Be loved, beloved

There are, arguably, four types of people when it comes to Valentine’s Day.

One, the couples who celebrate this holiday. They’re the ones who post photos of flowers or chocolates from their significant other, or a photo of the both of them. They might have a romantic meal, or give a card to one another. They at least try.

You know what I mean.

Next are the rest of the couples, who don’t really do anything for the holiday. Maybe they have been together two long to care anymore, or they have mutually decided that ‘Valentine’s Day is stupid’ and refuse to participate.

There are also those who mourn or miss past relationships on this day, reminiscing on what could have been even if the relationship ended for good reason and often claiming that they hate this holiday.

Can’t say I blame them…

Lastly, there are those who have never celebrated what is known as Valentine’s Day because they have never had a significant other to celebrate it with. Yeah.

Maybe there are more than four, in fact I’m sure there will be people who don’t fall into these groups. But I’m sure you get what I am trying to do here, bear with me.

I count myself in the last category. 

But unlike a majority of people who find themselves as chronically single as me, I don’t dislike Valentine’s Day. As I have grown in my faith throughout the years, I have found that I can often see God and His love in ordinary, every day things.

And yes…even in Valentine’s Day.

February 14th begs the question: what is love?

Love is not measured by boxes of chocolate, cards or bouquets of flowers. (That’s not to say that there is anything wrong with buying your girlfriend flowers, those couple dollars spent really will make her day. But still.)

It’s so much more than those little things.

Love is only one thing, one word, one name…. (drumroll please!)

Jesus Christ.

Here’s the deal:

You have been loved by Christ from day one, loved so much that he would willingly suffer and die so that you and I can have life. 

He loves you when you are happy. He loves you when you are sad. 

He loves you on those days when you look in the mirror and hate what you see. 

He loves you on the days you feel beautiful. 

He loved you all those times that you didn’t measure up to the world, and all those times you succeeded too. 

Every promise that the Bible gives us, every beautiful thing we have been given, and through every heartache and every blessing we are constantly reminded of the enduring love that our Savior has for us.

God’s love is often referred to as agape, which translated from Greek is most closely ‘unconditional love’. We can try to re create this love in our human relationships, but ultimately God is the only one who can truly show us this unconditional, agape love. And despite the fact that we don’t deserve it, He gives it without wavering.

It’s easy to forget all this, I know. No matter how you feel about today’s holiday, there is a love that tops everything we could possibly experience here on earth. I want to remind you to consider this love that you are so freely given.

So, beloved child of God, be loved today – and every day. You are worthy. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails1 Corinthians 13:4-8

 

 

Beautifully (Part 1)

Today might just have been the worst I have had for awhile and even though part of me would love to throw myself a pity party, I won’t bore you with the details.

I’m the type of person to ‘go home and cry about it’ whenever something bad happens. This is not a good quality, I know… But this particular “crappy” day acted as the smack in the face that I honestly needed. So instead of my usual moping on the couch with comfort food and Modern Family, I decided to seek out the reason behind the fact that today was simply the breaking point to a few weeks of not feeling myself.

Here’s the deal: I’m really skilled at faking it, but most days my self confidence is definitely lacking, and for whatever reason this had been even more of an issue for the last month or so. My life is filled with so many awesome women, yet I can’t help be a little intimidated, constantly wondering why I am not as beautiful as them.

I realize that this is a question straight from the pit of Hell. I get that. But some days, I ask it anyway. So in a feeble attempt to make myself feel better, I have become reliant on makeup. I’ve never been one to wear a lot of it, but I have been one to hide behind the makeup I do wear.

I guess a little bit of backstory would be good here… My mom used to be a consultant for Mary Kay, so I have had access to makeup for as long as I can remember. I got my hands on my first tube of mascara in sixth grade – next came foundation, and you know the rest of this story.

Maybe it is because I am very introverted, or perhaps it is because I take everything that is said to me a little too seriously, but it freaked me out when someone would point out that my skin wasn’t blemish free, hence I caked on the makeup to try to hide it. When it was addressed that I have “small eyes”, eyeliner became my best friend. In fact, I haven’t gone out in public without any makeup for years.

First of all, I realize that there are women who can confidently go without makeup and are perfectly fine with it. I am not one of them. That being said, I have come to the conclusion that I want to be!

So for the next month I am going to step wayyyyyyy out of my comfort zone and not wear a drop of makeup.

It is going to be a challenge, but my prayer is that it can teach me that my beauty comes from within, not from covering up and hiding the things that I think aren’t beautiful. Because deep down, I’d rather be known for having a beautiful heart than for having a pretty face.

Here goes!

Do not let your adorning be external—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3-4)

a Mountaintop Experience

“Times, whether brief or extended, where the power and presence of God was so palpable that it felt as if the veil between heaven and earth was very, very thin.”

As a responsible and motivated college student, naturally I decided to skip class one day last week.

I wish I could give you a justified reason for it, but in reality I just couldn’t do it anymore.

