myself a hot breakfast. Now satiated, and entranced by the budding storm, I’m finding it difficult to write. These are prime conditions for both, streaming creativity and sleeping. With only one other person here, the apartment is quiet. Tucked into the deepest crevice of the couch, my roommate could easily be mistaken for a crumpled blanket. Strays of orange hair and a messy top bun ornamenting the crown of the cover are the only indicators of her company. I too, am fighting the urge to lose myself in a blanket and watch anything involving Meryl Streep.

Somewhere in the recesses of my uterus, my cramps are producing just enough of that stabbing sensation to keep me awake. A good thing for the sake of productivity I suppose. Three years of being based in Newark and I’m still hopelessly fascinated by the snow. Today, especially. A decaying brick accent wall is home to the only window in the living room. Ordinarily, the view is a mere reflection of our brick apartment building, but today it’s a backdrop to a spectacular show. The diminishing browns and oranges of the brick wall make the snow look 3D. It’s sort of…poetic. I feel like a stranger who’s stumbled into the delivery room of something extraordinary: the sky giving birth to a little peace of heaven.

Meteorologically, this is considered a storm, but it feels like anything else. I never knew snow could dance. Without adherence to any form or technicality, it gracefully moves. Beautifully wild, it flows. Some snowflakes are falling rapidly in a race to the ground, while others take their time, slowly drifting to their destination. Some sections are falling straight down, while others are descending at a slant. Then, there are the snowflakes that are simply riding on the wings of the wind. Some are stuck together and some are traveling alone. Some are falling to the east and some are headed west. Somehow though, regardless of direction or form, they’re all in sync. Each doing their own dance, yet fully aware that they’re part of a grand ensemble.

We’re a lot like snow. Multilayered beings, composed of various facets, all contributing to one single source. Sometimes, we put too much focus on one aspect of our lives. We spotlight the areas that need work or aren’t panning out the way we hoped. I’m learning to give those areas of my life grace. I don’t want to lambast them into a place of hiddenness and shame. I want to be encouraging and provide a positive environment to recalibrate those areas.

When we admire a place blanketed in fresh snow, we don’t analyze its beauty by each particle. Instead, we acknowledge it as one body of snow comprised of many snowflakes. Together, each snowflake creates one breathtaking body of natural art. We are each, a wonderous expression of art formed by our creator. God doesn’t look at our rough edges, jagged lines, and the pieces of us that aren’t quite falling right, with ridicule. If we commit every aspect of our lives into the hands of God and trust him to mold us into something extraordinary, he will. He can transform all of our mess and chaos, into splendid portrayals of his love.

A Warm View on a Cold Day

A huge gust of smoke rose from the engine as we pushed back from the gate. Panicked, I fidgeted to unbuckle my seatbelt. Suddenly I remembered and my alarm subsided. It’s fourteen degrees in Newark today. It’s just the normal breath of the engine being chilled by the below-freezing temperature. Relaxing back into my chair, I bathed in the slither of sunlight offered by my window seat at 30A. It doesn’t look cold outside. The clouds are few and the sun is positively beaming on this chilly day.
Seeing how beautiful it looks outside despite the harsh weather is exemplary to how life with Christ should be. Some people are under a grave misconception that reliance on God means a life exempt from hardship, but God tells us in his word that it “Rains on the just as well as the unjust.” Believers don’t get a pass from tribulation but are protected from it by seeking refuge in God. We know that because we are His children, there is no storm that can overtake us.
As followers of Christ, we should not look like what we are going through. If we do, what sets a life with God apart from one without him? This is not to say that Christians shouldn’t feel pain or express it, we’re human too. But ultimately, we know that God is in control of our lives and knows what’s best for us. Every situation we encounter- good or bad- is an opportunity for God to display his love, grace, and sovereignty. Therefore, Christian affliction should not be expressed by hopelessness. It’s during these times that we need to seek God most. He doesn’t allow us to go through difficulties just because. At times, it’s his way of communicating with us. And if we’re honest, too often, it’s only during our struggles that we’re interested in what he has to say. But he is calling us to more. He wants us to be in his presence always. When we establish a regular dialogue with God, we gain security in trusting and relying on him. It’s in that realm of intimacy with him that we come to truly understand that our problems are no match for God.
Don’t confine conversing with God to a prayer on bended knee at an altar. My dialogue with God today was me sitting on a plane and observing. A rare moment when my mind wasn’t fixated on anything that wasn’t right in front of me. In that moment, God opened the conversation with imagery: A warm view on a cold day.
I want to look more like today in Newark, NJ. (Never thought I’d say those words). I want to be secure in God despite the challenges I face. I want to rest in the reality that even when life is cold, I am warmed and protected by my saviour. As long as we’re prepared, the cold can’t kill us. Preparation is simpler than we make it. Trust. Our trials expose the depth of our faith. Study his word and learn to rely on him even when it feels useless. Trust doesn’t happen overnight, but with prayer, practice, and intimacy with God, it will become the most secure aspect of our lives. Then others will wonder how it is that we are so warm in this bitter, cold world.
download

“I AM… Love” by Heather Templeton

This desperately needed to be said. – Celestial

Selflove. It’s a huge fad these days.
We’ve all seen the posts and the blogs and the memes about how we can’t truly love others if we don’t love ourselves first.
How if we want to be there for others, we need to put ourselves and our needs first.
THEN we can help others, and help them more effectively.

Friends, this mentality is NOT biblical.
This is a worldview that too many Christians have bandwagoned onto, and it’s growing at an alarming rate.

Read the entire post by clicking the link below.

https://wp.me/p61vGB-AQ

Am I Doing This Right? (Part II)

 

Now what?

Still dealing with the compunction of having signed up for something so ridiculous, I decided that my going to this singles mixer” would be a covert venture. As January 13th drew closer, I became more and more uncertain. What am I doing? I contemplated not going, but I knew that in order to resolve my suspicions, I had to find out for myself if I was missing out after all.

fomo

 After a few days, it became unbearable to keep quiet about the event. My thoughts had taken a turn for the dramatic and I was in desperate need of sound advice. I casually mentioned the event over phone conversations with a few of my best girls. Much to my surprise, they were on board with me going to this singles mixer. Their optimism gave me permission to be, at the very least, cautiously hopeful.

How didn’t I know about this place? I thought as the host led me to the back of the restaurant. We slipped through an obscure door that immediately exposed a narrow stairway. Two flights of stairs later, we arrived on the third floor. The host pointed out the restrooms and stretched his arm toward the back of the room. “They’re in the back,” he said plainly as he dismissed himself. I looked around, surprised at how big the space was. The dim lighting and classical decor made the room seem smaller, more intimate. As I headed back, I was grateful that I had chosen to wear flat boots, instead of heels. My entrance would be less noticed.

tumblr_o4dchedBch1smivoro1_500

“Hi! Welcome! My name is Leah. The name tags at the bar have different colors. Pick one and write your name on it!” Leah was nice. Bubbly. The way I would’ve been had I not been brimming with apprehension. Aside from our lovely entertainer Leah and myself, there was one other woman and one man. The woman (shall we call her Tracy?) was lively and chatty.  She didn’t seem nervous at all. I don’t remember exactly, but she made a joke that suggested that (let’s call him…) Brooks would be the only man to show up and all the women would have to fight over him. “Like the Bachelor,” she joked. I choked out a  laugh and made a beeline to the bar to fill out my name tag.

Slowly (and late), others started to arrive. And when I say others, I do mean women. “More men were supposed to come,” Leah promised. Some of them had to cancel for work and others just didn’t show up. The final tally was twelve women and one man. I was a little letdown, but not at all surprised. I had predicted and mentally prepared for this turnout.

The event commenced with Leah giving each person five flashcards that matched the color of our name tags: it was Q and A time. The questions ranged from, What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten? to What character in the Bible do you want your partner to be like and why? It was overwhelming. All the women were so focused on not being desperate that we sort of ignored Brooks and instead, got to know one another. Though, at some point, I checked out. The questions were too involved and some people spoke for twenty minutes straight. I ate my shrimp orecchiette in silence, while I faded in and out of the conversation. Although I was proud of how successful and independent this group of women was, I hadn’t known them long enough to care to delve into the intimate details of their wants and desires over lunch. It felt artificial. Forced. But the food was good.

olive-garden-offering-7-weeks-endless-bread-and-pasta

I left just before the event was over because I had booked an early evening flight back to Newark. I gave my sincerest thanks and wished everyone well as I headed out. What should’ve been a disappointment, left me feeling revived. As I galloped down the stairs, I felt my happy, effervescent self returning. The cool air welcomed me as I walked out of the restaurant. The wind whipped my face as I ran across the street eager to seek refuge from the cold. As I approached the other side, I almost bumped into some man. I said sorry and proceeded to my car, but he stopped me. “Excuse me, your shoe is untied.” I bent down to tie it, but he beat me to it. “Let me get that for you.”

“You really don’t have to do that,” I blushed. “I can tie it.” But he insisted, so I stood there while he bent down and tied my shoe. After he finished, he walked away and told me to take care. I was completely taken aback by such a random act of kindness.

Then, it occurred to me. Remember that wink or nudge I told you guys I had been praying for God to give me in Part I? In the simplest, kindest, and most unexpected way, God had answered my prayer in a way he knew I’d understand. On my drive home, I kept hearing in my spirit, That’s how it will be- a beautiful surprise. I was reassured that when the time comes, my delight in what God has planned for me in a partner will far exceed anything I could’ve hoped or created for myself. My soul rested in this undeniable truth.

However naive or close-minded it may seem, I trust God with choosing someone for me. He’s never let me down before, so why start doubting his ability now? The desires of my heart were embedded in me by my creator and I fully believe that in the most impeccable timing, he will bless me with those desires.