The last few weeks I have done a really good job of walking away from God, even though I am facing situations where I need Him most. After spending the whole summer with my friends and having everyone only a text away,  the start of the school year was a rude awakening. Frankly, I just feel lonely – when I am around others and when I am alone in my room. It is a constant ache and I haven’t figured out how to heal.

It is in those situations that you are supposed to turn to God, to put more prayer into our daily lives and to turn to Him in our loneliness, but for me that was easier said than done.

Finally, I drove to a nature center close to my house, searching for someplace where I could find God. I walked as fast as I could up the hill to the top, and out of breath I cried out to Him.

There is something very surreal and beautiful in these kind of moments. You see what is around you with very different eyes than you might normally, but I still wasn’t finding the comfort that I was seeking.

Two hours and more tears than I could count later, I felt a lot different. It wasn’t the mountaintop experience I was desperately searching for, but somehow it was better.

The reality was that I learned a lesson from this.

The Christian life is no smooth ride.

That being said, it also isn’t going to be some amazing experience every day where you feel God in every moment and you just know that He is there. You won’t always be “on the mountaintop”.

The truth is in the pursuit, are you willing to search each day for a reason to believe? Nothing can separate us from God except ourselves, so the question is why we manage to do so constantly.

God is in the tears. He is in the quiet moments; when you are studying or reading or simply just experiencing the silence. He is in the loud and overwhelming. He is there in the laughter and he rejoices when there is a smile on your face.

Just let that sink in for a minute. 

He is with you, alongside you, right now.

Whoa, man.

Why are we willing to talk ourselves out of something so beautiful?

The Lord of my life has pulled me into an eternal embrace, holding onto my feeble heart each and every day. I do not have to feel alone, ever. What’s more? He wants that with you too, even when you do not feel close to Him – even when those “mountaintop experiences” are over.

 

 

Dear Younger Me

Dear Younger Me,

Where do I begin?

If I could go back and fix some things, let me tell you, I would.

But first I need to tell you, it gets better.

You won’t always be stuck in this place of not knowing who you are or what to pursue. I’m not saying that I know what I’m doing (trust me, I don’t) but I am closer.

You will survive middle school. It may seem like hell now, but it’s nothing you can’t handle.

But I am going to warn you, people you thought were friends won’t be. As much as you try to be popular, you will get shoved out of your “friend group” not once, not twice but three times in the course of middle school. Part will be your fault, but you can embrace your mistakes and learn from them, which is what you do.

For awhile you’ll pray every night to a God you aren’t sure is even there that he will send you a best friend who you can do everything with, someday you will find your place and friends who are real.

It will take a long time, but that little acne-ridden girl who didn’t know who she was meant to be will grow up in time, and she will turn into a strong woman who knows her place and only that it is found through Christ.

High school will be better than middle school.

You will find two people you think are your best friends.

You will have boyfriends together and go to the mall to hang out. It will be fun, you will wonder why you hadn’t experienced this before. You’ll have lame little parties and drink soda and watch horror movies and feel like you belong. Even here is not your place.

People change, and when you give your life to Christ after sophomore year, these friends will continue to pull you away and eventually you are going to have to let go of them. They will worship other idols: drugs, their boyfriends, their bodies.

Speaking of that, you will give something away to a boy sophomore year. It will hurt alot and you won’t think you will ever be okay again. It will, I can promise you. It may be hard to trust men for awhile, I’m still struggling with this, but know that you can hold out for a man on fire for Christ – you are worth that.

It will be okay.

There will be some really good parts of high school, too.

You will make friends, some that may even last forever. You may not always get along, but that best friend you prayed and prayed for comes in the form of three amazing women you will grow close to your junior year and they will stay by your side throughout the rest of high school. Hold on to them.

Musical will be one of those good parts, too. You will learn to be more confident in yourself, something you are probably lacking in. Come age 18 when you no longer have that, you will miss those days of caked on makeup and showers at 1 am to attempt to get the hairspray out of your hair. It will be so worth it. And the summer after high school you will find yourself home alone watching the Sound of Music and crying on the couch because you miss it that much. Cherish those memories.

Band will be even better. It is one of those things that will annoy you sometimes, but you will miss like a piece of you is gone when it is over. When you think about it hard enough, your heart will start to ache and you’ll have to look at old photos to remember every moment. You’ll try out for colorguard your junior year and senior year will be dedicated to it. You will do as much as you can for your director because you wish with all your heart that even though she hides it, she wasn’t so stressed out. At your final band concert, she will even present you with her director’s award and when you get home that night you will cry happy tears because you didn’t even realize that your bossiness and organization was actually helping others. You will meet people, grow close to your directors and have lifelong memories from the mere four years you had in the group.

You will decide to go to college, and your senior year you will tour a few places. One you will love, one you will hate and one you will end up at. You are in the right place, so don’t worry. You won’t know what you want to “be when you grow up”, and it will stress you out a lot.

All the people in your life will be encouraging and you will find your path (hopefully, I am still stuck at this point). You will want college to be a time of learning about yourself and if you persevere, it will be.

Fast forward to today. You will be sitting near the cafeteria at your college, drinking a chai tea latte that you bought at Starbucks this morning and glancing up every once in awhile to see a wall filled with old photographs of former professors. A vending machine will be humming beside you and the sound of students playing ping pong echoes from a room near you. At this moment, right now, you are truly content.

You don’t have it figured out. Not even a little bit. Tomorrow you may not be so happy, that’s how this works. But right now, right here, you know that despite all your mistakes, all your screw ups and your falls, God has got you. It took awhile for you to figure out, but somehow it was perfect timing. That God you prayed to in middle school is real and true and he is there. He loves you and he has brought you to this point.

Trust Him with everything you have. When you are feeling lonely a week in to college, it will be okay to pour your heart out to the only one who can heal it, He will carry you through everything.

Every moment up to this point, every temptation and every tear, every moment you weren’t sure you wanted this life any more, every time you couldn’t contain your excitement and every smile – they were all worth it.

Continue to embrace a relationship with God, continue to be kind to people even when you don’t want to. It will be okay and you will be better for it.

Don’t settle for less or sell yourself short in any way. You are worthy of happiness, whether that means waiting or taking chances.

Dear younger me, it gets better. Don’t give up on God, or on yourself.

You’ve got this.

 

Adulting?

Guess what!

I am officially a college student of three days!

After being in the same school district for 13 years and seeing mostly the same people every single day for just as long, it is mind-blowing to be in a place where I am surrounded by different people and generally don’t know anyone in any of my classes.. The first few days of class, no one talked to each other and I was starting to feel uncomfortable and regret my college choice.

There are 26 University of Wisconsin colleges, half two year commuter colleges that transfer automatically to the larger 4 year colleges (ie. UW-Madison). I attend one of those two-year colleges. This means that I live at home and drive to school each day, rather than the traditional college experience involving dorms and food plans. When everyone in my graduating class was applying for school and planning where they wanted to go, and I decided to apply at Fox, most of the students I encountered acted like it was beneath them to attend there and live at home. When people would ask me where I was going, I began to tell them “just UW Fox .” JUST, because at that point I believed it wasn’t quite as good as one of the four year schools too, and it certainly wasn’t as impressive as heading off to some obscure private school out of state that, let’s be real, no one can afford anyway.

But I am learning day by day that UW Fox is EXACTLY where I am meant to be.

I can pay for my first two years easily without loans and only one scholarship, so joke’s on everyone else! But anyway, the point of this post isn’t to dis other schools or brag about my somewhat savvy financial planning. It’s to talk about how I believe I made the right choice and followed the Lord’s plan.

Like I said, after my final class on Wednesday still no one was really talking to one another. I get it, it is a new experience and everyone was uncomfortable, but I was feeling lonely and doubting if I would make any friends. I am a drama queen, so I kept telling myself I should have just gone to Green Bay (the school I am planning to transfer to) right away. But, I was holding on, because Wednesday after class, I had my first Cru Live. Cru is a Christian organization that exists on a lot of different campuses, and I was holding onto the fact that this would make me feel like I could make friends with other people.

There was pizza (selling point right there!) and some announcements, and then we split up into groups to share about ourselves and play ‘two Truths and a Lie’. Before we even began, the leader of our small group turned to me and asked, “Are you Mariah?”

This is a big deal for me!

I am not an outgoing person, people do not just know who I am. By confirming my identity, she made me feel so important and so comfortable. In high school I was always, someone’s friend, Chris’ sister – never just me.

I know it isn’t a big deal to most people, I get that. But I truly believe that God used her to bring me confidence in joining the group and about the school in general.

This is a new place for me. I know there will be some challenges, I know there will be some situations that are’t fun – even some that I will really hate. But I also know that through the people I will meet and through Cru, I will grow in my faith and this college experience will be about finding myself and who I am in God.

Narcissistic Ignorance

“You think you’re so perfect because you go to ‘Jesus Club’.”
“Manipulative.”
“…it’s narcissistic ignorance to assume that my religious views are any consequence of you.”

Words that should have hurt me because they came from people I believed were my friends. In some ways I wish they would have, it would be easier to just believe them.

                                                       But I don’t.

I am never going to sit here and tell anyone that I am perfect, especially not because I go to church or bible study. Why? Because I am so so so so far from it. I lust, I am selfish and stuck up at times. I am conceited, judgmental of others when I don’t want to be. Most of all, I am human and I will be the first to admit that I am unworthy of a relationship with Christ.

                                             That’s the point, though.

There is only one who is perfect: Jesus. “But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.” 1 John 3:5 NIV. The cross makes us worthy of His forgiveness and love. Sometimes, claiming that you are forgiven because Jesus died for you sounds the same as claiming your own perfection to some people. If you are able to recognize that you are in fact a sinner who is undeserving of God’s love, then the words of others mean little.

Call it “narcissistic ignorance”, call it whatever you will. If being in love with Jesus constitutes insults then so be it.. There is joy in persecution; it could push you away from God or if you remain faithful it will bring you closer to Him. I, for one, will not let it push me away.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me.” -Matthew 5:11