So to answer my question: yes, I am doing this right. 

 

 

Am I Doing this right? (Part I)

“Are You Putting Yourself Out There?” was almost the title of this post. Mainly because I’m tired of being asked that question. I’ve never understood how to answer it. And with the current dating trends, I’m not sure I want to be part of the putting myself out there gang.

It’s weird, other people seem to be more concerned with my singleness than I am. This wasn’t always true. Up until my early twenties, marriage was my mission. While friends and acquaintances worried over which I said yes photo to share on facebook, I panicked. I was falling behind. They were starting families and I’d never even had a boyfriend. I was beginning to wonder if there wasn’t something wrong with me.

anigif_sub-buzz-22190-1465942657-2

It took time but I eventually moved past the stage of feeling like a defect. The truth is, I don’t mind being by myself. I’m more weary of the prying “why are you single?” questions I can never seem to adequately answer. Unintentionally, others try to convince me that the absence of a man in my life is an indication that something is wrong or that I’m abnormal, but I don’t feel that way anymore. I cherish dearly this opportunity of discovering who I am through my own eyes.

My desire for marriage has never been to fill an internal void. I recognize it as a gift from God meant to be an earthly expression of his unfailing love. A union that serves to magnify our understanding of the depth of that love. It’s not something I’m willing to forfeit for the sake of a warm body and sweet nothings. I’d much rather wait on God to send me someone of value than put myself through the horror that is- very loosely called– dating.

Although I’m pretty stable in my season of waiting, I still have moments when I need reassurance. A nudge or a wink, something to assure me that I’m on the right path. I find myself praying to God, I’m totally cool with waiting, but I just wanna make sure- Am I doing this right?

giphy (30)

I had a bout of doubting debbie a few weeks ago. An impromptu girls night at my crashpad in Newark led to the overwrought topic of boys. The evening lasted well into the next morning as the other two girls gushed about their complicated love lives. I was exhausted just listening. One of them had been trying to figure out if she was actually in a relationship with some guy she’d been talking to, while the other spilled about how she’d rejected going back to her guy friend’s place after dinner in the city that night. Then there was me. Single as a dollar bill. No stories of one night stands or swiping left for love. As quickly as I could, I blurted out the riveting details of my love life-  “I’ve never had a boyfriend. I’m a virgin. I’m trusting God to find someone for me.” I waited for their reactions.

giphy (27)

 Initially, they were all, “That’s great, there’s nothing wrong with that!” But as the conversation continued, I talked myself into a box. A close-minded Christian girl who’s just going to stand idly by and wait for God to send her someone. Those words were all but plastered across their foreheads. One of them in particular. She asked me, “Well, do you put yourself out there?” I rolled my eyes in exacerbation. When I told her, “not really” she returned the gesture. “I hate it when people think that trusting God to do something means sitting on your butt and doing nothing!” She was annoyed by my small thinking. I explained my perspective. If I was striving to be a lawyer, I wouldn’t pray to God to make my law degree appear while I sat on the sofa binge-watching Law and Order: SVU. There is a clear process in what must be done to attain a law degree. Relationships are different. Unless I missed it, there’s no certain equation that leads people to lasting love and marriage. I’d much rather let God do the weeding out. In the meantime, my focus is my relationship with God and learning to enjoy that journey.

I hadn’t wanted to admit it, but my roommate had gotten to me. Her words rang in my head for days and I began to question myself. Am I doing this right? Maybe I am too close-minded. Maybe I should try to find out what it means to put myself out there.

So I did.

Although I had no plans, I’d decided to take off from work for New Year’s Eve. For a change, I wanted to celebrate! I browsed the internet for Christian parties or anything remotely wholesome to attend. Nothing. I didn’t want to go to church because I’d gone that morning and I wanted to do something more festive. I didn’t want to watch fireworks downtown by myself because it seemed a bit pathetic- even for me. I opened my meetup app hoping to find some last minute get together. Nothing. Just as I had come to terms with having a quiet New Years Eve, I came across an event: New Years Single Mixer for Christians on January 13th.

Still hung up on girls night, the meetup event seemed fateful. Is this a sign? I bookmarked the event but didn’t register. It was at a nice restaurant and cost $23, which made me feel better. Yet, the idea of a “singles mixers,” made me nervous. I felt awkward and angsty at envisioning what it’d be like. And as if I’m not enough of a girl scout, I felt like I’d be doing something wrong by attending the mixer. I know, I’m ridiculous. But every time I chickened out, my roommate’s words reignited my insecurities. After a few days of teeter-tottering, I finally committed to the event.

I had something to prove. Although to whom, I still can’t be sure. I don’t know if I was more fixated on proving to my roommate or to myself that I don’t live in a box. Either way, for three hours on January 13th, I put myself out there.

To be continued…

Oh and by the way,  if you’re wondering how I ended up spending my New Years Eve: I showered and went to sleep.